Breeding Mouthbrooder Victorian species

Q&A about Lake Victoria Cichlids

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Pam Chin
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Breeding Mouthbrooder Victorian species

Post by Pam Chin »

Dear Pam,

I just set up a 55 gallon tank. I would like to breed cichlids, especially a mouth brooding species. I have one Melanochromis johanni from a previous failed attempt at breeding in a twenty gallon (Eigthy liters) tank. What I'd really like, if it's possible, is to have three compatible species, with however many specimens makes sense for a 55 gallon tank. Is it possible to get three different species to breed in one tank? If so, which ones make sense? Can I start with the one M. johanni (a male) and get a few females? And then add a few other species as well.

Also, I'm very interested in what you have to say about fish from Lake Victoria. I have always been interested in tropical fish and have had a tank going for most of my life, but part of what has me interested in cichlids at this point is that I have been doing research the last few years for a book I'm writing about Lake Victoria and the ecological disaster there, i.e. the fact that cichlid species are becoming extinct there at an incredible rate. I was under the impression that Victoria cichlids were not generally available because they aren't generally as impressive as those from Malawi and Tanganyika. (One theory is that because the water is naturally cloudy and silty in Victoria, there is less opportunity for coloration to be effective as advertisement for species/sexual status.)

Anyway, after having read about it and seen mouth brooding behavior on video, I'm really curious to see it up close. That's why I'm focused on that, but to watch a Victoria cichlid would have a special emotional attraction for me.

So are there readily available Victoria cichlids that would also readily breed. I'm excited. Do you have specific ones in mind?

I'm also curious about your suggestion of what you call dither fish. Giant danios and Rainbow fish. I have heard that it is unwise to put other fish in with cichlids, since the cichlids can be so aggressive. But it sounds like you're saying these "dither" fish can take the heat?

I like that idea, since I've been thinking that just having a few cichlids in a 55 gallon tank would be a bit boring. That's partly why I wanted to try and find more than one species that could co-exist. But being able to put some dither fish in would be nice, too.

Thanks,
Tom
Pam Chin
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Post by Pam Chin »

Dear Tom,

African community tanks are wonderful, but if you want to breed fish I suggest just working with one species per tank. A 55 gallon tank is really not that large, and by the time you add gravel and rocks you probably only have 35 gallons of actual water. African cichlids are very territorial and it is difficult to breed multiple species in one tank.

I think that if you really want to be successful you should concentrate on one species. Mouth brooders breed best in groups, with one male and as many females as you can find. It is possible to breed more than one mouth brooder in a tank, but it is hard, and you always have the chance that they will cross breed which is a major No No! I breed most of my fish with just one species per tank for this very reason. Single species tanks are great, there is nothing like a dominate male riding herd on his harem.

So if you decide to do just one species, which one should it be?? That should be up to you since you are the one who is going to be looking at them. Pick something that catches your eye. Melanochromis are very common and there are lots of mouth brooders out there that are more exciting and interesting. Melanochromis is one of the most aggressive species I can think of, dominate males of this species will reek havoc in most tanks. I would suggest: Aulonocara, Labidochromis, Protomelas or Copadichromis all from Lake Malawi, Haplochromis from Lake Victoria or Cyphotilapia and Tropheus from Lake Tanganyika.

I am always glad to give you my opinion on fish as to their value, compatibility, and behavior. Some of the Mouth brooders that are consistently in demand that I can think of off the top of by head are: Sciaenochromis fryeri (Electric Blue, formerly Haplochromis ahli), Labidochromis caeruleus "Electric Yellow," Any of the yellow species of Aulonocara, such as malieri and baenschi also from Lake Victoria, many of the Haplochromis, from there are very popular.

If you provide plenty of cover and have a group with the one or two males and 8 - 12 females, you probably won't need dither fish. If you want an aquarium with a complete look and like fish in the middle and upper half of the tank, then by all means add them. Rainbows are good, because they can take a beating and keep on swimming!! There are lots of people that add mops to their tanks and breed them at the same time.

The last few years Victorian cichlid have been all the rage. They are cool fish and fun to work with. I would think that since you know the background of what this poor group of fish are going through that you would appreciate them even more.

I am not an expert on the way it works with these endangered fish but this is how I understand the system. As of this writing, there are 50 Victorian cichlids on the endangered list. These fish are maintained mainly by the zoos and aquariums. Some of these have leaked out into the hobby and have been passed around. Hobbyists have long thought that the zoo's and aquariums should allow them to help maintain these species. This is debatable, especially after seeing what hobbyists have done with the Victorians that didn't make it to the top 50 list. Many of these Victorians have been available to the hobbyists over the years. You can actually see a trend; they are introduced to us, we breed the heck out of them, and within a few years they are gone. There is no list among the hobbyists of who is breeding what fish. All one needs to do is pick up any trading post from a few years ago, and you will see a list of Victorians that are no longer around. These fish are not really being maintained and it is obvious that many of these species are now probably endangered or even extinct in the wild, but worse yet, they have also slipped through our hands. Hey, I am guilty too.

There is a limited supply of information about Victorian Cichlids, our best crusader has been Paul Loiselle. The only real book on them is out of print by P. H. Greenwood. Greenwood really produced the most information about these fishes until just lately. The "Cichlid Yearbook's" Published yearly by Ad Konings has had some very good articles, and also the Cichlid News a quarterly publication on cichlids, usually tries to cover these fish. Consequently there are a lot of Victorians going around that are the same fish but called two different names. There is also a lot of misidentification of this fish going around and it is hard to tract down what one might really have.

They are fun fish to work with, they can be very aggressive toward each other. They breed like typical mouth brooders; best in groups of one male to many females. Always provide lots of cover for the females. They do better at lower temperatures, it keeps the aggression down. Most people agree that they breed like flies, I would agree with that, although some species may be a bit harder at first. There are several that have fantastic color, but only the males, the females are always a beautiful battle ship gray! But they too are very interesting in their own ways, some do have slight color in the fins. I would say this is a very good mouth brooding fish to start with.

Bottom line: Get rid of the Melanochromis and start over! Right now the hot one is Haplochromis nyererei, last year it was Haplochromis obliquidens. I hope that you can find some and set up a single species tank to watch their wonderful behavior. They are quite interesting.
Cichlid Power!
Pam

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