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Blackbanded Sunfish

Fact File

Scientific Name: Enneacanthus chaetodon

Classification: Fish, Order Perciformes, Family Centrarchidae

Conservation Status:

Size: Blackbanded Sunfish can attain lengths of 2-3 inches in Virginia

Life Span: Blackbanded Sunfish live for about 3 years in Virginia waters

Identifying Characteristics

A larger Blackbanded Sunfish being measured. ©Photo by Maddie Cogar

A Blackbanded Sunfish being measured during a population monitoring survey. ©Photo by Maddie Cogar

  • A small sunfish with several bold, vertically oriented black bands
  • Laterally compressed body shape
  • Rounded to slightly emarginate caudal fin
  • Dorsal spines
  • 3 or 4 anal spines
  • Body color is primarily opalescent white with brassy sheens


Blackbanded Sunfish exhibit an omnivorous diet, regularly consuming aquatic macrophytes and macroinvertebrates.


Blackbanded Sunfish are native to southeastern Virginia, with endemic populations occurring only within the Blackwater and Nottoway watersheds of the Chowan basin. Anglers are reminded that it is illegal to stock fish into a public body of water without an authorization from the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources.


Typical habitat components required by Blackbanded Sunfish.

Typical habitat required by Blackbanded Sunfish.

Blackbanded Sunfish inhabit the low elevation ponds, streams, swamps, and wetlands of southeastern Virginia’s Chowan watershed. Unlike most species of fish, Blackbanded Sunfish thrive in acidic waters with low levels of dissolved oxygen. They most often seek out habitats comprised of dense submerged aquatic vegetation where the waters are calm, shallow, and naturally stained with tannins.

Conservation and Research

An image of the native habitat of the blackbanded sunfish with thick aquatic vegetation and tepid currents

Blackbanded Sunfish project leader, Mike Pinder, performs dipnet sampling. ©Photo by Maddie Cogar

The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources conducts annual surveys for Blackbanded Sunfish. The information collected during sampling events provides essential data to inform DWR management and policy strategies by tracking:

  • Distribution Changes
  • Genetic Health
  • Habitat Quality
  • Physical Condition
  • Population Trends


A juvenile Blackbanded Sunfish observed during a DWR sampling event. ©Photo by Maddie Cogar

A juvenile Blackbanded Sunfish observed during a DWR sampling event. ©Photo by Maddie Cogar

  • Competition with Non-native Species
  • Habitat Degradation and Loss
    • Urban, commercial, and agricultural development
    • Removal of Beaver infrastructure
  • Illegal Pet Trade
  • Isolated Distributions
  • Predation from Non-native Species
  • Water Quality Impairment
    • Point-source and non point-source pollution

Special Considerations

It is illegal to target Blackbanded Sunfish by angling in Virginia. The Blackbanded Sunfish is listed as an endangered species under Virginia law. It is a violation of state law to harass, harm, or take any Blackbanded Sunfish.

For the definitions of take, harass, and harm, see 4 VAC 15-20-140.

Last updated: July 1, 2024

The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources Species Profile Database serves as a repository of information for Virginia’s fish and wildlife species. The database is managed and curated by the Wildlife Information and Environmental Services (WIES) program. Species profile data, distribution information, and photography is generated by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, State and Federal agencies, Collection Permittees, and other trusted partners. This product is not suitable for legal, engineering, or surveying use. The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources does not accept responsibility for any missing data, inaccuracies, or other errors which may exist. In accordance with the terms of service for this product, you agree to this disclaimer.