Quarantine chaos!

Dominant male Telmatochromis sp. “temporalis shell” in quarantine tank. Photo by the author.

Even the best made plans can go awry! Revisiting my recent fish order and the subsequent quarantine plan I implemented, a little problem developed. Thankfully, the problem wasn’t a health issue but rather a behavioral one.

If you read the blog with any frequency, you know I have four tanks that I use for quarantine, hospital, grow out, and/or simple segregation purposes. All four tanks are 20g longs. Currently, I’m using one of those tanks as a hospital tank. It contains a single L. cylindricus that is blind (or partially blind). You can read more about that in this post.

The other three 20g long tanks are being used to quarantine some of the new fish I ordered.  One of the five species I ordered is Telmatochromis sp. “temporalis shell” not Telmatochromis temporalis. Ad Konings admits that the temporalis species is morphologically quite “plastic.” The shell variety derives its name from the fact that 1) it is smaller than regular temporalis and 2) it will opportunistically utilize shells for shelter and breeding. For a pretty good synopsis of the fish, see Brett Harrington’s write up over at Cichlid-forum.com.

I ordered five of the Telmats. Though they’re not quite adults (about 2″), I had already determined that there were three males and two females…and I emphasize the word “were.” Behavorially, Telmatochromis temporalis and Telmatochromis sp. “temporalis shell” are nearly identical – pugnacious. I’ve had numerous spawns of regular T. temporalis and am very familiar with their behavior as fry, juveniles, and adults.  Physically, “temporalis shell” can be almost indistinguishable from regular temporalis until they’re adults.

Back to the word “were.” After a week in the quarantine tank, the three “temporalis shell” males had gotten comfortable enough to start trying to establish a hierarchy. Even with lots of cover and caves, one of the males, the smallest one nonetheless, apparently began taking the lion’s share of abuse. I found him one morning on his side and beaten up pretty good. I segregated him using a submerged breeding box and he was able to right himself. However, he passed away over night.

Sigh. I can’t tell you how much losing a fish bothers me.

Now I’m down to two males and two females. One of the remaining males is larger than the other…and the larger one started exerting himself. So during a water change yesterday morning, I decided to separate them. In fact, to give the two females a break, I yanked both males out and put the larger one in the tank with the Julidochromis dickfeldi and the other one in the remaining 20g long with the Julidochromis regani Burundi.

Moving the big male to the dickfeldi tank has been uneventful. Not so for the smaller male in the regani tank. Within less than a minute of being dropped into the regani tank, the largest one converged on him. Oh, they are about the same size at 2″. I watched as the regani relentlessly chased the poor temporalis all over the tank, only pausing for several seconds before resuming the chase. I wasn’t expecting that at all. Temporalis, especially males, are absolute bulldogs (behaviorally and physically).

“This isn’t going to work,” I said to myself. In less than five minutes, that temporalis was back in the 20g with the two temporalis females. I didn’t want to put him in with the cylindricus because…..well….I just didn’t want to subject the blind cichlid to another cichlid.

Though not ideal, I’m hoping the smaller temporalis will be a little less belligerent to the two females. If not, I’ll put a divider in the tank and separate him from them.

You may be asking. “Are Telmatochromis sp. “temporalis shell” that nasty?” Yes. But then so are regular T. temporalis. While raising my last brood of regular temporalis fry, probably close to 40 fish, I would regularly come down in the morning to a single dead one. These were less than one inch in length. Aggression starts early. Males are just intolerant of other males.


2 thoughts on “Quarantine chaos!”

  1. If you had a larger tank it should be better. I know of someone who was able to pack them like mbuna in a 75

    • Hi Nathan. Thanks for reading the blog and posting the comment. I agree that a larger tank can sometimes mitigate aggression. And having so many fish that aggression gets diluted is a sound strategy for the problem. However, because I was quarantining the fish, having them in a larger tank such as a 75g would have not been cost effective if I needed to treat them for some reason. Many medications are quite expensive per dose, and dosing a 75g tank would not be cheap. Also, there were only five of the telmats so the numbers strategy wouldn’t have worked for me in this case.


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