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10 years with Amphilophus rostratus
By Del Calhoun

Amphilophus rostratusI remember the first time I saw a picture of A. rostratus I thought, "How nice, a Geophagus-looking fish that can tolerate a wider range of water quality." I had tried to keep several species of the geophagus family before, like daemon, accuticeps, and surinamensis, but with each species, it was only a matter of time, usually a year and a half, and the fish would get pitted up or sick or stressed out and dye. Besides, these fish were delayed mouth brooders and I have always found mouth brooding cichlids to be boring. Still, I told myself that someday I would have to have A. rostratus swimming in one of my tanks, but at that time I was more into dovii and some of the other brutes.

My desire to keep this fish was really clinched when I saw a video produced by Don Conkel. The video showed Don’s facility and some of his breeding ponds and vats. In one of the scenes Don showed a breeding vat containing two pairs of rostratus. Each pair was guarding fry and from time to time the fry would swim back and fourth between the pairs. Now I thought that was just too cool and I really wanted to see if I could recreate that scene. So the next time I saw rostratus available on a list I quickly ordered six of them.

What I did not realize when I bought the fish was how great a species they were to keep in community tanks. The number of different species that I have kept with this fish over the years is staggering. When they were juveniles they were kept with Caquetaia spectabilis and Pentenia splendida. As they grew I moved them to a tank with Vieja synspila and ‘Cichlasoma’ uropthalmus. Some other tankmates that they have had over the years include regani, melanurus, microphthalmus, aureus, fredrichsthalli, and the list goes on and on. About the only fish they don’t like being kept with are each other. Every time I tried to keep these fish in a tank by themselves, they would chase and nip constantly. So, back to a community tank they would go.

The problem with keeping A. rostratus in a community tank was that although they got along well with the other occupants and looked great, I never saw any real signs of spawning activity. At first this didn’t bother me too much. I told myself that this fish must be slow to mature, but after a while, I kept hearing from other hobbyist who were spawning their rostratus. Now, at this point, I have been keeping rostratus for almost six years and still had five left. I couldn’t kid myself any longer, as my slow maturing theory was about four years too old. So I decided I was going to set up a pair and force them to spawn. I chose what I assumed to be a male as it was the largest of the group, about six inches, and had an excellent brassy-silver color, with a very nice reticulated overall pattern. The female was obviously smaller, about four inches, and had a more blotchy looking pattern. Other than size, the differences between the sexes were subtle at best, so I was really taking an educated guess. As it turned out, my guess didn’t really matter because even thoughAmphilophus rostratus they were a pair, the male killed the female in two weeks. Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to get used to keeping these fish in community tanks.

A few years ago I decided to set up a garden pond in my back yard. I hate cutting the grass so I decided to set up the biggest pond I could afford, and before I new it I had a pond that was 8’ wide and 24’ long. When I put the fish out in the pond I made a wonderful discovery. Rostratus make excellent pond fish. They don’t hide in the plants or under rocks like other cichlids do. Due to their natural feeding habits, they like to stay out in the open shallow parts of the pond constantly picking at the substrate. When they spawn, it is in the open as well. The pair will do an excellent job of guarding the fry for the whole summer. They keep their fry in a tight pattern and never let them stray too far. No matter how many years I keep cichlids, I never get tired of watching a pair defend their fry. However, when rostratus fry become free swimming, you don’t get to see a large cloud of fry like you do with other Cichlasoma species (Parachromis managuensis). Instead the fry stay low to the substrate. Spawn sizes are also much smaller, usually only two to three hundred. I have also noticed this with other Amphilophus species that I have spawned.

So now every year the rostratus spend their summers in the pond and their winters in a large community tank. Two summers ago, I thought I was going to observe that scene which I wanted to recreate so many years ago. Two pairs of rostratus had set up spawning sites no more than four feet apart. When the fry became free swimming the two pairs would sometimes get within a foot of each other but I never saw the fry cross over, and as the fry grew larger the pairs just stayed farther and farther apart. It was still pretty cool to watch. This summer I lost one of the rostratus, probably due to nothing more than old age. I’m not sure how long rostratus will live but at ten years they still look great and still spawn every summer in the pond. The three remaining fish are currently being housed with 'C'. pearsei, T. meeki and P. polleni, so I guess we can add a few more species to the list.

When people ask me what my favorite Cichlasoma species is, I usually say umbrifera or haitiensis, but the fact that I have kept rostratus longer than any other fish to date, tells me that I had better include them in the future…

Update: I wrote this article back in 2000. As of this date I only have one of the original rostratus left. I can’t believe that a fish I purchased back in 1989 can still be alive in one of my tanks.

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