Tuesday 21 May
Bluebarred pygmy sunfish (Elassoma okatie)
What’s the World’s Favourite Species?Find out here.
Bluebarred pygmy sunfish fact file
- Find out more
- Print factsheet
Bluebarred pygmy sunfish description
The bluebarred pygmy sunfish is a striking fish, despite its small size, and is named after the male’s eye-catching iridescent blue stripes (2). Both the male and female bluebarred pygmy sunfish have conspicuous dark, vertical bands along the body (2), but while the males are coloureda brilliant iridescent blue between the bands, the females are a much more drab beige (3). The rest of the body is blue-grey to black in males, depending on reproductive activity, and pinkish-brown in females (3). In addition to having a slightly longer body, the male also has longer pelvic, pectoral and dorsal fins than the female (2).
Species in the genus Elassoma are known as pygmy sunfishes because they were originally thought to belong in the same family as other sunfishes, the Centrarchidae (4). However, they are now considered sufficiently distinct to be classified in their own separate family, the Elassomatidae, and some claim they are not closely related to other sunfish at all (5). The family and generic name derives from the Greek words ‘elasson’, meaning ‘smaller’, and ‘soma’, meaning ‘body’ (6). The specific name of the bluebarred pygmy sunfish derives phonetically from the local Indian words ‘oka’, meaning ‘water’, and ‘ateeh’, meaning ‘coming from’ (2).Top
Bluebarred pygmy sunfish biology
Relatively little is known about the biology of the bluebarred pygmy sunfish. Spawning occurs from late February to March (3), and most individuals do not live longer than one year (3). The diet of pygmy sunfishes typically consists exclusively of larger-bodied invertebrates (5).
Pygmy sunfishes display intriguing and relatively complex reproductive behaviour (7). Reproductive males aggressively defend a territory using what has been termed the ‘sidling threat’ display. The defending male swims close to the intruder, rapidly beating his caudal and pectoral fins while intensifying in colour, and if necessary will strike rapidly at the intruder. The even more bizarre ‘wiggle waggle’ display is performed by the reproductive male to entice a mate. On approach of a reproductive female, the male swims in an undulating path towards the potential spawning area, fluttering the dorsal and anal fins and alternately extending the pelvic fins. If the male is successful in attracting the female, the female will position herself amongst the vegetation, where the male aligns himself at her side and the eggs and sperm are released; the resulting fertilised eggs stick to the vegetation in small clusters. After spawning, the protective male chases the female away from the eggs, leaving the male responsible for defending the vulnerable brood until hatching, which occurs after several days (7).Top
Bluebarred pygmy sunfish range
The bluebarred pygmy sunfish has been found at only four sites, all in the south-eastern United States: the Lower Edisto, New and Savannah River drainages in South Carolina (2), and Fort Gordon in Georgia (3).Top
Bluebarred pygmy sunfish habitat
The bluebarred pygmy sunfish is most commonly found in shallow, slow-flowing water with dense aquatic vegetation and a soft substrate rich in decaying organic matter (2). Typical habitats include roadside ditches and ponds (2). Despite its limited range, this species can tolerate a range of water temperatures (10 to 32 ºC) and acidities (pH 4.5 to 7.5) (2).Top
Bluebarred pygmy sunfish status
Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).Top
Bluebarred pygmy sunfish threats
The close proximity of the majority of known populations to roads makes the bluebarred pygmy sunfish particularly vulnerable to human-caused disturbance and pollution (2). Populations near industries such as paper mills and concrete factories are particularly vulnerable to pollution and sedimentation, which may have been responsible for local extinctions in the past (3). Drought is also likely to pose a significant risk, given that populations predominantly occur in shallow, isolated water bodies (8).Top
Bluebarred pygmy sunfish conservation
The bluebarred pygmy sunfish is considered a species of ‘Special Concern’ in South Carolina, while in Georgia it is listed as ‘Critically Imperiled’ (3). A species management plan has been proposed for the population in Georgia (3), and many of the South Carolina populations lie within the boundaries of private hunting clubs, where they benefit from indirect protection from development (3). A breeding programme for this species is currently underway at Riverbanks Zoo and Aquarium in South Carolina (8).Top
This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
- Anal fins
- In fish, an unpaired fin on the under surface of a fish, behind the anus.
- The tail fin of a fish.
- Dorsal fins
- Relating to the back or top side of an animal.
- The fusion of gametes (male and female reproductive cells) to produce an embryo, which grows into a new individual.
- A category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
- Animals with no backbone.
- In fish, the pair of fins that are found one on each side of the body just behind the gills. They are generally used for balancing and braking.
- Pelvic fins
- In fish, the pair of fins found on the underside of the body.
- The production or depositing of large quantities of eggs in water.
- An area occupied and defended by an animal, a pair of animals or a colony.
IUCN Red List (March, 2010)
- Rohde, F.C. and Arndt, R.G. (1987) Two new species of pygmy sunfishes (Elassomatidae, Elassoma) from the Carolinas. Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, 139: 65-85.
- Sandel, M. and Harris, P.M. (2007) Threatened fishes of the world: Elassoma okatie Rohde and Arndt 1987 (Elassomatidae). Environmental Biology of Fishes, 80: 487-488.
- Nelson, J.S. (1984). Fishes of the World. Second Edition. John Wiley and Sons, New York.
- Gilbert, C.R. (2004) Family Elassomatidae Jordan 1877 - pygmy sunfishes. California Academy of Sciences Annotated Checklists of Fishes, 33: 1-5.
FishBase (January, 2010)
Mettee, M.F. and Scharpf, C. (1998) Reproductive Behavior, Embryology, and Larval Development of Four Species of Pygmy Sunfish. American Currents, North American Native Fishes Association. Available at:
Bettinger, J. (2005) Highest Conservation Priority - Coastal Plain Species. Department of Natural Resources, South Carolina. Available at:
MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite ARKive images and videos and share them with friends.
Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials
Copyright in this website and materials contained on this website (Material) belongs to Wildscreen or its licensors.
Visitors to this website (End Users) are entitled to:
- view the contents of, and Material on, the website;
- download and retain copies of the Material on their personal systems in digital form in low resolution for their own personal use;
- teachers, lecturers and students may incorporate the Material in their educational material (including, but not limited to, their lesson plans, presentations, worksheets and projects) in hard copy and digital format for use within a registered educational establishment, provided that the integrity of the Material is maintained and that copyright ownership and authorship is appropriately acknowledged by the End User.
End Users shall not copy or otherwise extract, alter or manipulate Material other than as permitted in these Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials.
Additional use of flagged material
Green flagged material
Certain Material on this website (Licence 4 Material) displays a green flag next to the Material and is available for not-for-profit conservation or educational use. This material may be used by End Users, who are individuals or organisations that are in our opinion not-for-profit, for their not-for-profit conservation or not-for-profit educational purposes. Low resolution, watermarked images may be copied from this website by such End Users for such purposes. If you require high resolution or non-watermarked versions of the Material, please contact Wildscreen with details of your proposed use.
Creative commons material
Certain Material on this website has been licensed to Wildscreen under a Creative Commons Licence. These images are clearly marked with the Creative Commons buttons and may be used by End Users only in the way allowed by the specific Creative Commons Licence under which they have been submitted. Please see http://creativecommons.org for details.
Any other use
Please contact the copyright owners directly (copyright and contact details are shown for each media item) to negotiate terms and conditions for any use of Material other than those expressly permitted above. Please note that many of the contributors to ARKive are commercial operators and may request a fee for such use.
Save as permitted above, no person or organisation is permitted to incorporate any copyright material from this website into any other work or publication in any format (this includes but is not limited to: websites, Apps, CDs, DVDs, intranets, extranets, signage, digital communications or on printed materials for external or other distribution). Use of the Material for promotional, administrative or for-profit purposes is not permitted.