Electric Blue Ram
Author: William Berg
The latest color morph of the common ram cichlid, the electric blue ram has proven to be a popular addition to the hobby, though it is slightly more difficult to keep than its wild-type cousin. A cichlid fan describes exactly what it takes to maintain this vibrant fish.
The New and Improved Cichlid
One of the more recent additions to the aquarium trade is the electric blue ram, a color morph of the ram cichlid (Mikrogeophagus ramirezi) that was developed in 2009. Electric blue rams are still less commonly available than other ram varieties, and may be more expensive. Be wary of electric blue rams sold at "bargain-basement" prices as they may have been treated with hormones, a practice that weakens the specimens and reduces their lifespan. Always buy from a trusted, reputable dealer or breeder.
The electric blue ram is not recommended for beginners, but it is not overly difficult to keep either. One pair can be housed in a 20-gallon aquarium, while two pairs will require a tank of at least 40 gallons. As always, more water means that it will be easier for you to keep the water quality high and stable, and since the electric blue ram is sensitive to organic waste, such as nitrate, it is unwise to skimp on tank size if you manage to get your hands on this rare and expensive fish.
Since the electric blue ram is a type of ram cichlid, your safest bet is to provide it with an environment similar to the habitat of its wild ancestors. Give your electric blue ram plenty of cover, ideally by including aquatic plants or submerged land vegetation in the setup. Densely planted areas and surface cover, combined with at least one open area for swimming, would be ideal. In addition to plants, the electric blue ram should be given a few caves to shelter in.
If you intend to breed the electric blue ram, provide it with several flat stones or breeding slates in the tank to choose among, since this fish likes to deposit its eggs on a flat, horizontal surface.
The electric blue ram should never be housed with aggressive fish or quick and energetic species that will devour all the food before the ram finds it. A common mistake is to house ram cichlids and electric blue rams with other dwarf cichlids—avoid this at all costs. Keeping electric blue rams on their own isn’t recommended either; they need some peaceful and docile species in the aquarium to feel safe. Go for slow-moving and tranquil species that won’t outcompete the rams at mealtimes.
If your electric blue rams start displaying aggressive tendencies toward tankmates, try including more hiding spots in the setup. A scarcity of suitable sheltering spots can lead to aggressive behavior. Also, electric blue rams always get aggressive during the breeding period because they need to keep their youngsters safe.
Keeping Electric Blues
Electric blue rams should not be placed in newly set up aquariums; they need a stable environment with low levels of organic waste. Successful keeping normally includes mechanical and biological filtration as well as regular water changes. Strong water movement will not be appreciated because wild ram cichlids live in slow-flowing waters.
The normal temperature range for wild ram cichlids is 78° to 85°F, and the water in which they live is soft and acidic. A pH value in the 5 to 6 range is ideal for electric blue rams, but aquarium-raised specimens normally adapt to anything below pH 7.1. There are even reports of aquarists successfully housing German blue rams in moderately hard water, so this might be possible for electric blue rams as well.
The electric blue ram is an omnivore and needs to be kept on a diet of both meaty and green foods. The stress of being moved to a new environment can make the fish lose its appetite, so be prepared to coax it with mosquito larvae or similar foods. Once it’s eating enough, you can start introducing other types of food, such as flakes and pellets, as well. A well-acclimated electric blue ram normally accepts many different types of food.
Keep an eye on the fish during feeding time. As I mentioned, electric blue rams are a bit slow-moving and may starve if kept with faster-moving species.
Sexing and Breeding Electric Blue Rams
The electric blue ram is very difficult to sex, and established couples are, therefore, quite expensive. If one of your fish has a slightly more elongated dorsal fin, it’s probably a male. If you don’t want to pay for an established pair, the most reliable method of obtaining a pair is to purchase a group of juveniles and let them grow up together. When they’re old enough, they will form their own pairs—provided, of course, that the group contains at least one member of each sex.
Electric blue rams form monogamous pairs, and both sexes are active parents, but low fertility and poor brood care seem to be more common problems with this color morph than with the wild and wild-type fish. This is well known within the hobby; increased sensitivity and decreased fertility have been observed in virtually all color and shape variants of ram cichlids developed for the aquarium trade. This doesn’t mean that it is exceedingly difficult to keep and breed electric blue rams, only that an aquarist accustomed to the regular ram cichlid might be disappointed.
Prepping for Breeding
As previously mentioned, if you wish to breed electric blue rams, include several flat stones or breeding slates in the setup. The bottom of the aquarium should be covered in a dig-friendly substrate, since some individuals have shown a preference for pit digging during the breeding period.
You can try to coax the fish into breeding mode by making sure the water is really soft and acidic (pH 5.5 to 6.5) and increasing the water temperature a bit—ideally, a rise from the lower end of the recommended temperature range to 82°F. Use a timer to control the lights, as erratic light patterns may confuse the fish. Remember, wild ram cichlids live in tropical parts of South America where day and night are around 12 hours each with only minor changes throughout the seasons.
Before you decide to commence with any electric blue ram breeding, it’s important to realize that, like most other cichlids that exhibit parental care, the electric blue rams will become more aggressive than normal during the breeding period. This doesn’t have to become a problem as long as the aquarium is large enough and contains plenty of hiding spots and natural territorial borders.
Spawning and Offspring
Prior to spawning, a flat stone will be cleaned or a pit will be dug in the substrate, sometimes adjacent to a stone. Nudging and twirling are two other clear signs of forthcoming spawning, and sometimes the male electric blue ram can be observed darting away from or sliding against the body of the female.
During the actual spawning, the female ram will deposit adhesive eggs on the stone or in the pit. The eggs are small, normally 0.9 to 1.5 mm in length. Figures derived from ram cichlid breedings show that an average female will deposit 150 to 300 eggs, but anything between just 20 and over 500 have been reported. Also, figures that are true for the wild-type ram cichlid don’t necessarily apply to the color morphs. More electric blue ram breeders need to publish their egg counts before a reliable number can be obtained.
It is not wise to separate the offspring from their parents because electric blue rams of both sexes will work together to ensure the survival of the batch. One parent will guard the territory from potential predators while the other fans fresh water over the eggs to keep bacteria and fungi away. The parents will also eat any unfertilized eggs to keep them from attracting pathogens.
If the water temperature stays in the upper part of the recommended range, you can expect the eggs to hatch within 40 hours after fertilization. The parents will continue to care for the offspring and round them up in a dense school. The fry are normally free swimming after five days or so but will not be allowed to forage on their own—the parents will always accompany them to keep them safe.
Dealing with Inexperienced Parents
Since parental care is so essential for the survival of electric blue ram offspring, it is not uncommon for inexperienced couples to lose their first few batches. If this happens, just let them keep spawning; most couples get the hang of it eventually. After the initial spawning, you can expect an established couple to have a new batch every month or so. Egg eating is also common among inexperienced parents and nothing to worry about if it happens to the first few batches. Newly established pairs often fight a lot with each other, so make sure the aquarium has numerous hiding spots to prevent injury and stress.
If an experienced electric blue ram couple continues to lose their offspring, you need to investigate if there is a problem in the aquarium. Is something stressing your fish, such as improper water quality or temperature? Are there enough hiding spots? Is your couple being bullied by their tankmates? Do they get enough food at feeding time, or are faster tankmates taking most of the fare? Is there a fish in the aquarium that’s so strong or cunning that the couple cannot protect their offspring against it? As mentioned above, electric blue rams are often more sensitive than their wild ram cichlid ancestors and may require some extra pampering.
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