Q. We just bought two pairs of wild dwarf cichlid fish — a pair of Apistogramma hongsloi and a pair of cockatoo cichlids (Apistogramma cacatuoides). We have a 40-gallon ‘’tall’’ aquarium with caves on the left and right sides, a very large piece of driftwood, and a lot of plastic plants (which will hopefully be replaced with live aquatic plants in the near future). Other tankmates are five neon tetras, three red-tailed rasboras, one Corydoras, one dwarf gourami, two medium-small angelfish, two African dwarf frogs, three shrimp and two praecox rainbowfish.
The pH is 6.8. We are going to let the pH drop back to its usual acidity of 6.4 to 6.6 because the store we bought the cichlid fish from told us that would be best for the wild-caught fish. Our ammonia test kit reads 0.6 mg/L, which we are trying to lower by feeding less, and doing weekly water changes and more filter maintenance. At this moment, we do not have nitrite or nitrate test kits.
How do we get the new fish to breed, and if they do, what do we do with them: put them in their own aquarium or leave them alone? We can’t buy breeder aquariums right now, so is it possible to raise them in a community aquarium?
What would we feed the fry? If the pairs of Apistogramma spawn at the same time, do we have to buy an aquarium for each pair (if they need another aquarium to raise their fry)? Also, do you think our fish aquarium is maxed out?
Jeremy Matthew Sable
Cornelius, North Carolina
A. Before getting to your questions on the Apistogramma, let’s deal with the other question. Unless the aquarium has only recently been set-up — and I certainly hope not, given all the fish and frogs in there at the moment — the elevated ammonia reading means your aquarium is overstocked. It’s not a case of too small a filter but rather one of too many animals in the aquarium.
I suggest you remove some of the fish, specifically the Corydoras, dwarf gourami, two angelfish and two African dwarf frogs. Not only will that bring down the ammonia reading, but it also remove any of the fish that will reduce the likelihood of your dwarf cichlid fish rearing any fry to independence, given the chance.
It seems as though you have all the pieces that Apistogramma need: potential spawning caves, a generous amount of shelter and the right pH, assuming you reduce the population as suggested. Given an appropriate diet (frozen bloodworms, frozen brine shrimp and a good quality flake fish food, as well as any live food such as Daphnia and/or mosquito larvae) and good water quality, the apistos should spawn in your setup. If they do, you don’t have to remove the adults, as Apistogramma are usually very good parents, with the female tending the brood and the male defending and maintaining the territory.
With the suggested reduction in the community population, there might be a chance for one or two of the fry to survive long enough to get too big to eat. If, however, you want larger numbers of fry, you’ll have to siphon them out of the 40 as they become free-swimming and rear them in another aquarium. As for feeding the fry, I suggest you use newly hatched brine shrimp.