Small but per­fectly formed, and so strik­ing and ex­trav­a­gantly coloured they some­times barely look like real fish, the mag­nif­i­cent Ram ticks all the boxes.

Practical Fishkeeping (UK) - - Contents -

So strik­ing and ex­trav­a­gantly coloured they barely look real, the mag­nif­i­cent Ger­man Ram ci­ch­lid ticks all the boxes.

Is that a real fish?” a fam­ily mem­ber asked, wide-eyed and awestruck as the exquisite lit­tle ci­ch­lid zoomed from one end of the 8ft planted dis­play to the other, show­ing off his ex­tra­or­di­nary kaleidoscope of breed­ing colours.

had they been a cus­tomer, I would have re­sponded with a po­lite smile but, “Nah, it’s plas­tic,” I replied sar­cas­ti­cally.

the truth is that be­fore I set eyes on this truly beau­ti­ful F1 Ger­man­bred Ram ci­ch­lid, Mikro­geoph­a­gus

ramirezi, I hadn’t been the least bit both­ered about such an om­nipresent species.

Once bit­ten, twice shy

I know I’m not alone in this. Many of us have tried to fit the colour­ful ama­zo­nian dwarf ci­ch­lid into our com­mu­nity aquar­ium with mixed suc­cess.

Cus­tomers who have been se­duced by this fish’s good looks and man­age­able size are quick to re­port ev­ery prob­lem un­der the sun, from their Ram be­com­ing a dread­ful bully to the other fish, to it sim­ply pal­ing, ail­ing and fad­ing away as it cow­ers in a cor­ner. For some rea­son, newly im­ported Rams can be quite vul­ner­a­ble to whitespot, with dis­as­trous re­sults if not treated early.

though cer­tain va­ri­eties are hardier than oth­ers, Rams are still par­tic­u­lar in their needs. they can tol­er­ate a wide va­ri­ety of tank­mates, but wa­ter should be soft and acidic with very low ni­trates. tem­per­a­tures should also be much higher than av­er­age. they may thrive in the up­per reaches of the 20°Cs, but it’s not un­heard of for the most colour­ful pairs to spawn at 29-30°C. treat breed­ing pairs of Rams as you would breed­ing pairs of Dis­cus and you’re al­most there. Ideal home With an adult size of just un­der 8cm, smaller com­mu­nity tanks make per­fectly good homes for

Mikro­geoph­a­gus ramirezi (by ‘smaller’ I mean 80-125 l, not 60 l or less).

how­ever, the Ram men­tioned at the start of the ar­ti­cle in­hab­ited an enor­mous planted dis­play that had been set-up to house a dozen Dis­cus, plus a few hun­dred Black phan­toms, and was pa­trolling

the lower reaches quite hap­pily, so biotopes can be a good start­ing point. Black­wa­ter, leaf lit­ter and a fine sandy sub­strate will make them feel at home (like all cich­lids great and small, Rams love to dig) and when it comes to plants, more is more.

Set­tling in

The pres­ence of ‘dither fish’ can go a long way to­wards set­tling shy new ar­rivals too. A huge shoal of Car­di­nals, Lemons or Black em­per­ors won’t just look stun­ning in your aquar­ium, they’ll also re­mind the small and eas­ily preyed-upon Ram that there’s noth­ing to be afraid of. For the up­per reaches of the tank, pen­cil­fish, Splash te­tra and Hatch­ets can co-ex­ist hap­pily, as newly in­tro­duced Rams tend to hug the sub­strate and are un­likely to be both­ered by some­thing they won’t in­ter­act with. For those look­ing for some­thing with a big wow fac­tor to re­ally show off their Rams, a ‘Dutch-style’ heav­ily planted com­mu­nity tank will pro­vide am­ple hid­ing places, but well-set­tled Rams will soon re­ward you for it, with each of th­ese ter­ri­to­rial cich­lids de­vel­op­ing a unique per­son­al­ity. They are best kept as the only ci­ch­lid in the tank, but I couldn’t help en­joy­ing the petty squab­bles that broke out be­tween my Rams, Red-breast acaras and Golden-eye dwarves when the three ci­ch­lid species shared a 350 l planted tank. Al­though its strik­ing colours make it seem fierce to tank­mates, the Ram’s tiny puck­ered mouth doesn’t put it in a po­si­tion to do any se­ri­ous dam­age to ri­vals, and most dis­putes are re­solved with a bit of fin flar­ing and chas­ing, but not much more.

Good par­ent­ing

Breed­ing Rams used to be con­sid­ered no­to­ri­ously dif­fi­cult, but can now be at­tempted by even the ca­sual hob­by­ist if the pa­ram­e­ters are right – a ph be­low 6.5 is a must for the eggs to de­velop prop­erly.

The big­gest prob­lem is pre­vent­ing new and in­ex­pe­ri­enced par­ents from eat­ing their own eggs at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity. For this rea­son, many aquar­ists choose to care­fully syphon

Rams feed mostly on in­sects and small crus­taceans, so this ap­par­ent veg­e­tar­ian wasn’t just un­usual, he was a bit of an in­sult to Dar­win­ism

out the eggs and put them in a sep­a­rate rear­ing tank (easy enough to do as the eggs are usu­ally laid on a flat stone or slate). The fry can then be fed on newly hatched brineshrimp and mi­croworms, though they will also graze plants for other mi­cro fauna.

A word of cau­tion though; Rams have big broods, and it’s not un­com­mon for a pair to pro­duce sev­eral hun­dred fry at a time. Un­like Apis­togramma, or the mouth-brood­ing cich­lids of the African rift lakes, they’re not very good at herd­ing their fry to­gether, so the cu­ri­ous young Rams will quickly form a sort of messy cloud right across the tank, only gath­er­ing in one spot when food is of­fered.

If you’ve tried ev­ery­thing from RO wa­ter to oak leaves and sim­ply can’t get your Rams to breed, it’s worth in­ves­ti­gat­ing their ori­gins. It’s long been spec­u­lated that many Rams from large farms are ac­tu­ally ster­ile, so seek­ing a pair that are as close to wild-caught as pos­si­ble is the best way to en­sure both breed­ing suc­cess and good parental care.

Blues and golds

An ex­cep­tion can be made, of course, for the many var­ied colour morphs avail­able in the hobby. Seen at its best, the Elec­tric blue ram is so bright and strik­ing, it’s prompted many other ‘is that fish real?’ mo­ments among my cus­tomers. It’s no­to­ri­ously dif­fi­cult to sex, given that it lacks the ex­tended dor­sal fins of the wild male or the bright pink belly of the wild fe­male, but by adding a group to a large, wellestab­lished aquar­ium, you can usu­ally form at least one monog­a­mous pair.

Opt for the chunki­est and health­i­est-look­ing fish you can find (not in­clud­ing bal­loon va­ri­eties, un­less you’re into that sort of thing), and bear in mind that in­ten­sity of colour is not al­ways an in­di­ca­tor of qual­ity. The Golden ram is an al­to­gether dif­fer­ent beast – nei­ther a wild strain nor a man-made hy­brid, but some­thing of a mix­ture. The cu­ri­ous red eye, elon­gated fin rays and bright blue scales are still present in the best ex­am­ples, but gone are the black bands on the face and flanks.

Golden rams are tol­er­ant of a wider range of tem­per­a­tures and wa­ter pa­ram­e­ters, so might ap­peal to the fish­keeper look­ing for some­thing eas­ier than its wild cousin, but less gar­ish than the Elec­tric blue. In my ex­pe­ri­ence, they also take less time to reach adult size in cap­tiv­ity and a few I’ve come across have more

Though its strik­ing colours make it seem fierce to tank­mates, the Ram’s tiny puck­ered mouth doesn’t put it in a po­si­tion to do any se­ri­ous dam­age to ri­vals

than ex­ceeded the ex­pected size.

A rarely seen and more sub­tle species is the Bo­li­vian Ram,

Mikro­geoph­a­gus al­tispinosus. It’s fre­quently over­looked in favour of brighter fam­ily mem­bers, but this is not a fish to be cold-shoul­dered. With an adult size of 8.9cm, it’s often sig­nif­i­cantly big­ger but more peace­ful than any other Ram you’re likely to keep.

What’s more, in a planted tank the trans­for­ma­tion can be truly in­cred­i­ble with its pale sil­ver body tak­ing on shades of yel­low, blue, pink and even fiery orange. The scream­ing pink dor­sal fins and tail of an adult in breed­ing coloura­tion should earn them a firm place on ev­ery aquar­ist’s wish­list, whether they’re a ci­ch­lid fan or not.

Win­ning per­son­al­ity

My ini­tial ex­pe­ri­ences with Rams be­gan long be­fore I could re­mem­ber the com­mon names of what­ever hap­pened to in­habit my com­mu­nity tank, but one par­tic­u­lar mo­ment stands out. A few years ago, in a pre­vi­ous shop, I was try­ing to en­tice a ship­ment of wild-caught Plec species to ac­cept al­gae wafers (prob­a­bly a lit­tle dry for the tastes of Golden nugget and Snow­ball plecs), when a small Ram from the same de­liv­ery caught my eye. While the rest of the brood were hun­grily slurp­ing tubifex and glass­worm from the sur­face, this lit­tle guy had other ideas.

For as long as I watched him and much longer, he hov­ered in a cor­ner, me­thod­i­cally peck­ing at one of the wood fi­bre and spir­ulina plec pel­lets with a quiet de­ter­mi­na­tion. Like most dwarf cich­lids, Rams feed mostly on in­sects and small crus­taceans, so this ap­par­ent veg­e­tar­ian wasn’t just un­usual, he was a bit of an in­sult to Dar­win­ism. Thor­oughly won over, I took him home that night.

But even if the men­tal im­age of that weirdo of a Ram hap­pily munch­ing cour­gette and car­rot with my lori­cari­idae isn’t enough for you, con­sider this. What other fish has such a win­ning com­bi­na­tion of looks, per­son­al­ity and avail­abil­ity, all the while com­ing in such a fun-sized par­cel? Rams are liv­ing proof that a ci­ch­lid doesn’t have to be the size of a rugby ball to be the stand-out cen­tre­piece in your tank.

BE­LOW LEFT: The nat­u­ral strain has an abun­dance of colour.

BE­LOW: Golden rams are less fussy about wa­ter con­di­tions.

BE­LOW: The bold colours of the Elec­tric blue ram.

Males can be so ea­ger to spar with other males they’ll turn on a re­flec­tion!

BE­LOW: Bo­li­vian rams are larger, but still very peace­ful fish.

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