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Freshwater Nest-Builders

You may be surprised at how many different types of nests are made by freshwater fish.

By Mike Wickham |

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When springtime finally arrives, leaves are popping out, and flowers sprout up. And birds gather twigs to begin building their nests — but birds aren’t the only creatures that build nests. You may not know this, but many types of fish build nests, too, and in a variety of ways. So let’s take a brief tour of underwater nest-building.

Pit-Diggers
Nests take many forms. One of the most common is a pit dug in the substrate. A large number of cichlid species are notorious for moving substrate around to make nesting sites — often to the chagrin of the aquarist. The simplest pits are mere depressions in the sand. An example is the Lake Tanganyikan cichlid Xenotilapia ochrogenys. The male digs a 6-inch-diameter pit in the sand by taking mouthfuls of sand and spitting them into piles around the crater. He takes meticulous care to remove any pebbles or bits larger than the sand itself so that the eggs can be readily recognized. The male lures a female to the nest, where the eggs are first deposited loosely on the sand. This fish is a maternal mouthbrooder, so the female then gathers the eggs into her mouth for incubation. It might be said in this case that the nest is not the pit, but rather the mouth of the female!

Want to read the full story? Pick up the August 2011 issue of Aquarium Fish International today.

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