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   The Dollar Sunfish  (Lepomis Marginatus) as an Aquarium
                       by Robert Rice
     Hiding in the back waters, swamps and small ponds of
the Southeast is a seldom seen gem that is so beautiful , so
pleasant to keep that it puts many tropicals to shame. It's
behavior in captivity and ease of care are worthy of an
entire book not just an article. It's life colors and habit
remain basically ignored by the various professionals who
have come across this shining star. It's size or lack of it
(under 5 inches) relegate it to bait status and thus it is
totally forgotten by the local sportsmen. With this
ignorance comes apathy and  sadly it is, quietly
disappearing from it's traditional homes. The victim of our
increasing pressure on the environment.

     Who is this you wonder, some unusual fringe species ?
Some really cool orchid ? A hard to please environmental
elitist? Nope this fella is the Dollar Sunfish one of  the
hardiest guys you will ever come across! I have yet to find
a true species definition, the standard definition is see
Longear description as they are so similar in appearance. My
observations are as follows, the Male Dollar sunfish is a
bluish hue with light colored vermiculations across the
face, gill plates, and lips. The eyes can be encircled with
colors ranging from red to white. Maximum size 5 inches
typical size 4 or less. They display sexual dimorphism in
the typical Sunfish manner. The males being more colorful
and aggressive than the females. They are predacious feeding
on insects and small fish. There is an extreme amount of
color variation from location to location which leads me to
suspect that the species possesses plastic genes. For the
aquarist this is a terrific bonus, the chance to develop new
color strains is always exciting!

     Collecting this species is the most time consuming and
difficult problem that the Aquarist must tackle. For those
outside of it's native range ( Eastern Texas east to the
Atlantic and South of Central Oklahoma) I recommend trading
with Aquarist who already possess and are breeding the
species. For starters I'd recommend that you check into the
North American Native Fish Association which regularly posts
a trading post section in it's publications or the North
American Native Fish Echo (NANFE) on the fido net which has
become an electronic gathering place for those of us who
keep and enjoy Native Fish. NANFE has become the quickest
place for people to negotiate their trades. Which ever is
convenient for you I recommend you check them out first.

     For those of you within the Dollar Sunfishes Range who
are bound and determined to collect a local strain, get a
dip net, a fishing license and some waders because this
little guy hides in some of the murkiest , weediest off the
beaten path places you will ever collect in. I've found them
commonly in back washes, ox bows and swamps. You might as
well accept the fact that you are gonna get sweaty , muddy
and bitten by something before it is all done. Of course for
me , that is the major part of the fun, for you it may not
be. After I collect sunfish specimens there is a small
problem with field identification. In areas where the Dollar
Sunfish and the Longear Sunfish overlap you sometimes find
juveniles of both species very hard to tell apart. I have
found the simplest solution is to take home a few and study
them at the house. You will find with a little time and
effort proper identification will come to you. As the
specimens grow the differences will become clearer. You can
then release unwanted specimens back to their homes with no
harm done.

     Once in the Aquarium they are a joy to keep They take a
variety of foods without a problem. I feed mine frozen
crawfish, raw oysters and a mix of worms and other live
insects when available. They adapt very quickly to domestic
life, they are not even a little shy as long as there is
sufficient structure  to make them comfortable.. Within a
week you can expect to see typical Dollar Sunfish behaviors.
The males will begin to establish a hierarchy for everything
from feeding to breeding. The females will float between
territories with little ill effects. One of the most
pleasant things about the Dollar Sunfish is that it's small
mouth allows you to keep a variety of darters, shiners and
Madtoms in a community atmosphere. So instead of relegating
your sunfish to single species tank in a back room you can
put them up front in the main display tank and not worry
about  your latest catch becoming a sushi bar !

     For  the Aquarist serious about breeding these fella's
I have a tip, get an outdoor pond! I know many people who
have successfully bred the Dollar Sunfish in an outdoor pond
, but only a handful who have had similar success in an
aquarium. They seem to be the perfect species for a small
outdoor pond. They are aggressive insectivores, very
tolerant of water conditions and extremely tolerant of
temperature extremes. I have been fortunate enough to have
observed a successful spawn in one of my tanks and can add
the following observations. The Dollar Sunfish needs a
chilling period to induce a spawn, like many temperate
species without a season of cold (-60 F) the females just
don't  become gravid. They seem to be continual spawners
when finally induced to spawn, at a temperature of  74 F my
specimens spawned regularly for over a month until the tank
temperature reached 80 F. Then suddenly the spawning ceased.
During that time they ate HUGE amounts of foods of all types
with relish.

     If there ever was the classic example of a species that
needs the Aquarist help the Dollar Sunfish is that species.
He has no advocate anywhere except a few of us collectors.
We have collected and kept him for generations trying to
learn as much as we can about this little jewel, with the
hope we can contribute to it's continued survival. Those
same collectors are many times not taken seriously by either
our local Department of Natural Resources personnel or the
local Aquarist we meet. We who know the species best are
allowed to contribute the least. I believe that now is a
time for change, a time for action. Imagine if a local
Southeastern Aquarium Club in Atlanta for example, decided
they were going to get involved in keeping, rearing, and
studying the Dollar Sunfish. Keeping detailed notes on
collection sites and breeding behaviors. With the sheer
number of members and the added influx of time and resources
they would make huge impact ! Detailed collection and
breeding data would prove invaluable and even more the
public awareness could be priceless. When someone said
habitat for Dollar Sunfish was threatened people would care,
people would react.

 This species is very well suited to the Aquarium and has
been ignored for so long that he has practically disappeared
from many texts. That is a mistake. We as Aquarist can do
more to put these species back on the map. As you can tell I
really enjoy the Dollar Sunfish and a great many more of our
native fishes. If you seek more information  about native
fishes I recommend you check out the following resources
 Petersons Field guide to North
American natives by Larry Page and Brooks M. Burr or a
Our Native Fishes by John Quinn are excellent resources for
the Aquarist who wants to learn and do more for our Native
Fishes. You can also reach me at RobertRice at juno_com or 2213
Prytania Circle Navarre Florida 32566

Robert Rice

" The Quality of a life is not measured in days it is measured in legacy

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