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          THE BLACKBANDED SUNFISH (Enneacanthus chaetodon)
                                  By Peter R. Rollo
                                   2308 Cedar Lane
                                        Secane Pa

In their native habitat in South Central New Jersey, spawning generally b=
egins in May or when the water temperature approaches 70 F.  On June 20, =
1994 I collected two dozen Blackbanded Sunfish, ranging in size from juve=
nile to adult.  No pregnant females were caught so I assumed I missed spa=
wning.  With two dozen fish I was sure I had several pairs.  The water co=
nditions found at the time of collection were no measurable hardness, pH =
of 6.0 and a temperature of 75 F.
>From the literature the spawning process proceeds in typical sunfish fash=
ion.  The males construct a nest in the substrate and await a ripe female=
.  With the approach of a female, the male begins to display with fins fu=
lly extended.  The pair circle each other and after a short time the pair=
 stops circling, the female releases her eggs and the male simultaneously=
 fertilizes them.  The males then remain on their nests to fan and guard =
the eggs.  I maintained the Blackbanded Sunfish for the summer in a "comm=
unity" style 29 gallon aquarium in the house.  The 29 gallon tank is equi=
pped with a Whisper 1 power filter with a home made water current dissipa=
tor at the discharge.  In their natural habitat there is virtually no wat=
er current present. I am able to get adequate filtration with minimal cur=
rent.  Aeration is provided by a bubble wand attached to the back of the =
tank.  There is about two inches of gravel on the bottom and except for a=
 flower pot turned on its side and a few rocks, the bottom is bare to fac=
ilitate cleaning and fry collection (I will cover this later).  To help s=
atisfy their requirement of lower light levels, the light is attached to =
the back of the aquarium stand above the tank and a thick growth of Water=
 Sprite is maintained on the water surface.  This arrangement reduces the=
 light intensity significantly while still providing enough light for ade=
quate viewing.  The adult Blackbanded Sunfish will be wintered outside in=
 my shed and housed in a 20 gallon high aquarium.  Filtration is provided=
 by an adjustable flow Visi-Jet 100 internal power head attached to a spo=
nge filter  and an air driven sponge filter.  Lighting is provided by a f=
lorescent tube suspended above of the tank.   The light intensity can be =
lowered to appropriate levels by adjusting the distance the light is abov=
e the tank.  An inch and a half of gravel is provided along with the aqua=
tic plant Elodea or Anacharis as it is sometimes called.  This plant grow=
s especially well during the winter when the water temperature is below 5=
0 F.  Minimal heating is provided using a submersible heater set on a tim=
er.  This arrangement prevents freezing or major drops in temperature.  T=
he heat is manually controlled and used only when excessively cold.  In t=
he summer this tank is attached to a chiller and maintained at an optimal=
 temperature of 70 F for spawning and raising of fry during the hot summe=
r months.  Filtration is provided by a sponge filter attached to the chil=
ler intake line and by a power head attached to a sponge filter.  The she=
d is also equipped with a thermostatically controlled exhaust fan to prev=
ent heat buildups.
Initially I tried to acclimate the Blackbanded Sunfish to my tap water, w=
hich is hard and has a pH of about 6.8.  They started off doing well but =
within two weeks their health started to decline.  Their appetites decrea=
sed and the most noticeable change was that they lost most of their color=
.  Since it was clear they would not thrive on my terms I went to work tu=
rning their tank water into a close duplicate of their natural habitat.  =
On July 8, 1994 my efforts began.  The first problem to solve was how to =
soften the water with the least effort.  I decided to use a rechargeable =
ion exchange softening pillow, which is placed in the filter box.  Using =
a five gallon container and an extra power filter, I softened the water t=
o levels that could not be measured by my test kit.  I also added Blackwa=
ter Extract to the softened water.  The softening process takes about one=
 and a half to two hours per five gallons.  Prepared water is stored in f=
ive gallon bottled water containers with lids.  When I had prepared enoug=
h water, I changed the water and observed any changes.  Within 48 hours t=
he fishes natural color returned and they became active and hungry again.=
  Softening the water appears to be a very important factor for maintenan=
ce of healthy fish.
The next problem was how to acidify the water.  While softening the water=
, I added pH Down to the water till I reached a pH of 6.0 to 6.2.  The fi=
sh were slowly acclimated to this new water.  Once completely acclimated =
I sampled the tank water pH and found it to be 6.8 instead of 6.0.  I had=
 neglected to consider that my tap water has a high buffering capacity an=
d the pH will rebound to higher levels unless you exhaust the buffering c=
apacity of the water.  The next time I made water and adjusted the pH to =
6.0 I waited several hours and checked the pH again.  It had rebounded as=
 it had in the tank.  The pH was adjusted again and let to sit overnight.=
  This time the pH remained the same.  As an aid to the acidification and=
 conditioning process, I also filter the water through peat prior to stor=
age or use.  The completed water is tea colored, as it is in their native=
 habitat, and takes a day to make five gallons of water, but with the res=
ults I have gotten it is worth the trouble.  In the summer the sunfish in=
 the house are fed moderately every other day, and in the winter, when th=
ey are in the shed, they are fed sparingly every three or four days whene=
ver the water temperature rises above 50 F. Below 50 F the food in their =
stomachs digests so slowly that it can actually spoil before digestion is=
 complete, killing the fish.  Besides, I am trying to recreate their natu=
ral environment, and minimal feedings in the winter is part of it.  The f=
oods offered in the summer include fresh hatched brine shrimp, frozen and=
 freeze dried bloodworms, frozen glassworms, small live crickets, small l=
ive cut up garden worms, live  daphnia, frozen shrimp, live mosquito larv=
a, live cyclops, live black worms and any other small insect I can catch.=
  The winter diet for these fish will be the same as that in the summer e=
xcept for some of the live foods that cannot be cultured indoors, caught =
or bought.  As with my experiences with breeding Green Sunfish, the fish =
endured an average summer temperature (in the house and shed) of about 80=
 F and will experience average winter temperatures of about 40 F in the s=
hed.  Thirty-three percent water changes are made once a week spring, sum=
mer and fall.  Twenty-five percent water changes are made about once a mo=
nth in the winter (when water temperatures are consistently below 55 F). =
Don't be lax with water changes.  These fish may be small but they have b=
ig appetites and produce large amounts of waste. It is extremely importan=
t that all water added to the aquarium during water changes be the same t=
emperature, pH and hardness as the water in the aquarium or you run the r=
isk of stressing or killing the fish.  It is now  early August and all is=
 going well.  On August 8, 1994 I noticed that two of the Blackbanded Sun=
fish appeared to be fanning eggs and were chasing the other fish away fro=
m their designated territory.  No nests were formally constructed.  They =
simply chose natural depressions already existing in the gravel.  I immed=
iately began to consider the possibility that they were spawning but had =
to be sure.  The next night I noticed several fish approach the guarded t=
erritories slowly and deliberately.  Some were immediately chased away an=
d some were not.  It appears rival males and unripe females are chased aw=
ay immediately while ripe females are allowed to approach.  To all approa=
ching fish the guarding fish, or the male, reacts by extending his fins a=
nd then seems to look over the approaching fish.  If the male does not ch=
ase away that fish the odds are very good that it is a ripe female. The m=
ale then starts nudging her belly area with his mouth and body while swim=
ming in a circular path, with fins fully extended, around the female at a=
 45 degree angle.  The female stays mostly upright in a normal swimming p=
osition during this process.  The male was devoid of color, but the femal=
es' color was intense.  After a few moments of this behavior they stop sw=
imming, the female quivers, eggs are released and simultaneously fertiliz=
ed.  The male then chases the female away.  Even during the spawning proc=
ess, sex determination is virtually impossible.  Granted, there are color=
 differences during spawning, but immediately after spawning the colors o=
f the male and female return to normal and the sexes can no longer be dis=
tinguished.  During spawning when I briefly knew who was who it appeared =
the female, when viewed from above, was broader across the top of her bod=
y than the male.  This is by no means very accurate but does serve as a g=
uide in approximating the sexes, especially when spawning is near.  This =
spawning process continued till the next day.  The eggs are amber colored=
 and extremely small (no larger than 1/32 of an inch) and adhesive.  Clos=
e examination of the nesting areas showed eggs covering the nearby rocks.=
  The rocks were removed and placed into the rearing tank.  I now anxious=
ly waited for the eggs to hatch.  No chemicals were added for egg protect=
ion.  Clean, well filtered and aerated water is sufficient.  Based on my =
reference books the eggs of this type of sunfish hatch in 3-5 days depend=
ing on temperature.  The Blackbanded Sunfish eggs hatched in two days on =
August 11, 1994 at a water temperature of 76 F and a pH of 6.2.  The wigg=
lers were entirely clear and no visible markings could be seen.  Within 2=
4 hours eye spots became apparent and the wigglers started to take the fo=
rm of fish 24 hours after that.  Twenty-five percent water changes are ma=
de every week and so far all is well.
With regard to how long it takes for the wigglers to become free swimming=
, my references estimate a few days to about one week depending on water =
temperature.  By August 15, four days after hatching, all wigglers were f=
ree swimming.  I offered a very small quantity of brine shrimp but none w=
ere taken.  I fed them infusoria for the next two days.  Three days after=
 all were free swimming brine shrimp were again offered and accepted.  Fu=
rther experience has shown that infusoria is not necessary.  One to two d=
ays after the fish are free swimming they will accept newly hatched brine=
 shrimp.  Feedings began twice a day, once in the morning and once in the=
 evening.  The feedings require that the aeration and filtration be turne=
d down to a minimum.  This prevents the shrimp from being sucked into the=
 filtration system and aids the somewhat uncoordinated fry in catching th=
eir food.  The young fry cannot successfully capture the moving shrimp in=
 moving water.  With still water it takes them several attempts before th=
ey can capture the shrimp.  This will quickly pass as the fish grow and b=
ecome proficient swimmers.  It is easy to determine which fry are feeding=
.  Since their bodies are still transparent, consumed shrimp give the fry=
 orange bellies.  For variety the fry are also given fresh hatched mosqui=
to larva, live cyclops and microworms.  I estimate I have about 100 to 15=
0 Blackbanded Sunfish fry.  The Blackbanded Sunfish have continued to spa=
wn every week through the first week of September, stopped spawning for t=
he remainder of September and have spawned twice in the first week of Oct=
ober.  The last few spawnings occurred in the flower pot and in one case =
they spawned in the root mass of the floating water sprite due to the fac=
t that the flower pot was occupied by a male guarding eggs.  He was not a=
bout to let any others spawn anywhere on the bottom of the tank.  It appe=
ars that the Blackbanded Sunfish are adaptable and not particular about w=
here spawning takes place.  In all Blackbanded Sunfish spawnings I remove=
d as many of the eggs and/or wigglers as possible to ensure that none wou=
ld be eaten but on one occasion I decided to let the male guard the eggs =
and fry to see what would happen.  He did as good a job as devoted cichli=
d parents.  He continuously fanned the eggs and chased away any fish that=
 came close to his area.  Any wigglers that strayed to far were picked up=
 in his mouth and spit back into the nest.  Once the fry were free swimmi=
ng they both went their separate ways.
Once the fish are transferred to their winter quarters spawning will quic=
kly stop as the water temperature drops.  This will be a welcome relief b=
ecause all my available tank space is devoted to the rearing of the Black=
banded Sunfish fry at various stages of development.  This spawning behav=
ior is contrary to the literature which states that "The Blackbanded Sunf=
ish has a non-protracted spawning season and low lifetime reproductive po=
tential."1  The spawns have been small to moderate, averaging about 15 to=
 75 eggs, and have hatched in two to three days.  When I notice a spawn a=
rea it is covered with sheer material supported by a plastic frame (6" lo=
ng x 5" wide x 4" deep) to prevent the eggs from being eaten.  The males =
can still see through it, continue to guard the eggs and in one case spaw=
ned again on top of the egg guard.  The wigglers adhere to the inner wall=
s of the material and the entire egg guard with wigglers is carefully rem=
oved and placed in the rearing tank.  So far this is the best method I ha=
ve devised to collect fry from the Blackbanded Sunfish Community tank.  S=
everal months have passed and a few of the fry are now between =AA to =AE=
 inch, but most are about =AA inch.  The fry are still dependent on brine=
 shrimp, live cyclops and microworms and attempts will be made to wean th=
ese fish off the live foods as soon as they are large enough.  I was succ=
essful in doing this with the Green Sunfish and hope I will be able to su=
cceed with these fish.
As they have aged, the young sunfish are beginning to show physical attri=
butes of adult fish.  The Blackbanded Sunfish have developed a horizontal=
 black spot on the caudal peduncle and a vertical dark band through the c=
audal fin.  They also are developing black vertical stripes and the two t=
one black and salmon colors on their first dorsal spines (The first three=
 dorsal spines are black and the fourth is salmon colored) and front edge=
 of their ventral fins.  Their overall background body color is gold-silv=
er.  From my experiences with breeding Green Sunfish, cannibalism of the =
smaller fry by the larger fry began at about this time.  So far the large=
r fry have not attacked the smaller fry, as did the Green Sunfish.  My fe=
eling is that their mouths are too small to cause any damage at this age,=
 let alone swallow their smaller tankmates.  The Green Sunfish were much =
more aggressive and equipped with large mouths capable of easily swallowi=
ng their smaller tankmates.  This group of fish will be overwintered as n=
aturally as possible in my shed as described earlier, and I look forward =
to spring when I hope to experience additional spawnings of the Blackband=
ed Sunfish.
1.Wujtewicz, Donald. 1982. The Feasibility of Utilizing Minnows as Forage=
 in Farm Ponds. IV. A Life History of the Blackbanded Sunfish Enneacanthu=
s chaetodon in Hudson Pond, Delaware.  Natural Resources Report No.3. 12 =
pp. Delaware State College, Dover, DE.
2.Thompson, Peter. 1985. Thompson's Guide to Freshwater Fishes.
Houghton Mifflin Company. 205 pp.
3.Quinn, John R. 1990. Our Native Fishes. The Aquarium Hobbyist's Guide t=
o Observing, Collecting and Keeping Them.  Countryman Press. 242 pp.
4.Raasch, Maynard S. & Altemus, Vaughn L. 1991. Delaware's Freshwater and=
 Brackish Water Fishes. A Popular Account.  Claude E. Phillips Herbarium.=
 Delaware State College. Dover, DE. and Society of Natural History of Del=
aware. 166 pp.