Spawning cichlid behavior excitement

Adult male Julidochromis dickfeldi guarding fry. Photo by author.

One of the absolute greatest joys of cichlid keeping is witnessing spawning behavior. Because I have new fish from an order I placed several months ago, I have been anxiously awaiting some pairings and subsequent spawning. All the fish I received were older juveniles or sub-adults, so I knew that pairing up would begin in a few months. You can read about the new fish in this post from back in May

The plan before I received the new fish was to give one species, the ‘Lamprologus’ caudopunctatus, their own tank. The occies and one species of julies (dickfeldi) were going to share a tank. The other julie species (regani) and telmats were going in a 75g Tang community tank. Most of that panned out. The caudopunks got their own tank, which you can read about in this post. I put three of the J. dickfeldi (out of the six I purchased) with the occies because, of the two species of julies I received, the dickfeldi are smaller at adulthood. The tank they share is a 33g long that you can see in this post. The remaining three dickfeldi are still in the quarantine tank (20g long), where they’ve been since I received them. I purchased five J. regani, which were going in the 75g. However, one got beaten to death in quarantine and one got picked off in the 75g. So now I’m down to three J. regani in the 75g. The telmats had to be separated during quarantine, where they still reside currently. 

I’ve had two spawns out of the caudopunks, neither of which I saw coming. They are sneaky spawners. I never noticed any explicit spawning behavior but I have been able to determine the sex ratio I have (three females and two males).

The julies on the other hand, made it abundantly clear when they paired up and began to spawn. Males typically don’t even like to swim together, so they’ll usually stay apart. Also, with julies, females are typically larger. So it was easy to notice when a pair formed. Spawning julies are VERY protective of their spawn area, and intruders are dealt with harshly. Because I recently recognized a change in the aggression level of one of the dickfeldi in the 20g long, I knew something was up. This is a behavior I have found to be typical for the genera. In fact, I just noticed fry from that pair last night. See the photo above of the male guarding the fry, which are located directly behind him in the river rock with anubias plants. They aren’t visible in that photo (the white spots on the glass are nerite snail egg capsules). The female is just out of frame to the left. I am also certain that there are fry from the dickfeldi in the 33g long with the occies, though I haven’t seen them.

I am convinced that both dickfeldi pairings are monogamous, which isn’t abnormal, due to the fact that the third member in each threesome is aggressively kept at bay, often confined to a corner away from the spawning area. This is even more pronounced in the 20g long. I began to notice this ostracization in both trios about three weeks ago. I have concluded that the trios in both tanks consists of two females and a male. The two spawning females are the largest of all six, and each one is the aggressor at keeping the third fish at bay. 

This is where the excitement comes in. The dickfeldi pair in the 33g long with the occies has somehow managed to push five of the six occies to one end (right side) of the tank. I built a rock island in the center and left open space on each end of the tank (see below) so the occies could spread out a bit. You can see that the island is pretty large, which the breeding pair of dickfeldi constantly patrol. The lone female dickfeldi has been relegated to the corner of the tank where the filter intake is. You can see the intake has a sponge prefilter attached, the top of which has become her “home.”

33g long tank containing six ‘Lamprologus’ ocellatus and three Julidochromis dickfeldi. Photo by author.

As you can see, the island takes up more than a third of the tank and contains river rock, holey rock, and some anubias. It’s pretty dense. Though I have yet to see any fry, I am certain they’re in there somewhere. The behavior of the julies tells me that. The occies are pretty cautious and, if they attempt to go by the island, they always do so near the substrate rather than over the top. Having five occies confined to one end won’t work in the long run, so I’ll be rearranging the tank. My hope was that they might stretch out across the whole length (48″), but since they haven’t, I’ll need to address it. 

Though I have noticed some chasing among the occies, I haven’t been able to witness explicit spawning behavior in them. I would have expected fry from them by now, so I wonder if the dickfeldi trio in the tank is causing them pause. Of the five occies sequestered in one end of the tank, one of them is very aggressive in that area and one stays mostly in a shell. So I think the aggressor is a male, and he might have spawned with the female who remains tight to the shell. 


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