Fish for Thought : Getting Philosophical with Dicrossus maculatus?
By Zack Wilson
In preparing to write this paper, I was entirely prepared to write another standard breeding account, like so many before it. As I thought on my subject and the process of getting here, I began to feel that this approach wasn't going to do, and I quickly found myself wandering in search of a point. I had originally intended to write a detailed account of how I set up and successfully spawned one of my all-time most sought-after dwarf cichilds, Dicrossus maculatus. Yet, along the way, I found myself unhappy with this approach. It's started to feel a little cliche, overdone, just writing another formulaic recipe for another dwarf cichlid. Fact is, I do have a very similar approach for most dwarf cichlids and multiple papers on different species can start to feel repetitious. This didn't seem right for these fish. I've sought after the Spade-Tail Checkerboard cichlid almost since I discovered dwarf cichlids and picked up my copy of Linke & Staeck's book. Since I wanted to do justice to these fish, I felt obligated to take a different approach, and as a result I found myself taking a look at a number of aspects of my philosophy on fishkeeping.
Like many others emersed in this hobby, one of the big thrills for me has become the discovering, acquiring, and breeding of new species. To keep things fresh and exciting I constantly prowl for new, increasingly obscure species to satisfy my palate. Looking back on the ever-increasing list of species I've worked with, I often wonder if my approach to fish-keeping isn't flawed. Sometimes I wonder whether it's the fish or the search that drives me. I mean, I really like my fish; few other things give me as much satisfaction as working about in my fishroom and seeing all of my happy little fish multiplying out of control. Yet, I find myself occasionally feeling just a little unfulfilled--just a teensy bit, mind you--if I have no quarry for which I am hunting. Perhaps it's as simple as human nature. I suppose there will always be some fish or other that I am on the prowl for, but certainly in this day and age it is often a simple matter of googling to find what you want. For the properly motivated, there are few fishes beyond one's reach. Not every fish is so easy though...
Pretty much since I got my copy of the Linke & Staeck book, I burned with the desire to keep Dicrossus maculatus. They were beautiful: stunningly so. I mean, if those pictures were real and there really were such delicately built fish with such an array of vibrant colors, then how could one not want to see such a fish in person? I had only begun my foray into dwarf cichlids, but I had located my Apistogramma cacatuoides and Nannacara anomala easily enough. It seemed it was only a matter of searching with a purpose. I would come to find out over the following months and years that this was not always going to be so. I joined the local aquarium society, joined the Apistogramma Study Group, joined the American Cichlid Association , and still found no-one with Dicrossus maculatus to sell or trade. In the mean time, I collected countless other species of dwarf cichlids and many other types of fishes. One has to avoid being overly narrow-sighted you know. I was enjoying a lot of success breeding the other types fishes I was collecting and I figured this was good practice in preperation for higher goals, but always in the back of my mind was the Spadetail Checkerboard cichlid. At last I managed to locate a supplier who was listing wild Dicrossus maculatus. After one year or so, I had found them. I quickly ordered a whole box of them. After all, at only $.90 apiece how could I go wrong? Sadly, I was to join the countless ranks of disappointed hobbyists who excitedly have purchased Dicrossus filamentosus under the name of maculatus. I imagine that the importers got wise to the fact that they would sell their fish much more quickly as maculatus, and in most cases they are still young and cannot be readily differentiated (though to the trained eye they can be). Thus, for some time most people are none-the-wiser. As a fair warning, 99.9% of the time if you see Dicrossus maculatus offered, especially from a Florida based wholesale establishment, you are really looking at filamentosus. They're no dogs by any means, and reputedly they are harder to breed than maculatus. So I took my lyretail checkerboards with a positive attitude, bred them, figured that was good practice, and moved on. That was probably 2002, already over a year since I had begun my search, but heck, lots of people have searched longer for other fish.
For some reason Dicrossus maculatus is just hardly ever imported into the aquarium trade. Those few that do get imported undoubtedly suffer the same attrition as other dwarf cichlids and may not even be recognized immediately for what they are, being so unfamiliar. By 2003 my life was changing and my time for aquaristic pursuits was dwindling. By 2004 I had no aquariums, and it remained this way for over two years. Ooh, big deal, right? Well, it was hard. In '06, I was finally starting to reach something resembling a settled life, having gotten married, had a kid, moved twice, changed jobs a few times; the works. Seeing as things weren't quite as crazy as they had been, I began to think fishy thoughts again, which my wife would say was true in more than one sense. We had a really big, really empty basement with so much potential to be so very much more, and I was the one to find a way to help it reach its full potential. That's a whole different story though. As it happens, after nearly a year's work I had the makings of a bustling fishroom, and the need for fishes to fill it up. As can happen at this level of the hobby, I turned to direct importing to locate and acquire the fishes that piqued my interest. It's just hard these days to go into a pet store and get excited. I think that's partially the stores' faults, though some are making efforts (here's to you TQ!). It's also just a natural development of working in pet stores for over 7 years and then for a wholesaler, and then as an importer. Again, I'm getting off track. So here I am in 2007, back and up to my neck (or maybe in over my head) in aquariums and fishes, and then that little tempster rears its ugly head again. I had been doing quite a bit of importing from Peru, some from Asia, a bit from Europe, and even a little from the Indo-Pacific, but I had not found a source in Brazil with anything much more to offer than an over-developed list of piranhas and stingrays and some plecos (okay, the loricarids are cool too, but don't get me off track). Then in April of this year ('07), I got an excited email from my Peruvian supplier. He stated that he had been in touch with some "partner" companies in Brazil and had discussed my list of desired fishes with them, and had recently been contacted with a new offering. For a premium they were offering several highly desirable species of dwarf south american cichlids, as well as a number of other fishes of interest. Among the list of dwarfs was the name Dicrossus maculatus and, to my surprise, Dicrossus sp. "Santarem". I had become skeptical about any offering of maculatus by this time, but since I was planning an order already, I figured it couldn't hurt to try again. The price was also considerably more expensive than I was used to paying for the "knock-offs", so my hopes to bolstered somewhat. What was to follow was a huge tragedy of governmental interference (but then what else can they do?), but there was also to be a final fulfillment of a long-time quest for the ultimate dwarf cichlid nut's prize.
Very few fish survived this import. It was a crushing disaster from beginning to end, but from the ashes I was able to find some few jewels. The Dicrossus maculatus turned out to be unusually expensive filamentosus. Figures. But the sp. "Santarem", ohhh...well, if you know about maculatus they come from a location in Brazil called Santarem. Knowing this, then, it would not come as a great surprise to find that amongst this group, as I could hardly believe, were some of the largest and loveliest Spadetail Checkerboard cichlids I could have hoped for. Not all were maculatus. In fact over half of them were sp. "Tapajos". Not a big letdown there. Of 18 fish in this bag, 9 were D. maculatus and 9 were sp. "Tapajos". I could scarcely believe my fortune, and yet they were there before me. Over the following days I pampered the heck out of them. I kept them in a dimly lit tank with very soft, acid water (when I read the water's pH a week later is was at 4.5). They ate well and looked very good, and they didn't seem to be overly shy either. I was, to say the least, elated. After about a week I began to take a closer look at the group. It was not going to be all sunshine with these guys either. As with the rest of the order, even the good stuff was mixed bag. I had only one female maculatus, and the sp. "Tapajos" looked to be all male. So I had my fish, but I also had my work cut out for me.
Once the dust had begun to settle on the order and I had time to think about such things, I started thinking about where I should set up my maculatus. I had to be careful and deliberate in my efforts. I only had one female and if I lost her I didn't know how long it could be before I could replace her. These were pretty good-sized fish, with some of the males over 3" ST. The female was a bit smaller, but was a decent size too. I decided not to put them in one of my 30 "breeder" aquariums and instead set up one of my old 40 longs for them. I used a thick layer of some fine white masonry sand for the substrate, and then broke up the sight-lines of the aquarium with lots of nice mopani root wood and driftwood. After adding a decent amount of live plants the tank was looking pretty good. I decided to filter this aquarium with a seperate canister filter so I could add media to alter chemistry as I might like. By setting up the output at one end and the intake at the other, I was also able to create some feel of a river-flow in the aquarum. It would be the perfect place to stage my attempts at establishing a colony of maculatus.
After doing some reading from both the Linke/Staeck book and the new Romer atlas I decided not to drop the pH excessively. It seems to be more important to have soft water of a low conductivity rather than an extreme pH. After mixing a very small amount of tap water with my RO, I added this to the tank and ran some peat granules in the filter.This left me with a pH of about 6 after some time had passed. With water changes the pH tends to stay in the 6-6.5 range. The conductivity is very low in this tank, with a reading of about 80-90µS being pretty average. Temperature was set to 79F on the chance that the sex ratios of Dicrossus are affected by temperature as with many Apistogramma. I wanted to give myself every advantage, so I was trying to play the cards to get an even number of males and females from the fry. To my surpise both types of Dicrossus have proved very adaptable to different foods and now they largely get NLS pellets as their staple diet. When conditoning them to breed, I used this as the first meal of the day, and then supplemented this with later feedings of my frozen food mix and live mosquito larvae. This is Minnesota, after all, and it wouldn't seem right passing up an opportunity to take revenge on my winged tormentors while also providing my fishes with an excellent conditioning food. They ate a few times a day, and they were quickly some of the fattest, happiest looking fish in the room.
Grargh. not done yet.
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