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                   Here comes the Sunnies
the temperate sunfishes make a comeback in the home aquarium
                         Robert Rice
                    2213 Prytania Circle
                    Navarre Florida 32566
                 email- robertrice at juno_com
Just a few short years ago there were just a few Aquarist
interested in the keeping temperate sunfishes. A few old
timers held the torch. The rest of us were to busy keeping
Cichlids, Discus and Tetras to consider the lively and
colorful sunfishes all to seriously. Slowly almost
imperceptibly things began to change. Aquarist like myself
stumbled upon local species that were stunning and a
pleasure to keep. Aquarium magazines  began to pick up the
ball giving temperate species much needed exposure. Lastly
conservation organizations like the Nature Conservancy and
Audubon Society have begun to realize that the keeping  of
Native  fishes is as legitiment a use of our natural
resources as bird watching and hunting. So now the tide is
turning in favor of our native fishes.  Aquarist  all across
the North American Continent are getting involved locally in
conservation issues and our waterways and fishes are the
better for it.
The North American Continent holds 10% of the earth's fish
species. So it is only natural that Aquarist begin to
reacquaint themselves with our continents fishes. The
shiners and sunfish are most peoples first exposure to
temperate fish. They are attractive durable and available
with just a bit of sweat ! Unfortunately in America most
sunfish are only commercially available at bait shops. That
may change in the near future but for now we need to find
alternative means to stock our tanks. The simplest way  is
to contact your states Fisheries personnel about keeping and
rearing sunfish. In most cases you can collect , keep and
rear common sunfish with just a fishing license and a
fishing pole. Often times the most desirable sunfish are the
smallest ones and they are considered trash or bait fish by
most states. If  your quarry is classified as a bait species
you can usually use a net or seine to collect which makes it
all the easier. If that does not work out for you , or you
desire a species that is out of your range you can try
NANFA's trading post at their WEBSITE WWW.NANFA.ORG often
times their members will gladly trade native for tropical
and vice versa.  If you chose to do a little personnel
collecting I know you will find the experience a pleasant
way to spend a few hours. The quite times spend in the
outdoors is my main pleasure in collecting.
Before you get started in setting up a sunfish tank you will
want to familiarize yourself with your local species . I
highly recommend you look into Peterson's Field Guide to
Freshwater Fishes by Brooks M Burr and Larry Page. It has
color plates range maps and general descriptions all the
things that you will need  to pick your prize. What it is
lacking is rearing and breeding information. The reason it
is lacking is that in most cases it does not exist. Here is
a very practical way Aquarist can pitch in. We can breed and
rear native species then document our results. Sharing that
data with local university and fisheries will help our
fellow Aquarist and fishes at the same time. The university
and fisheries folks just do not have the resources to breed
and rear every species of fish in this country. We Aquarist
do . This shared data would greatly help in the conservation
of our temperate species.
OK you say, I am ready to do that Sunfish thing  but what
species do you recommend ! Here is my all-star list in no
particular order with as much breeding and rearing data as I
have personally observed. You will probably find others
outside this list that are excellent aquarium specimens. If
you have success please let me know.

Central Longear Sunfish (Lepomis megalotis) - 6-9 inches,
Kansas to Ohio south to North Carolina. In my opinion the
best of the American Sunfish. Its colors are simply
stunning. It is incredibly durable and as with all the
sunfish throw away the heater they like room temperature.
The Longear  will take prepared, frozen and live foods with
ease. Their mouth is small enough that they are unable to
prey upon many of the smaller tankmates. To breed this gem I
have found a temperature of 72 degrees F. A rich diet of
shellfish and insects and a barebottom tank do the trick. In
Dr. Beckers classic book the Fishes of Wisconsin he reports
that with an increased photoperiod , enriched diet and a
temp of 72 degrees F. they were able to spawn the same trio
every 14 days for over 3 years. So this species should be
very prolific for a serious minded aquarist. The longears
show an incredible diversity in color and form over their
range. So  no matter what your taste, with a bit of
searching you will find a strain that fits your taste.
Dollar Sunfish (Lepomis marginatus) - 3 -5 inches, Texas to
Atlantic coast  North to Tennessee. Basically a miniature
Longear Sunfish. They are aggressive insectivores with
beautiful gill plate vermiculations . Their tolerance for
temperature changes and poor conditions makes them an
excellent species for the pond or home aquarium. The are
suitable for community or single species tanks. They have a
unique personality in the tank and will commonly eat from
your hand. They are common in the swamps, backwaters and
sloughs where they occur .
Orange Spot Sunfish (Lepomis humilus) 3-8 inches , midwest
south to coastal Florida and Texas. A incredibly interesting
species. The males show breeding colors as intense as any
tropical fish out there. They are true survivors of the
aquatic world. I have collected them in ditches that I was
sure would hold nothing but mud and weeds. They have a
larger mouth than many fishes their size and are serious
predators. Males will often beat each other to death when
forced to live together in an aquarium. The secret to
keeping them together in a tank is either a lower temp or a
large group of them. When that temperature tops 74 F. They
are ready to spawn and males will set up territories and
defend it vigorously. So keep that in mind when setting up
your tank.
Blackbanded Sunfish (Enneacanthus obesus) 4-8 inches East
Coast USA New Hampshire to Florida . Imagine a cross between
a discus and an Angel fish. Close your eyes and think real
hard .Wouldn't it be cool ? Well it is , it is the
Blackbanded Sunfish. It is small ,gentle and incredibly
beautiful. It requires conditions similar to a Discus or
Angel fish. With soft , acidic water and good food this
species will thrive in the home aquarium. They, like all the
temperate species, do well at room temperature. Their
cousins the Bluespotted sunfish and Banded  sunfish make my
almost made it list and are worthy of serious consideration.
However for me the Blackbanded sunfish is my choice .Their
golden body, deep black stripes and red tinted fins are eye
catching and worthy of a single species display tank.

Pygmy Sunfishes (Ellasoma sp.) while they are not true
sunfishes for years they were classified as such and most
folks still think of them as such. They are tiny (1-2
inches) ,peaceful and diverse species with 6 species already
identified they hold great promise as aquarium species. In
the pet trade almost exclusively E. Evergladi makes an
appearance . There are however several other species just as
suitable to tank life and very diverse in appearance and
needs. IN Denmark E. Zonatum is getting a try as a
commercial species. You can easily rear generation after
generation of these little gems in a 1 gallon tank or jar.
If you get the chance to acquire some of these guys by all
means do.
This is by no means a comprehensive list . There a great
many more sunnies that were left off the list for no
particuarlly good reason just my personal preference. So you
can imagine their is suitable variety in the Sunfishes to
make them a reasonable choice for the home Aquarium. If you
take the plunge and begin to rear some of the unique species
you will be pioneer of sorts. The temperate species just
have not gotten the coverage of the tropicals . That is
starting to change. The temperate species are every bit as
colorful as the tropicals and they have several advantages.
They are more durable in most cases, the aquarist can spend
less to maintain them due to their tolerances to room
temperature and their voracious appetites for a variety of
foods. From the pygmy sunfishes to the Longears there is
sunnie out there for everyone. So before you set up your
next tank give those wily sunnies a second thought . They
may be just what you are looking for !
If you set up a temperate species tank. I know you will find
it an exciting new aspect of your Aquarium hobby. You can
contact me with questions or comments viaa SASE at 2213
Prytania Circle Navarre Fl. USA 32566 or email
robertrice at juno_com. European fanciers of temperate species
can acquire many of these sunfish along with many
fascinating shiners from Keld Hanson via Credo fish,
Damsigvej 9 , 9352 Denmark, Dybvad,   Denmark. Until next
time good luck and good fishing.
If you would like to purchase any of the Tomelleri color
prints you see here please contact Mr. Tomelleri at 1-800-
240-3378 he has a great variety of species available.
If you are interested in conservation , the aquarium rearing
of native fish and or watershed restoration think about
joining the not for profit native fish conservancy for only
10 $ (5$ for students) you will get our bi monthly
newsletter and  support native fish research, land
purchasing and regional activities (80 cents of every dollar
goes right back into support of our native fishes). Plus
enjoy benefits  like silent auctions of native fishes and a
ever expanding breeders database which will ensure success
with your new tank inhabitants. ( See side bar )

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