Cichlid Room Companion

Breeding Chuco sp. "Guabo" from Panama (Tomocichla asfraci)

By , 2001. image

Classification: Captive maintenance, Central and North America.

Tomocichla asfraci A 35 cm long Tomocichla asfraci in the home aquarium of Brian Trass. Photo by Brian Trass.

Chuco sp. "Guabo" was discovered in 1993 along with another species, Archocentrus nanoluteus, by Patrick de Rham and Jean Claude Nourissat, shortly after the road to Chiriqui Grande was finally paved, allowing access to this remote region of Panama. Known as Bocas del Toro province, the area is separated from Costa Rica to the west by the Rio Sixaola, while its southern border is formed by the Cordillera Central, or the Continental Divide. Several small rivers empty into the Laguna de Chiriqui, one of which is the Rio Guaramo. The Rio Guabo, source of the species reported on here, is one of its tributaries.

Once collected, specimens of Chuco sp. "Guabo" were shipped to and bred in Europe; offspring were given to Paul Loiselle (by Patrick de Rham), who then passed some along to Stan Sung at the ACA convention in San Jose (CA) in 1995. Some of the fry were reared by cichlid breeder, John Neimans. At a pre-Costa Rica collecting trip party at John's "Fish Haus" in 1996, I first saw this fish and was intrigued by its unique color pattern of gold with rusty-red flanks. John's group was ultimately reduced to a single pair ­ probably a result of prespawning aggression ­ which failed to spawn before the female killed the male. On our 1996 trip to Costa Rica, we searched for this fish in the Rio Sixaola drainage to no avail; I doubt that it occurs there. However, on our next collecting trip to Panama in January 1997, this species was at the top of my "most wanted" list along with Astatheros rhytisma, Archocentrus nanoluteus and Geophagus crassilabrus. Most of the dozen or so juveniles (1.5-2.5" in length) that our group caught were taken with cast nets from a small affluent of the Rio Guaramo over the shallow, rocky bottoms of the more swiftly-moving areas of the stream. I saw only one large adult under a log in a deeper part of the stream, but a swift current and a tangle of submerged logs and branches made collecting there impossible. The water temperature at this pristine site was about 78°F with a general hardness of about 8°. We visited it during a relatively dry period, so water levels were somewhat low. Other cichlids caught here, in addition to the targeted Archocentrus nanoluteus and Astatheros rhytisma, were Astatheros bussingi and a pretty, sky-blue Archocentrus nigrofasciatum.

Tomocichla asfraci A Tomocichla asfraci breeding pair by the eggs on the flat rock, in the aquarium of Bill Cain. Photo by Bill Cain.

John Neimans and I split our catch of Chuco upon our return; mine were housed in a 125-gal tank along with everything else I had brought back. After losing a "jumper," I was down to five specimens after only one day! As the next year passed, most of the other fishes were gradually moved out, leaving only the Chuco with some convicts. Unfortunately, the Chuco became more and more skittish as time passed, fleeing at my approach to the security of the bogwood decorating the tank. They also became very picky about their food, eating less and less of both flake and pellet varieties. Worried about fouling the tank with uneaten food, I began feeding them more live mosquito larvae and earthworms. Not surprisingly, it seems that diet and color go hand-in-hand, as John's fish were developing a very intense rusty-orange patch on the flank while eating a diet of pellets, Spirulina flakes, and krill (which my fish wouldn't touch), while mine continued to display only golden-yellow spots. I felt that if I wanted them to breed, I should feed them as much live food as possible, so I continued with this diet, in spite of its effects on coloration. As I also knew that these fish demanded absolutely clean, running water, I conducted weekly (sometime twice weekly) 90% water changes; my water comes straight from a well sunk in 200' of limestone, yielding the proverbial "liquid rock" with total dissolved solids of 650 ppm and a pH of 7.2. Filtration and current were supplied using a 800-gph powerhead stuck in a large sponge and a 400-gph external power filter. Large pieces of bogwood and ceramic flowerpots provided hiding places on a very thin layer of gravel. Water temperatures were kept at 78-80°F; lighting was supplied by two 40-watt fluorescents kept on for about 15 hours a day.

Tomocichla asfraci A Tomocichla asfraci female looking after her wrigglers, in the aquarium of Bill Cain. Photo by Bill Cain.

At a size of 5-6" some of the Chuco began displaying to one another, exhibiting both fin-flaring and tail-slapping. While engaged in these activities, their heads darkened to a charcoal color. I spent a lot of time observing them during the evenings - hidden in the dark - trying to pick up any clues as to the participants' genders and hoping to observe pair formation. Except for one larger fish, I couldn't distinguish among the others, but decided that those displaying were probably all males. I replaced the wild convicts with a pair of A. nanoluteus which eventually spawned and reared a brood, but even this did not provide any trigger for the Chuco to pair up. So, the A. nanoluteus pair was removed, leaving the five Chuco alone. I concluded that they were still too young to spawn.

By early 1999 I had kept these fish for two years and still couldn't sex them with any certainty; I had a feeling that the largest individual (now 8") was a female. She had claimed a pot at one end of the tank and dominated the others, always butting in whenever any of the others interacted. At this time, I began feeding them more blackworms, which they preferred in addition to earthworms, but still they fled at my approach. Their tank sits right next to my kitchen table, and I had thought that daily exposure to our activities would help to curb their skittishness, but I was wrong. So, I took a lesson from pioneering efforts of early discus breeders who covered their tanks leaving only a peephole, by allowing the algae to grow on the glass. It built up to the point that the Chuco's domain became totally obscured except for a one-foot area at the far end of the tank. I then limited water changes to every two weeks to disturb them even less. Another individual had now claimed a flowerpot on the opposite end of the tank from the larger female; I assumed that she was a female as well. One evening about two months later I glanced over from the living room and saw that this fish had become ivory and beige in color and was displaying to a darker fish by assuming a slightly head-down position and quivering. This sequence, however, was broken off repeatedly by the larger "spoiler" female who had lightened in color as well. The (presumed) male's head was now a much darker charcoal color, and his overall coloration had intensified as well. A couple of nights later I removed the larger "female" leaving the new "pair" alone with the other two Chucos as "targets" to strengthen their bonding. Most of the work of cleaning the area of all gravel was left to the female. A week later I saw the spawning tube drop on the female, and the following afternoon she spawned, placing her eggs on two smooth stones in front of a large bogwood overhang. Witnessing only her last few passes, I hastily grabbed a camera and quickly rubbed away some of the algae so I could document what I could of the spawning. In my excitement I failed to notice (until the next day) that two different stones were used as the spawning site. My original plan was to leave the spawn with the pair and observe what I could of their brood care (not an easy decision!), but then I noticed the second stone which had about 100 eggs on it. What luck! I removed it that night to a 3gal tank as insurance. Very typical care of their 200-egg clutch ensued with the female fanning and the male patrolling. On the fifth morning both sets of eggs had hatched. I observed the female moving the wrigglers to the rear of the tank, but they were never seen again. Luckily, those in the 3-gal tank had no problems and were free-swimming and able to take brine shrimp in about a week. The young exhibited a banded color pattern of alternating dark-brown and yellow.

A month later the same pair spawned again, depositing 500 eggs on the same two stones. Courtship was a very mellow affair, any aggression being turned towards the other two Chucos present. This time the eggs hatched and were chewed free by the female on the fourth day, who then moved them a couple of times, finally settling upon the rear of the tank. They were well-tended, and by the time the fry had been free-swimming for a couple of weeks, it became necessary to remove the other two Chucos, as the pair became very protective of the brood. Once this was done, they turned their attention towards me as the target of their protective urges. The male especially would lunge at me, biting at and scratching the acrylic tank. After a while I couldn't even go into the kitchen without the male flaring his gills and swimming rapidly back and forth, frantically trying to chase me away. A hand in the tank invited an immediate bite, usually from the male. Feeding them and the fry now became quite a problem, as the female actually launched herself out of the tank and onto the floor twice trying to drive me off! This prompted the removal of the pair to separate quarters where they now reside in relative peace. The perky fry have proved easy to raise, greedily eating all forms of dried foods offered and growing rapidly, providing what I hope will be a source of this delightful new variety to many more hobbyists in the future.

Tomocichla asfraci A Tomocichla asfraci female guarding her unusually colored young, in the aquarium of Bill Cain. Photo by Bill Cain.

(This article was originally published in Cichlid News Magazine, Jul-00 pp. 24-31, It is reproduced here with the permission of author George Barlow and Aquatic promotions).


Cain, William. (Apr 25, 2003). "Breeding Chuco sp. "Guabo" from Panama (Tomocichla asfraci)". Cichlid Room Companion. Retrieved on Dec 10, 2023, from: