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Compatibility and Feeding of North American Native Fishes in Aquaria

In general, you can keep the larger sunfishes together along with the larger madtoms and darters. The smaller sunfishes can be kept with the smaller darters, minnows, killifish and madtoms. Some of the tiniest fish, like the Elassoma sunfishes, should only be kept with very small fish like the least killifish, swamp darter, sawcheek darter and bluefin killifish. The larger the tank, the easier it will be to achieve a good balance of aggression and food supply to all of the inhabitants. Most of the North American natives will not bother live plants, and plants are an excellent way to provide a comfortable and healthy environment for them. There are many reference works on line and in print for the care of live aquatic plants. This is beyond the scope of our web site.

The listings below are general guidelines. We make no guarantee that they will work in your aquarium. All fish will attack and kill smaller fishes, so you need to acquire fishes that are close in size or at least close enough that their tankmates won't be tempted to eat them. Aggressive fishes, like the larger Lepomis sunfishes and the bullheads, will attack and kill minnows and suckers as large as they are. Minnows are generally not killers, but some species are aggressive feeders and may snatch up all of the food before more passive fishes, such as darters and suckers can reach it. A large tank will help solve this problem as will abundant plants and other cover.

Many natives will not accept dry prepared flake or pelleted foods. Some may be trained to these foods. Others may not. Almost all natives will readily accept frozen bloodworms and brine shrimp as well as other frozen foods like mysis, plankton, salad shrimp, glassworms, mosquito larvae and daphnia. Of course, live foods are always welcomed. Many fishes will immediately take, or can be trained to take, the above foods in freezedried form. Elassoma sunfishes do very well on newly hatched live brine shrimp and may be able to take frozen bloodworms and brine shrimp, keeping in mind that they have very small mouths and may need the food chopped or shaved.

Larger fishes that refuse dry foods can often be tempted with frozen salad shrimp available from your local grocery store or supermarket. Live earthworms and crickets are generally foolproof feed options. Bowfin and pickerel enjoy live crayfish and tadpoles as well as live feeder fishes such as minnows and suckers. Pickerel can be trained to take thawed frozen foods. Bowfin will generally eat any meaty foods, live or dead. They should be expected to attack and kill any other animal, including other fishes and bowfin, that they find in their tank.

The listings below are general guidelines. We make no guarantee that they will work in your aquarium. Here are examples of species groupings that could live together under the right conditions:

Tiny Fish Tank:
Elassoma zonatum, banded pygmy sunfish
Elassoma evergladei, Everglades pygmy sunfish
Elassoma okeefenokee, okeefenokee pygmy sunfish

Leptolucania ommata, Pygmy Killifish
Etheostoma serrifer, sawcheek darter
Etheostoma fusiforme, swamp darter
Pteronotropis stonei, lowland shiner
Lucania goodei, bluefin killifish
Heterandria formosa, least killifish, pygmy livebearer
Lucania parva, rainwater killifish
Cambarellus shufeldtii, dwarf crayfish

Cambarellus patzcuarensis, Mexican Dwarf Orange Crayfish

Large Sunfish Tank:

These are big fishes and require a big tank if you intend to keep more than one fish, total. A stable community can sometimes be attained by acquiring only one or two individuals of several different species, since this will tend to dissipate intraspecific aggression. Fishes must be nearly the same size to prevent fatalities. Abundant cover is essential. Lower temperatures reduce aggression. When it's hot, they will fight. We won't attempt to address issues of breeding in this brief article. As always, maintenance of excellent water quality, by way of regular water changes, is required. If you intend to keep more than three of these fishes, a tank of at least 55 gallons is required. Tanks of 100 gallons or more are preferred.

Acantharchus pomotis, mud sunfish
Lepomis auritus, redbreast sunfish
Lepomis cyanellus, green sunfish
Lepomis gibbosus, pumpkinseed
Lepomis gulosus, warmouth
Lepomis macrochirus, bluegill
Lepomis marginatus, dollar sunfish
Lepomis megalotis, longear sunfish
Lepomis megalotis peltastes, northern longear sunfish
Lepomis microlophus, redear sunfish
Percina crassa, piedmont darter
Percina nigrofasciata, blackbanded darter
Percina caprodes, Logperch
Perca flavescens, yellow perch
Noturus insignis, margined madtom
Noturus flavus, stonecat


Peaceful Community Tank

Most of these are quite peaceful. The Cyprinella shiners can become very aggressive, especially when in breeding condition and when the water is warm. Same is true of the sunfishes and Jordanella floridae, though to a lesser degree.

Enneacanthus chaetodon, blackbanded sunfish
Enneacanthus gloriosus, bluespotted sunfish
Enneacanthus obesus, banded sunfish
Lepomis symmetricus, bantam sunfish
Noturus leptacanthus, speckled madtom
Noturus gyrinus, tadpole madtom
Umbra pygmaea, eastern mudminnow
Umbra limi, central mudminnow
Poecilia latipinna, sailfin molly
Etheostoma caeruleum, rainbow darter
Etheostoma blennoides, greenside darter
Etheostoma flabellare, fantail darter
Etheostoma fricksium, Savannah darter
Etheostoma fusiforme, swamp darter
Etheostoma inscriptum, turquoise darter
Etheostoma olmstedi, tessellated darter
Etheostoma serrifer, sawcheek darter
Etheostoma thalassinum, seagreen darter
Etheostoma zonale, banded darter
Minytrema melanops, spotted sucker - can reach 10 inches
Scartomyzon cf. lachneri, brassy jumprock - can reach 8 inches
Campostoma anomalum, central stoneroller - aggressive feeder, likes algae, can reach 6 inches
Clinostomus funduloides, rosyside dace - aggressive feeder
Cyprinella chloristia, greenfin shiner - aggressive feeder
Cyprinella leedsi, bannerfin shiner - aggressive feeder
Cyprinella nivea, whitefin shiner - aggressive feeder
Cyprinella pyrrhomelas, fieryblack shiner - aggressive feeder
Hybopsis hypsinotus, highback chub
Hybopsis rubrifrons, rosyface chub
Notropis altipinnis, highfin shiner
Notropis buccatus, Silverjaw Minnow
Notropis chalybaeus, ironcolor shiner
Notropis cummingsae, dusky shiner
Notropis hudsonius, spottail shiner
Notropis lutipinnis, yellowfin shiner - aggressive feeder
Notropis maculatus, taillight shiner
Notropis petersoni, coastal shiner
Notropis procne, swallowtail shiner
Notropis scepticus, sandbar shiner - aggressive feeder
Phoxinus erythrogaster, southern redbelly dace
Pteronotropis hypselopterus, sailfin shiner
Pteronotropis stonei, lowland shiner
Rhinichthys atratulus, eastern blacknose dace
Fundulus chrysotus, golden topminnow
Fundulus catenatus, northern studfish - can reach 6 inches
Fundulus diaphanus, banded killifish - can reach 4 inches
Fundulus lineolatus, lined topminnow
Fundulus notatus, blackstripe topminnow
Lucania goodei, bluefin killifish
Lucania parva, rainwater killifish
Poecilia latipinna, sailfin molly
Jordanella floridae, flagfish - likes algae
Cambarellus shufeldtii, dwarf crayfish - these small crayfish may be eaten by any fish that has a large enough mouth, including those listed as peaceful community fishes above, they rarely reach more than one inch in length


Coastal Killifish Tank:

These fishes generally require hard water with plenty of calcium and other minerals found in marine environments. They can all get large and aggressive. If you will keep more than five of any of these, a tank of 50 gallons or more is recommended.

Fundulus heteroclitus, mummichog
Fundulus zebrinus, southern plains killifish
Fundulus confluentus, marsh killifish
Fundulus diaphanus, banded killifish
Fundulus majalis, striped killifish
Fundulus heteroclitus, mummichog
Cyprinodon variegatus, sheepshead minnow
Poecilia latipinna, sailfin molly


Species Tanks

Keep these fishes alone or with their own kind, or chose tankmates very carefully. Mosquitofish and sticklebacks, despite their small size, are very aggressive and will shred the fins of any other fishes in their tank. Pirate perch are difficult to feed and may starve in a community tank. Sculpins are small, but they can swallow fishes as long as two thirds their own body length. Yet they may starve in a community tank with more rapidly feeding fishes. Grass and redfin pickerel reach about 14 inches in length and can also swallow fishes as long as two thirds their own body length. And they also may starve in a community tank with more rapidly feeding fishes. They can be eaten themselves by any of these large predators including bowfin, black basses, bullheads and walleye. The rest of this list are very large, aggressive predators that will give you trouble, even in the largest of aquariums. Limiting yourself to one fish per tank will solve this problem. The tank must be able to accommodate the ultimate adult size of the fish, though.

Esox americanus, grass or redfin pickerel - can reach 14 inches
Amia calva, bowfin - can reach 36 inches
Lepisosteus osseus, longnose gar - can reach 48 inches
Ameiurus brunneus, snail bullhead - can reach 14 inches
Ameiurus natalis, yellow bullhead - can reach 14 inches
Ameiurus nebulosus, brown bullhead - can reach 14 inches
Ameiurus platycephalus, flat bullhead - can reach 14 inches
Ictalurus punctatus, channel catfish - can reach 30 inches
Micropterus dolomieu, smallmouth bass - can reach 24 inches
Micropterus salmoides, largemouth bass - can reach 30 inches
Sander vitreus, walleye - can reach 30 inches
Culaea inconstans, brook stickleback - can reach 2 inches
Gambusia holbrooki, eastern mosquitofish - can reach 2 inches
Aphredoderus sayanus, pirate perch - can reach 4 inches
Cottus bairdi, mottled sculpin - can reach 5 inches

Check our Fish List for availability of these species

Please refer to these books for more info:

North American Native Fishes for the Home Aquarium by David M. Schleser

American Aquarium Fishes by Robert J. Goldstein

July 2003 Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine All North American Natives Issue

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