The Black-banded sunfish could be a refreshingly different choice for your coldwater aquarium, says Jeremy Gay
Scientific name: Enneacanthus chaetodon
Common name: Black-banded sunfish
Origin: North American Atlantic and Gulf slope drainages from Florida to New Jersey and west to Georgia.
Size: Up to 10cm/4” but usually smaller in the aquarium
Diet: Frozen bloodworm, black mosquito larvae, Daphnia and brineshrimp are readily taken. May also accept flakes or micro pellets. Matt Clarke has kept this fish and his were fond of small earthworms and live bloodworm.
Water: Unusually this species inhabits a cold, yet soft and acidic habitat. Natural temperatures range from 4-22°C/39-72°F, with pH from 6.5-7.5. This is a true coldwater fish that should not be exposed long term to high temperatures.
Notes: If looking for a totally different coldwater fish this could be just the species for you. It belongs to a family of sunfish that inhabit much of North America and many cousins including the Pumpkinseed (Lepomis gibbosus) are controlled in the UK as they are considered to be a threat to
The Black-banded sunfish naturally inhabits vegetated lakes, ponds, quiet sand and mud-bottomed pools and backwaters of creeks and small to medium sized rivers. Its liking for plants will suit its camouflage, and as it doesn’t eat plants, a natural looking coldwater planted aquarium with sand and wood would really show these pretty fish off at their best.
Unlike many other coldwater fish they are also a challenge to keep, due mainly to the dislike of any foods that aren’t live, so they should only be attempted by experienced fish keepers.
Aquarium: A 90cm/36” minimum, to easily hold a group of five or six. Remember to keep the aquarium in a cool place, or have plans for cooling in place, come the summertime.
Sexing: The males are larger with longer fins. The females become fuller when ripe with eggs. They breed by building a nest and protecting it from predators. We have not heard of anyone breeding them in the UK.
Identification: There are three Enneacanthus species, E.chaetodon, the Black-banded sunfish, E. gloriosus, the Blue- spotted sunfish and E. obesus, the Banded sunfish. Of the three, the Black-banded shows the most prominent black, vertical barring whereas the others may lose the bars altogether, depending on mood. E. gloriosus and obesus have more rounded dorsal, and caudal fins.
Availability: Rarely available from specialist stores. Choose large, quarantined specimens over small, wafer thin juveniles as they are much more hardy.
Legal position: One of the few North American fishes that can be kept legally in the UK without a licence.
Price: £5 for juveniles, though expect to pay £10-15 for adults.
This item was first published in the December 2009 issue of Practical Fishkeeping magazine. It may not be reproduced without written permission.