Writing about Pencils…Where do pencils come from?..Sharp Little Fish...Pencils aren’t just for writing…Playing with pencils that won’t 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 couldn’t 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 can’t claim a lot of credit through the process of getting this species to spawn. Taking a look at the species I’ve spawned in the past, the effort I expended on N. beckfordi ranks pretty low, but it was a fun species to try nonetheless.

I’ve 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 don’t 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 hadn’t 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 wasn’t 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 I’ve 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. I’m 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 wasn’t 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 didn’t 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. I’m 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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