By Mike Hellweg
Fish will do what comes naturally and spawn in our aquaria IF we give them what they need. With many species that means approximating the spawning season, giving the adults what barb and tetra guru Randy Carey calls a “trigger” to initiate spawning. Following the metaphor, all we as aquarists need to do is figure out how to turn off the safety and pull the trigger.
With many fish like cichlids and livebearers, all we have to do is buy a group of juveniles and grow them out. Eventually, they will reach sexual maturity and pair off, even in a community tank. Often they will even successfully raise a brood of fry in that same community tank. But many other fish aren’t so easy. Many of them require a little to a lot of extra work on the part of the hobbyist.
With these fish it is best to separate out the males from the females. When you have limited tank space, the best way to do this is to move the female(s) to what will become the spawning tank, and leave the male(s) in the community tank.
At first the spawning tank can have water similar to the main tank. As the conditioning period goes forward, begin changing the water out with water more appropriate for the particular species (harder, softer, more basic or acidic, more or less salty, etc.). Do several water changes over the course of a week to 10 days.
Feed the adults heavily with meaty foods. Flake or pellet food just isn’t enough. There are various enzymes, amino acids, and other things in living foods that are destroyed by processing. This is why every experienced breeder will tell you that you need to use live foods for conditioning. Many of us use frozen and freeze-dried foods as well, but live foods really provide that extra boost that makes the difference between success and failure.
Every time I give a talk on breeding fish, I quote my friend and breeding guru Charley Grimes of Indianapolis. I think he put it most succinctly: “the best way to put eggs in her belly is to put worms in her tummy.”
Worms are an excellent live food. We are fortunate in that we have many different types of worms to use that can be sized to the mouth of the fish, or larger worms can be cut up for feeding smaller fish. Some of the ones currently in use by breeders include Grindal worms, white worms, tubifex worms, Dero worms, black worms, red wigglers, European drift worms, and night crawlers. All can be found in a local pet shop or bait store, or they can usually order them for you. If not, members of a local aquarium or herp club likely can supply starter cultures and information on how to culture them. Or you can go to various sites on the web and order them from reputable growers. Of course, you can also read my book Culturing Live Foods (T.F.H. Publications, 2008) for tips on starting many different types of live food cultures.
Most breeders culture their own live foods. There is a lot of excellent information out there about culturing live foods, including several excellent books. Culturing your own foods gives you a chance to control every aspect of your fish’s diet. More on this later…