Heros sp. "rotkeil"

Photos and text by Frank Panis

Scientific name: not yet determined, but Heros sp. "rotkeil" is the most used one
Trade name: Redhead Severum
Natural habitat: Amazon basin near Iquitos, Peru 
Natural food: Both vegetable and live food found in the Amazon river.
Food in the aquarium: Eats about everything. I prefer to feed my cichlids high quality dry food to prevent diseases. 
Behaviour in my aquarium: These fellows are quite peaceful. Out of 5 fish 2 pair are formed that occupy one side each of my 750L tank. They stroll in and around the dense vegetation and don't bother about the other fish in the tank. When they start breeding all other fish are chased from the spawning site though. Then they take a 50cm x 50cm x 50 cm territory and other fish better stay out of it.
Tankmates: As they are quite peaceful the choice is not very limited. The tiniest fish like Tetras should be avoided though. My adult Hemigrammus bleheri are not harassed by the Heros, but I wouldn't buy new young ones anymore as they probably wouldn't survive their adaptation period.
Maximal size: About 20cm.
Aquarium: Should be at least 300L for one pair. They thrive in larger tanks though. Both pairs seem to like my 750L tank very much. A sand bottom is not critical, pH around 6 (although they do spawn in pH 7-7.5 here), temperature about 25-28°C.

Heros sp. rotkeil in my 750L tank. Click for a larger image.

The 2004 congress of the AFC was a wonderful event. There were even more wonderful cichlids, and although we intended to return home without any fish, it's obvious that we couldn't resist buying some. During that weekend when I felt a bit better we walked through the rows of tanks and one species kept drawing my attention: Heros sp. rotkeil. I was imagining them swimming in my 750L South American tank and asked George and Stijn for advice, since I don't know South American cichlids and their behaviour very good. Both agreed that they would be a good company for my other fish so I decided to buy 5 of them. Stijn also wanted 5 of them so we agreed than I would buy 10 of them during the auction an split them once we would get home. I waited until all the members of the AFC entered the hall and then I went to that tank to wait patiently in the queue before that tank. When it was my turn there were still about 15 fish remaining so I was lucky. The guys who sold these fish wanted to put them in bags but once they heard that we wanted 10 of them they gave me a bucket for transporting my fish back to Belgium. I'm still very thankful for this so if these hobbyists read this: Merci beaucoup pour le sou!!!

The Heros sp. rotkeil in their auction tank.

We realized that the fish were in pretty bad water but had no fresh and warm water to do a water change so we drove back to Belgium as fast as possible but at legal speeds! When we arrived at home the fish had suffered a lot, but luckily they were still alive. They were slowly adapted to the water of the 750L Amazon tank and after an hour they were transferred into this tank. The next day I saw the damages on the tail and fins, but they fully recovered the next weeks. Maybe more care should be taken at auctions to preserve water quality to avoid all this stress and injuries.

My 5 Heros swimming in the 750L planted tank the next morning.
You can see that the right fish had a white tail that rotted away the next day. Luckily it was fully recovered during the next weeks.

Day 4 after arrival: the most damaged fish of the group. This Heros had a nice surprise in store for me!

Day 8 after arrival: just what do they think they're up to?

At first the fish were very shy and they kept hiding in the dense vegetation. It didn't take long for them to get used to their new tank though. The Heros got territorial very soon, and started displaying to each other. Soon a pair was formed and they started to seek shelter near some rocks behind the plants in the right back of the tank. Their body colour also became a bit more dark and it seemed like they wanted to breed! They indeed spawned only 10 days after their arrival in my 750L tank! Luckily I was at home when they did this, so I could take pictures of the whole event. 

Day 10 after their arrival: The Heros have barely healed and they already spawned!

Click on the thumbnails for a larger view of the spawning activities.

Day 2 after the spawning: barely visible, but the content of the eggs is changing!

Day 3 after the spawning: most of the eggs have hatched and now the tails of the larvae were trembling very fast.

Empty egg shells later on day 3 after the spawning.

I focussed all my attention on the development of the eggs. The parents were furiously defending the eggs by chasing every intruder that came too close to the eggs. Two days later I was able to see dark lines in the eggs what suggested that they were doing fine. On day 3 after the spawning I saw that the eggs hatched and the tails of the larvae were trembling. Soon after the parents started picking all these larvae from the stone so I feared for the worst. I was not aware of the fact that the parents took care of the larvae by putting them on a safer place than here in the open in the middle of this rock. Soon after the parents left this spawning site alone all the other fish in the tank rushed to the remainders to eat them in no time. I thought that all the fry were lost and didn't bother anymore. I still found it quite odd that the parents stayed on the same spot all the time though so I started looking a bit closer. At first I didn't see anything, but after a closer look I found the flock of fry in a depression of my self made background! What a very nice surprise this was! It was an impossible task to make pictures of them though, as the angle through the glass didn't permit this. 3 days later they were moved by the parents to another location where it was still very difficult to see them, but at least I could make a picture of the tiny creatures! 1 day later they were swimming free in front of the tank with their parents. George suggested to take them out if I wanted to raise some fo them so I took a garden hose and siphoned some of them in a bucket. The parents were furious and attacked the hose, but I was comforted with the thought that this was the only way to keep hem alive in a tank full of other fish having their eye on a quick snack.

The fry hiding against the background only 8 days after the eggs were laid.

The 8 day old fry transferred to a bucket for further raising.

The fry was kept in this bucket for more than 2 weeks and they were fed with powder food 3 times/day. Their growth rate was very good but soon it was time for a decent tank for raising them. I got a temporary plywood tank from my friend Joeri which fitted perfectly well under the 750L tank. Here they stayed for about 2 months until they were transferred to my 140L cellar tank where they still are raised at the moment. In the meantime the Heros parents kept on breeding and they performed 3 spawns up till now. The second pair also spawned, but they were less successful in caring about their eggs than the first pair.

26 days after the eggs were laid the juveniles already started to look like their parents. 
Click for a larger view

In the meantime both pairs didn't seem to get their breeding lust under control.
I observed 5 more spawning until now (January 2005) Click for a larger view.

A much larger batch of fry collected in 20L bucket. These were donated to my friend Joeri.

The other pair at the other side of the tank also spawned.

January 2005: the 3 month old fry can't resist eating from a food tablet.
This makes it much easier to focus on the fish with my macro lens.

Adult Heros sp. rotkeil vs. 3 month old juvenile. Click for a larger view.

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