A golden rule for breeding African rift lake cichlids

By Stefanos Fluntzis

One thing leads to the other, therefore, after getting my first African rift lake cichlids some years ago I started to search for and read everything that had to do with their reproduction. I suspect that I was infected by the well known “cichlid bug”. As a result I collected more than 5.500 pages which included the key words “African cichlid” and “breeding”. I have gone through them more than 3-4 times and still I discover new (and important) points which I had obviously missed the previous times. Only God knows what I (still) have to learn on this issue and I feel this is the case for most of us. The purpose of this article is to give you a resume of all those pages (so you don’t have to go through them yourselves) and share with you some tricks that I (with the help of my friend, Nathan) have used up to know and have worked for us. It is also meant to show you the practical application of what I call the “golden rule” in breeding African rift lake cichlids. I would like to mention that we have already bred successfully 20 different species (out of the 40 that we currently keep in our tanks) following those simple guidelines.

I think that the best place to start this would be to mention the golden rule and to tell you how I found about it. Three years ago I decided to deal with the “breeding those African cichlids” issue in depth. This included water parameters, feeding, avoiding hybridization, relations between different species, lifespan and of course, ways to reproduce them. During that time I read an article which immediately captured my attention. The resume of the article was “Don’t set up a tank aiming in breeding the fish you are going to add in it because this means you have already half-failed. In contrast, you should set it up in such a way to ensure that the fish you will add in it will be calm and feel safe. Then, instead of searching for ways to breed them, you will have to find ways to stop them from breeding all the time”.

The rocks inside our tanks have natural "blind" holes which serve as extra hiding spots for the cichlids.


is so simple and makes so much sense: if everything is natural in the tank, the fish in turn will do exactly what is natural for them. I think that this describes the “golden rule” best. It is needless to say (although I will say it anyway) that all our tanks were set up and run with this in mind which fully rewarded us in return. Of course, in some cases we had to use some additional tricks for a successful outcome. Some of the tricks (still used today) are described below.

The options available are often related to – if not directed by – the species we plan to keep and breed in a particular tank. Of course, there are some general guidelines which should be followed in all cases. We all know (or should know) that African rift lake cichlids require a lot of caves or hiding spots, the best substrate for their tanks is well washed sand from the beach, the ratio of males to females is of paramount importance and many more. Now let’s take a look at what may happen if someone overlooks some minor details and sticks to the general guidelines only. Of course, what is “minor details” for us is “absolutely essential” for our fish. I will just give you an example by telling you my Neolamprologus brichardi experience. This particular species gave us a very hard time although – as stated in the literature – it should be amongst the easiest to breed.

We had an adult pair in an 110 liter tank which seemed not to have “breeding in the foreseeable future” in their minds. Everything in that tank was perfect, the pair was all alone but something was apparently wrong, at least to them. Here I went again, searching for more information, reading more articles, trying to find a hint. And then I found something interesting.. The author stated that “Even though members of this particular species are regarded as “easy goers” as far as breeding is concerned, still there are some peculiarities. There are some people that manage to breed them without any effort while others do not succeed no matter how hard they try”. A few lines below that he also stated that “The one thing that helped me breed this pair was the construction of caves in such a way that even if I wanted to change them in the future it would be impossible. I made caves from stones glued together with silicone which I never touched or moved around in their tank”. I thought I should give it a try and yes, the result was amazing. After a couple of months we already had more than 180 fry from two different batches. All we had to do was to make stable caves which we never touched. The author was right. The security feeling is very important to our fishes and one way to create this feeling to them is to make caves which we never touch, move, open or explore.

Neolamprologus brichardy in one of our tanks. You just have to get it right from the beginning. You can leave the rest to the fish.

Nathan had an excellent idea. Use money saving pots made from clay for this purpose. Believe me, it worked a treat. The guy we bought them from thought of us as his best customers (quite natural since we had so many tanks). That money save pots had one additional advantage compared to the stone made caves. If you open a hole at the base of the pot you create a cave which has only one entrance to the nest. This reinforced the security feeling of the fish since it automatically meant that there was only one point to keep an eye on, thus the fishes felt more secure and relaxed. In contrast, it is almost impossible to create a “one entrance” cave with rocks glued with silicone. In all cases, those little monsters proved to us that actually there were more than one entrances to this nest. Which could be translated as “The house looks really good but I don’t like the view” !

Another - very important - issue is feeding. Yes, this is right. How much and how often you feed them is directly related with how often our fish will breed. How do I know that is a very good question since I am neither a nutritionist nor a sexologist. Well, I have the following data to present to you – and you are the judge of it. In all our tanks we fed our fish 2-3 times daily and we had a satisfactory frequency of spawning and a good number of fry. That is until we read an article by a famous American breeder who claimed that since he reduced feeding frequency to once daily he experienced a remarkable increase in the frequency of spawning. Therefore we decided to follow his advice and see if he was right by selectively feeding less some of our tanks. Again, the author was right. The frequency and the urge to spawn was dramatically increased in the tanks which were fed only once per day – we couldn’t even keep up with them, we were continuously constructing new tanks. We even observed smaller females, fed once daily, to produce larger broods than larger ones of the same species fed more frequently. I don’t know why this happens; I can only make some assumptions. Our conclusion is that the fish when fed less were more active.

They didn’t spend their whole day digesting the food therefore they had the time to express their passion to the females. I can’t say if the females were equally satisfied by the new feeding regiment, too. All I can say is that we were more than happy with it. Another observation is a decrease in the number and frequency of diseases in our tanks. Thus, my good friend Nathan was proven true when he claimed that “A hungry fish is a HEALTHY fish”. And not only healthy, but spawning too !

I hope that this article was helpful to some of you and made your affection for your fishes and this hobby even stronger. Next time you see a fish frustrated just think about it. Perhaps the house is good but the view could be improved while more company would be welcomed.

I would like to close this article by expressing a bitter thought. I am deeply disappointed every time I read (in magazines or the internet) that some people (thankfully not many) think of all those creatures as results of the “evolution” and not a creation of God. Why do they show such an ignorance of the facts? Why do they refuse to accept the role of God in the creation of something so beautiful while at the same time they accept that there is a “creator” even for a humble electronic circuit? Why should some people be so short minded?

20 For his invisible [qualities] are clearly seen from the world’s creation onward, because they are perceived by the things made, even his eternal power and Godship, so that they are inexcusable; 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God nor did they thank him, but they became empty-headed in their reasonings and their unintelligent heart became darkened. 22 Although asserting they were wise, they became foolish 23 and  turned the glory of the incorruptible God into something like the image of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed creatures and creeping things. Holy Bible – ROMANS chapter 1 scriptures 20 – 23 NWT (New World Translation)

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