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Smallest available sunfish species?

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#1 Betta132

  • NANFA Guest
  • San Gabriel drainage area

Posted 30 January 2015 - 01:49 PM

I have a 65g tank that I'm slowly building into a 'backwater' tank. What I mean by that is a mimicry of the areas you find under the overhangs of streambanks, off in quiet areas where nobody goes. Little water movement, not terribly much plant life, sticks and dead leaves everywhere, no large or hyper fish. My current stock plan is:

4 pearl gouramis

15-18 glowlight tetras

15-18 Beckford's pencils or similarly sized fish

5 checkerboard cichlids

Some variety of suckermouth, perhaps a twig catfish

One darter (Johnny? Might be swamp) who may get some swamp darter friends at some point

The only ones I have so far are the glowlights and the one darter. For those who aren't familiar with them, pearl gouramis are 5-6" long at full size, usually stay near the surface, have small mouths, and are peaceful.

The checkerboards are a very peaceful, gentle variety of cichlid. I'll probably skip them anyway.

I'm aware that pencilfish are small and skinny and easily eaten, they may be negotiable.

I've been looking around this site, and now I've decided that I might replace the checkerboards with some variety of sunfish. My problems with this are twofold: firstly, most sunfish are aggressive, and I don't want that. Secondly, most sunfish will eat the glowlights. The glowlights are about the only non-negotiable part of this setup, though the pearls are a big favorite of mine.

Basically, I need something that won't chase everything else and won't eat my glowlights. I'm not fussy on color. I don't care if it would attack other sunnies, I can just keep one so long as it leaves everybody else alone. 

I've seen profiles of species, like orangespotted sunnies, who only get about 4" long. Do any of those sunnies have small enough mouths to be trusted?

I saw a couple of profiles saying bantam sunfish only get about 3" long, but there are a couple of profiles saying they get more like 6". Which is accurate?

I know there are those Florida pygmy sunfish things, the Elassomas, but those are teeny and specialized and not good for this tank.

Where's a good source for little sunfish?

#2 Dustin

  • Forum Staff

Posted 30 January 2015 - 01:58 PM

Bluespotted, blackbanded and banded sunfish would be your best best for this size sunfish. Once adults, they may eat a few tetras though depending on how well fed they are. A good source, if you are unable to collect them yourself, is jonahsaquarium.com.

Dustin Smith
At the convergence of the Broad, Saluda and Congaree
Lexington, SC

#3 smbass

  • Board of Directors

Posted 30 January 2015 - 02:10 PM

I would agree with Dustin and add that of these the blackbanded have the smallest mouth, are the smallest true sunfish (the pygmys are not actually sunfish they are their own family) and are very unlikely to eat even your small tetras if they are well fed. They are one of my favorites!

Brian J. Zimmerman

Gambier, Ohio - Kokosing River Drainage

#4 Betta132

  • NANFA Guest
  • San Gabriel drainage area

Posted 30 January 2015 - 02:14 PM

It doesn't look like we have any of them around here, I'm in Central Texas. I'll look into ordering some once the weather stops swinging around quite so much.

Blackbandeds are really pretty, too. I do have one concern: would they do well in a typical aquarium temperature of 78 degrees? 

What section of the tank do blackbandeds like? Midwater? Also, any suggestions on how many to get? Are these schoolers, shoalers, harem fish, or solitary fish?

#5 Dustin

  • Forum Staff

Posted 30 January 2015 - 02:18 PM

They will do fine at 78 degrees. They might not live as long due to the increased metabolism but they will likely not suffer. They will hang around midwater and stay close to some type of cover, either driftwood, plants or whatever else they can easily dart into if need be. In a 65 you can get quite a few. I would likely shoot for 4-6. They do seems to like company but they re not schoolers.

Dustin Smith
At the convergence of the Broad, Saluda and Congaree
Lexington, SC

#6 Mysteryman

  • NANFA Member

Posted 01 February 2015 - 02:22 PM

Blackbandeds used to be nicknamed "poor man's Angelfish" due to their apearance and behaviour, and it's a pretty fitting moniker.


I like Bluespotteds better, personally. When they're comfortable and in full color, they're really something to see. I wish now that I had nabbed a few before I moved; not far from my old house was a fantastic place to collect scads of them. I thnk I'll have to make a point of hitting that spot this spring.

#7 Isaac Szabo

Isaac Szabo
  • NANFA Member
  • Marble Falls, AR

Posted 08 February 2015 - 10:48 PM

...the pygmys are not actually sunfish they are their own family)...

A recent study used genetics to place pygmy sunfishes back inside Centrarchidae: http://www.sciencedi...055790312000280. Some of the authors are NANFA members. Sorry for the derail, I just thought some here would find this interesting.

Betta132, you have received some good advice. I agree that an Enneacanthus species would likely be a good fit for your aquarium.

#8 mikez

  • NANFA Guest

Posted 09 February 2015 - 09:34 AM

I have kept both banded and blackbanded in tropical community tanks. Both did well and became very bold, joining the community and were usually visible and active, especially at feeding time.
Both are predators that will make at least halfhearted attempts to chase small fish but a school of full sized tetras in a planted tank should have no trouble staying ahead of well fed sunnies. Any sick or slow ones might get culled but that's a good thing.

They both can get a bit more troublesome if they pair off and attempt to breed but in a 65 they would not take over the whole tank.

I love both species but have to get the blackbanded a slight edge for their looks alone.

Mike Zaborowski
I don't know, maybe it was the roses.

#9 Betta132

  • NANFA Guest
  • San Gabriel drainage area

Posted 10 February 2015 - 06:51 PM

So from what I'm seeing, blackbandeds:

May have a shortened lifespan in 78F but won't be uncomfortable

Would prefer groups (five or so?) but aren't technically schoolers

May eat small/sick glowlights but should be okay with adults (what if the tank is sparsely planted but has hiding spots? Also, should I just get baby sunnies so they can't eat the glowlights before the glows grow up?)

Shouldn't be terribly shy

Should be fine with the other fish


How do you think they'd be with Beckford's pencils? Beckford's pencils are a bit longer than glowlights, but they're thinner.

Do they have any objections with other fish, or are they fine with anything that won't bother them? I won't have anything long-finned, but I don't want anybody who'll bug the pearl gouramis. Is there a chance they'd nip the two feeler-fins? Pearls are about 5" long, sometimes a bit larger, so they're nearly twice as big as the sunnies.

Would the sunnies eat amano shrimp? Amano shrimp are about an inch and a half long. I'd like them in the tank, if possible, but they're optional. Also, will they eat nerite or assassin snails? I'm guessing no.


Anything else I should know about these guys?

And one other thing: what's a good food? I know a place that has good-quality pellets, would that work? Are the sunnies fussy? I feed frozen a couple of times a week, either mysis, bloodworms, or a mixed frozen food. I can toss some nori in if they'd like that.

#10 mikez

  • NANFA Guest

Posted 11 February 2015 - 08:58 AM

Coincidently, I actually had a school of beckfords with my blackbanded. They had no trouble avoiding the sunfish. I should add the tank was heavily planted with lots of floating plants which was where the pencils stayed.

Your analysis of the advice you've gotten is pretty much right. The sunfish will prefer frozen foods like Mysis and bloodworms and that will keep them fat and lazy enough to not bother the other fish. They will take pellets and even flake but I never tried those as staples, more like supplements.
Mike Zaborowski
I don't know, maybe it was the roses.

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