Sunday, January 29, 2012

Aquarium Fish-Keeping Cichlids, Breeding cichlids

Group Cichlids-Photo by

People begin keeping fresh water cichlids and purchase new aquarium because of their beauty. With the variety of colors and shapes, it's not unlike saltwater fish tank without the fuss and expense of salt water tank, without the salt or the upkeep of salt water fish tank!

However before long, some people become interested in breeding cichlids, rather than just having them. Quite often this is due to the cichlids breeding without any intervention on the aquarist's part, who thereafter becomes interested in keeping the next batch of fry.

By and large, the majority of African cichlids are mouthbrooders. This means that the eggs are actually brooded in one of the parents' mouth - typically the female cichlid's mouth. Other types of cichlids (shell dwellers for example) they are egglayer cichlids. How do you get your cichlids to breed? How can you protect the female, and ensure that the eggs hatch successfully? And then how do you protect the young from hungry predators?

The first step in breeding cichlids is to obtain fish that will breed. While this may seem obvious, it's not as simple as obtaining a male and female of the same species of tropical fish. With African cichlids, it's much better to obtain a harem, quite often referred to as a breeding colony. If you only have a pair, the male may be too aggressive towards the one available female, resulting in stress and potential death.

When you have your breeding colony, you'll want to give them a good environment. Have plenty of caves, rocks, shelves and crevices that the cichlids can choose as their territory and breeding ground. Don't bother with aquarium plants; they'll only be removed by the cichlids!

To get your African cichlids in breeding condition, you need to feed them well. I've always found spirulina flakes to be excellent quality food, as well as the occasional earthworm, white worm or crickets and live bay shrimp.

When the fish are ready to breed, you'll notice the male chase the female and do a mating dance, which consists of shimmying in front of the female. The female will drop eggs, and then proceed to pick them up in her mouth.

The male will fertilize them. It has been theorized that this is where the 'egg spots' come into play. The egg spots are the small round yellowish spots on the male's anal fin. Many feel that when the male shimmies, these look like eggs that the female hasn't yet collected. She attempts to, and the eggs that are in her mouth are able to be fertilized by the male.

The process will be repeated a number of times, until the female loses interest (just like people!). If the eggs weren't properly fertilized, they will be disposed of. If they're fertilized, they will be kept until the eggs are hatched and the yolk sacks have disappeared. This can take from three to five weeks.

If you want to keep the baby cichlids, I strongly suggest that you remove the female to a comfortable tank for the female cichlid a place of her own. This can be a smaller tank, with some rockwork for her to hide in.

You don't need to feed her, although when the eggs hatch (you'll see the wigglers in her mouth) you may want to toss in a very small amount of flake food. She may pick at it for the sake of the fry. There will be a follow-up article explaining how to strip the female cichlid, a process necessary if she won't release the eggs or if she eats them.

To feed the babies, you can crush up some flake food into a fine powder. Take a little, mix it with water. Then suck it into a straw of piece of aquarium tubing. Then insert it into the water near the swimming cichlid fry, and release it for them to eat.

Allow the female cichlid to feed back to health before putting her back in the tank. Also, try to keep the fry with her for at least 1 week.

There are over 160 genera and more than 900 species of Cichlids with newly discovered species reported on a regular basis. This group offers a huge diversity of color, behavior, size, and body shape. Cichlids are widespread throughout the world, including Africa, South America, Asia, Central America, and even North America

All these Cichlids come from only one family, Cichlidae, and thus are separated in this book by the geographical area from which they are found. Most Cichlids kept in captivity come from the Great African Rift Lakes, Lake Malawi or Lake Tanganyika; various African rivers, the Amazon Basin in South America, or Central America.


The Cichlid Family includes a huge, diverse group of fish. Thus, it is difficult to make generalizations about this family. However, it is safe to say that many cichlids have a tendency towards aggressive behavior. This conduct can be attributed to cichlids' highly developed brood care. Other cichlids are shoaling fish which are best kept in groups like

Blue Dolphin Cichlids-Blue Moorii.

PAIRING:- several different types of bonds are formed between male and female cichlids.

These include the following:
Monogamy-The female and the male remain together after spawning.
Polygyny- The male stays together with several females
Polyandry- The female bonds with several males. This form of pairing is rare.
Agamy- No lasting bond is formed between the pair and they separate right after spawning.


Cichlids take care of their young in several different ways. Six "family" forms are common among cichlid parents.

Nuclear or Parental Family: Both parents equally share the duties of caring for the young. Nuclear families are usually formed by monogamous, open-water brooders, although exceptions are common. It is generally very difficult to distinguish between the sexes.

Matriarch/Patriarch Family: The female watches over the brood, while the male defends the territory. When the fry become free-swimming, the parents bear the tasks of parenthood equally. This family form is usually formed by monogamous, open-water brooders. Sexual dimorphism and dichromatism is common.

Patriarch/Matriarch or Male-with-Harem Family: The male defends a large territory, which includes multiple spawning sites of several females. Each female assumes the responsibility of her own brood. The male is polygamous, and clear sexual dimorphism is present. This form takes place among cavity brooders.

Matriarch Family: No bond is formed between the pair. The female cares and guards the eggs and the fry. In this family pattern, the fish are agamous and usually the female is an Ovophile mouthbrooder.

Patriarch Family: As with the Matriarch Family, no bond is formed between the parents.  The male carries the eggs and the fry. No sexual dimorphism or dichromatism can be found. Only one mouthbrooder forms a true patriarch family, Sarotherodon melanothe row.

Extended Family: The parents as well as the offspring of previous spawning care for the young. Extended Families are formed by cavity brooders of
Lake Tanganyika, including the fish belonging to the genera Julidochromis and Neolamprologus. 


Cichlids have highly developed brood care and reproductive behavior. Nearly all Cichlids lay their eggs on some substrate, whether it be rocks, plants, or sand. Cichlids are now characterized into two breeding groups; Open and Shelter Brooders.

Open brooders lay eggs on an open surface, such as rocks, sand, and plants. The eggs can number as high as 10,000 from one laying. These eggs are usually small and clump together. Clear sexual dimorphism and dichromatism is usually evident. Examples of open water brooders include Pterophyllum, Symphysodon, and most species of Cichlasoma.

Shelter brooders can be divided up into two groups; cavity brooders and mouth brooders. Thereby in general, shelter brooders lay substantially less eggs, usually not more than 300, and have larger more colorful eggs. These fish are easier to sex because males are larger and more colorful.

Cavity brooders lay their eggs in caves. The parents participate in brood care and may become aggressive towards other fish while caring for the eggs and the fry. Examples of cavity brooders include Apistogramma, Julidochromis, Neolamprologus, and Pelvicachromis.

Mouth-brooders are fish that, at some point during brood care, will take their eggs or the fry into their mouths. Mouth-brooders are divided up into two further categories depending on when the parents take the eggs/fry are taken into the mouth. 

Ovophile or "egg-loving" mouth-brooders - The male makes a pit in his territory, where the eggs are laid. The eggs are sucked up into the female's mouth usually, but occasionally, during spawning. After hatching the fry remain in the safety of the mother's mouth until they can fend for themselves.

The male, of some of these species, often has colorful, oval-shaped marks on its anal fin. These spots serve an important role in the fertilization of the eggs and are known as egg spots or egg dummies.

After the female has laid her eggs and sucks them into her mouth. She sees the eggs spots on the males, and thinking they were eggs she missed, will try to suck them up. At this moment the male releases sperm which the female sucks up into her mouth, thus fertilizing the eggs. Such as Ovophile mouthbrooders include- Aulonocara, Haplochromis, and Pseudotropheus.

Larvophile or "larvae-loving" mouth-brooders lay their eggs on a substrate. After the eggs hatch, the female picks up the fry and keeps them in her mouth. Sometimes the parental protection stops after the fry are released from the mouth; Examples of Larvophile mouth-brooders are Geophagus and Sarotherodon.


Many cichlids, especially those of Lake Malawi, have colored patches on the anal fin which serve to aid spawning. These patches are known as egg-spots, dummy eggs, egg dummies, or false egg spots. These spots are especially important in the fertilization of the real eggs.

When the female takes the real eggs into her mouth, the male spreads his anal fin, displaying his egg spots. The female sees these and sucks at them assuming that they are real eggs. At that moment the male releases sperm, which the female sucks into her mouth, thus fertilizing the eggs.



Since there is such a variety of cichlid species, cichlids have a wide range of feeding habits. However most cichlids have an enormous appetite and are easily fed.

Omnivorous cichlids make up the greatest majority of cichlids. In nature, these fish feed mostly on insects, crustaceans, and worms, but at times also eat plants. Thus in aquaria these species should be offered a mixed diet of live foods, flakes foods, and plant or vegetable matter. Examples of omnivorous cichlids include Cichlasomines, many West African species, Angelfish, and Herosspecies.

Carnivorous cichlids are predatory species which are specialized for eating other fish. Generally these species will eat small tank mates, although not fish of a similar size. In aquaria, carnivorous cichlids can be fed live fish, worms, insects, insect larvae, and crustaceans, but also some will accept pellets, tablets, and large flakes.  Examples of carnivorous cichlids are many Haplochromines, Pike Cichlids (genus Crenicichla), Cyphotilapia and Convict cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) species.

Herbivorous cichlids are species that prefer to feed on plant matter. These fish will eat live aquarium plants. In aquaria, herbivorous cichlids feed on plant-based flake and pellet foods, plants, and vegetables. Some species will also feed on live foods. Examples of herbivorous cichlids include some of the Tilapia species and majority of the Mbuna cichlids are herbivores, Pseudotropheus crabro, – A Malawi Cichlid, The Peacock cichlids.

Some species of herbivorous cichlids feed on the thick algae growing on rocks. Living in the algae are micro-organisms and crustaceans known as Aufwuchs. Types of cichlids that consume the algae and the Aufwuchs living within include Lake Malawi Mbunas and Lake Tanganyika Tropheus.

Once we have a case in which stripping must be performed, there are some rules to follow in order to make it safer for you and your fish. Before handling the female WASH YOUR HANDS ALL THE WAY TO YOUR ELBOWS THOUGHTLY WITH SOAP AND WATER AND DRY OFF be sure to wet your hands in the tank, dry fingers can damage the protective mucus or even tear scales apart.

Hold her body firmly but without pressing it, and use a wide bowl to keep the head under the water while you gently open her mouth with a paper clip, Q-tip, etc., and allow the eggs to fall to the bottom. It’s been most peoples experience with few exceptions, rarely do they get any viable fry when stripped the next day after spawning.

Most people prefer to wait at least five days, after the eggs have hatched and then place them inside their filter. Most people prefer using the "hang on" type of filter that returns the water to the tank as a small waterfall. They place the eggs in a net (to avoid the waterfall dragging them) so they receive a continuous flow of clear oxygenated water.

Any white, fungused eggs must be quickly removed away from the viable ones. Survival rates are over 90%. Of course breeders will develop techniques and skills that fit their tank set up and the species they keep.

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