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Keeping and breeding the red bay snook

KEEPING AND BREEDING THE RED BAY SNOOK

by Del Calhoun

GCCA’S CICHLID CHATTER — MARCH 1999

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. ■ 

Lake Albert's Haplochromis “Yellow Belly”

LAKE ALBERT’S HAPLOCHROMIS “YELLOW BELLY”

by Michael Helford

GCCA’S CICHLID CHATTER — JANUARY 1999    

Yellow Belly Haps are a somewhat newly available species in our area. Coming from Lake Albert, a less well known Lake in East Africa, there is no written literature about this species that I can find. Recent correspondence with Ad Konings corroborates this lack of available literature. Thus, I thought it might be of some interest to relate my limited experience with this new species over the last year or so.

The males develop a rather bright but light yellow belly and a copper or darker reddish back. The females remain a silver-gray, with a few vertical markings that show only occasionally, apparently depending on their state of arousal. I find the males attractive, and as is usually the case with sexually dimorphic African cichlids, the females look nice but are not colorful. Individuals are quite variable in their individual appearance from moment to moment. The dominant males can be very striking when they display their stronger colors and melanin pattern (thin vertical stripes on face and on fins, especially the dorsal). At these times and when displaying, the male is rather brightly colored. Individuals tend to hang motionless for periods of time near the bottom, near a plant or object, or in the water column, and then make darting movements. I find that they stay closer to the bottom of the tank most often but will feed avidly from flake food on the surface when presented. Most of their movement has that staccato quality, although occasionally (dominant males especially) will make longer movement across a section of the tank with a turn or two, but then they always end the movement quickly and stop. They appear to me as both timid and bold. Timid in the sense that they will shy away quickly when I approach to watch them, but they are bold in that they do not appear very intimidated by larger fishes nearby. They also seem rather aggressive intraspecifically. I have not observed any aggression against other species, save for an occasional warn- ing nip to a very close and smaller individual of another species. But, with other Yellow Belly individuals they occasionally dart at one another, with the dominant males chasing just about everyone pretty frequently for short jaunts.

Northwest of Lake Victoria, the Nile, the longest river in the world, runs into and out of Lake Albert. Thus, the Nile connects Lake Victoria and Lake Albert. The Victoria Nile, as it is called, runs from Lake Victoria and into the Northern part of Lake Albert, and the Albert Nile runs out also from Northern Lake Albert and up into Sudan. Lake Albert is situated between the Western side of Uganda and the Northeastern side of Congo (formerly Zaire). The water in Lake Albert is very hard (700 uS or microSiemens and probably around 13 dH) and is very alkaline with pH ranging from 8.9 to 9.5.

I first purchased four individuals of this species at the GCCA auction on January 31, 1998. They were each quite small, maybe approaching one inch. As luck would have it, one jumped out of the ten gallon that they were placed in (with a brood of sunshine peacock babies, Aulonocara baenschi) and another died of unknown causes. The remaining two individuals were moved to a 55 gallon tank, shared with the following species: Aulonocara hansbaenschi, Protomelas sp. “spilonotus Tanzania”, Fossorochromis rostratus, and Labidochromis caeruleus. These two stayed rather shy, usually hiding among the plastic plants and rocks. They would occasionally venture out into the open and did not appear fearful, but seemed more comfortable hanging back in the cover of such objects. They were all aggressive feeders, and when flake food was presented, they scurried out and grabbed it quickly and had big appetites. These two individuals grew to almost two inches and seemed to thrive until about four months later when they appeared distressed. More frequent water changes and treatment with Clout did not help and both individuals died soon after with gills wide open, suggesting perhaps gill parasites or infection.

In any case, I purchased another three babies of the species at the next auction, the May 31, 1998 Cichlid Classic. This time, one of the three died in the bag before I got it home. The remaining two, fortunately, turned out to be a male and a female. These two were placed in a 10 gallon tank shared with a brood of Copadichromis quadramaculatus. As was the case with the sunshine peacocks, the co-inhabitants got along fine. To my great surprise, these two, at about one inch, spawned. I found the female with her throat bulg- ing, showing the outline of one of the eggs. I was amazed to see such a small fish with a mouthful of eggs. She held the mouthful with commitment however, and I placed her in a small breeding net. About two or three weeks later, she released about four fry— one short of BAP requirements! The fry accepted crushed flake food and powdered Sera Marin tablets without any problem during the first few weeks.

All seemed well until I woke one day to find that one of the Quads had jumped into the breeding trap and all but one of the babies were missing. So, the remaining baby had escaped providing nourishment to the accidental intruder. Although disheartened, I ra- tionalized that the pair would spawn again and this would become just a first failed attempt. But, as if that weren’t enough, the next day I found the female dead, eyes gone, and apparently a victim of the male’s aggression. I moved the remaining baby to another 10 gallon shared with smaller quad and sunshine peacock fry. Although this individual was the smallest of the fry in this tank, she did fine and as of today is ap- proaching an inch in length.

The next chapter of my keeping of this species is currently unfolding. Although I still have the male and his daughter is growing well, I purchased two lots of Haplochromis sp. “Yellow Belly” at the recent November 14 auction. Eight individuals, all around two inches in length, were placed in a bare bottomed 30 gallon along with five one- inch Ngara Peacocks, a sponge filter, and several plastic plants, and rocks. One of the three males died within the first few days, possibly as a result of the dominant male’s aggression. The largest and most active male is showing his colors more strongly, especially vertical lines in his face and forebody. He continues to harass the remain- ing male and to almost continually display for the females. It looks as if one or two of the females may already be holding a mouthful of eggs, but I am reluctant to disturb them, so I will ascertain the certainty of their ovigerous status later. I am excited to work on breeding this species, as it appears to be relatively easy, and hope to observe and raise a full brood of fry soon. 

Breeding Labidochromis sp. “Perlmutt”

BREEDING LABIDOCHROMIS SP. “PERLMUTT”

by Rick Borstein 

GCCA’S CICHLID CHATTER — JANUARY 1999    


After seven years, I finally set up a 150-gallon tank. It was my hope to keep and breed Frontosa and in August of 1997, I visited Elite Cichlids to buy some.

My six-year-old Sam accompanied me and while there I saw a cichlid that was new to me—Labidochromis sp. “perlmutt”. Perlmutt, I learned, means Mother of Pearl in German. The dominant male on display was truly spectacular and sported a gorgeous pearlescent sheen with yellow highlights on the fins. Females, as is often the case with Malawian mouthbrooders, were indescript— a light tan with dark brown vertical stripes. The fish is very similar in form and behavior to Labidochromis caeruleus, another attractive Malawian that I had bred several years prior.

My son loved the perlmutts and we trooped home with the Frontosa, the perlmutts and several Leptostoma cyprichromis “tri-color”. Fortunately, Elite Cichlids accepts credit cards!

Once home, I placed the juvenile fish in a 55-gallon tank that also housed several Melanochromis johanni and Paratilapia nkala. I did weekly 40% water changes and fed a variety of dry foods. The tank is maintained at 78°F and is filtered by a large Supreme Aquamaster filter and a dual Tetra Phas sponge filter driven by a powerhead. My water, like most of the Chicago area, is very hard and great for most African cichlids.

The fish grew quickly and a within four months a dominant male developed the char- acteristic pearlescent coloring that had so intrigued me during my visit to Elite Cichlids. My son named the dominant male “Captain” and indeed he did his best to strut his stuff and “run” the tank himself.

About a month after the male colored up, I discovered a small female holding eggs. I let her stay in the fifty-five for two weeks, then netted her out and placed her in a ten gallon tank with a seasoned Tetra Billi sponge filter. At 22 days, the female released 7 rather large fry which were immediately able to eat baby brine shrimp. I left the female with the fry for a few more days to recover, then returned her to her original tank.

The fry were not prodigious growers for me. This may be because I was not able to feed them twice a day or easily transition them to dry foods. Eventually, I discovered, that they readily accepted finely crushed Tetra Bits and started growing rapidly. After keeping them for three months, I submit- ted them to the club’s Breeders Award Program.

A couple months later, I was able to witness the Perlmutts spawning. As you know, we cichlid buffs live for this— spawning behavior is very interest- ing to watch! After a wa- ter change, I noticed thedominant male and the largest female select and clean a smooth piece of rock in the aquarium. The female seemed to do most of the work while the male kept busy driving away the other inhabitants of the tank. The fish chose an inclined, flat river rock on which to spawn. In typical mouthbrooder fashion, the pair danced around each other a bit, then the female laid an egg and turned (while the egg slowly tumbled down the incline) and picked it up in her mouth. The male fish vibrated while the female bit at his egg spots fertilizing the eggs. Most books describe this at the “T”position.

By this time, the females had gotten much larger and subsequent spawns, as you’d guess, were larger. The largest spawn I obtained was 22 fry. Later fry were also a little more robust and easier to grow out. In fact, I got lazy and didn’t even bother with baby brine shrimp and simply fed finely crushed TetraBits— works great!

If you like mouthbrooding Africans, I think you would enjoy keeping and breeding Labidochromis sp. “perlmutt”. The fish are attractive, not demanding, and fairly


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