What’s your plan for cichlid babies (e.g., fry)?

Adult pair of Texas cichlids (Herichthys cyanoguttatus) with fry. Photo by Dick Au from https://www.sanfranciscoaquariumsociety.org/.”

Here’s the scenario: you’re new to cichlids but you’ve done a ton of research, you’ve talked to other cichlid keepers, you know what fish you want, and everything is all set. Fast forward several weeks or months after you’ve purchased your fish and one day you discover that some of them have spawned and you have babies (fry) in your tank. You’re very excited…and then it hits you. “What do I do with them?” you ask yourself.

Even though you didn’t intend for your fish to spawn, you should know that many species are prolific breeders and rather undemanding with respect to water parameters and tank decor. In other words, if you have a breeding pair of some species, they may breed whether you intend for them to or not.

“How will I know I have a breeding pair if I can’t tell males from females?” If you have several fish of the same species, odds are pretty good you have a breeding pair unless you bought them as adults and they’re clearly sexually dimorphic. You would have then known what you were buying.

But even if you did unknowingly have a breeding pair, that doesn’t mean that they’ll spawn. It also doesn’t mean if they spawn that you’ll have fry. Lots of variables come into play here. So for the sake of this post, we’re going to assume you do have a successful spawn and you end up with some fry.

This is where more research and planning should have been done. Finding yourself with many baby fish swimming around can be daunting. So be prepared for that, when and if it happens. It’s always a good idea to have a quarantine or hospital tank up and running. I have both. In fact, I have four such tanks that I keep running and cycled.

At the end of the day, there are several answers to the question of what to do about fry. If all your cichlids are herbivores like mbuna, many of the fry may avoid in-tank predation. But don’t think that just because a fish’s main diet is algae and such that it won’t eat a baby fish. Some certainly will. If your cichlids are carnivores or opportunistic feeders, many of the fry are likely to get eaten. In fact, the parents may even eat them depending on the species.

Ultimately, you’re left with three primary options (in no specific order):

  1. Remove the fry from the tank
  2. Confine the fry within the tank
  3. Do nothing

For option #1, you’ll need to catch them. That may be really difficult depending on the tank size, the fry size, decorations, etc. If you do catch them, you can move them into a separate tank. At that point, you can do several things with them – grow them out and trade them to your LFS, trade them or give them to a fellow cichlid keeper, or sell them somehow.

Depending on how many fry you end up with and how many grow too large to be eaten by the occupants in the tanks where they originated, you can put them back. But then you’re asking for more problems later.

For option #2, you’ll still need to catch them and then segregate them inside the tank using a breeder box or something similar (assuming they’re too large to fit through the openings in the box). At that point, you still have to figure out what to do with them before they get too large.

For option #3, you probably should hope they get eaten if they’re in a tank with carnivores. If not, you’ll be overrun with fish in the not too distant future.

There is another option, which will prevent you from revisiting either of the three given above – segregate the parents. The best way to avoid having fry is to simply not keep any breeding pairs of fish together. You could still end up with two different species breeding with each other, which would produce a hybrid, but that’s usually not a big problem.

To mitigate all of these issues, do your research before you buy your cichlids. Know which are males and females, know how easy or difficult they breed, know what they eat, know what compatible tank mates are, know how many cichlids to get based on your tank, know what cichlids will work best with your source water. You should know all of these before worrying about fry.


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