LIT­TLE FISH, BIG AT­TI­TUDE

While not easy to find, the small Striped dwarf cich­lid is a de­light to breed – just watch out for that fear­some tem­per!

Practical Fishkeeping (UK) - - Contents - WORDS: John Run­dle

He may have a fear­some tem­per, but Nan­nacara tae­nia, the Striped dwarf cich­lid, is a plea­sure to keep and breed.

DUR­ING A visit last year to a lo­cal re­tailer, I came across a small dwarf cich­lid that I hadn’t seen or bred for a long time. This was Nan­nacara tae­nia, the Striped dwarf cich­lid. Of course, I couldn’t re­sist, so I bought five fish and took them home.

Back in Oc­to­ber 1968, on the cover of an Amer­i­can fish­keep­ing jour­nal, was a pic­ture of a beau­ti­ful fe­male dwarf cich­lid pro­tect­ing her eggs, which were on a flat stone. Her dark che­quer­board pat­tern told me that I had to breed this fish. The ar­ti­cle in the mag­a­zine was writ­ten by a well-known aquar­ist of that time from Czecho­slo­va­kia called Ru­dolf Zukal and the fish was Nan­nacara anomala, the Golden dwarf cich­lid. This was the start of my love for the fish from the genus Nan­nacara.

Meet the genus

Nan­nacara is a small genus of dwarf ci­ch­lids en­demic to South Amer­ica but, like many of our fish, there is ar­gu­ment about their names. For a long time there were six recog­nised species, namely: Nan­nacara adoketa Nan­nacara anomala Nan­nacara au­re­o­cephalus Nan­nacara bi­mac­u­lata Nan­nacara quad­nispinae Nan­nacara tae­nia

How­ever, a book pub­lished in 2006 re­as­signed N. adoketa and N. bi­mac­u­lata to the newly erected genus Ivanacara. When I checked, Ivanacara has not been recog­nised on Fish­base, but it has by Cat­a­log of Fishes. This can make it con­fus­ing for fish­keep­ers as the genus Nan­nacara for th­ese species is still quite widely ac­cepted.

(Ed­i­tor’s note: At PFK tow­ers, we like to do a ‘best of three’ ap­proach, cross ref­er­enc­ing Cat­a­log of Fishes, Fish­base and Se­ri­ously Fish. Any name that we can find as cur­rently valid in two or more of th­ese three sources is ac­cepted as up to date, so we up­hold Ivanacara, with Nan­nacara as a syn­onym, as both Cat­a­log of Fishes and Se­ri­ously Fish sup­port this.)

Sex­ing the species

It’s not dif­fi­cult to sex Nan­nacara anomala. The males have dis­tinctly pointed dor­sal and anal fins, and the fe­males more blunt, rounded ones. The fe­males also show a broad, wide, trans­verse dark band on the body when not in breed­ing colour.

It’s not so easy to sex N. tae­nia, though. When I was se­lect­ing mine, the males could be iden­ti­fied be­cause they were dis­play­ing to each other (al­ways a great way to spot young cich­lid males) and show­ing bright red dots in their bod­ies and fins. In­ter­est­ingly, th­ese high colours can dis­ap­pear at the blink of an eye and then they look sim­i­lar to fe­males.

When fully grown, the males are the smaller fish, and fe­males show a se­condary par­al­lel line run­ning lat­er­ally through the body, which is ab­sent in the male. How­ever, when the fish breed there is no doubt which is the fe­male as she shows the char­ac­ter­is­tic che­quer­board pat­tern.

While I was sure that there were fe­males in my dealer’s tank, I couldn’t ac­tu­ally pick one out at the time. My so­lu­tion was to buy a group, so I se­lected five to take home. My five new fish were placed in a 75x30x30cm tank with a mono layer (a sin­gle-grain coat­ing) of gravel, an in­ter­nal home­made fil­ter, small clay flower pots and in­verted clay plant dishes with open­ings cut in the side, and a short length of plas­tic pipe. I added clumps of Java fern and the tem­per­a­ture was 25°C. The wa­ter in my area is very soft with a ph of about 7.0, and has al­ways been per­fect for breed­ing dwarf ci­ch­lids. While it’s pos­si­ble to keep them in wa­ter that’s slightly hard, soft wa­ter is best if you want to try breed­ing them. Af­ter ob­serv­ing the fish in their new home for three days it was clear I had males and fe­males. Two fish were al­ready show­ing red dots on their bod­ies and dis­play­ing to each other with ag­gres­sive pos­tures.

Get­ting them spawn­ing

Nan­nacara are classed as a moder­ately dif­fi­cult dwarf cich­lid to breed, due to their shy na­ture.

But if the tank has the right en­rich­ment (caves, plants and decor) for them to feel se­cure, the odds of suc­cess are in the fish­keeper’s favour.

Af­ter a few days, a male had se­lected one of the fe­males and in his best colours was seen try­ing to tempt her into an in­verted plant pot. The next time I saw her she was just pok­ing her head out of the small open­ing in the side of it.

A sure sign she was guard­ing eggs was her boosted ag­gres­sion – she would charge out to chase any of the other fish who came too close.

ev­ery so of­ten she would dash over to the front glass to tell me she was boss, and that i should keep away

While not a large fish, Nan­nacara tae­nia are strong fight­ers when guard­ing eggs or fry, and I’ve seen small brood­ing fe­males of N. anomala tak­ing on much larger species of fish and win­ning.

It is worth not­ing that when­ever I have bred Nan­nacara anomala, eggs were al­ways de­posited on an ex­ter­nal flat sur­face, such as a stone, and I’d there­fore as­sumed the fe­male N. tae­nia would place them on top of the plant dish, not in a cave site.

I made the de­ci­sion to cau­tiously re­move all the fish in the tank ex­cept the fe­male with the eggs.

As my fish house isn’t large I cov­ered the front of the tank with news­pa­per to give her some pri­vacy.

The eggs of N. tae­nia hatch in about 48 hours and within three days, the fe­male was hov­er­ing over the top of the dish with a mass of tiny, dark, wrig­gling yolk sac lar­vae.

Ev­ery so of­ten she would dash over to the front glass to tell me she was boss and that I should keep away.

This car­ried on for an­other seven days and I could clearly see the tiny lar­vae de­vel­op­ing a more elon­gated shape and the yolk sac get­ting smaller. By now the lar­vae had be­come free swim­ming, and this is a sight that never fails to re­mind me why I breed fish. The fe­male could be seen with her brood of tiny fry close to her – at times they would hide in the gravel, then reap­pear when the fe­male thought it was safe.

Fat­ten­ing the fry

You have to be ex­tremely care­ful when breed­ing dwarf ci­ch­lids as they will eat their brood if they feel that the young are un­der threat. The trick is to avoid dis­turb­ing them too much. The young will take live brineshrimp nau­plii as their first food once they’re free swim­ming.

I fed newly hatched brineshrimp (some­times called Artemia nau­plii) in the morn­ing, then live mi­croworm in the evening. (See Oc­to­ber’s is­sue of Prac­ti­cal Fish­keep­ing for a use­ful step-by-step guide to grow­ing your own brineshrimp and mi­croworm cul­tures).

Af­ter three weeks, I re­moved the fe­male, then caught the fry and moved them to a tank on their own. They were now feed­ing on crushed dry food, baby brineshrimp and Grindal worm, and at seven weeks old, were 2cm in length. The size of the brood was amaz­ing for such a small fish – in all, I grew on 150 of the ba­bies to young adults.

I was so pleased to come across this not-of­ten-found dwarf cich­lid and, of course, be able to breed it. This meant I was able to pass on young N. tae­nia to friends from my lo­cal fish club, and I can hope they too will grow them on and have suc­cess in breed­ing them, help­ing to keep them avail­able to the hobby for a long time.

For fans of fish breed­ing or even just fish be­hav­iour, th­ese are beau­ti­ful lit­tle dwarf ci­ch­lids with an in­ter­est­ing spawn­ing strat­egy, so do look out for them!

Nan­nacara tae­nia – a peace­ful dwarf

Nan­nacara tae­nia – fe­male brood mark­ings

ABOVE RIGHT: A young maleN. tae­nia with a hint of red in the dor­sal fin.

ABOVE LEFT: An adole­sent Nan­nacara anamola de­vel­op­ing body colour.

A pair of N. tae­nia (male be­low).

It’s dif­fi­cult to sex young spec­i­mens.

Ma­ture N. anomala males dis­play a stun­ning elec­tric blue colour.

Ivanacara adoketa is a larger fish.

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