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The Pygmy Sunfish
by Bill Duzen
Some of the Jewels of the aquarium hobby in Europe are not collected from
some pool in Zaire or netted from some rock out cropping in Lake
Tanganyika. They are not found in the black waters of the Rio Negro or
the steamy jungle streams of New Guinea. Many of the prizes of fish rooms
across the "pond" are from our neck of the woods. The colors of some of
our darters, particularly in the Genus Etheostoma will more than hold
their own with any of the Tropicals. Fundulus and some of the pygmy
killifish such as Leptolucania ommata and Lucania goodei and even the
Florida Flag fish, Jordanella floridae command a King's ransom over
there. One of the favorites of the pygmy sunfishes is the Everglades
Sunfish, Elassoma evergladei.

The Everglades sunfish can be collected not only from the northern edge
of the Everglade swamps of Florida but also from coastal plain drainages
from Mobile Bay, Alabama to Cape Fear in North Carolina. They can be
found in swamp areas with heavy vegetation and usually over a mud bottom.
They have been a staple in the aquarium hobby in Europe since 1925, but
only occasionally available here and usually from a private breeder,
unless you are lucky enough to be able to collect they your self.

Elassoma evergladei is a fish that is hard pressed to grow to more than 1
 inches in length with the females being slightly smaller. the males
have a rather smokey charcoal coloration with bright sky-blue spots on
the body. At breeding time the male turns a deep black but retains the
blue spots. The males also have much larger fins with a dorsal spot on
the back edge of the dorsal fin.

The females are a overall greenish brown and the blue body spots are very
faint. When not in breeding condition the males also have a vertical
barred pattern.

Unlike other native sunfish which breed very much like many New World
cichlids of the Genus Cichlasoma with depositing their eggs in a "nest"
either in a pit dug for spawning or directly on the substrate, the Pygmy
sunfish will lay its eggs amongst fine leaf plants. It is best to set the
Pygmy Sunfish up in a species tank of about ten gallons for a single pair
and at least a twenty gallon "long" for up to three pairs. The tank
should be set up with well aged water at about 75 degrees and have a mulm
type bottom with fibrous peat or even Java moss. The use of rain water
seems to help the spawning process. A couple of rocks and plant stands
completes the decorations. The water should be filtered but little water
movement is a must. The male will stake out a territory of about 100
square inches and defend this against all other males. Mock battles will
occur but little damage has been observed. The male will try to entice
the female or females into his territory. Once there, the male will dance
around the female with his head in a downward mode. The female will be
gently guided into a plant thicket in which 40 to 60 eggs will be laid.
And unlike other sunfish, the Pygmy shows no parental care and will not
eat the eggs or the fry. Many generations can be raised in the same tank
if it is large enough. If you wish to remove the fry be sure the water is
taken from the spawning tank for the fry tank because the fry do not
tolerate water changes well.

The only drawback I have found in this species seems to be the reluctance
of the fish to eat any thing other than live food. The will nibble at
frozen brine but only if they are really hungry. But, every cloud has a
silver lining, because of their small size and small mouth, they relish
baby brine shrimp and micro worms, two foods that are easily obtainable.
Vinegar eels go unnoticed because the eels tend to stay near the surface
of the water and both the fry and adults tend to hug the bottom of the
tank. Daphnia of all sizes are also taken by the adults. 

These fish have a rather strange way of swimming. They will seem to
"walk" slowly on the substrate and seemingly drift with the current but
will literally disappear before your eyes if you try to net them. Your
eyes can not follow the quick escape movement, but they do not seem to
swim far and can be located a few inches away. These fish also do very
well outdoors when the water temperature remains constantly above 50
degrees and doesn't get warmer than 86 degrees, but they can stand
temperatures of 95 degrees for short periods.

So, if your looking for something new to add to your fish room try
something native and give the Everglade Pygmy Sunfish a try.

Dr. Rudiger Riehl & Hans A. Baensch Aquarium Atlas I Baensch 1987

Robert Rice
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