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Husbandry of Parachromis motaguensis
by Vinny Kutty

Species belonging to the genus Parachromis are large predatory cichlid fishes from Middle America collectively known as guapotes. Larger species of the group (namely Parachromis dovii and P. managuensis) are decidedly more piscivorous than their smaller cousins, P. friedrichstahli, P. motaguensis, and P. loisellei. All guapotes are available in the hobby, but to varying degrees. Parental P. motaguensis are without a doubt the most colorful member of the guapote group and deserve greater recognition among hobbyists. The common name given to this species in Europe is "Red Tiger Cichlid" and once you see a female in full dress, it is quite clear why.

female Parachromis motaguensis

Parachromis motaguensis is a riverine species that prefers areas with fallen trees and rocks, often in rapid-flowing waters. Werner (1990) reported temperatures ranging between 20-30 C in its natural habitat. Water conditions were relatively soft but alkaline. Its diet includes invertebrates, livebearers, and other small fishes. Thorichthys aureus, Amphilophus robertsoni, Archocentrus spilurus, Vieja maculicauda, and Chuco microphthalmus are other native cichlids often found in sympathy. Its range extends from near the confluence of the Rio Richuelo and Rio Motagua in Guatemala and in various tributaries of the Motagua system in Honduras on the Atlantic slope. Loiselle (1980) reports that the species is also present along the Pacific slope of El Salvador.

Like most large Central American species, Parachromis motaguensis is tough-as-nails and can adjust to most water conditions as long as extremes are avoided. Although they are not too sensitive to nitrogen cycle mismanagement, their well-being and growth rates are enhanced when substantial water changes are frequent. My pair is presently housed in a standard 200 liters tank with weekly (50%) water changes.

I initially acquired three juveniles, a male and two females. They were placed in the 200 liters tank with a pair of adult Archocentrus centrarchus and several Australian rainbowfish as dither. A month later when the Archocentrus centrarchus spawned, territorial disputes arose, resulting in the ejection of the male Parachromis motaguensis from the tank. Luckily, my source had another, which I immediately purchased. The new male managed to stay out of harm's way, growing to 15 cm. TL within four months on a diet of pellets, earthworms, and feeder fish (anything edible was consumed) all the while showing marked distaste for both conspecifics and the Archocentrus centrarchus pair. The rainbowfish were systematically shredded and eaten, and eventually the Archocentrus centrarchus had to be moved to another tank. Even a large Java fern was shredded. But in my mind (due to their beauty and rarity) any and all misbehaviors on the part of the Parachromis motaguensis pair were excused.

Soon after becoming the sole occupants of the tank, the male and the smaller female (10 cm. TL) formed an alliance and began relentless persecution of the larger female (12.5 cm. TL). After a month of intensified colors, head-quivering exchanges, and merciless torture of the unpaired female (who was removed for her own good), the pair spawned ca. 500 beige eggs, each about 2 mm in diameter. Courtship involved gill-flaring and sudden lunging by the female toward the male, stopping short of actual physical contact. Jaw-locking was rare and head-quivering was displayed only a day or two before actual egg-laying.

The fry hatched 72 hours later and were free-swimming within four days of hatching. Fry can eat freshly hatched brine shrimp immediately and do so with gusto. As guardians, the parents behave viciously toward any living object once fry are free-swimming. As with many biparental neotropical cichlids, the female of the pair hovers over the spawn itself while the male patrols the periphery of the territory.

Cleaning the tank at this time is not recommended if the parental male is over 15 cm. TL. He will put his "pseudocanines" to good use, and the speed and ferocity of his attacks are explosive; crashing against the front glass often causes teeth to fall out, but they are replaced within a few weeks. Airborne attacks are often launched on nearby unwary human fingers and forearms. Visitors to my fish room often increase during this stage of breeding to witness these sensational displays.

Such high levels of aggression are manifested only for a week or two immediately after fry become free-swimming. During this period, the survival prospects of any tank-mates are low (if not zero). Since well-fed adults show an almost constant reproductive readiness and very few other species can tolerate such abuse, the best long-term strategy for Parachromis motaguensis is to house them alone.

As of early 1994, my male is now ca. 25 cm. in length and still growing, while the female is 15 cm. TL. The pair has been the sole residents of the tank for over a year since their first spawning, displaying no signs of incompatibility despite the absence of target fish. Due to the pair's compatibility, I have not had to employ the incomplete-divider method of breeding. It is probable that as the male gets larger, the pair will have to be moved to more spacious accommodations; the largest reported size for this species is 30 cm. TL. With each new spawn, the number of eggs has increased, and spawn size is now approaching 2000. Fry are slow-growing compared to young of other guapotes, taking five months to reach 5 cm. TL, despite 8-10 water changes a month. Perhaps with larger grow-out tanks and more frequent changes, the growth rate could be improved.

Feeding the fry during their first two weeks is complicated by the presence of the male; objects, such as eyedroppers used to administer newly-hatched brine shrimp, are viciously attacked, scattering the food beyond the reach of the fry. To properly feed them, the fry should be moved to a tank of their own. Male P. motaguensis can attain lengths of 12.5 cm. within twelve months and reach reproductive maturity after another six months. Fry also seem more resistant to conversion from live foods to prepared foods than other cichlasomines. Tubifex worms and live brine shrimp are, however, eagerly accepted. Clues to adult coloration become evident at five months of age by which time aggression and cannibalism typically reduce brood size to less than 100.

Overall, though the fry are not the easiest to raise, neotropical cichlid fans are usually smitten upon viewing a brooding pair of this beautiful species. Despite their attractive coloration, Parachromis motaguensis is surprisingly rare in the hobby. Since the species isn't any more challenging to keep than other guapotes, it is hoped that P. motaguensis will earn greater popularity with neotropical aficionados.

POSTSCRIPT (In April 1994)
Possibly as a response to a sudden rise in water temperature the male's aggressiveness got the better of him, as I discovered a de-scaled and barely mobile female cowered in a corner of the tank. Isolation and treatment did not help; she died a few days later. Though incidences such as this are to be expected when keeping large heroines, I was taken by surprise given their peaceful co-habitation for over two years. Alas, I had expected to be able to enjoy this pair for at least a decade! To be safe (in hindsight), using the incomplete-divider technique should probably be standard operating procedure with large cichlid species.

 

References

  1. Loiselle, P. V. 1980. "Giant predatory cichlids: the true guapotes." FAMA 3(8):39-47.


  2. Werner, U. 1990. "Der prachtigste aller guapotes: die rote tigerbuntbarsch 'Cichlasoma' motaguensis." TI International 100:5-7.


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