Strategies for inducing cichlid breeding behavior

Spawning jaguar cichlids (Parachromis managuensis). Photo from https://contentedfish.com/.

Having trouble getting your breeding pair of cichlids to spawn? Subtle changes in your water may do the trick. Below are five water change strategies that might help.

  1. Volume – Try varying the volume of water that you change when you do water changes. Sometimes a higher influx of fresh water can induce spawning behavior. Seasonal rains often serve as markers for spawning in some species, particularly those in the Amazon that time their spawning with the rainy season. This might prove to be especially true if you have F0 or maybe even F1 fish. Adjusting the typical volume of water that you replace over consecutive changes could trigger certain species to do the deed. For example, if you typically do 20% changes weekly, go to 40% for two or three consecutive weeks. 
  2. Frequency – Another trick that I have found to work on occasion is performing more frequent water changes. Sometimes a more frequent influx of fresh water can influence breeding behavior. So instead of changing 50% of the water once each week, do 20-25% changes every fourth day. I have a few species that I can almost always get to spawn when I switch up the frequency. 
  3. Temperature – Adjust the temperature of your water. If you normally keep your water at 80 degrees Fahrenheit, drop it down to about 77 or 76 degrees. If you keep your water in the upper 70s, raise it up to the low 80s for a bit. Sometimes a change in temperature of just a few degrees will influence spawning. 
  4. pH – This one is tricky, and I would recommend that you have a solid handle on how to adjust pH and manage it before you try it. If you’re comfortable making pH changes, vary it a little either up or down, depending on species, and see what happens. Remember, the pH scale is logarithmic, meaning a one point change equals 10x in pH. For example, going from a pH of 7.0 to 6.0 makes your water 10x more acidic. That’s a big change, so I would be careful with that. Making a .2 or .3 change is probably enough but should only be done if you know what you’re doing. Chasing the pH in a tank is one of the more detrimental actions you can take for the well being of your fish. A stable pH is highly recommended, but a short term change may be enough to induce spawning in some species. 
  5. Combination – Try some combination of the above. For example try varying the volume of water that you change along with a change in temperature. Sometimes it’s more than one factor that can induce spawning. 

At the end of the day, it takes experience and patience to recognize the ideal conditions necessary for your fish to spawn. Furthermore, sometimes getting them to breed is less dependent on the water conditions and more dependent on the physical environment (e.g., rocks, caves, presence of other fish, substrate). 

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