Spawning the Paretroplus maculatus

by George J. Reclos

Spawning large cichlids in the aquarium is not always easy. This is even more so when you keep species for which not much is known so much of it relies on your instinct and the good will and cooperation of your fish. Madagascan cichlids and Paretroplines in particular, definitely belong to this category and we are really happy that we are able to shed some more light on their breeding behavior. After Paratilapia sp. Andapa and Paretroplus damii it was the turn of Paretroplus maculatus (although I can tell you that by the time you read these lines, Paretroplus menarambo will be already presented in another article !!). An article about their tank is already online here, so you can see the basic elements used to aquascape it. In brief the bogwood in the tank creates two "corridors", one in the front and one in the back which just "increase" the distance the fish have to swim before they fall onto each other. Apart than that, sand, some stones and a lot of my beloved algae. As observed with the other Paretroplines (damii and menarambo) the formed pairs do not show any significant difference in size (between the male and the female) and - even more important - neither the larger nor the smaller fish are part of the first breeding pairs to be formed. The two fish in the photos below are approximately the same size (a little bit less than 20 cm) while there is a much larger specimen in the same tank (about 25 cm). This pair was formed a couple of months ago and they live together ever since. They have chosen the right part of the tank in which a vertical bogwood provides a good place to lay eggs. During the last two months the pair guarded this area constantly, occasionally cleaning the right part of the bogwood. As you can see in the set of three photos below, they spent the whole day next to each other only breaking apart in order to chase the other P. maculatus away from their future spawning site. When we first saw one of them examining the bogwood vertically, we were almost sure that if they ever spawned, this would be the place. The pair spent a lot of time examining every part of the wooden surface, sometimes making spawning moves to make sure it would serve their task. After a month or so, their attention was focused on the right part of this wood which offered a flat surface.

In the next photos you can see a sequence taken during the actual spawning. The fish (as with almost all substrate spawners) will take turns and this is what you can see here. In the last photo of this sequence you can see the eggs in a close up. It is interesting to note that, unlike the closely related Paretroplus menarambo which lay their eggs in a normal fashion (on a horizontal surface) the P. maculatus prefers a vertical surface for this, something which has been previously reported by others.

A short video clip showing the spawning is also available here. It is for moments like this that we may even decide to get a video camera in the end.

At that time there was no available space in any tank since there are a lot of fish species which had the same idea at the same time so all tanks were transformed in fry raising ones. Thus, the eggs were left with the parents and after 24 hours there was nothing left. It was a pity but there was not much we could do. However, this Paretroplus maculatus pair would give us one more chance, less than a month later. This time they chose a better place to lay their eggs (by their standards) which was the back side of a large bogwood, in the center of the tank. Thus, the only photos we were able to take during this event show the choreography of this ritual and not the eggs. We don't know why they chose this particular location, which, being at the center of the tank, is much more difficult to defend since it is open from both sides but we guess they knew better than us. The difference is that this time we did have a set of tanks waiting for them (one bare bottom for hatching / free swimming stage) and a mature one to raise them. This took place only days before our deadline for the update.. so there is not much else to report - but stay tuned !

Update (December 2005) > Unlike our Paretroplus damii which have been proven excellent parents, there seems to be a problem with our P. maculatus pair which spawns like a clock every 30 days but the eggs mysteriously disappear the next morning. At fist, we suspected the catfishes which were present in the tank. One of them, a huge Acanthicus adonis sized about 30 cm was obviously too large and powerful to be stopped by the cichlids so, after losing 4 clutches of eggs we decided to remove both A. adonis specimens from the tank. Although this was done, the eggs were lost during the next spawning. The next suspect was a really beautiful Panaque sp. L204 (Panaqolus sp.?) but this fish seemed quite small and normally the parents should be able to protect their eggs from it. In this respect I was not absolutely convinced that it was the catfish's fault. It seemed to me that one of the parents should be the culprit  so we decided to risk one more clutch of eggs in order to find out what is going on in our tank. In order to elucidate on this, we kind of wrapped the wood on which the eggs were laid with a plastic grid whose openings were large enough for the water to move through (allowing the parents to fan the eggs) but not large enough for them to reach the eggs. In contrast, the catfish could easily reach the eggs from the bottom of this "shield". After the addition of this shield, the fish were really confused. Even the parents left the eggs and just swam around the tank always protecting the wood but not the eggs in particular. We closed the lights and prepared for the worse. Well, guess what? Twenty four hours later the eggs were still there, intact and most probably fertile (no fungus seen on any of them after 48 hours). The parents were fanning and protecting them as usually (see photos below), keeping all the other fish at a distance of 50 cm. Thus, we have answered our question (one of the parents was eating the eggs) and we may have a good chance to save this brood.

Unfortunately, this was not to be the case. The eggs developed fungus after 72 hours which may be attributed to two factors: a) there was no methylene blue added in the main tank since this would destroy the biological filtration and b) the parents couldn't reach the eggs to remove the fungused ones in order to delay / stop spreading. Finally, by the end of day 4 it was evident that there was a small portion of eggs which were fertile and in good condition. Incidentally, those were the eggs which were laid horizontally, under an overhang). However, attempting to raise 30 eggs / fry doesn't worth the trouble. Upon removing the protective grid, one of the parents ate all the eggs despite the efforts of the other to protect them. Fishkeeping means learning - continuously. So we know that we can't rely on this specific pair. Next time we will remove the bogwood and hatch the eggs artificially in the presence of methylene blue. It is really a pity because we always prefer the parents to raise them but in this case this is simply impossible.


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