by Don Kinyon
I had always wondered what the big attraction was about the West African dwarf cichlids. Yes, they were a fairly colorful bunch, and yes, the behavior was interesting, but to me they all looked like color variations of the common Kribensis.
That was before my "Nigeria Greens", along with another variation that came into my possession at about the same time, went into spawning coloration. Now I get it.
Boulenger described Pelvicachromis taeniatus in 1901. They come from the soft, acidic waterways of Nigeria and Cameroon. If one can come close to duplicating this environment, the fish will thrive and probably reproduce. The male, especially in breeding dress, is quite beautiful. His body coloration takes on metallic sheens of green, gold, violet, and red. His dorsal is elongate, and lined at the top with red and yellow, and the anal fin is violet or green. The tail has bright orange to yellow color with black spots and indefinite stripes. The smaller female, though not as bright in normal coloration, fairly glows when in spawning dress. Her midsection lights up in silver and red, and her throat is bright yellow. She is an outstanding fish in this condition. The male can reach three and one half inches in total length, and the female, two and one half inches. Mine were a little smaller.
The two fish were housed by themselves in a fifteen-gallon tank. There seems to be no need for dither fish, as these cichlids aren’t at all shy. I used rainwater collected from the house gutters and lowered the pH to 5.5 with dilute hydrochloric acid. The temperature was 80°. The tank was loaded with Java Fern, bog wood, and oak leaves, with a few upturned clay pots for spawning sites. One quarter to one half of the water was changed per week. At least once a day, the fish were fed live foods, and they usually had a second feeding of dry or freeze-dried food. This diet, along with the water changes, had the fish in breeding condition in a short time.
The female took over one of the clay pots and changed into her "spawning outfit". Within a few days, the male was hiding in the opposite corner and a quick look under the pot confirmed that the spawn had taken place. There were about 40 pink eggs with white tips inside.
It seemed to be in the best interest of the male to get him out of there so, while the female was inside the breeding pot, he was removed. A larger pot was placed over eggs, mom, and flowerpot, so it wouldn’t stress her out too much when the male was being chased around the tank. In six days, the female led about 25 babies out of the crock.
She herded them throughout the tank and they grazed off the algae (always present in my tanks, so it seems) on the sides and bottom. The young were able to take newly hatched brine shrimp right from the start and that, along with their homegrown vegetable supplement, helped them to mature quickly. Twice-weekly water changes helped them along.
It was almost a full month before the young started to stray from the mother but, even though she did her best to keep them in a group, they paid little attention so, at this point, the female was also removed to another tank. The young were nearly half an inch long at this point, and fended for themselves. At this point they would eat most of the foods that the adults did, more finely chopped.
When the young were two months old, there were 17 left of the original 25, but the rest were healthy and still growing fast. They showed a bit of aggression towards each other and sparred more than a lot of young cichlids, but never to the point of injury. At this point they had much of their adult coloration.
At about ten weeks, the juvenile fish were moved into larger quarters, as they had outgrown their tank. They responded very well. Their appetites increased and they appeared to grow by the day. At first I was apprehensive about these fish sharing a tank with some juvenile Corydoras catfish and young Apistogramma about the same age, but there were no problems. The different species pretty much ignored each other.
Once you see these West African cichlids at their best, it’s hard not to see the attraction that they hold in the hobby. Though they bear a great resemblance to the common Kribensis, they are well worth the effort when you see them at their best.
Now I know.
This article first appeared in PVAS’s Delta Tale, Vol 32, # 2