| Writing about Pencils
do pencils come from?..Sharp Little Fish...Pencils arent just for
Playing with pencils that wont poke your eyes out...(take
your pick): Breeding Nannostomus beckfordi
By Zack Wilson
Okay, so I was a little zealous
with the title. I had some free time on my hands and I like clever titles.
I got on a role and I couldnt make up my mind which one I liked
most. Anyway, I suppose I should try to deliver on the article at least
as well as the title. To the subject, Nannostomus beckfordi. It would
be nice if there were some great secret that I found in spawning this
species or if it were some involved process, but I honestly cant
claim a lot of credit through the process of getting this species to
spawn. Taking a look at the species Ive spawned in the past, the
effort I expended on N. beckfordi ranks pretty low, but it was a fun
species to try nonetheless.
Ive always had a special place in my heart for the
more unusual fishes, be they more unusual in appearance, behavior, and/or
spawning strategy. Most characins dont thrill me (sorry to certain
people who may read this R-), at least not to the same extent
as my overpriced little cichlids from South America. There are a few
exceptions, and pencilfish have always been one of them. They are more
interesting to me and they are also a bit more unusual. They also have
a tendency to be more on the calm side rather than always zipping mindlessly
unlike some relations. Given their peaceful nature and nice appearance
(take N. marginatus mortenthaleri for example), they are often seen
in my tanks along with my Apistos, and this works nicely. N. beckfordi
is also a more outgoing species, not too shy, which lends to easy viewing
and ready observation of behaviors.
N. beckfordi is a nice looking little pencil.
Unlike some of the other well-known species, they have some very nice
color in the body and fins. Other pencils tend to be of a more earth-tone
color scheme. Male beckfordi of the red color form develop what could
be called an intense red color in the body and somewhat in the fins,
especially during courting. During non-courting times their colors tend
to be more subdued, but kept properly they are almost always in the
mood, it seems. The females are less conspicuous, and lack the red color
in-between the black bars.
My friend Pat had received some a while back
and had been keeping them in a tank with some breeding kribs as dithers
for some time. They had grown out and colored up very nicely. It appeared
there were two males and four females, but spawning was unlikely in
this environment. We both thought it would be neat to spawn them, as
they were looking very nice in the tank and the males seemed eager to
breed. I hadnt spawned any characins at that point, mostly focusing
on cichlids, but I wanted to expand my horizons. I thought it would
be neat to try something with a different spawning method than what
I was used to. I was told it would be more difficult, but I like a challenge.
So I took them home and put them in a nice tank with some of my Apistos,
and promptly ignored them. I still like my dwarfs better, and at that
time I also received a shipment containing some new and unusual species,
including some Dicrossus filamentosus. These are also a challenging
species, and they took precedence in my fishroom for breeding efforts.
It was a couple of months later when I finally remembered the beckfordi
and thought of breeding them again. After thinking of breeding them,
and realizing that wasnt enough to get fry, I gave it a couple more
weeks. Finally things were quiet in the fishroom. Fry were established
and growing out, and new mothers were contentedly guarding their spawns.
I decided to see about getting these pencils to lay eggs.
Going by recommendations from others and by some material
in books, I separated the males and females into their own tanks. I
fed both groups a mixed diet of frozen bloodworms, brine shrimp, flake
food, chopped blackworms, and live mosquito larvae (always readily available
in MN). The females got plump, and the males turned a bright shade of
red. I continued to condition them for a week. Once I was satisfied
that the females looked uncomfortable enough with their load of eggs,
I picked a nice big female and the nicest looking male and set them
up in a 5.5 for spawning. I used about 90% R/O water that I had run
through peat, with a TDS of 3ppm, and the other 10% was tap
water from my well. This produced a hardness of about 2dKH, a TDS
of about 35ppm, and an approximately neutral pH. I set the temperature
at 80F. The tank was left bare, with only a clump of Java Moss for a
spawning medium, and no filtration. I put this tank with the pair in
a dark area of the room, as Ive been told that the eggs can be
sensitive to light. Once I had them set up, I sat back and waited to
see what would happen. After waiting over 45 minutes I decided it might
be a good time to check on them. Im a patient man. After all of
that waiting, I came back, looked at the tank, and decided that the
Java Moss had been too dirty. The bottom of the tank was covered in
mulm. I thought it might be good to clean things up a bit before they
decided to lay their eggs in all that filth. I started vacuuming the
bottom. Suddenly, as I was hoovering the tank, I saw what looked like
little tiny glass spheres on the bottom. I quickly realized they must
have spawned already
and I was sucking them up! I stopped, but
I had already vacuumed the majority of the bottom and I figured I had
ruined this spawning attempt. Disappointed but hopeful, I removed the
pair and placed them back in their tanks. If they spawned that quickly
this time, I could try again. I would wait a few days and put them back,
being more careful next time. I left the tank and sort of forgot about
the whole thing for a little while. I few days later I was ready to
try spawning the beckfordi again, so I went back to the tank to get
things ready. As I flicked on the light, I saw movement. Something very
small darted in the tank. I looked closer. More little slivers moved
away. There must have been at least a few eggs that got missed. I counted
at least 10 fry. Not many, but something.
So now I had fry. I had no real experience with such small
fry, and I certainly wasnt used to providing such small foods.
Once you get young, getting them to eat is the big thing. I had some
Golden Pearls larval diet and a little bit of a micro-algae paste (usually
used for reefs, but I figured it could work), so I decided to try them.
I offered a tiny amount of each. I didnt see them eat anything,
all they seemed to do was hover there and look very un-fishlike. They
must have been eating something though, as they slowly grew and their
numbers held steady. I figure they were most likely feeding on the detritus
and the bacteria that built up as a result of the foods I was offering,
rather than the food itself. Whatever works. After a few days I started
offering some vinegar eels. They are one of the only live cultures I
keep, being no-maintenance. Im really not into food that requires
work--not unless I get to eat it; I put enough time into the fish. The
fry took to the vinegar eels quickly, and I finally got to see them
eat. They grabbed a worm and wrestled with it, slurping them like spaghetti.
After just one or two they were full and it was possible to see their
little bellies plump with the little whitish worms. They ate well with
this diet and continued to grow. After a few more days they were large
enough to start on freshly hatched baby brine shrimp. They did fine
with this and grew quickly. From there things were pretty standard and
it was just a matter of waiting for them to get large enough to BAP.
With a minimum of attention and involvement and a little luck I suppose, I was able to gain some experience with a new group of fish and challenge myself a little more with the involvment of raising the fry. For someone who has had some experience with spawning fishes and is looking for something different from the sometimes effortless cichlids, Nannostomus beckfordi can offer a good starting point. They may not be the most challenging species to work with, but for someone looking to give characins a try this might be a good species.
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