Following the Rules: Dicrossus filamentosus.
For the second time in eight years, I find myself watching a female filamentosus leading around fry. The first time was really a preperatory experiment; a challenge to prepare me for my true objective, Dicrossus maculatus. The Lyretail Checkerboard has had a reputation as being a challenging but not impossible species, similar to maculatus, but is much more readily available. I figured this would be a good starting point. Though I always had my eyes on maculatus, filamentosus are beautiful fish in their own right. Thing is, I constantly see posts from other dwarf-cichlid keepers inquiring about how to successfully raise this fish, and they are often met with less than encouraging answers. It seems that very few people are successful in inducing D. filamentosus to spawn and raise their own young. I had not originally given this much consideration and on my first attempt I succeeded in spawning them repeatedly within a span of a couple months. I finally moved on, having satisfied myself that the prescribed strategies would work. Several years later, I found myself wishing I could enjoy filamentosus again.
I guess I've been on a Dicrossus kick lately. It's sort of been my thing in the last couple years. I finally did manage to acquire a nice group of maculatus, as well as a newer species, D. sp. "Tapajos". It just seemed fitting, then, to revisit my first Dicrossus. Filamentosus is not really a hard species to obtain, and so it wasn't long before I saw an opportunity come along that I decided to take advantage of. I picked up a group of very nice wild-caught specimens and set them up in a nice tank where I could enjoy them. Within less than five weeks I again found them spawning, and again I found that the females were generally willing to guard and care for their own spawns. So how is this? These fish came from a totally different source, several years apart, and yet they displayed the ability and willingness to reproduce. So why do so many find it to be such an aggravating feat to get the parents to raise the fry? I'd like to claim some magical discovery or personal quality, but over the years I've developed the belief that it's largely about how well one can follow the rules.
With many of the fish we are priveledged to keep, there are other talented and dedicated hobbyists that have come before us. There are those who have done the work of discovering what does and does not work with a particular species. While filamentosus may not be a simple species to spawn, they are not impossible, and there are others who have published their findings on the care of this and other species. If one does their homework, they should be able to reproduce the results. Lots of people would say they are following the recommendations, but I have to wonder. There are times when innovation is called for, and there are many species still out there which are not so fully understood, but there are also times when following a prescribed set of guidlines produces the best result. If one takes a casual approach to reproducing what is recommended, and they try to incorporate too much of what they "know", it is possible to miss something critical, and it might be just that that explains why they fail. When I set out to spawn D. filamentosus, I mainly relied upon the accounts given by Horst Linke and Dr. Wolfgang Staeck in their Tetra Press book Dwarf Cichlids . It was, at the time, the best book I had been able to lay my hands on. They gave detailed information not only about the natural habitat of filamentosus, but also tried guidlines for successful spawns. They cautioned that success was not guaranteed, but I figured it was the best I had to go on.
I like 20 longs for my dwarfs, and this is what I chose to set them up in. I decided to spare no effort in reproducing the ideal environment for my checkerboards. If, even under ideal conditions, success might be difficult, it didn't make much sense to stray. I used a natural red flint sand for the substrate, with some plantings of anubias, Wisteria, and Java Moss. Some nice pieces of driftwood added some structure. Very soft water, with a conductivity below 3ppm was called for, as well as a pH well below 6. I started with raw RO water, thinking it made the most sense to eliminate everything that I might not want, and then I could add back what was necessary. After filtering through peat for a few days, the RO water was added to the tank. This by itself only got me a pH of 6.5 though. It was good, clean water, so this is where I started. Based on some past experiences, I've found that often my dwarfs are triggered to spawn by a progression into ideal conditions, starting with a period of heavy feeding and conditioning in conditions that aren't necessarily meant to induce spawning. Call it simulating a progression into the rainy season, if you will. I began by feeding several times a day with small amounts of brine shrimp, live blackworms, some bloodworms, and bbs. In my most recent efforts I've actually switched to red wigglers (E. foetida) instead of blackworms, but otherwise conditions and care have been much the same. Frequent small feedings, several times a day, if possible, seems to really get the fish in spawning condition quickly. In most cases I find my dwarf cichlids itching to spawn with a week or two of heavy feedings of redworms.
Once the checkerboards looked good and plump, I began working towards the conditions set out as ideal in the books. The peat alone wasn't dropping the pH below 6, so I began doing small, 10% water changes with water that had been treated with acid to reach a pH of 4. This slowly began to drop the pH in the breeding tank. Over the course of a week, the pH slowly dropped down to about 5.0. At this point I was constantly monitoring the pH with an electronic meter. I had added a very small amount of carbonate buffer, but not enough to register on my tests. The TDS measured around 40ppm. The fish were looking great, and the male was spending much of the time out displaying to or chasing the females. Still no spawns though. I lowered the pH a little more, continuing to use water treated with small amounts of sulfuric acid. I also increased the temperature slightly to 81F. Then, after a little less than three weeks, eggs. Just like that. The pH was registering at 4.52. I crossed my fingers. Everything came off without a hitch. The eggs were very well-attended and they hatched after a couple days. I backed the temperature off a little, to prevent the fry from burning up their yolk sacks prematurely. In a week I had free-swimming fry able to take baby brine shrimp and really from there it was a simple matter of raising them up. They stayed with mom in the 20 long for over a month before I finally had to move them out. After this, more spawns came and I quickly accumulated a pile of checkerboard cichlids.
So, didn't that sound easy? Okay, so maybe not entirely. It wasn't without effort. But truthfully, in the end, I found this to be a formulaic process. I used the recipe, and it worked. Once I had met the parameters, it just worked. I've had plenty of species that, despite following recommendations, I've had to struggle, or wait long periods, to get fry. It may be that a piece of the puzzle was/is still missing. Sometimes there just isn't enough information available (those are good times to innovate). When there is, though, use it! Be precise. If you're having trouble, look again, and make sure you're following all of the directions on the box. If you're not, then you really can't blame the fish. On the other hand, if you are following everything, and it's still not working...well, then, maybe I do have magic water.
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