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Keeping and breeding the red bay snook


by Del Calhoun


At our Fall auction I saw a pair of Red Bay snook come up for sale and as I started to bid for the fish, I told myself “Stop! This is not the color morph you want. You want that ugly silver morph.” So, I let the pair go to someone else. You see, as you might have already guessed, this fish comes in two basic colors. The variety common to the hobby is a beautiful red-orange color with the male having many silver-white spangles on the scales, hence the name “Red Bay Snook”. The fish that I have always wanted to keep has a much plainer silver-brown background and black pattern markings on the body.

Petenia splendida gets it’s name from Lake Peten in Guatemala where it was first dis- covered, but it can be found in Mexico and Belize as well. The fish is a pure predator in nature, but it will accept most prepared foods. I have always found Tetra’s Doramin to be a great staple food. Actually, the phrase, “suck and gape predator” is more com- monly used to describe Petenia’s feeding habits. In Don Conkel’s book Cichlids of North & Central America, he states that the fish is closely related to C. managuense and C. dovii, but the mouth is larger and the maxillary more exposed. However, I tend to think, at least from a hobbyist point of view, that this fish is much more closely related to the South American cichlids from the family Caquetaia, which has three members; krausii, myersi, and spectable. In fact, in our own Cichlid Classic show, Petenia is placed in Class 4 while dovii and managuense are in Class 7. To add to the confusion, in Aqualog Volume 3, Petenia is placed right after the family Nandopsis, which managuense and dovii belong to, and right before the family Caquetaia. By the way, if your are just getting interested in keeping Central American species, both of the previously men- tioned books are excellent. Having said all that, if you have ever gone fishing and caught a crappie, you now know what the mouth structure of this fish is like.

There are only two real problems to keeping this fish. A large aquarium is needed to house Petenia which are said to grow to almost 20 inches. The other problem with keeping this fish is finding suitable tank mates for it. Even though they grow quite large, they are not too terribly aggressive. They are usually quite happy to swim around the top portion of your tank and wait for food. If you were to put them in a tank with C. managuense, I’m afraid they would get shredded. On the other hand, if you put them in a tank with any fish that are too small, they will just swallow them up. So I would suggest some of the mellower fish from the Theraps family like synspilum or melenurum, or some of the larger non-aggressive species from the Amphilophus family like rostratum or robertsoni. I always thought that a large tank filled with about four synspilum, six robertsoni, and five snook would be pretty cool. The snook would occupy the top portion of the water column, while the robertsoni would spend most of their time sifting through the substrate, and the synspilum would happily take up the middle portion of the water column or stay near any structures provided.

Years ago, members of this club used to take annual trips down to St. Louis to a place called Beldts Aquarium. I was always happy to go on this trip because Beldts used to have a large tank set up with a group of Red Bay Snooks in it. As I recall, the tank had about ten snooks ranging in size from 10–16". On our last trip, when I went to the tank that housed the snooks, they were no longer there. Oh well, I guess time finally caught up with them. As I walked through the isles, I noticed a 30 gallon tank that had a snook in it that could barely turn around. The fish had to be almost 18" long and 8" high and from what I could see it looked great. I thought to myself “even though it would be cheat- ing, this would make a great show fish, and how often do you see a snook in a show anyhow?” How- ever, when we went to catch the fish and it did fi- nally turn around in it’s little tank, it had a huge hole in it’s gill plate that you cold stick your finger through. The fish seemed healthy enough, but it was obvi- ously worthless as a show fish.

Rusty Wessel has been to Guatemala, collecting cichlids many times. During his collecting trips he has reported that he always found Red Bay Snooks in the same water with a particular type of water lily with red leaves. The leaves of a water lily plant start out folded and only uncurl as they reach the surface. Rusty noticed that the snooks would hang out under the plant mimicing the lily leaves and wait for their prey to swim by before lunging after them. Rusty also told me that while collecting cichlids at other locations, he would catch several petenias of the other color morph, but seeing as these were the ugly silver type he would just throw them back. That hurt!

Breeding this cichlid was fairly easy for me. Although it has been a while since I kept them, I remember that I started out with five young ones and raised them up in a community tank. As the fish got larger, about 8"–10", I noticed a pair bond beginning. If you are new to Central American cichlids, noticing a pair bond is really easy. Two fish will patrol three-fourths of the tank and the remaining fish will have to hover in the top corner at the other end of the tank. Because this is not such a great thing for the other fish in the tank, I pulled the pair out and set them up in a 30 gallon tank. Throw in a bunch of food, crank up the temperature a bit, watch them clean off a spot to lay the eggs, and before you know it, eggs are every where. OK, it wasn’t quite that simple, there were a few times when the female had to hide in a tube or more often, at the top of the tank, in between some floating plants. My pair did an excellent job of raising the fry and it was truly a pleasure to watch.

In fact, Red bay snooks are generally just an enjoyable fish to keep. They love to eat so they’re always at the top of the tank when you come in. They’re big enough that you can see them from across the room. Their temperament is such that you don’t have to worry about coming home from work and discovering that your one large male has killed every other fish in the tank.However, they will occasionally eat one of the fish that you thought were big enough for them not to bother. They will really try to eat any fish that is less than half their size. All in all, I would say that the only thing wrong with these fish was that they were red and not those ugly silver things that I want.

So, please do me two favors. If you ever go on a collecting trip and see a lot of silver-green snooks, don’t tell me how many of them you threw back. It’s just something I shouldn’t know. If you’re at a pet store and you see some 3 or 4 inch silver fish don’t call me. If they’re marked Red Bay Snooks on the tank, they will eventually turn red. I’ve tried this before hoping they would stay silver. The temptation might be too strong and I’ll try it again. ■ 

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