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GCCA's Next Meeting is Sunday, May 6th

Mike Hellweg speaks on "Keeping and Breeding Dwarf Cichlids"

mike hellweg 150 200A hobbyist since he was a child, Mike was breeding swordtails and raising them successfully when he was 9 years old. Mollies, guppies, corys, and danios soon followed. He quickly discovered that breeding fish was fun and challenging, and that pet stores would swap fish that he raised in exchange for other fish, tanks, and equipment. Mike’s hobby quickly grew to the point where he was selling his home bred fish to shops all around town.

Now a fourth level Grand Master Breeder in his local club, the Missouri Aquarium Society, Inc., Mike has convinced nearly 200 species from more than 20 families to breed, and he has successfully raised their fry. His fishroom of 80 or so tanks, ranging in size from 10 – 75 gallons, is dedicated to working with “miniature fishes,” with adult sizes under 4” in length. Mike particularly enjoys working with small egg scatterers, dwarf cichlids, wild livebearers, killies, and wild anabantids. He is also a third level Grand Master Aquatic Horticulturist, having propagated nearly 175 species of aquatic plants, many of them from seed.

Active in the organized hobby, Mike has served on the Executive Council of the Missouri Aquarium Society since 1989, and is currently serving his 8th term as their president. He also sits on the Board of Directors of both the American Livebearer Association, and the Aquatic Gardeners Association.

Mike presents programs on various hobby topics to local school groups and hobbyist organizations around the country. He has written dozens of articles for local and national hobbyist organizations, and has been published numerous times in both Tropical Fish Hobbyist and Aquarium Fish International magazines, as well as Freshwater and Marine Aquarium magazine. Mike’s monthly column, ‘Adventures in Fish Breeding,’ appears on He currently owns and operates “Exotic Aquatics,” selling uncommon fish and aquatic plants, both to local hobbyists and to hobbyists around the country.

If you subscribed to or had access to copies of Aquarium Fish Magazine during 2009, you may remember that great “Breeders’ Challenge” competition between Mike and Ted Judy (our May 2010 social meeting speaker). Mike won, but had to mount a come-from-behind rally to do it.

In 2008, TFH published Mike’s book “Culturing Live Food” for aquarists, and followed it up the next year with “Raising Live Foods” for herp keepers. That expertise will be on display as Mike’s talk is titled “Live Food for Cichlids”. Word is that Mike is an experienced and entertaining speaker, so this should be fun!

Sunday, May 6, 2018 | 6PM

Doubletree Hotel Downers Grove
2111 Butterfield Rd.
Downers Grove, Illinois, 60515
1-630-971-2000   |  Map and Directions

Eretmodus marksmithi

 Eretmodus marksmithi

Above Eretmodus marksmithi. Photo by Mario Toromanovic. 


The Eretmodus genus, together with Spathodus and Tanganicodus belongs to goby-like cichlid genera from Lake Tanganyika. Eretmodus cyanostictus, the type species of the genus, was first described by Boulenger in 1898 where it was found in southernmost part of the lake. The northern form has always been exported as E. cyanostictus although it has been known to be distinct from that species for more than two decades. In 1988, Konings pointed to differences between southern and northern species (which he called Eretmodus sp. “cyanostictus north”) and in 2012 Burgess described the northern form as Eretmodus marksmithi. (Source: “Tanganyika Cichlids in their natural habitat” 3rd edition by Ad Konings) Sexes are alike, except that males are bit longer than females. Males get up to about four inches in length. Females are slightly smaller reaching a maximum length of about three to three and one-half inches.

Etymology: eretmo = oar ( Greek ) +odous = tooth ( Greek ) referring to the peculiar shape of the teeth; marksmithi – Mark Smith ardent cichlid fancier and breeder, photographer, and author, who was instrumental in obtaining specimens and photographs of this new species.


Eretmodus marksmithi is found in the rocky zone of the shallow intermediate habitat, of Lake Tanganyika, where it spends most of the time grazing algae from top of the rocks. It’s been observed in the northern to central coast lines in Tanzania and D.R. Congo on localities such as Kigoma, Luagala, Kansombo in Tanzania and Muzimu and Kabimba in D.R. Congo.


Knowing Eretmodus marksmithi was an herbivore. I immediately placed them in a 75 gallon tank with large group of Tropheus moorii "Ilangi". The tank was large enough for the two species and it was furnished with large 3D background, which was excellent place for them to “chill” during the day. The set-up also had many rocks and cichlid caves where the fish were able to hide if needed and thick layer of sand on the bottom. Filtration was provided by two canister filters, which made plenty of water current, mimicking the natural habitat. I conducted 30% bi-weekly water changes, and I would also add aquarium salt, after each water change, so my pH was always around 8.0. The water temperature was at maintained at 79°F.


Eretmodus species live on a diet of filamentous algae which are scraped from the rocks. They are usually found grazing from the upper sides of small rocks (From the book “Tanganyika Cichlids in their natural habitat” 3rd edition by Ad Konings). I fed my fish with strictly plant based foods, by using mix of spirulina and veggie flakes - it worked great.


I obtained eight juvenile Eretmodus marksmithi at ACA convention in Louisville during the famous BABE auction. I knew I overpaid for them, but it was for the good cause and I really wanted them. At the time they were sold as Eretmodus sp. “cyanostictus north” but after some research, it was clear that this was indeed described specie of Eretmodus marksmithi. They were around two inches long and probably five or six months old. I like buying juvenile or small fish, growing them up, and breeding them, rather than buying breeders or breeding pairs. That way you can study and watch your fish growing, forming pairs and experience whole breeding process.

Eretmodus marksmithi are bi-parental moouthbrooders. The pair bond lasts several weeks before and after the fry is born. The female incubates the eggs during the first 12-14 days and then the male takes the offspring into his mouth for a further one to three weeks.

I did not witness my Eretmodus marksmithi spawning, but during the water change I noticed one of the fish holding. Upon closer inspection, it was clear that it was one of the males. I left him for few more days and then stripped the fry. At this point, the fry were fully developed and completely without a yolk sac. I placed them in small rearing tank and started feeding them right away with newly hatched baby brine shrimp and crushed veggie flake.

Retail Price

Eretmodus marksmithi is a rare fish that that is relatively hard to find. They are imported from time to time and if you are lucky to find them through the internet, expect to pay $25 to $30 USD per fish for tank raised fish, and even more for wild caught specimens.



Report August 2016 by Mario Toromanovic.

Astatheros robertsoni

Astatheros robertsoni

Above Astatheros robertsoni Male. Scroll down for picture of feamle. All photos and video by Mario Toromanovic.


Astatheros robertsoni is one of a dozen described species in Astatheros genus. It is native to Central America and inhibits the counties of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico.

Because of its beautiful blue and purple iridescence colors, the common name in trade for this fish is “Turquoise Cichlid” or “Emerald Cichlid”. It was first described by Regan in 1905 as Cichlasoma robertsoni. In later years, it was moved to Astatheros robertsoni by Jordan in 1930, Cichlosoma ( Amphilophus ) robertsoni by Miller in 1966, Amphilophus robertsoni by Kullander in 1996 and then recently back to Astatheros robertsoni.

This species is an eartheater and exhibits similar behavior to the Geophagus species from South America. Astatheros robertsoni can grow up to ten inches and females are slightly smaller and less colorful. Males from different localities may have slightly different colors.

Etymology: Astathos = unstable ( Greek ) + heros = generic name of related American cichlids
robertsoni = named after Reverend J. Robertson


Astatheros robertsoni is found in both rivers and lakes. Specimes found in faster flowing streams have a more elongated body, than ones found in floodplains, sinkholes and slow flowing rivers whose bodies are slightly larger and deeper. Astatheros robertsoni prefer middle and lower levels of the habitat where they forage among sand, mud and small stones.


A large tank is a must for keeping Astatheros robertsoni. As a substrate sifting cichlid, they appreciate sand or gravel covered bottoms. I housed six adult Astatheros robertsoni in 150 gallon tank together with a group of six large Caquetaia myersi. Since I employed a 30 gallon wet/dry filter under my main tank, I wasn’t worried about large amount of waste that these fish produced. I performed bi-weekly water changes using tap water only. The tank was landscaped using large rocks and large driftwood to create hiding spaces. Astatheros robertsoni is a rather easy cichlid to keep. They will eat smaller fish (as shown in my video below), so be careful when choosing tank mates.


Astatheros robertsoni is omnivorous species so their diet consists of both meat and veggie based foods. I fed my fish with cichlid flakes and large pellets and occasionally with live food, like worms and night crawlers. The fish would never come up to feed on the surface, but sifted through the substrate, ingesting all edible foods and spitting out everything else.


Astatheros robertsoni was probably my biggest challenge and hardest species to spawn so far. I obtained six F1 juveniles from a GCCA rare fish auction about three years ago. I placed them in twenty gallon tank, and from there moved them several times to bigger tanks as they were growing out. Finally, almost two years later, when the fish were around 6-7 inches, I moved them to my 150 show tank. Astatheros robertsoni are great community fish. They are large enough not to be bothered by other fish, yet only mildly aggressive towards their tankmates. At least, that was the case until one year later when pair finally formed and start digging a pit between two rocks. Immediately, the fish changed colors with dark bars showing on their flanks.

Both the male and female began chasing other fish, pinning their tankmates up in one corner on the the top of the tank. The fish spawned a few days later. Once the eggs transformed into wigglers, the parents moved them to another pit, and then to another a day later. During the entire time, the male was constantly digging while female hovered above fry. On day eight post spawn, the fry become free swimming. It was a huge batch of 700-800 fry. At this point, both male and female become very aggressive, attacking other fish in the tank. On the third day after becoming free-swimming, the fry began swimming and following their parents. Since my 150 gallon tank was too big to raise such small fry, I scooped out few hundreds and place them in small five gallon rearing tank leaving the remainder with the parents. The parents did a good job raising the fry to about pea size, but lost many to other fish in the tank.I grew up remaining fry on diet of baby brine shrimp and crushed flake food.

 Retail Price

Astatheros robertsoni are not too common, but they are readily available on the internet. Expect to pay $5 to $7 for juvenile fish.

Astatheros robertsoni Female


Report March 2016 by Mario Toromanovic.

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