This article is meant to outline the breeding of Bolivians Rams in detail, including courting, spawning, parental care and raising fry. I tried to include as detailed of information as possible from my own experience, and I hope that this article will provide a framework for what to expect from spawning Bolivian Rams, and answer any questions you might have.
I have spawned Bolivian Rams in a relatively small range of parameters, pH 6.8-7.4, gH 3-4, kH 1-2, and 76-80F. That being said, I have come to prefer the measures: pH 7.4, gH 3, kH 2, and 77F for the husbandry of the species. These parameters approximate the conditions of the species in the wild, except for being mildly softer. The best spawning trigger I have found is a large water change of 40-50% followed by a minor tank rescape. During water change, I measure the fresh water to 2 degrees below that of the tank to simulate the cooling effects of rain. During smaller water changes, the difference can be greater.
The courting process can be quite short or drawn out and dramatic, ranging from 2-7 days from onset to spawning. The male undoubtedly initiates the courting with entertaining displays including, throat and gill flaring, body curling, displaying of the flanks, body whipping, and tail lashing. The female may return some of the advances, or may forgo displaying entirely. I do not do any special feeding to induce spawning. However, make sure to feed foods high in protein for egg production, and I always feed twice per day, and take additional care that the female gets an adequate amount. Breeding fishes typically display a strong yellow chest and abdomen, and sometimes strong orange highlights in the dorsal and caudal fins, and display transversal bars on the rear half of the body. Courting escalates when the male begins to prepare potential spawning sites, such as cleaning stones. The male will often engage in head shaking over the intended site, and pick at the substrate with his mouth repeatedly while the female looks on. The male may also construct a large depression in the substrate, and even partially construct several more depressions during courting. The female will also engage in constructing these nests, but not to the degree of the male. When the female begins taking keen interest in cleaning a spawning site, typically spawning is imminent. During courting the degree of aggression is quite varied, sometimes the male is content to casually follow the female around, and other times, the same male will outright harass the female, however no damage is ever inflicted; ample cover for the female is necessary for this reason. An adult pair can spawn every 3 weeks, and most aggression is confined to the intermittent period between spawns, or early in the courting process. After the female has developed eggs and shows interest in the male's advances, any aggression is converted to the dramatic courting displays previously mentioned.
The spawning site may or may not prove to be any of the sites prepared by the male during the courting process. I believe the female always has final decision and sometimes chooses a new location altogether. All of my females greatly prefer to lay eggs on flat stones, like slate. One female will only spawn on slate, regardless of the presence of other potential sites. However, it is quite common for Bolivian rams to spawn in depressions in the substrate, on horizontal driftwood, and even on broad leaved plants. My Bolivians always spawn late in the evening, without exception. The pair will diligently clean the chosen surface until the female begins laying eggs, gliding in a circular motion, depositing 6-10 eggs at a time. She will then give way, and the male will fertilize the eggs in a similar fashion. This process of exchange may continue for up to an hour. Clutch sizes seem to vary; young females may lay as few as 60 eggs, while adult females can lay 200. My pairs will always cover the clutch in sand 45-60 minutes after spawning is complete, and remove the sand after 36-48 hours. My theory is they do this to conceal the eggs while they are weak from spawning, and after they build back their strength, they remove the sand. I have noticed that when they deviate from this schedule the spawn is likely to be unsuccessful. For example, if they ever cover the eggs within 18 minutes of spawning, they tend to remove the sand after as little as 24 hours, and almost always eat the eggs before they hatch. I think this is merely an indirect indicator that they are stressed. The pair will take turns fanning the eggs and defending the territory from the other company fishes. I have typically had success with spawns that were in catfish free community tanks. I have had less success when attempting to breed isolated pairs. The two seem to fight a lot before the eggs hatch, causing inadequate fanning shifts, and stirs up debris around the clutch, both leading to increased losses from fungus. In contrast, in a community environment, the pairs prove to cooperate peacefully, and I have spawns that hatched with no observable losses to fungus! My dominant pair has actually protected a clutch, from spawning to hatching, from a shoal of Corydoras paleatus, without a night light! However, my sub-dominant pair has not been able to achieve such a feat, and such is certainly not typical.
In 24 hours, the eggs will turn an orange-amber color, and unfertilized eggs may begin to turn white, along with those that fungus despite fertilization. Eye spots are clearly visible on the second day. The eggs hatch after 62-64.5 hours at 76-78F and are immediately transferred by both parents into the pre-constructed nests. During the egg stage, the male will begin constructing these nests for the wigglers, this usually happens late in the egg stage, within 12 hours of hatching. All of my Bolivians prefer to dig down into the root systems of plants, and store the wrigglers there, and relocate them once or twice per day, usually to unique nests. Nests are rarely re-used for this purpose. They will occasionally dig down underneath driftwood or large stones and store the wigglers there, but a depression is always involved. The pair continues to maintain shifts of fanning the wrigglers, and will constantly mouth and tumble the larvae.
The pair typically will be more aggressive during this stage, than before hatching. However, I have never known a Bolivian Ram, even during breeding, to harm another fish. They will maintain their territory and restrict company fishes to a different portion of the tank. My Bolivians mainly show interest in keeping conspecifics at bay, and really seem quite unstressed by nearby characin species, and rarely make a great effort to chase them off. The fry are free-swimming after seven days, and are initially kept herded into a shallow depression by both parents, which are most aggressive during this time, however, they are still quite mild mannered and seem content to just keep the other fishes on the other side of the tank, without damaging the other fishes. My pairs typically keep the fry gathered into a shallow depression that is situated between larger plants, such as Echinodorus, or in areas with detritus, either for the small food particles there or the protection. They usually do this for the first 48 hours after free-swimming and will then start moving the fry and allow them to roam. However they do not guide the fry around the tank as much as other dwarf cichlid species, and tend to restrict the fry to the immediate breeding territory. A very interesting behavior also occurs during the free-swimming stage, during danger the female will drop quickly to the substrate, often with a shake of her head, and immediately the fry will mimic her. I first observed this behavior when I accidently bumped the tank while attempting to take pictures of the mother and her young. The fry stayed huddled against the substrate until their mother reassumed normal behavior soon after.
Continue to next page »