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NFC: Dollar SUnfish article By Ray Wollff
Dollar Sunfish: Spawning Two Varieties of Lepomis marginatus
by: R. W. Wolff
I have spawned two varieties of the three marginatus that I know of.
The first is from North Carolina, and the second is from Louisiana. I
will describe the differences in the two populations and the methods I
used to spawn them.
Distinguishing the two strains: The two distinct strains, or
distinct variations, of the dollar sunfish are unique, as even the
females are distinguishable. The North Carolina, or eastern variety is a
pastel fish with larger than average fins and a golden orange background
color. The Louisiana variety has dark blue and a dark orange red
background color. The fins are of typical size for Lepomis. Both males
have extended ventral fins rays of the front. The other difference,
rather than being color orientated is the feeding habits and construction
of the mouth. The eastern variety has a more down slung, or subterminal,
mouth. It prefers to feed in the mid-water areas, where as the Western
variety has a superior mouth, and will more willingly feed off the
surface than the bottom. Both strains enjoy the same foods, and adapt to
commercial prepared foods readily.
Feeding for proper breeding conditioning: Prepared foods are not to
be used except for a filler. Proper feeding must include a variety of
live foods. The best foods for this are earthworms from rich soil, but
not manure piles, tiny fish, small crustaceans or pieces of larger
ones, and crickets dusted with a vitamin powder. Fish must be fed
heavily at least once a day. I like to feed non- aquatic foods in the
morning, and aquatic ones late in the day. The reasons is during the day
the fish will pick up some of the uneaten foods. The aquatic foods will
be alive the next morning for the fish to eat.
Other considerations to preparing fish for spawning: I do no other
things other than start a feeding program to get dollar sunfish to spawn.
I'm sure a cooling period, coinciding with a shorter photoperiod would
help the process along, but this was never an option in my set-ups in the
past due to other inhabitants of the fish room requiring heat. So this
being the hardest part of inducing spawning, and being able to forgo it,
that makes dollars that much nicer for breeding.
Three methods outlined: I have spawned dollar sunfish in three
different ways. The first is what I refer to as cheating (although there
is nothing at all wrong with this method) is conditioning the pair or
group to spawn with the feeding regimen above. Then move the fish
outside to a pool. The pool should consist of two depths, a shallow
gravel covered area, protected by gnarled roots and some floating weeds.
The deep area should be heavily vegetated. The second method is in a
larger 3-4 foot tank, set up in a natural way with weeds and roots etc.
The third method is in a ten gallon. You will need two ten gallons side
by side, or a sturdy divider in the one tank. The breeding pair should
not be raised together in the ten gallon, but in the tank from option
two. The ten gallon should have a nice layer of gravel and a floating
mass of plants. I used no filtration in the pond, and foam filters in
the aquariums. Lighting the aquariums is done by two 40 watt bulbs, one
warm white and one cool white in the fixture.
Pool spawning method detailed: Having set up the pool as mentioned
above and having water temperatures in the mid to upper seventies you
can add fish, if they are not already in the pool. Keep feeding the fish
as you would in an aquarium, but be careful none of the live foods are
something that will consider your fish fry to be food for them. The male
should set up a nest in the shallow part of the pool, maybe underneath
roots or weeds. You may not notice the nest, but if he stays in his spot
when disturbed, he most likely has a nest fanned out. Sunfish will spawn
at any time in the day, so you will have to watch for eggs. As soon as
the male is guarding eggs you will want to remove the female(s). The
easiest way to do this is to actually fish them out with hook and line
from the deeper part of the pool. You don't want to catch the male off
his nest, although he should not quit guarding it if this happens. After
fry are noticed not staying in the nest area, the male should be removed
too. You can supplement the fry's diet with baby brine shrimp, or
daphnia, but there should be plenty of this naturally.
Large aquarium spawning: Set up a 30 to 75 gallon aquarium as a
natural set-up. Make sure the plant and driftwood cover is very thick.
One or two males and two to four females can be added. Males should
start defending areas and fanning nests. Heavy feeding is important, as
are water changes. The females should start to fill up with eggs. If
this all works as planned, spawning will commence. Remove any males that
are not nesting. After spawning remove females as soon as possible, as
they will be killed by very good father dollar sunfish. Eggs will hatch
in three days approximately. Continue to let the male guard the fry. He
should not eat them, but may clean fry with his mouth, and catch any
"early nest leavers" and put them back in the safety of the nest. It is
important that the plant growth is thick, this will stimulate small
infusoria to grow. The fry will feed off this when the yolk sack is
depleted. Once the yolk sack is depleted, the fry should be free
swimming and taking baby brine shrimp. Remove the male at this time, and
any possible remaining adults. Continue to raise the fry in the tank.
Feed as many times as possible, but make sure all food is eaten. It is
very hard to clean a tank full of fry. The fry should grow quickly and
begin to accept other small live foods, what ever you may have available.
Keep trying to feed the fry larger food items as they can handle them,
this seems to increase growth speed. Once the young fish reach quarter
size they may accept prepared foods. I have not had dollar sunfish
accept prepared foods until they were almost tow inches in length. Why
this is I'm not certain, as most other species will take prepared foods
from the start.
Ten gallon spawning method: This method is the first method I
employed. It is nice for someone with limited space. It is more time
consuming and work involved. Have two ten gallon aquariums set up side
by side. Put the same gravel in each, some thick mass of floating
plants, and a foam filter. Have a divider cut for one of the ten
gallons. Condition the male and a female in each tank. If the male is
to busy watching the female, slip a piece of paper between the tanks.
When the male has fanned the nest, and the female is ripe with eggs (
this is a full looking belly, even long after feeding), place the divider
in the tank with the male, then add the female. Flip the divider up to
let the female in with the male, and watch carefully. The male will
continue the courtship dance, which consists of a display, by a blinding
dash around the perimeter of the tank. If the female wants to spawn with
this male, she will take on female spawning coloration. This consists of
dark and light bars alternating down the side, gray and black looking.
The transformation is so different from the original coloration, she
looks like a different fish. If this happens you are likely going to end
up with eggs that are fertilized. The two fish will go to the nest, the
female will lay on her side, the male will stay upright, and they will
circle the nest, stopping every so often to drop a few eggs and fertilize
them. Usually when the male is done, he will drive the female from
the nest. It is important to remove her, or put her on the other side of
the divider , or she will be killed quickly. This is one of the
functions of the floating weeds, to provide refuge for the female once
spawning is complete. The other is it provides food for the fry when
they hatch. Once the fry are free swimming, remove the male or both
parents. Then the cycle can be repeated in another set up, while the fry
begin growing in this tank.
The fry: Now, out of the three methods mentioned, I hope you have
more fry then you thought possible. Within a little over a year, these
fish should be able to spawn themselves. Be sure to pass the extras
along to other Aquarists that may be interested. It is also nice to
have a garden pond to put them into. Dollar sunfish show off nice colors
when the sun shines on them as they swim through a garden pond. Dollar
sunfish are not usually aggressive to non-sunfish type fish, granted
these are not small enough to be a meal. You could have a nice natural
set-up with some of the killifish or other small fish that are found in
Other important notes: Do not mix strains of dollar sunfish, unless
this is to be carefully documented, and none of the F1s passed
unwittingly to other Aquarists. Due to the uniqueness of this, as well
as other species of fish throughout there range it, would be near to
hybridization to mix them. The way I keep my fish straight is to add a
location name onto there Latin name on the tank label. I borrowed this
from the killifish keepers, because it works for these fish, why not our
native species. You never know, after more study is done, you might have
a new species in your tank already at home.
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