Geophagus steindachneri origin-ates in Columbia, in
the upper reaches of the Rio Magdalena and its tributaries. They were first described by
Eigenmann and Hildebrand in 1910. It has also been called Geophagus hondae and Geophagus
pellegrini in the past. These fish reach a total length of six inches in the wild. It is
an immediate mouth brooder, who picks up the eggs at the time of spawning. It is an
open polygynist, which means the male will spawn with any ripe females. The female
provides all the parental care.
I usually go to one particular fish store. I have a
habit of looking in their many tanks in hopes of finding Cichlids, Corys and other species
that are paired off or already spawning. I have purchased Corydoras sterbai that had laid
eggs all over the glass, "Kribs" that had paired off, etc. Keep your eyes open
when looking in your favorite fish store because you never know what you might see.
This time I found a pair of Geophagus steindachneri.
As I looked into the tank I could tell a female was definitely holding. This means the
female has either eggs or fry in her mouth. I bought the pair and took them
home. I was
not sure that she would still be holding once I got her home. I was lucky and she did not
eat her fry as some mouth brooding Cichlids might do when stressed. I would surely
think seriously about stripping a female before she is bagged to take home in the future.
Less stress on my part.
I put the pair in a ten gallon tank for a few days. I
stripped the female of her eggs/fry. I do this by holding the female with my right hand
and squeezing her mouth together with my fingers on either side of her mouth. I then shake
her up and down in the water and soon she starts releasing what she is holding. I usually take
the eggs/fry the first time the fish spawns to be able to document how long it takes the
fry to actually hatch and become free swimming. This way I will know approximately when a
female should be releasing her fry.
A week after stripping the female, the male had
taken the big leap out of the tank. At this point, I was very glad I had taken
the fry. From my experience with other mouth brooders, I could tell they were about four
days old, by the size of the yolk sacs. There were approximately 81 fry.
I put the fry in a net and hung it in a 10 gallon
tank that had a sponge filter. After the fry became free swimming, I turned them loose in
this tank. I started feeding them newly hatched brine shrimp. The fry were approximately
two weeks old when I started adding finely ground basic flakes. I did twenty five percent
water changes once a week. After the fry were large enough for sale, about one and a half
inches in length, at three or four months of age, I began selling just a few of them.
I had moved the fry to a 20 gallon tank near a
window. I left the fry in that tank for about five months. After selling most of the fry,
I was left with six and the original female. I told my fiancÚ that I could not get rid of
any more fry, because I needed to raise them up, so I would have a good chance of getting
at least one male. Needless to say, I had three males and three females out of this batch
of fry. I then placed these six fish in a 55 gallon tank to grow out more. After about a
month. I decided the fry were large enough that the adult female wouldnt hurt them
and I then placed her in the tank in hopes of getting another spawn.
I was lucky to catch the dominate male flirting with
a younger female one day when I was just watching the fish, doing what fish do, swimming
around. It was definitely something to behold. I noticed the male would get low in the
sand of the tank and would flare all his fins. He also did something that really took me
by surprise. It would look as though he was blowing a horn, as he extended his mouth and
lower jaw. He would then begin shaking rapidly to the female who did not seem the least bit
interested in these silly actions. He reminded me of a frog that is making his croaking
sounds. The lower skin of his throat was all blown out.
The male would also let the water out of his mouth,
little by little, like a frog letting out his music. I was really surprised to be allowed
to witness this event. The males were sexually mature at seven months. I remember reading
information about the species in my books and the main difference was a red area at the
corners of the mouth. After observing them for several months more, I was able to tell the
males had larger red areas at the corners of their mouths compared to the females. The
most distinctive attribute of the males is the Red Hump that appeared a month
or two later. Observing these fish closely, I noticed the red markings had disappeared on
the corners of their mouths. My fiancÚ and I were talking about this and we think the
markings are in the younger fish only. Not in the fully grown adults.
The males still did not look like their father but
they were on their way to achieving his beautiful coloration. The males began showing the
Red Hump which gives this fish its common name. The surprising part was,
the male that was starting to show his "hump" was not even the dominate male! I
have also noticed that the female, if observed from above, has a red mark area where the
hump should be! I found this to be quite interesting.
In May of 1997 the original female was holding! I
then knew I had at least one male. From this spawn, of 122 fry, I was able to record that
G. steindachneri fry hatched in two days at 78░ F. and the fry became free swimming
in another seven days. I was overcome with amazement at how the female could hold so many large
eggs/fry. The eggs of most mouth brooders are quite large so I did not suspect that she
would be holding 122 of them at one time.
In June, one of the young females that I had kept
from selling, had also spawned and was now holding. I removed her to a twenty gallon tank
of her own and unfortunately she ate her fry.
In the summer of 1998, I had moved the trio, two
males and the original female, to a community tank. I needed the 55 gallon tank they used
to be in for housing my Lethrinops lethrinus, that were growing so large they needed a
bigger tank, but that is another story. I sold the other young steindachneri breeders
and decided to just keep the original female, the dominate male and a subdominant male,
which had a larger red hump. Now was the time to put this group in a community tank and
quit breeding them.
While observing the pair on August 4, I noticed they
both helped in making a little shallow pit in the gravel. The other male had been
constantly chased into the left corner of the tank, too afraid to come out of his hiding
place. The pair would face each other and act like they were kissing one
another. Then they would go side to side, with head to tail, and shiver a little bit. The
female would then go to the bottom of the pit, and deposit four eggs. Sometimes she would
turn and pick the eggs up immediately and then there was a couple times when she would
wait and lay another four eggs before picking up all eight eggs at the same time. After
picking up the eggs, the female would face the males side as he then moved lower
into the shallow pit and she mouthed his ventral area. After they were done, they rested a
couple minutes, the male chasing off intruders, and then the sequence would begin all over
again. They took about one hour to finish their spawning ritual.
Geophagus steindachneri are a relatively easy
species to maintain and spawn. I enjoyed observing their breeding behavior,
and found working with them was a very rewarding experience.