Spawning the Paratilapia sp. "Andapa" - The Sequel

by George J. Reclos

Dedicated to Jean-Claude Nourissat and Patrick de Rham

While the first brood is being raised in two tanks (nothing left to chance), the pair just spawned again, 47 days after the first time. During this time several more things were observed (no stress for me this time!) so we can amend the first report.

First, taking the fry away from the parents is a wise decision. Sonia Guinane and Patrick de Rham had already predicted that but removing them was really difficult in this particular tank. Stressing the parents further didn't seem a wise thing to me, so I decided to lose some fry but keep the pair "bond" intact. Forty days after the first spawn the parents ate all the remaining fry (not many of them left anyway) and started the whole procedure once again. This time the male spent more time in the open although (to my surprise) the female was still the more "determined" partner - despite the huge size difference. The female spent a couple of days checking various spots in the tank to determine the best possible spawning site. The pair then started circling around each other for two more days and then laid and fertilized their eggs almost on the same spot they used in their first attempt (I would say about 2 cm away from it). During those four days the female showed the deep black coloration which is a good sign that she is about to lay eggs if the conditions are favorable. It should be noted that I have seen the same signs in the 1300 liter tank many times although no spawning activity has ever taken place in there. It seems that isolation of the breeding pair in a fairly large tank is essential for this species. The genitals of the female are shown in the photo below only minutes after depositing the last eggs. This tube was completely retracted 12 hours later. Unfortunately, I was not there to see the process of laying eggs - once more..

The main difference this time was the behavior of the male. Instead of staying away (hidden behind a piece of bogwood most of the time) he spent almost the whole day close to the female and the eggs. The female was far less aggressive this time and only chased the male away when he came really close to the eggs (less than 5 cm) during the first day while she allowed him to guard them from the second day onwards. In their first spawning attempt, the female didn't allow the male to get closer than 25 cm from her eggs at any stage of the procedure. In general, the overall impression is that this time they do everything in a more "relaxed" way as if their experience from their successful first spawning has added to their confidence. The eggs seem to be more this time although this number will decrease in time since the female will remove all the unfertilized eggs. You can see the small (but very efficient) female in the photo below.

The second difference is that - unlike the first time - the female decided not to move the fry after hatching which allowed me to take photos of the embryo development. The "jumping" fry were still on the same rock the eggs were laid on and the pair spent the whole day hovering over them. Although the female stayed just over the eggs and the male a bit higher they are always together.  Indeed, it seems that this time the pair was far more confident than during their first attempt. It looks like the male "passed" his tests during the first spawning and is now allowed to feel and behave more like a father. 

Following my experience from the first spawning, I will remove as many fry as possible 2 days after they become free swimming. This is easier to do at this stage since the fry is too weak to resist the water flow and will be readily sucked by the pipe. When I tried to remove fry which was three weeks old I had a very limited success since the fry had the strength to resist the back flow and managed to escape and find shelters.

Some information which may be helpful to those who may want to replicate this process are given below. Please take a note of the aquascaping suggestions discussed in the first part of this report.

Parameter Values (breeding pair tank) Range (other tanks)
pH 7.6 - 7.8 7.4 - 8.0
GH 9 8-15
KH 8 8-14
NH3, NO2-, NO3- none none
temperature 25 (winter)

28-30 (summer)

24 (winter)

29 (summer); 700 l and 1300 l tanks are kept cool by chillers set at 28oC.

water changes * (weekly) 100 - 125 % 50 - 100 % (1 to 2 times per week)
tank size (volume in liters) 140 100 - 1300
feeding Tetra bits three times daily, frozen shrimp and mussels once a week. Tetra bits three times daily, frozen shrimp and mussels once a week.
Fry feeding Tetra Min Baby food for egg layers, Tetra Min Baby-complete food, self made powder mixture, Liquifry No 1. Five feedings daily for the first month reduced to four during the second month.  

* It has been reported that Madagascan cichlids do not tolerate large water changes very well. My experience contradicts this finding as all my Madagascan cichlids happily enjoy a 50-125% water change every week. During hot summer months, I may even make two such water changes per week (watering the garden, too!). The only precaution I take is to keep the temperature quite stable during the water change. Usually there is a drop of 1-2oC during the water change (it takes approximately half an hour for the large tanks) but I have seen them withstanding much greater temperature drops without any problem. This - naturally - refers to the species I keep (P. polleni large spot, P. polleni small spot, P. menarambo, P. maculatus, P. damii, P. nourissati and P. dambabe). I can't speak about species I haven't kept, however my guess is that they can stand large water changes without any sign of stress or discomfort. This is especially true for Paratilapia polleni which seem to enjoy it. They will not even bother to stop their activities during the actual water change.

Since the eggs were not transferred by the parents this time we had the opportunity to take shots of the eggs every day till the fry became free swimming. Some of the photos may not be top notch but still you will be able to see the development of the embryo in it and the steps it takes to become free swimming. It should be noted that the number of fungused eggs was small but not negligible.

Eggs just laid. Actually the eggs were laid a couple of hours ago and the female had already started fanning them. As you can see, the eggs are characterized by an amber semi-transparent color with a white "pole" at one end.

Exactly 24 hours after the eggs were laid. A formation is clearly visible while the eggs have become almost transparent. This gives the impression of "less" eggs even if the number is the same. The white "line" in each egg is the tail of the embryo.

Eggs 48 hours after being laid. The embryo is clearly visible now in the egg. Some of the fry have already hatched and the mother keeps them in the same place among the eggs. Since the eggs are still more the "hopping" fry is not visible.

Three days (72 hours) after the eggs were laid, all the fry have hatched and are trying to swim. The yolk sack is still there and it is obviously too heavy for them.

Four days (96 hours) after spawning, the fry has less yolk sack attached to it. Some of them are able to stay mid-water for a second or so.


Five days after spawning and 3 days after hatching the size of the yolk sack is greatly reduced and the fry can stay mid-water for 2-3 seconds.

And finally ! The fry are now free swimming. Six days after the eggs were laid the fry swim under their mother while the happy father displays to me each time I get close to their tank. Have I said I love this pair ?

All things have to come to an end. However, in this case, the end was also the beginning. While I was writing these lines (July 25th) the pair decided it was spawning time again. This was the third time they spawned in less then three months. However, this time I was at home so I could capture the spawning process before they laid eggs. The first sign is the velvet black coloration of the female. This may or may not lead to egg depositing. The second sign is the pair staying together and the female cleaning a specific spot. At this point you can be sure about one thing. The pair will surely lay eggs. This stage may last as little as one hour or as long as 1 day. In this case, the experienced pair was really quick. It took them about 3 hours from start to finish. In the right photo below, the female is cleaning, checking and cleaning again the favorable spot. You can see the body of the male just over her and make an estimation of the huge different in size between them. In the photo at left, the eggs are already laid and fertilized. You can see that the genitals of the female are not yet retracted. Mind you, I was taking photos while there were still spawning and they didn't care at all. It seems they feel confident in their home. However, when I tried to clean the glass to have a better view the male went ballistic. It almost jumped out of the tank to bite me and stayed there for 5 minutes to make sure I got the point. Well, I did ! No more photos - I promise !

While this pair proved to be a really productive one, the big surprise came from another pair which lives in an 100 liter tank. While feeding my tanks in the fishroom, John noticed a cloud of free swimming fry in one of the tanks. Yes, about 300 young P. polleni were happily swimming with their parents. This is a nicely aquascaped tank with an extreme growth of hairy algae which practically isolated the pair which lives in it. Nobody noticed the spawning attempt or the female guarding the eggs for the simple reason that we can't see the fish. They are only visible when they come in the front of the tank to feed. After they eat, they just go to the back of the tank and stay out of sight. They probably have a very good reason for that (as we found out). We were also surprised by the size of the brood but this particular female is the largest female we have in our tanks (about 11 cm). We removed about 200 of them and we hope we will be able to raise all of them. In the photo below, you can see how the raising tank looked like when the fry was transferred into it. Mind you, there are still about 100 fry in the parent's tank. I know this may seem too much to believe, but the first pair (living in the 140 liter tank located in my office) decided it is time to spawn again (it is their 4th spawning this summer; August 14th). I hope all of them keep on spawning. I am sure this will make Patrick happy.. (and he won't be the only one !).

What you see in the picture below is what I regard as a "too good to be true" incident. The famous (and very prolific) pair in the 140 liter tank have taken spawning really seriously. They laid eggs once more (two days before I left for AFC 2004 in Vichy) and they took care of everything by themselves. When I got back, the proud pair was waiting for me with yet another brood of free swimming fry. Fortunately, I just emptied one of the tanks and gave the first brood to some dear hobbyists in Vichy so there is room for them. John and I decided to lower the temperature to 25oC (down from 27.5oC) in an attempt to reduce the frequency at which they spawn. Apart from the lack of more tanks, we are also afraid that the female's size will be greatly influenced by this spawning frenzy. Five successful spawning attempts in less than 5 months is perhaps a bit too much.

Some of the fry were finally removed on October 15th. Two week old fry are quite powerful swimmers so you must use a large diameter pipe and a very large bucket since the water flow is very high. The first step was to insert one end of the pipe in the tank and let the male attack it ferociously while the other end was left in the bucket (both of them to the left of the tank so the fish couldn't see it). We then left the tank in complete dark for about an hour. Next step is to get a powerful torch and light the tank. It is quite easy to locate where the fry is since - unlike the parents - they have a light beige color. The fry is still half sleeping so they will not move fast and you have about 10-15 seconds before they start searching for another shelter actively. During those 15 seconds we managed to remove about 30 of them along with 20 liters of water. We happily report that they are doing well and growing !

However, this is not the end of the story. The female was guarding the rest of the fry which seemed to recognize her as a protection shield against the male's aggression. It seems that this "guarding" operation should not last for too long. After 20 days the male started to be more impatient and harass the female frequently. The female tried to do the impossible: defend the fry against the much larger male. This went on for a couple of days and the male seemed to accept the situation. When you keep aggressive cichlids you must always have in mind that their mood may change in a moment. Indeed, 23 days after spawning, the male decided it wouldn't accept "No" as an answer anymore. It started chasing and biting the female and the tank was turned into an arena within 2 minutes. I removed the male immediately to another tank and one day later I removed the female, too, to a separate tank. Next step is to condition her (she really seems shocked) and them bring them together under close surveillance of course. In my opinion (and mind you I have seen thousands of cichlid fights) the female wouldn't last more than 10 minutes if the male was not removed at once. This note serves two purposes: First, always keep an eye on your cichlids, especially large, aggressive cichlids - no matter if they have formed a breeding pair or not. Second, the temperature trick doesn't seem to work. Once they get into the habit of spawning a drop in temperature (at least a small one) will not stop them. I hope that when they meet again they will still like each other ! The only positive "side effect" is that now we will raise the whole brood (about 60 of them in all).

A happy male guarding its fry. It seems that when the environment is right, they will just spawn regularly. I hope that keeping the temperature below 26 will reduce their spawning frequency - despite the early observations mentioned earlier. Now that some very skilful hobbyists have fry of this species, there is less need for more of them. I am sure than in less than one year from now, more fry will enter the hobby from them. Good luck to all of you ! Click on the image for a larger picture. Photo by G.J.Reclos

Update <Feb. 2005>: Finally, the last act of this play has taken place. Almost 300 of those beauties are housed in a 2 meter tank in Hydrocosmos (the petshop of Andreas Kamarinos) waiting for new homes. I know Andreas for a long time and I am confident that he will do his best to make sure that those fishes will go to people who know what their needs are and have the necessary space to keep them. Since the Greek market is perhaps too small for so many Paratilapia sp. "Andapa" we have even considered exporting them to another country in which more people will be able to enjoy them.

It should be noted that according to a recent DNA analysis performed , the "Paratilapia polleni Large spot" collected by Jean-Claude Nourissat and Patrick de Rham in Andapa is a distinct yet undescribed species. Therefore, until this species gets a new formal name of its own, we will call it "Paratilapia sp. Andapa". The initial posting made by Patrick de Rham reads as follows:

A few days ago (02.08.04), I received a message from Paul Loiselle in which he informs me that the sequencing of DNA samples by John Sparks of P. polleni from the NW Ifasy River (the larger Ifasy drainage is adjacent to that of the smaller Ambazoana River, type locality of Paratilapia polleni Bleeker 1868) and a descendant (brought by me to Cincinnati, last year) of the very large spotted NE Andapa Paratilapia ( initially brought back by me from Andapa in 1997, among others, George Reclos, Manuel Zapater and Josť Luis Blanco, also have this strain) has given a surprising result: genetically these two populations appear to be quite different, the Andapa Paratilapia being more closely related to the small spotted Paratilapia found further to the south on the East Coast. This is further confirmed by the lack of any sexual interest between the Ifasy male and Andapa female.


Therefore, our (Nourissat and I) first impression dating back to 1963 that the Andapa Paratilapia was different from all other Paratilapia seen by us was likely correct. If I later changed my mind, it is largely because all the other Paratilapia we subsequently collected on the East Coast, Southern Highlands (Mananantanana drainage), Southwest (7 Lakes, Onilahy drainage) and Ikopa-Betsiboka drainage (lower NW) were small spotted. Therefore I concluded, tentatively, but wrongly all the same that all the large spotted Paratilapia of the northern quarter of the island belonged to P. polleni.

Now it appears that the Andapa Paratilapia is a distinct, undescribed, species, at least I understand it in this way, as even if it is closely related, I cannot imagine that it is conspecific with the very different looking small spotted East coast Paratilapia.


The only thing that troubles me a little is that this new data has been obtained from only two individuals. I hope I can be of some help in this matter, as I still have one live original 1997 Andapa male specimen (his female unfortunately died two weeks ago) and maintain 2 other Paratilapia strains, including 2 specimens collected last year by Nourissat near Vatomandry, East Coast.


How many Marakely? That is (more than ever) the question! 

Uwe Werner (translated by Mary Bailey): "Paratilapia - Fabulously beautiful cichlids from Madagascar", in Cichlid News ( www.cichlidnews.com ), 12(1), p. 29-33, 2003. The original article appeared in "Cichlidae" the journal of the Dutch Cichlid Association. This article contains useful information about breeding this beautiful "Jurassic Park" cichlid.

The book entitled "The Endemic Cichlids of Madagascar" by Patrick de Rham and Jean - Claude Nourissat is now available in English. Click here to find out how to order and here to read the back cover page of the English edition.

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