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Raise the fry? Or not?

by Frank Panis

There is simply no way around it: If you have tank of some size with a rocky decoration, lots of hiding places, and a good water quality, then you can't go wrong: most of your Malawi cichlids will breed like rabbits! Most of mine also do this. Especially the Protomelas in my tank are extremely productive and both the "Taiwan Reef" and the spilonotus "Tanzania" females carry eggs about 4 times a year. It would be tempting to catch these females and put them in a separate tank, so they can release the fry when they feel like (I recommend not to strip them!), after which they can be put back in the main tank. The fry would stay in the release tank and could be raised and donated or sold when they would have a decent size. Of course every hobbyist needs to raise one or more batches of fry, just to have this nice experience. However the effort to raise them can be a pain. Setting up one or more separate tanks for breeding cichlids is not evident for everyone for various reasons: time needed to feed the fry, to do the essential water changes, lack of room to setup those breeding tanks, the huge mess such a room can become (what's NOT popular with the average wife), etc... Also the pumps, heating and lightning consume lots of electricity, what soon brings the profit ratio of breeding cichlids close to zero, especially when they are fairly common fish that are broadly available!


Protomelas steveni taiwan fry trying to hide in my aquarium background.

 

What to do then? I just leave the carrying females in the tank and if they still look healthy after a while we let them release the fry in the tank. This usually ends in a feeding frenzy where all adult cichlids in the tank try to pick such a helpless small juvenile as a tasty snack. Today when I was photographing my Aulonocara stuartgranti "Ngara" I was surprised though. This Aulonocara was quickly moving around chasing little fry. When I looked closer, I saw many small Protomelas trying to seek shelter in the depressions of my aquarium background. I was surprised that they managed to stay hidden and unnoticed that long, but soon the predator in that tank, a Dimidiochromis compressiceps, found out that they were there though. He started hovering near the background and attacked as soon he located one of them. Half an hour later the Dimidiochromis had eaten most of the fry, but luckily some of them managed to reach the safety of the filter entrance. You could question me why I keep this predator then? Of course only because I like that species so much. Other so-called non-predatory cichlids also won't hesitate to grab a juvenile whenever they see the chance. At least the large Protomelas spilonotus "Tanzania" was also eager to chase that fry after all!
 
Is this cruel? I think this is simply unavoidable in our hobby. If we can't raise them, this is the best solution in my opinion. Also consider that "possible" hybrids are avoided this way. The predators are not to blame either. They're just doing what they do in nature all the time... if we still feel sour about the fry getting eaten, we can "help" them by completely filling the tank with small rocks, so they can hide better and have higher survival rates.... .... but that will soon lead to an overcrowded tank with all known problems as a consequence! The choice is up to the hobbyist of course!
 


Dimidiochromis compressiceps carefully searching for fry.

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