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!
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.