by TFH Magazine on January 13, 2010 at 7:33 am
By Ted Judy
Mike and I are racing through species trying to see who can get the most to spawn in a year. I do not want to give the impression that this is the normal work rate we have in our fish rooms. We are testing ourselves, in a sense, and I am a little surprised at how many species I have spawned so far. My personal best for a calendar year, before this contest, was 42 species. I blew by that threshold and will possibly hit 70 species within the first six months. I came into the contest with the goal of spawning 100 species. Knock on wood… barring a disaster I think I should raise that bar. But that is not what this blog entry is about…
A reader sent a question to TFH a few weeks ago asking how Mike and I obtain all these adult fish in order to be able to spawn them right away. The reader described how he gets young fish, grows them up and then induces them to breed; and in this way works with only a few species each year. That is how Mike and I do it too. In fact, that is how I prefer to raise and breed fish. I usually obtain fry from other breeders. Sometimes growing them up takes a long time, and even when the fish are mature there is no guarantee that they will breed. The longer the wait the greater the reward, especially when the reward is how good it feels when the fish produce fry.
A breakthrough spawn occurred in my fish room last week that illustrates the importance of patience very well. Actually, the spawning took place almost a month ago, but the fish are mouth brooding cichlids and it took almost close to a month before the fry became free swimming. The species is Chromidotilapia melaniae, which is a medium-sized cichlid from the West African nation of Gabon. They are very rare in the USA hobby, and to get them I had to travel to… Austria.
There are two species of this genus that are relatively common in the United States: C. guntheri guntheri and C. guntheri loennbergi. There are actually twelve described species in the genus. The most common, C. guntheri guntheri, is found across a wide range in West Africa (C. g. loennbergi is isolated to one lake in Cameroon). Most of the others come from Gabon, which is a country without a tropical fish export industry. All we have are what scientists and traveling hobbyists have brought out and bred in captivity.
I had the opportunity to go to Cameroon in 2009, and I was able to collect C. guntheri guntheri and C. linkei. I traveled to Africa by way of Europe and sent out feelers looking for hobbyists over there with other species of the genus I might arrange to get fry from on my way through. All I was able to obtain were five very young, unsexable C. melaniae from the Vienna Zoo. And I was only able to get those due to the generosity of Dr. Anton Lamboj, my host in Austria, who had gifted the cichlids to the zoo in the first place.
All five fish made it home at the end of February, 2009. They grew fast and I was able to determine in just a few months that there were two males and three females. They started courting behavior in July, but I was getting nervous in early September when they had not yet spawned. The C. linkei pair I made it home with never even started to court, and eventually the female killed the male. Every day that went by without a C. melaniae spawn became torture. I was really worried that something bad would happen and another species I waited so long to get, literally traveling across the globe to get, would also be lost.
In November the larger male and female finally spawned for the first time. The eggs are laid on the inside wall of a half of a large coconut shell. The eggs hatched after a couple days and the male picked up the larvae to brood them in his mouth. Two days later there was no sign of the spawn. I was frustrated, but having a first spawn fail is pretty common. A few weeks later the pair spawned again.
This time I was very careful not to disturb the tank. I left the lights off, covered ¾ of the front of the tank with paper and fed very little. After two weeks I started turning on the tank light for a few hours each day, and in the third week I removed the paper and started to watch the pair. The male held the larvae most of the time, but I did see the female holding on two occasions. I never witnessed an exchange between them. Interestingly, the male would act aggressively towards the other cichlids in the tank even when he had all the larvae in his mouth. Most mouth brooders try to keep a low profile when they are raising fry.
The first time I noticed the fry free swimming outside their parents’ mouths was on day 20 post spawn. There are about 20 of them. The parents will pick them back up at any sign of danger, which includes me trying to look closely into the tank.
My experience with C. melaniae is much more typical than the purchase and spawn fast-paced pattern that has been the norm for most of the fish I have reported in this breeding contest. But this cichlid spawn is probably one of the most important in my fish room in the past few years, if not ever. This is one rare cichlid in the hobby. And it is well worth the wait.