Breeding freshwater aquarium fish can be a rewarding but challenging experience. Read these tips to increase your chances of raising cichlid fry to maturity.
While some species of fish are difficult to breed in an aquarium environment, many types of cichlid breed readily in captivity under the right conditions. Large breeds of cichlid can lay hundreds of eggs at a time but, most of the time, only a few fry survive and grow to maturity if left in the community tank. If you are serious about breeding cichlids, and if you would like to raise a majority of your fry to maturity, setting up a cichlid fry tank separate from the breeding tank is an important step. Separated from other fish, your cichlid fry will have a greater chance of survival. Read more to learn other valuable tips about raising cichlid fry to maturity.
Breeding in Cichlids
When it comes to breeding cichlids, these fish can be divided into two main groups by their breeding methods: one group contains mouthbrooders and the other contains substrate spawners. In mouthbrooding species, the process of mating is typically no different from other cichlid species. After the eggs have been released by the female, however, one of the pair will gather the eggs in its mouth and hold them there until they hatch. In some cases, the female will gather the eggs in her mouth and the male will fertilize them afterward. There are even a few species of cichlid (namely tilapiines) which exhibit paternal mouthbrooding. Once the eggs have hatched, the fry will often remain close to the parents as they grow, relying on them for food and protection.
Substrate spawning species of cichlid can be further divided into groups based on where they deposit their eggs. Some species scatter their eggs over a wide area on substrate and plants while others deposit them on a flat surface. Still other species dig a nest in the substrate and deposit the eggs directly into the nest. Just as mouthbrooding species guard the eggs in their mouths, substrate spawners will guard their eggs until hatching. During breeding times, cichldis can become very aggressive and territorial in the protection of their eggs and fry.
After your cichlids have spawned your first move should be to remove the parent fish from the tank if the species you are breeding does not exhibit parental care. Mouthbrooding species of cichlid and some other species actually care for their fry for several days (or longer) after they hatch. To determine whether or not this is the case for your cichlids you may need to do a little bit of basic research. If you are able to determine that your cichlids do not typically care for their young it is best to remove the adults from the tank as soon as spawning is complete.
When your cichlid fry are first hatched they will not require much space - they will simply need a safe environment in which to spend their first days. For the first 5 to 7 days after hatching, cichlid fry will be able to subsist on what is left of their yolk sac so they should not be fed during this time – feeding the fry during this time will only result in decreasing the water quality in your tank because the food will not be eaten. As the fry begin to mature, they can be moved to a nursery or rearing tank. This tank can be small, between five and ten gallons in capacity, and it should be sparsely decorated to make water changes easier. Use water from the breeding tank to fill it and equip the nursery tank with a quality aquarium heater and a sponge filter. It is important that filtration and water circulation be achieved in the fry tank, but you do not want to use anything powerful enough to hurt the fry.
After a week or so, you may begin to perform routine water changes, changing out between 10% and 20% of the water in the tank and adding in fresh dechlorinated water. Begin to feed the fry two or three times a day with a mixture of protein-rich fry foods and live foods like infusoria and newly-hatched brine shrimp. Over the next few weeks the fry should begin to grow and mature, and once they triple their original size you may move them to a grow-out tank - a larger tank where they can grow freely.
Depending on the number of cichlid fry you intend to raise, a grow-out cichlid fry tank should be between 20 and 30 gallons in size. Equip your grow-out tank with adequate heating, lighting and filtration to ensure water circulation and a stable water temperature around 78° F. It is also a good idea to frequently check the pH level and to maintain it between 7.5 and 8.5, depending on the breed of cichlid you are raising. Keep in mind that while many species of fish are adaptable to slight variations in water quality, young fry are likely to be very sensitive and could be harmed by sudden changes in pH or water temperature.
You can use a little more creativity when decorating your grow out tank - fill the bottom with some kind of dark substrate and give the fry plenty of places to hide. Use rocks and PVC pipes or clay pots to make nooks and crannies for your cichlids to hide in. You may also include some live plants like java moss or hygrophila to increase the oxygen content in your fry tank. When decorating your grow-out tank, be sure to leave enough open space for the fry to swim freely - keep the rock caves and piles concentrated in the corners of the tank so the middle remains open. If you continue to feed the fry a healthy, balanced diet you will see them grow fairly quickly.
Breeding cichlids and raising the fry can be a fun and rewarding experience for aquarium hobbyists, but it can also take a great deal of time and effort. In order to raise cichlid fry properly, you will need several extra fish tanks to use as the cichlid fry tank and the grow-out tank. You may even need to separate the fry into several different grow-out tanks if some grow more quickly than others. Once your cichlids grow to about two inches in length, you may consider it safe to introduce a few of them into your community tank, without overcrowding the tank, or sell them to other aquarists to further support your hobby.