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Breeding Cichlids

What South American dwarf cichlid would be easy for a beginner to breed?

By Lee Newman |

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Q. What South American dwarf cichlid would be easy for a beginner to breed?
Daniela Rossberg
Scarborough, Ontario, Canada

A. Many species of South American dwarf cichlids are appropriate for beginners. However, first a qualifier: Despite your cichlid-keeping experience or lack thereof, a species that everyone else can spawn in their aquarium may sometimes prove to be impossible for you – or sometimes it is the other way around, where a species you find easy to spawn is one that most others have trouble with. Unfortunately, with cichlid fish there are no hard-and-fast rules, just generalizations. The other thing before we get to talking about which cichlid fish I’d recommend is to define what an “easy-to-breed dwarf cichlid” is.

Generally, dwarf cichlids that tend to easily breed in an aquarium are those with modest requirements, both in terms of environmental conditions and diet. In other words, they tend not to need special conditions like a very low pH or a particular hard-to-find live fish food item, for example. Easy-to-breed cichlid fish are generally “happy” with what comes out of your tap and what you already have on the menu. So, with the qualifier and definition out of the way, here’s my list of the top three (or so…) most easily spawned South American dwarf cichlid fish.

Perhaps the easiest to spawn in an aquarium are the two smiling acaras, Laetacara curviceps and Laetacara dorsigera, often sold as flag cichlids (not to be confused with Mesonauta spp.) or simply “curviceps.” They got the name “smiling acara” because of the reddish-brown line just above their mouth that makes them look as though they are smiling. In fact, the name Laetacara translated from the Latin means “smiling acara.”

Laetacara curviceps and Laetacara dorsigera are almost always available in the trade. A 20- to 30-gallon aquarium aquascaped with a sandy bottom, some aquatic plants and rocks or waterlogged wood pieces easily satisfies their environmental requirements. Both are also quite adaptable with respect to water chemistry; just avoid extremes in pH and hardness. They get no larger than 3 inches or so, and will often spawn long before reaching their maximum adult size. Laetacara are also generally considered very good parents, so there should be no trouble rearing any offspring.

Gold ram cichlid fish - Mikrogeophagus ramirezi
Gold ram (Mikrogeophagus ramirezi).
Photo by Tony Terceira

Next on the list is the Bolivian ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosus). While it is closely related to the more familiar ram from Venezuela (Mikrogeophagus ramirezi), it grows a little larger, is every bit as colorful but much easier to house, and spawns in an aquarium. This species tends to be very outgoing in a community aquarium and will use open, hard substrates, such as a rock or piece of wood, as a spawning site. It is also easy on rooted aquarium plants, as digging is confined to small pits near the spawning site.

Lastly, and only slightly more difficult to spawn than the preceding Laetacara and Mikrogeophagus, is the cockatoo dwarf cichlid (Apistogramma cacatuoides). The additional challenge with this species is that it demands a bit more space. However, a modest 30-gallon aquarium could easily accommodate a breeding trio (one male and two females) of this haremic cave-spawning cichlid fish. The males are usually preoccupied with territory defense, and females with finding and keeping a cave suitable for times when they would like a reprieve from the male’s attention and for use as a potential spawning site.

There are obviously other choices, such as the golden dwarf cichlid (Nannacara anomala) and some of the other Apistogramma species, but the species I’ve mentioned here should allow a beginner the opportunity to get started breeding South American dwarf cichlid fish. Good luck!

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Reader Comments

derek    elwood, NE

1/1/2008 2:08:07 PM

what does a cockatoo dwarf look like?

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