Fast facts on Ancistrus sp.
by Francesco Zezza
Biotope: All Ancistrus (a taxonomically “messy” genus of the Loricaridae family) originate from South America; most of them from the Amazon basin. Many species don’t even have a full identification and (because of Aquarium trade) “travel the world” relying only on their L-number and/or “common name” as a method of (supposed!) identification. It’s not that strange, then, their actual nomenclature is sort of a mess, always changing …
Tank: I have nine specimens: an old female and and eight juveniles (two kept in the “swamp tank” and six in one of the lower units of the “triple tank”) all of a size of (about) 1,5/2 cm. All the juveniles are – from the very first time in the first tank I ever had – albino specimens!
Once adults, they are (mostly males but not only) territorial to the highest extent (toward other catfishes but NOT only). The minimal tank size being 75/100 lt for a singe adult or a pair, multiple specimens are/could be a “tricky” matter. I have had (decreasing in intensity as the tank size increased) fights also in considerably bigger tanks (up to 360 lt)
It is said these catfishes damage plants. This I cannot confirm or deny (as an 100% trustable rule at least). Some of them do while others don’t. Things tend to worsen – from the plants' point of view, of course – with aging. Since one of my mottos is “better safe than sorry” I – as a general rule – stay on rough plants (Anubias, Java fern and alike).
These fish fear (to different extent of course) lights so it is recommended to use dim lights and offer them a lot of hiding spots. Extra care should be taken so that the number of hiding spots exceeds the number of hosted fishes to limit aggression. It’s – also – said they spawn (by the way, it is the male which guards the eggs) into “caves”; I DO hope to have to return on the matter once the juveniles grow into adults/pairs.
Water chemistry: Generally speaking they are found into mildly acidic/neutral environment (wild specimens of course). Albinos being a “human creation” (by selective breeding) are said to be less demanding on this issue. I don’t really know, I simply try to avoid extreme situations in terms of water chemistry.
Spawning: it’s said to be (for loriicarids at least) easy (still better: NOT that difficult). Regrettably, Ancistrus are the “deepest black” spot in my history as a fish breeder. I have always tried grown up specimens / pairs with NO results at all! That’s why – this time – I’ve chosen a “cichlid-like” approach and started this new “story” with a group of (eight) juveniles ... we’ll see!!!
Food: They eat – almost – everything, which is dedicated to them. Forget the term “scavengers” = at least taken literally - and the “silly” idea that they run on wastes and leftovers (of other fishes)! These cute critters are (NOT fussy) bottom feeder. If you want to take care of them seriously bear in mind they will accept: fresh fruit/vegetables (such as zucchini and/or cucumbers but not only), pellets, flakes, tablets and – every now and then – some “animal matter” (also fresh/frozen). A bogwood (or alike) to chew at leisure is a good addition (it is also advisable to use it for decoration purposes, too).
Tank Mates: It’s an Amazonian fish and this statement points to some, well defined, choices when it comes to tank mates. Nonetheless. I have learned (and have kept myself) about these fishes kept with almost every other aquarium. I will even report a pair of them breeding in a Cyphotilapia frontosa tank (with a pH around 9.0!). Needless to say, this is to be regarded as an extreme and it is not recommended. As far as my own experience goes I can report keeping them with mid- and large Central/South American Cichlids (such as Nandopsis octofasciautm). It is interesting to report that upon introducing the catfishes in the tank the cichlid immediately tried to eat/swallow one of them. The catfish raised his odontes – sort of spines they have, mostly males but not only at the side of their head - and immediately the Jack Dempsey let it go. Apart from that, I have kept them with some African Cichlids (either riverine or from the Rift Valley with the latter group being an obvious ”second best” choice) Characins, Livebearers (NOT that suitable because they need a different water chemistry), other catfish of different genus/species, Cobitids (Botia macracantha and alike) and many, many more. All in all each and every environment seems to “fit” them, but please get the statement conservatively avoiding extreme choices, mostly regarding water chemistry and/or temperature.
PICTURE GALLERY (wild forms)
UP: an Ancistrus juvenile (estimated age under one year). Wild specimen collected in Peru (Rio Orosa basin) in August 2000.
UP: Ancistrus cf. temminki ; L181 (tank raised juvenile). Image taken in one of my former tanks (1998).
UP: Ancistrus sp. ; pictured fish is a sub-adult – not identified – male: see bristles (2000).
PICTURE GALLERY (albino form)
UP: Albino Ancistrus juvenile pictured in the grow-out tank (75 lt). (June 2005).
UP: Three Albino Ancistrus still pictured in the grow-out tank. (June 2005).
UP: Albino Ancistrus pictured – once more – in the grow-out tank. This closer image clearly shows the typical, round shaped, “sucker mouth” while the lack of bristles (which are normally present on both sexes - even though to a lesser degree on females) is a sign of young age. Please also note the overall pinkish pattern (due to the absence of melanin in the skin), which is a distinctive characteristic of (all) albino specimens. (June 2005).