By Ted Judy
Twenty years ago I kept and bred a lot of Lake Malawi cichlids. It is hard to beat the riot of color in a well-stocked Malawi community. Matthew (my 7-year-old fish fanatic in the making) discovered this colorful genre about a year ago, and has been slowly taking over tank space in the house ever since. We are up to three Malawi community tanks: a 42-gallon bow front in Matthew’s room, a 55-gallon in the family room, and a 40-gallon breeder in the fish room. I decided to take advantage of these three tanks for the contest by converting the tanks from purely aesthetic communities into breeding colonies.
What is the difference between a community and a breeding colony? A community can be any mix of fish regardless of sex ratio, age and compatibility (though I would hope they all can get along). A breeding colony is a group of fish set up to encourage breeding. There is some cross over. Purists and serious breeders will usually set up single-species colonies with only one or two males and many females. These large colonies will usually produce a lot of fry, but only of one species. Matthew and I chose to sacrifice large numbers of fry in hopes of getting multiple species to breed in the same tank.
The trick is to set up groups of fish that are compatible, but are not so similar that hybridization is likely to occur. Luckily there are so many different Lake Malawi cichlids that finding a good mix is not too hard to do. The two main breeding tanks are the 42-gallon bow front and the 55-gallon. The 40-breeder in the fish room has one species old enough to spawn (Labeotropheus trewavasae “Mphanga”) and a bunch of young fish that are growing up to be the next groups to go into the spawning tanks.
The 42-gallon tank has a quad (one male and three females) of adult Aulonacara stuartgranti ‘Ngara’ peacocks, a trio of Metriaclima sp. “white top Hara” and a trio of the electric blue “johanni” Melanochromis cyaneorhabdos. We had to get rid of a few single males of different species and find some females to fill out the colonies. We also added a lot more hiding places, which we did very inexpensively by asking the local plant nursery for any large damaged flower pots. Matthew is very good at getting free broken pots, which we broke more until they would fit in the tank. A big pile of the curving terra cotta pieces is perfect for these cichlids.
The 55-gallon has a quad of large OB Labeotropheus fuellebourni, a group of eight (two males, six females) Metriaclima sp. “Msobo,” and a trio of Pseudotropheus sp. “red cheek.” I am a little concerned about hybridization between the Pseudotropheus and Metriaclima, but I have not seen any evidence of it happening. In my experience, if there are suitable mates of the same species for all the fish in the tank hybrid breeding rarely occurs. I will hope for the best and pay careful attention to the fry.
The colonies were set up before the contest started, but we only had one species spawn right away: Metriaclima sp. “Msobo.” Nothing else spawned in the next two months. I started feeding more heavily and doing large water changes more frequently. Once every two weeks I would do a really large water change followed by a 4-day fast. Sometimes the lack of the diversion of food will trigger fish to spawn. The weather started to get cooler, and that is not conducive to getting Malawi fish to breed, so I was worried that I would not see any success until spring. So the first week of December I added a big heater to each tank and jumped the temperature up to 82F in hopes of heading off a winter lull. I normally do not keep my tanks much above 74F. I believe that cooler water is better for the health of the fish (assuming the fish are not ‘hot water’ species). I also went out onto my local club’s forum and asked for advice. Everyone said to split the communities up and go back to one species per tank.
I was about to do that when everything started to spawn. Within three days we had holding females of the L. trewavasae “Mphanga,” L. feullebourni, A. stuartgranti “Ngara,” Melanochromis cyaneorhabdos, and Metriaclima sp. “white top Hara.” Five out of seven is not bad, and since the M. sp. “Msobo” spawned early in the competition we are left with only one species of breeding-age Malawi cichlid to spawn.
The plan now is to rotate the species that have spawned out and new species in. Matthew is excited… he LOVES to shop for fish (the apple does not fall far from the tree).