Species of Apistogramma and smaller Cichlasoma types dominate my tanks,
but on a recent trip to Cleveland for the Ohio Cichlid Association Cichlid
Extravaganza I found none listed on the showroom bulletin board. What
I did find were "dwarf" pikes (genus Crenicichla), so just
out of curiosity I went to check them out. After looking at three pair
of Crenicichla regani Ploeg, 1989, I decided to purchase only one 3"
pair. Little did I know I would later regret that decision. At the time
I simply figured they would make a nice addition to a large display
tank, and I would have something different to show club members when
I arrived back home.
Always having been told that pike cichlids would accept only live
foods, I purchased a couple dozen feeder guppies and placed them along
with the pikes in a 20-gallon slate-bottom tank just to grow them out.
A half-dozen 4"clay flowerpots were placed in different locations
about the tank. I cut an entranceway in each just large enough for the
fish to enter, as I normally do with my apistos. A few floating killifish-type
"mops" were added along with a large handful of Java moss.
No gravel or any other type of substrate was used; two jumbo bubble-up
box filters completed the setup. All I had to do was sit back and watch
the fighting, as I was sure they would kill each other sooner or later.
And sure enough the male began chasing the female relentlessly about
the tank; I felt so sorry for her that he was removed to an adjacent
tank and both were forgotten. After another two months I noticed both
displaying through the glass sidewalls.
Given their interest in each other, I returned the male to the main
tank, but a clear glass divider was inserted to separate him from the
female. Both live baby brine shrimp and frozen brine shrimp were accepted
greedily. At this time the pair was maintained in regular tap water
with a hardness of 170ppm and a pH of 7.5 at a temperature of 78 degrees
F. Next I removed 80% of the water, replacing it with purified RO water
at a temperature of 72 degrees F. This drastic change quickly brought
down the tank temperature to 74 degrees F with a hardness of 40ppm and
a pH of 6.0. Over the next two days the temperature returned to 78 degrees
F. and the female's belly developed a rosy hue. The divider was then
removed and since nothing violent resulted I left the pair together
overnight. The next morning the male was patrolling the tank, but the
female was nowhere to be seen. Hours later I could wait no longer and
began lifting the pots to locate her carcass - assuming the worse -
but instead was delighted to find her hiding under one of them, guarding
a clutch of beige-colored eggs hanging from the ceiling by fine, short
threads. The male was then immediately transferred to his previous home.
Nothing else much was observed for the next five days until I finally
noticed wrigglers on the slate bottom under the pot, guarded carefully
by the attentive female.
By this time the male had reached about 4" in length, the female
3.5". He had a light tan ground color with a very dark lateral
stripe; the pointed dorsal and anal fins were pale orange edged in bluish-black.
The female had more rounded unpaired fins; the dorsal fin contained
an extensive black blotch surrounded by a starkly contrasting white
border. Five days later I finally observed fry swimming about the tank,
herded along in a small tight school by the female. At this time freshly
hatched brine shrimp nauplii were provided, and soon after all the fry
were observed with pink distended bellies. The original feeder guppies
were still for the most part present and unbothered; however guppy fry
disappeared as quickly as they were born. After only two months the
pike fry were already 1" in length and removed to their own tank
where the water was gradually converted back to regular tap water. The
parents were then reunited and have never fought since. For their second
spawn I left them together. The female guarded the eggs and wrigglers,
with the male joining in the care of the free-swimming fry. I am thankful
for this, as I believe that there is no greater pleasure in the hobby
than seeing a devoted pair leading young around their tank. I should
have taken all three pairs, but I had no idea that they would spawn.
I have since learned that my pair is the only of the three to survive.
Eight months after their birth the F1's are now spawning and rearing
fry in regular water. One thing I've noticed is that each individual
male and female is somehow unique in appearance. Interestingly, some
of the fry are much more colorful than the parents. At this time the
original pair has not changed in size, but the female now has four black
blotches that run together but are all encircled by the white margin
in the dorsal fin. In the year-old females, the markings in the dorsal
are quite variable (see Warzel, 1996).
I call Crenicichla regani the "gentle pike" because about
a dozen adults can be grown out and maintained in a 20-gal "long"
along with some dither fish with no problems whatsoever. Of a hatch
of about 100 fry, I get about 65% males, which isn't bad though the
females are much better looking. I don't have a community display tank
but I believe the "gentle pike" would be a welcome addition
to any display of small to medium-sized South American cichlids.
Many thanks to Mike Zebrowski of Michigan for collecting the wild
fish in the Rio Purus of Brazil and to Wayne Leibel who encouraged me
in Cleveland to obtain at least one pair.
References Cited: Warzel, F. 1996. Variation in Crenicichla regani.
The Cichlids Yearbook, Vol. 6:74-79.