Picture by Chad Thomas, Texas State University-San Marcos



Elassoma zonatum

banded pygmy sunfish



Type Locality

Little Red River, White Co., Arkansas, and Rio Brazos, Texas (Jordan 1877).


Etymology/Derivation of Scientific Name

Elassoma, Greek, meaning “small”; zonatum, Latin, meaning “banded” (Pflieger 1975).



Elassoma zonatum Jordan 1877:50; Hay 1881:500, 1883:74; Hildebrand and Towers 1928:135.

Ellasoma zonatum Cook 1959:172



Maximum size: 44.6 mm TL (Walsh and Burr 1984).


Life colors: The back and sides are brown with 9-12 dark brown or blue black on the sides just above the pectoral fin. The undersides of the head and body have numerous melanophores. The preorbital, post orbital, and suborbital bars are generally well developed. The dorsal and anal fins have irregular bars, and the pelvic and caudal fins are spotted. The pectoral fin is generally clear, except for fine melanophores along the fin rays. Breeding males are very dark and have numerous black spots on the head and iridescent blue patches below the eye, on the opercle, and on the base of the pectoral fin. There are gold flecks over the head and trunk (Ross 2001).


 Counts: 4-5 dorsal fin spines; 5 brachiostegals (Hubbs et al. 1991). Lateral series 31-36; dorsal fin with 4-5 spines and 9-10 soft rays; anal fin with 3 spines and 6-5 soft rays; pectoral fin short and rounded, with 14-17 rays; pelvic fin with 1 spine and five rays; principal caudal fin rays 13-16; gill rakers 6-8 and about as wide as long (Etnier and Starnes 1993).


Body shape: Small, shallow-bodied, laterally compressed fish (Ross 2001); jaws with tiny conical teeth (Etnier and Starnes 1993).


Mouth position: Terminal (Goldstein and Simon 1999).


External morphology: Lateral line absent; scales cycloid (Hubbs et al. 1991).


Distribution (Native and Introduced)

U.S. distribution: Wide-ranging species occuring in lowland streams of the Atlantic and Gulf costal plains (Hubbs et al. 1991).


Texas distribution: Inhabits eastern Texas from the Red River southward to the Brazos River Basin (Hubbs et al. 1991).


Abundance/Conservation status (Federal, State, NGO)

Not listed as threatened or endangered by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

(2006). Populations in the southern United States are currently secure (Warren et al. 2000).


Habitat Associations

Macrohabitat: Throughout range, E. zonatum frequents lentic waters such as cypress swamps, lake margins, sloughs, sluggish streams, and lowland backwaters (Barney and Anson 1920; Branson 1974; Coker 1917; Gunning and Lewis 1955; Warren 1980).


Mesohabitat: Prefers clear quiet water with thick growths of submerged vegetation (Böhlke and Rhode 1980) and protective cover such as logs, stumps, cypress knees, overhanging banks over soft substrates (Barney and Anson 1920; Branson 1974; Coker 1917; Gunning and Lewis 1955; Warren 1980). Tolerant of low-salinity water (Hoese and Moore 1977). In collections from Village Creek (tributary of the Neches River),Hardin County, Texas, E. zonatum captured from the channel edge during summer and from backwaters during fall; species preferring shallow water with macrophytes and leaf litter; this habitat almost disappearing from the channel area during high discharge, perhaps explaining why the species was not collected during winter and spring (Moriarty and Winemiller 1997). During November sampling in Allens Creek (small tributary of Brazos River), in Austin County, Texas, E. zonatum specimen was found in turbid water over very soft sand/silt substrate; willows dominated stream bank cover; very little instream cover was noted (Linam et al. 1994).



Spawning season: Mid-March-early May (Barney and Anson 1920); March-June (Walsh and Burr 1984).


Spawning habitat: Near submerged vegetation (Walsh and Burr 1984). Guarders; substratum choosers; Phytophils having adhesive eggs that are attached to a variety of plants (Mettee 1974; Simon 1999).


Reproductive strategy: Males establish territories around submerged vegetation and will defend this area from other males and nonreceptive females by lateral displays (Walsh and Burr 1984).  Males do not excavate a nest (Barney and Anson 1920). Courtship involves erecting the fins, alternatively erecting and lowering the pelvic fins, bobbing, and lateral fin undulations (Walsh and Burr 1984). After attracting female, the male coaxes her toward an area over vegetation, then nudges female near the vent area; eggs expelled in short bursts and fertilized by male; females spawn repeatedly until all mature ova are deposited, fewer eggs released with each successive spawning (Barney and Anson 1920). After spawning the female is chased from the area by the male; male then guards the developing embryos for up to 48 hours (Walsh and Burr 1984).


Fecundity: Eggs are demersal, adhesive, and usually 0.5 mm diameter; a single female may contain 96-970 eggs; average size female (25 mm) lays about 300 eggs over several days in lots of 60 to 40; incubation time about 7 days at water temperature of 18.5 degrees C (Barney and Anson 1920). Walsh and Burr (1984) reported 6-76 amber colored, demersal, adhesive eggs laid per spawning act; eggs reticulated on the surface; number of potentially mature ova in preserved females was 43-255; hatching occurred in 97-116 hrs. at water temperature of 21 ± 1 degree C.


Age at maturation: 10-12 months; age at first spawning 1 year (Walsh and Burr 1984).




Longevity: Up to 3 years, but typically only about one year (Barney and Anson 1920; Walsh and Burr 1984).


Food habits: Invertivore, drift feeder, feeding in the water column; main food microcrustacea supplemented with midge larvae, large crustacean (amphipods and isopods), mayfly nymphs, and small snails and clams (Barney and Anson 1920; Walsh and Burr 1984; Goldstein and Simon 1999). Feeding is cued visually with peak activity immediately following sunrise and a secondary peak at midday (Walsh and Burr 1984).


Growth: Newly hatched protolarvae ranged in length from 3.0-3.6 mm TL; major organogenesis and yolk reabsorption were complete in 5-7 days post-hatching (Walsh and Burr 1984). During the spring and summer, growth is rapid with fish reaching half their first year’s growth in eight weeks. Fish average 22.9mm SL and 30.2mm SL at the end of year 1-2, respectively (Barney and Anson 1920).


Phylogeny and morphologically similar fishes

Pygmy sunfish are unlikely to be confused with other fishes, although at first glance could be mistaken for pirate perch. Their small size, absence of a lateral line, cycloid scales and low number of dorsal spines (three to five versus six or more) distinguish them from sunfishes and basses. They differ from pirate perch in having an abdominal versus jugular vent position and in having cycloid scales (Ross 2001).


Host Records

Rhipidocotyle septapapillata, Camallanus oxycephalus, Hedrurus (Mayberry et al. 2000). Gyrodactylus heterodactylus (Harris et al 2004). Nematoda (Hoffman 1967).


Commercial or Environmental Importance


[Additional literature noting collection of this species from Texas locations includes, but is not limited to the following: Hubbs (1957); Big Sandy Creek (Evans and Noble 1979).]



Barney, R.L. and B.J. Anson. 1920. Life history and ecology of the pigmy sunfish Elassoma zonatum. Ecology 1(4):241-256.

Böhlke, J.E. and Rhode F.C. 1980. Elassoma zonatum (Jordan), Banded pygmy sunfish. pp. 586 in D.S. Lee et al. Atlas of North American Freshwater Fishes. N.C. State Mus. Nat. Hist., Raleigh, i-r+854 pp.

Branson, B.A. 1974. Pygmy sunfish for community aquaria. Tropical Fish Hobbyist 22(10):17-22.

Coker, A.F., Jr. 1917. The pygmy sunfishes. Aquatic Life 3(2):22-24.

Cook, F.A. 1959. Freshwater fishes in Mississippi. Mississippi Game and Fish Commision, Jackson.

Etnier, D.A., and W.C. Starnes. 1993. The Fishes of Tennessee. University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville. 681 pp.

Evans, J.W., and R.L. Noble. 1979. The longitudinal distribution of fishes in an east Texas stream. American Midland Naturalist 101(2):333-343.

Goldstein, R.M., and T.P. Simon. 1999. Toward a united definition of guild structure for feeding ecology of North American freshwater fishes. pp. 123-202 in T.P. Simon, editor. Assessing the sustainability and biological integrity of water resources using fish communities. CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida.

Gunning, G.E., and W.M. Lewis. 1955. The fish population of a spring-fed swamp in the Mississippi bottoms of southern Illinois. Ecology 36(4):552-558.

Harris, P.D., A.P.Shinn, J. Cable and T.A. Bakke. 2004. Nominal species of the genus Gyrodactylus von Nordman 1832 (Monogenea: Gyrodactylidae), with a list of Principal host species. Systematic Parasitology 59:1-27, 2004.

Hay, O.P. 1881. On a collection of fishes from eastern Mississippi. Proc. U.S. Nat. Mus. 3:488-515.

Hay, O.P. 1883. On a collection of fishes from the lower Mississippi Valley. Bull. U.S. Fish Comm. 2:57-75.

Hildebrand, S.F. and I.L. Towers. 1928. Annotated list of fishes collected in the vicinity of Greenwood Mississippi, with descriptions of three new species. Bull. U.S. Bur. Fish. 43(2)105-136.

Hoese, D.H., and R.H. Moore. 1977. Fishes of the Gulf of Mexico (Texas, Louisiana, and Adjacent Waters). Texas A&M University Press. xv + 327 pp.

Hoffman G.L. 1967. Parasites of North American Freshwater Fishes. University of California Press. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA 1-486.

Hubbs, C. 1957. Distributional patterns of Texas fresh-water fishes. The Southwestern Naturalist 2(2/3):89-104.

Hubbs, C. L., R.J. Edwards and G.P. Garret. 1991. An annotated checklist of freshwater fishes of Texas, with key to identification of species. Texas Journal of Science, Supplement 43(4):1-56.

Jordan, D.S. 1877. Contributions to North American ichthyology, based primarily on the collections of the United States National Museum. No. 2A. Notes on Cottidae, Etheostomatidae, Percidae, Centrarchidae, Aphredoderidae, Dorysomatidae, and Cyprinidae, with revisions of genera and descriptions of new or little known species. Bull. U.S. Nat. Mus. 10:1-68.

Linam, G.W., J.C. Henson, and M.A. Webb. 1994. A fisheries inventory and assessment of Allens Creek and the Brazos River, Austin County, Texas. River Studies Report No. 12. Resource Protection Division. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Austin. 14 pp.

Mayberry, L. F., A.G. Canaris, J.R. Bristol, and S.L. Gardner. 2000. Bibliography of parasite and vertebrate hosts in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas (1893-1984). University of Nebraska Harold W. Manter Laboratory of Parasitology Web Server. January 11, 2000; published on the World-Wide-Web. pp. 1-100.

Mettee, M.F. 1974. A study of the reproductive behavior, embryology, and larval development of the pygmy sunfishes of the genus Elassoma. Unpublished PhD. Dissertation. University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa.

Miller, H.C. 1964. The behavior of the pumpkinseed sunfish, Lepomis gibbosus (Linnaeus), with notes on the behavior of other species of Lepomis and the pygmy sunfish Elassoma evergladei. Behavior 22:88-151.

Moriarty, L. J. and K.O. Winemiller. 1997. Spatial and temporal variation in fish assemblage structure in Village Creek, Hardin County Texas. Tex. J. Sci., 49: 85-110.

Ross, S. T. 2001. The Inland Fishes of Mississippi. University Press of Mississippi, Jackson. 624 pp.

Rubenstein, D.I. 1981. Population density, resource patterning and territoriality in the everglades pygmy sunfish. Anim. Behav. 29(1):155-172.

Simon, T. P. 1999. Assessment of Balon’s reproductive guilds with application to Midwestern North American Freshwater Fishes, pp. 97-121. In: Simon, T.L. (ed.). Assessing the sustainability and biological integrity of water resources using fish communities. CRC Press. Boca Raton, Florida. 671 pp.

Taber, C., 1965 Spectacle Development in the pygmy sunfish, Elassoma zonatum, with observations on spawning habits. Proc. Okla. Acad. Sci. 46:73-81.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Wildlife Division, Diversity and Habitat Assessment Programs. County Lists of Texas' Special Species. [30 May 2006]. Available online at http://gis.tpwd.state.tx.us/TpwEndangeredSpecies/DesktopModules/AcountyCodeKeyForWebESDatabases.pdf

Walsh, S.J. and B.M. Burr. 1984. Life history of the banded pygmy sunfish, Elassoma zonatum Jordan (Pisces: Centrarchidae), in western Kentucky. Bull. Ala. Mus. Nat. Hist. 8:31-52.

Warren, M.L., Jr. 1980. The occurrence of the banded pygmy sunfish in the Green River drainage of Kentucky. Trans. Ky. Acad. Sci. 41(3/4):123-125.

Warren, M.L., Jr., B. M. Burr, S. J. Walsh, H. L. Bart, Jr., R. C. Cashner, D. A. Etnier, B. J. Freeman, B. R. Kuhajda, R. L. Mayden, H. W. Robison, S. T. Ross, and W. C. Starnes. 2000. Diversity, Distribution, and Conservation status of the native freshwater fishes of the southern United States. Fisheries, Conservation. 25(10):7-29.