The Blackbanded Sunfish is an attractive fish, native to the United States, that can be kept in an unheated aquarium!

The Blackbanded Sunfish Enneacanthus chaetodon is a very pretty cold water species that is native only to North America. It is a shiny little silver fish contrasted with six vertical black bars. Most domestic fish species are overlooked as aquarium pets in the United States and this is a shame. It is often thought that local equals colorless and boring. But when you see a Blackbanded Sunfish in full color, you’ll know that this assessment is very wrong.

The Blackbanded Sunfish is a temperate species that is found in the eastern United States. This is a veryattractive little fish that doesn’t need to be kept in a heated aquarium. It is hardy and easy to keep as long as it is kept in a well maintained, stable aquarium. They can be difficult to feed initially, not readily accepting prepared aquarium foods unless itthinks it istiny live prey. But that is easily accomplished by streaming frozen foods, like brine shrimp and bloodworms, in the filtercirremt to simulate movement. Once they are comfortable, they will accept all sorts of frozen meaty foods.

This Little Sunfish is a great favorite with Europeans. It has made its way into the aquarium industry in the USA only because they are being bred in the Far East. Part of the reason this fish is in the aquarium industry in the United States has to do with local state fish and game laws. Some states consider all sunfish as game fish, even though some species such as the Blackbanded Sunfish do not get large enough to really be a game fish. It is usually illegal to transport live game fish from the waters where they were caught.

Some states do not allow wild caught fish to be kept as pets because they fear they may end up being released into waters where they to do not want them to exist. Also, the transmitting of diseases is a consideration. Check your local laws before collecting or transporting any wild caught fish. It is also a good idea before you purchase any, to make sure that it is okay in your state, for you to keep Blackbanded Sunfish in an aquarium.


Scientific Classification


Blackbanded Sunfish – Quick Aquarium Care

Aquarist Experience Level:Beginner
Aquarium Hardiness:Moderately hardy
Minimum Tank Size:30 gal (114 L)
Size of fish – inches3.9 inches (10.01 cm)
Temperature:39.0 to 72.0° F (3.9 to 22.2&deg C)

Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Blackbanded Sunfish Enneacanthus chaetodon was described by Baird in 1855. They are found in the United States from New Jersey to central Florida. There are also reports that these fish are in the Delaware Valley, but their have been no success in collecting fish from this area. The fish population has been hurt over the past few years due to pollution and poor water conditions. However, the Enneacanthus chaetodon is not on the IUCN Red List.

This genus consist of only three species, with the other two being the Banded Sunfish Enneacanthus obesus and the Bluespotted Sunfish Enneacanthus gloriosus. Collectively as a group they are commonly known as the Banded Sunfish or Little Sunfish.

The Blackbanded Sunfish dwell in the slow moving or quiet waters of vegetated lakes, ponds, pools, and the muddy bottom backwaters of creeks and small rivers. These fish are normally restricted to acidic waters and can tolerate temperatures between 39° and 72° Fahrenheit. In nature these fish will consume zooplankton, insects, crustaceans, and larvae.

  • Scientific Name: Enneacanthus chaetodon
  • Social Grouping: Groups
  • IUCN Red List: NE – Not Evaluated or not listed – These fish are illegally to keep in many states due to their fragile numbers in nature.


The Blackbanded Sunfish is a fairly small little fish with an average life span of 3 – 4 years. The average size for this fish is between 2 – 3 inches (60 cm) in length, with a maximum size being not quite 4 inches (10 cm). This is a very deep-bodied, laterally compressed species. It has a small mouth with a longer lower jaw extending upward. Its dorsal fin stands upright with 10 spines and the tail fin is somewhat rounded.

The body coloration is mostly a shiny silver in color with yellow spots. It gets its name from the 6 black vertical bars on each side, starting with the first bar running through the eye and extending back to the tail fin. Its dorsal, anal and tail fins are mottled with black and silver and there is an brown-orange edge on the ventral fins.

  • Size of fish – inches: 3.9 inches (10.01 cm) – The average size for this fish is between 2 – 3 inches (60 cm).
  • Lifespan: 4 years

Fish Keeping Difficulty

The Blackbanded Sunfish is a moderately hardy coldwater fish. They can be a great addition for a beginner fish keeper as long as aquariuim is well maintained and stable. These fish are sensitive to temperature fluctuations, poor water conditions, and chemicals.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner

Foods and Feeding

The Blackbanded Sunfish are carnivores. In the wild they feed on zooplankton, insects, crustaceans, and larvae. In captivity, initially they may not readily accepting prepared aquarium foods unless is simulates tiny live prey. But this is easily accomplished by streaming frozen foods, like brine shrimp and bloodworms, in the filter stream to simulate movement. Once they are comfortable they will accept all sorts of frozen meaty foods. They will do best if fed smaller live or frozen food such as bloodworms, blackworms, brine shrimp, glass worms, or even finely chopped cooked shrimp. Flakes may also be offered occasionally.

  • Diet Type: Carnivore
  • Flake Food: Yes
  • Tablet / Pellet: No
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Half of Diet
  • Meaty Food: All of Diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day

Aquarium Care

These fish are not a very difficult fish to care for, but do need their water maintained. A high quality filter and weekly 30% water changes should keep this fish very happy and healthy. This is not a fish that will tolerate year long high temperatures that most community fish demand. So it is best to not use a heater and just let nature take over for that.

  • Water Changes: Weekly – Do a 30% water change weekly.

Aquarium Setup

The Blackbanded Sunfish will generally swim near the bottom of the tank. A 30 gallon tank is the minimum suggested size. This is a temperate species which does not like to live in high temperatures all year long. The tank should be unheated and should be allowed to cool down to the lower sixties or even into the fifties during the winter.

These fish enjoy well planted tanks with plenty of hiding places. Provide a substrate of fine sand with plants along the inside parameters and an open area for swimming. They need a lot of oxygen, so be sure the tank is well aerated. They need good water quality, but are sensitive to temperature fluctuations, water changes, and chemicals.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gal (114 L)
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Substrate Type: Sand/Gravel Mix
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate – normal lighting
  • Temperature: 39.0 to 72.0° F (3.9 to 22.2&deg C)
  • Breeding Temperature: 69.0° F – They will spawn in nature when the temperatures are between 59° – 77° F. (15 – 25° C).
  • Range ph: 6.5-7.5
  • Hardness Range: 10 – 20 dGH
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Weak
  • Water Region: Bottom

Social Behaviors

They are a peaceful, friendly fish and can be kept in groups. They don’t do well with restless tank mates. They can become aggressive and territorial when spawning. As they are a temperate species and the tank should be unheated, they shouldn’t be kept with tropical species. If you aren’t planning on breeding these sunfish, other temperate species such as minnows and Dojo Loaches will do well with them.

  • Venomous: No
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Yes – They are peaceful and can be kept in groups, but can become aggressive and territorial when spawning.
    • Peaceful fish (): Safe
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
    • Monitor
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: May be aggressive
    • Plants: Safe

Sexual differences

Blackbanded Sunfish are difficult to sex, but generally the males are more heavy bodied and colorful.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Blackbanded Sunfish will spawn in nature when the temperatures are between 59° – 77° F. (15 – 25° C). When spawning, the male will dig a spawning pit in the gravel, in a shady area among the plants. Spawning is preceded with a courtship ritual where the male lures the female to the nest. A great many eggs are laid in the pit. They are sticky and adhere to the gravel. The male will defend the pit fiercely, driving the female away.

These Sunfish are occasionally tank spawned but this is not an easy undertaking. The main problem is, like many temperate species, they need a cooling down period during the winter to get into spawning condition. If you are able to get their water down to a stable temperature in the lower forties for a few months, you may be able to entice them to spawn. A good article on the subject is Spawning the Blackbanded Sunfish by James G. Sternburg.

  • Ease of Breeding: Moderate

Fish Diseases

With Blackbanded Sunfish; disease is not usually a problem in a well maintained aquarium. That being said there is no guarantee that you won’t have to deal with health problems or disease. Anything you add to your tank can bring disease to your tank. Not only other fish but plants, substrate, and decorations can harbor bacteria. Take great care and make sure to properly clean or quarantine anything that you add to an established tank so not to upset the balance. Blackbanded Sunfish are very resilient once established in a tank.

A good thing about the Blackbanded Sunfish is that due to their resilience, an outbreak of disease can often be limited to just one or a few fishes if you deal with it at an early stage. When keeping more sensitive types of fish, it is common for all fishes to be infected even before the first warning signs can be noticed. The best way to proactively prevent disease is to give your Blackbanded Sunfish the proper environment and give them a well balanced diet. The closer to their natural habitat the less stress the fish will have, making them healthier and happy. A stressed fishis more likely to acquire disease.

Blackbanded Sunfish are fairly hardy fish when mature, but are subject to the same diseases as other tropical fish. One of the most common freshwater fish ailments is ich. It is recommended to read up on the common tank diseases. Knowing the signs and catching and treating them early makes a huge difference. For information about freshwater fish diseases and illnesses, see Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments.


The Blackbanded Sunfish are uncommon in the aquarium trade, but they are occasionally available.



 Enneacanthus chaetodon (Image Credit: Tino Strauss, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported)