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Raising Mouthbrooder Cichlid Fry Simply and Easily

I have started to spawn more and more cichlids and thought, it would be nice to share my approach and techniques for raising fry. This article will focus on the techniques and approaches that I have adapted to use to raise and grow out my fry. These techniques are simple and have been pretty successful, resulting in relatively good results. I like to keep things simple and easy and often look for the simplest and easiest way to be successful.

Credit has to given to the members of the GCCA club, as a lot of my experience comes from techniques shared to me by other club members.  I take no credit for any of these ideas as being original or being applicable in all circumstances.

Getting Mouthbrooders to Successfully Hold their Fry

My assumption is they have spawned and your female is holding.

With mouthbrooder cichlids, I find it much easier if you can wait till about 9 days post spawning before stripping your female of fry. Ideally if they are in the phase where they have a tiny head or tail your success rate goes way up. Ok so how do we get a holding female to 9 days post spawning?

First off if you see your female holding, follow these guidelines for the first three to four days.

  1. Don’t feed your fish
  2. Don’t perform water changes
  3. Don’t put your hand or net in the tank
  4. Do leave the tank alone.

The more you mess with anything the more likely she is to spit her eggs, so for me leaving your fish alone is key.

After she has been holding for three or four days, introducing limited food to your other inhabitants of the tank is ok. I recommend paying close attention to the holding female and watching her behavior while feeding. If she is running over to the food, be cautious and adjust accordingly. I first start off only giving a tiny bit of food to the other fish at a time and try this every other day. Reason for doing this is, I have had more than one female spit her eggs all over the tank for the rest of the fish to enjoy so she can get some NLS pellets. Once the holding female has learned to not get excited when food is placed in the tank, I find I can feed the other fish safely.

Stripping the Female

When it is post 9 days of the female holding, I cautiously catch my female fish with a net. I have come to realize that using a relatively larger net and trying to get her to swim into or towards the larger net results in less stress. Many folks swear by trying to catch fish when the lights are out and it is dark, I have not mastered that approach.

Next step would be to strip your female fish, which I am not going to cover since this is covered all over the internet.

Here is link to a Google search for stripping female fish. http://www.google.com/search?q=how+to+strip+fish+mouthbrooder

What to do with the Fry

If the fish have tails and head, I still like to put them in egg tumbler, especially if they are more egg than fry. There are plenty of egg tumblers out there or you can make your own. I then proceed to keep them in the tumbler for the next week until they are more fry than egg. If by the time you pulled them they are more fry than egg, then I would skip the whole egg tumbler step.

If the fry are in the egg tumbler, I try to adjust the current so they are barely wiggling of just being jostled on the bottom of the egg tumbler.

Next I place the fish in an External Hang On Breeding box, with a couple of pond snails. The External Hang On Breeding box is basically a fry trap that attaches to the outside of the tank and uses an air lift to pull water in and then over flows back into the tank. I can attach usually two medium boxes and and two large boxes to the side of a 40 gallon breeder. I am such a fan of these things, I have had 13 of these things going simultaneously, which considering I only have eight tanks is a lot. 

Key advantages of the “External Hang On Breeding box”

  1. No need to worry when doing water changes (I like doing large water changes and don’t want to worry about lowering the water to low or flipping the box which is easy to happen with internal boxes).
  2. The water entering the fry box is highly oxygenated and the turbulence and water turn over can be controlled easily. IMHO oxygenated water can help with growth and health of the fry.
  3. No need to buy a separate small heater for a small tank or container. Small tanks with small heater often get to hot or cold and I don’t want to buy an extra heater.
  4. Easy access for cleaning, siphoning, viewing and netting out the fry
  5. The fry have the advantage of having the volume and stability of a larger tank which helps growth rates
  6. Don’t have to do daily water changes on small container and the water quality is very stable.
  7. Confined areas are easy to feed and with the “External Hang on Breeding Box” there is little risk of pollution from over feeding do to the continuous in flow of water.

Pond Snails and Feeding the Fry

Why pond snails you ask, they are great for fry tank in that they are garbage cleaners that will clean up any uneaten food. If the fry have not stated eating, I don’t introduce the snails to the tank but once they are bigger enough to eat in they go.

Ok well what about food; again I go the easiest approach with good results.

First wait till the fry have consumed there egg bellies and don’t look pregnant.

NLS (New Life Spectrum) has a great powder food that it is a very refined powder that is great for starting off mouthbrooder cichlids for the first week or so. I have also had great success using the NLS fry powder for shellie fry including brevis, meleagris, occies and caudopunctus. Using this fry powder I have been able to skip the whole process of hatching Baby Brine Shrimp.

What about water changes? I like to do 80% weekly water changes, once I hook up the python system to the tank. Whether I change 30%, 50% or 80% of the water makes little difference in effort so I lean towards the 80%. Again since I am using external fry boxes I can lower the water all the way down and don’t have to worry about the fry.

I will usually feed the fry the powder formula for the first week or two and then start to switch them over to NLS small fry formula which is a .33 mm pellet, which will help more with growth.

I have been able to keep fry in the “External Fry Boxes” until they are just over an inch as long as they are not too crowded.

Ok so lets bullet this out . . .

  1. Once a female is holding don’t touch the tank for 3 to 4 days
  2. On the 4th day introduce food to other inhabitants cautiously and adjust accordingly
  3. Carefully catch the holding female after the ninth day and strip
  4. Depending on the size of the eggs / fry place in egg tumbler with gentle current
  5. Once the fry are more fry than egg place in External Box Breeders
  6. External Box Breeders are awesome – key success factor
  7. Once the fish are ready to eat place a pond snail or other small snail in the box
  8. Feed NLS fry powder for the first week
  9. Feed NLS small pellet post the first week of eating
  10. Perform standard water changes on the tank the “External Fry Box” is connected to.

Cheers and good luck!



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scubadiver replied the topic: #35704 2 years 6 months ago
Article for below question in the forum

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