Breeding peacock bass (Cichla monoculus?)
1: This shot was taken a few days after the pair's first spawning on 3-9-06. The yellowish white eggs share the top of a large horizontal slab of shale with various debris and a host of tiny cornucopia snails. The parents seemed to make only a mild effort to keep the site clean. We removed some eggs from this batch to attempt to raise elsewhere, and left the remaining with the parents. Most hatched, but only a few made it to the free swimming stage and disappeared shortly thereafter. A mishap resulted in the loss of most of the removed fry as well.
2: Shortly after spawning commenced, 3-27-06 at about 11:00 AM, in an 8 foot long 300 gallon aquarium. Only other resident is a large clown knife who largely keeps to himself in the back of the rockwork. pH about 7.6, temperature 83 F. These fish were traded in by a customer some months back, and first started showing dimorphism and interest in spawning in early March. The male is a little over 12" long and the female a little under. They had spawned previously on March 7th.
3: The pair had begun to prepare a spawning site to the left of the previous site, on a larger horizontal slab of lava rock. However, in trying to remove the snails and debris from all the sharp little crevices, they were seriously injuring themselves (you'll see a torn lip in a later photo), so we laid some pieces of slate across the top of the lava. Unimpressed, the pair chose to instead spawn on a vertical face of one of the supporting rocks. (Note: we attempted various options of flash and natural light shots, and the fish often show "red-eye" when looking at the camera.)
4: In this shot, you can see a bit of the male's (upper fish) breeding tube, as he approaches the rock to fertilize eggs. The male never seemed to commit to a "spawning pass" (like a Jack Dempsey almost rubbing the breeding tube across the site). He seemed quite content to just hover an inch or so over the eggs.
5: The female (front fish) is preparing for a spawning pass here, her ovipositor clearly visible. Interestingly, the female did not seem to show any preference for which direction the pass took, top-to-bottom, bottom-to-top, right-to-left, or any combination in between.
6: The female (in back) taking a top-to-bottom spawning pass, while the male tries to hog the picture. While the room lighting was somewhat dim, the fish could probably see the activity of the photographer and passing onlookers. Whichever fish was currently off the site would frequently try to block our view.
7: Still fairly early in the spawning, as evidenced by the female's (front fish) plump belly. By the end, an estimated 1500 eggs were laid, and the female was looking quite depleted. The eggs are visible on the white rock, but they're more easily seen in later pictures.
8: The female in a bottom-to-top spawning pass, with the male again trying to get into the limelight. Several of these shots were taken through the side panel of the aquarium, which is fairly scratched up and wasn't well cleaned.
9: The male (in back) hovering over eggs, and female turning for another pass. The rock chosen was only about 8 inches from the front glass, making these turns a little challenging.
10: The eggs are more clearly visible in this shot. The female (in front) has just finished a pass, and the male is moving into place. The eggs were only loosely adhesive (almost like a Post-It Note), and often the current caused by the fishes' turns swept the eggs away from the site. All the eggs were laid on that fairly small vertical rock, but possiblly 10 per cent of them ended up elsewhere up to a foot away. The white flecks on the driftwood on the right of the picture are eggs.
11: A closer shot of the eggs - and some lip damage on on the male from trying to clean the rough lava rock earlier. Eggs waved considerably in the currents caused by fish motion, almost as if tethered, rather than glued, in place.
12: An "action shot" (ok, the camera moved too) near the end of the spawning, about 3 hours from the start. The female (on the right) is beginning to look depleted, and the male is beginning to look disgruntled at our presence.
13: Near the end of the spawning, with plenty of eggs on the rock, an almost empty female, and a proud male displaying his "nucchal hump". That swelling on the forehead seems to change prominence depending on the male's hormonal activity. The day the last of the fry from the earlier spawn vanished, the hump suddenly appeared almost twice as big, quite reddened and almost painful to look at.
14: A closer look at the eggs. Spawning is nearly complete, and both parents are beginning to kick into protection mode.
15: An hour or so after spawning was complete, both fish starting to take more defensive postures. Note eggs that were swept from the vertical white rock to the nearby driftwood and horizontal shale rock.
16: A few days after spawning #2: some eggs are fungusing, and many have dropped off the rock into the coarse gravel. The parents appear to subscribe to the time-honored tradition of Parenting by Hanging Around; they really didn't do any fanning or picking of the eggs, just sort of waited nearby to ward off predators.
17: A closer shot of the eggs (best we could do with the digital camera on hand. Probably 95% of the eggs appeared fertile and dropped off the rock sooner or later. Unfortunately, only 50 or so fry were ever seen at the hopping stage, and perhaps a dozen to free-swimming, and even those disappeared quickly. It's unclear whether most became trapped in the 1/4" gravel, or were eaten by snails, the remaining clown knife or the parents themselves (probably all of the above), but we made plans to artificially incubate the next batch.
18: Once the last of the fry had vanished, the male's hormones kicked in, his hump grew and reddened, and he started courting the female, extending his finnage and gills and circling the female incessantly. We were quite concerned initially, as the female had been eating very sparingly since the last spawning (3-4 frozen or freeze-dried krill per feeding), and appeared to be still quite emaciated. However, within an hour or so, she must have experienced her own hormonal change, and began flaring fins and gills herself.
19: Another shot of the pair circling - right over the shale we had placed atop the rock arch before the previous spawning. Spawning there would make eggs exceptionally easy to remove for artificial incubation.
20: It was remarkable enough that the hollow-bellied female showed an interest in spawning, but within a few hours of commencement of courting, she (on the left) filled out considerably, showing obvious belly distention due to ripening eggs. This picture was taken late on April 8th.
21: Their third spawning began on the morning of April 10th, only two weeks after spawn #2, and a few days after the last of those fry disappeared. They weren't quite as cooperative as we had hoped, and chose to spawn atop a larger, heavier rock right next to the shale. The had quite a bit more room for movement, but still, many eggs were washed away from the spawn site by the current from their activities.
22: The eggs that were swept up were only slightly more dense than water, so those that didn't re-attach somewhere mostly floated in the vicinity. Both parents occassionally mouthed a wayward egg: the female rinsed them in her mouth for a moment before spitting in the general direction of the others; those the male snatched up were never seen again. The male showed no interest in attached eggs, and didn't really gulp the floating eggs like food. It appeared to be more of a clean-up activity than feeding.
23: The male came a little closer to a "spawning pass" in this new horizontal format, but still rarely came closer than an inch or so to the eggs. It's probably just as well, as the closer he got, the more eggs he'd sweep off the site.
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