Spawning the Parachromis managuensis
By John G. Reclos
It was just another Saturday morning so we decided to visit a petshop to buy some pieces of bogwood and some food for our fish. After we entered the shop I looked around as I always do, while my father was getting the stuff we needed, and I saw a fish in the main show tank that had a different color pattern than its tankmates. In fact, it was the absence of any color that struck me. When I took a closer look at it I realized it was a Parachromis managuensis. Seconds later I was moving all around the tank following it, trying to understand if it was a male or a female. After some time I came to the conclusion that it was 99.9% a female, judging by the big black dots almost forming a solid horizontal line across the body of the fish. I already had a male for well over a year so I knew what the male melanin pattern looks like while during this time I had collected a lot of information (from books and Dr. Ronald Coleman to whom special thanks are due) about the pattern of the female. Before you decide if it is really a female watch it closely and look if the line gets fader according to the mood of the fish! The line MUST be black at all times, if not it is most probably a male. Although I know that venting is the only way to be absolutely sure you have a pair this is just a quick way to distinguish the two sexes which may be practical when venting is not possible.
After I “concluded” (within experimental limits of error of course) that it was a female I went to my father and asked if I could get her. At first, he had some objections such as "and what happens if it is a male?" but the pattern was markedly different so eventually he gave in – probably taking into account the time I have devoted to Tyson, my lonely male. We already knew how Tyson reacted when another male was accidentally introduced in his tank when he was still a 20 cm fish so we knew that now (sized 30+ cm) the poor fish wouldn’t stand a chance if it was of the wrong sex. Moreoever, even if it was a female still there was a chance that a pair wouldn’t form in which case the considerably smaller female would be in danger. Therefore, we informed the petshop owner that if “she” was not a she we would bring her back immediately – to which he agreed. Thirty minutes later, I was on my way home with my new acquisition, hopefully a female P. managuensis. At first I was afraid to put it in my male’s tank so I placed “her” in a 100 liter tank alone. Next, I had to decide when Tyson (my male) was in the right mood to introduce a new fish in his tank. After two days my father told me that I should put it in the tank and hope for the best, because Tyson, no matter what his mood was at any given moment, wouldn’t accept anything in his tank, and especially another male. This particular fish had shown us in the past that it may “accept” something temporarily but then decide not to – this includes everything from tankmates to decoration elements. In such a (relatively) small tank, the male will extend its territory to the borders of the tank - which is quite natural for it, but leaves no room for mistakes to us. Following his advice I put the fish in the tank, afraid of the worst. I went out of the room and kept an eye to the tank from a distance, waiting to hear the knocks on the glass which would mean that Tyson is chasing the newcomer to kill it. Half an hour passed and then I went into the room again and saw them swimming together all over the tank. From the hobbyist’s point of view a P. managuensis is a really beautiful fish. However, this is nothing compared to a pair of them, swimming together, displaying to each other. It is not only the aesthetic part of it but something deeper. A pair looks more natural, it gives the impression that the two fishes are happier this way and they probably are. A lonely fish (male or female) creates the sad feeling of living a pointless life in the tank. One of the main instincts of all animals is reproduction and this should always be respected, if the animal’s well being is what the pet owner is looking for.
The markings of both fishes were far more intense now and it was obvious that they were of the opposite sex. Tyson is measuring about 32 cm while the female is about 18 cm. Every now and then, the male would display to the female by moving water with his tail, while the female would just stay by him. The male would make a tour of the tank and then rush back to the female. At this point some aggressive displaying was performed (opening the gills and lowering the jaws) by both fishes which only lasted a second or so, as if they were recognizing each other. Although this is definitely a natural behavior, it always alerted me. An 18 cm fish is not a small fish but compared to the male she seemed really helpless and fragile so a net was within immediate reach and the “emergency” tank was always ready to house her if needed.
Keeping one of them is not enough. Only when a pair is formed will the cichlid lover see the normal behavior of this beautiful fish. Anxiety gives place to happiness once the pair if formed. I had heard of many horror stories about grown up males killing newly introduced females on the spot.
Two days later the male was displaying more often by shaking its body next to the female while some serious excavation was done behind the big stone placed in their tank. The place chosen for this was covered by wine tree trunks and lots of Ceratophylum demersun and Lemna minor, creating a shaded, “protected” area, which looks very natural (at least to me, but I guess the fish also appreciated the time and effort which had gone in the aquascaping of their tank). Tyson was behaving more and more like a gentleman - he even allowed the female to get to the food first and only after she had had enough he would go to eat, too. I decided to add some live earth worms in their diet to bring the female to prime conditions for spawning (overoptimistic, as always!). I collected the worms myself from the garden, washed them in tap water and then offered them to the pair which never refused them. The female hesitated a bit at the beginning but after tasting it she decided this was her favorite food.
On day five, the female’s belly was clearly swollen while the happy pair (viewed by an equally happy owner) was still digging behind that stone, guarding the pit (mainly the female) while the male was patrolling the tank to make sure nobody would enter the “digging” zone. They tried to dig at other locations in the tank, too, but in the end they both decided that the best spot was the first one and focused on it. The male’s mouth was full of scratches as he repeatedly tried to get the Platydoras costatus out of its shelter. Interestingly enough he only attacked the P. costatus close to their pit - completely ignoring the other two who had chosen a shelter far from it. Day by day, his efforts to take the catfish out were more ferocious, which meant that the pair was up to something – hopefully spawning. One remarkable thing is the splitting of the jobs to be done. Although they had only been together for less than ten days still they knew exactly what to do and who should do it. The male would dig and the female would test with her body if the pit was good enough. The male would patrol the tank while the female would remove snails and small stones from the pit, always staying within a body length from it. The male would do the hard work (e.g. moving the P. costatus out of its shelter) while the female would just come out of the pit with short bursts to display to me or chase anything that came too close to the pit. During the same day I disconnected the heaters, allowing the temperature of the tank to fall to 23oC during the night and slowly rise to 27 during the next three days. Since the thermostat incorporated in most heaters is far from accurate we relied on the electronic thermometer attached in the tank to confirm our settings. The table below shows all the actions taken during the whole event.
* In this table day “0” corresponds to the day the eggs were laid by the female.
On day seven it was obvious that they were about to spawn. Not only the belly of the female was considerably more swollen but the genital organs of both of them were now evident. The female started to make “virtual” egg laying attempts to make sure that the surface of the stone was OK both in terms of size (I presume she knew how many eggs she had) as well as in terms of shape.
The female making one more "test" on their chosen stone. The external genital is clearly seen now and is completely different than the male's as you can see in the photo below.
On day 8 the female spent the whole day making virtual egg layering. The male was even more aggressive against the poor catfish and it was only because of the huge bogwood that the P. costatus survived. I had to clean the prefilter pad of the filter intake to ensure maximum water flow in the tank. Bad timing I guess. The male attacked my hand immediately, got all his teeth on it and refused to let it go even when I pulled my hand taking him half out of the water. I can ensure you that it is a painful experience and that the wounds will bleed. Anyway, the filter was running OK now.
On day 9, when I got home, I found the stone covered with eggs. I was really very happy for Tyson, a fish that one year ago was just a frightened cichlid was now a happy father. Mission accomplished, or not yet ? I tried to count the eggs but it was just impossible.. there were too many of them. I didn’t know whether I should add a fungicide or not but after talking it over with my father we decided to wait and see how many eggs would get fungus and only if the number was increasing dramatically to add such an agent. Since fertilization rate is never expected to be 100% some white eggs were to be expected. The female was always fanning them, so we decided to count the eggs which were covered with fungus every 12 hours and act accordingly. The eggs were supposed to hatch after 72-80 hours at 25oC, so we gradually raised the temperature to 28oC to go for the shorter time and avoid – if possible – the addition of any agents in the water.
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