Neolamprologus gracilus is a lyre-tailed Tanganyikan
cichlid from the same genus as the well-known Neolamprologus brichardi. In fact, it
is hard to tell them apart. The brichardi has a blackish spot on the gill cover and
gracilus does not. In addition, to my eye, the gracilus sports a longer, more elegant lyretail. True to its name, it is a very graceful fish — slender and pink with beautiful long trailing fins and electric blue and yellow highlights.
My experience with this fish began with five juveniles purchased at a club auction. I placed the juvenile fish in a standard twenty-gallon tank that also included several
zebra danios, dwarf plecos and a platy. The fish grew quickly and behaved themselves
nicely in this lushly planted tank. My fish grew to about three inches in length within
eight months and I fed a variety of dried foods including flake foods and pellets. Regular
partial water changes equal to fifty percent of the tank volume were performed weekly.
Having bred Neolamprologus brichardi in the past, I knew that these fish were secretive breeders and, if left alone, nature would take care of itself. Despite this knowledge, I wondered why I never saw any babies in the tank. I used a flashlight to look through the lush foliage several times after the fish reached adult size to search for young fish but was not rewarded for my efforts.
Several weeks went by and one day I happened to glance in the tank and saw to my
astonishment four one-half inch long fry. Since gracilus fry are tiny, how had they
managed to rear these fry over a period of several weeks and conceal them from me?
I was to get my answer a few days later. Gracilus exhibit fantastic parental care. My parent fish always spawned on a well-hidden, clean surface. Once spawning took place on the hidden face of a small rock no more than two inches from the back of
the tank. On another occasion, they spawned on the concealed surface of a piece of
driftwood… again facing the rear of the tank. Spawning is usually, but not always,
accompanied by vigorous digging.
After four to five days, the fry hatch and the parents guard the wrigglers. When the
fry are free swimming, the parents transfer the fry — herd might be a better term — to a variety of pits in the tank. In my thickly planted tank, it was hard to count the
exact size of the spawn. My best guess is that older adults lay about 50–60 eggs.
For successive hatches, I fed crushed flake food and Tetra’s powdered fry food. I swirled the dry food in a cup of tank water and used a turkey baster to squeeze it into the water near the fry. Over the next several weeks, I was able to raise a dozen fry to the one-half inch size using this method. Like N. brichardi, N. gracilus juvenile fish take part in raising successive generations. Generally, I always observed one generation guarding the fry. While the parent fish were taking food, juvenile fish "baby sat" the fry. I wondered how far the juveniles would go. As a GCCA speaker once said, "don’t hesitate to mess with your fish." Keeping this mind, I put the fish to a test.
After growing up several fry to modest size, I removed and sold the adults. Since the
there were approximately twenty, two week old fry in the tank, I figured now was
the time to see what the juvenile fish would do. I ripped out all the plants and
rockwork in the tank. Thus, I placed the juvenile fish in a stressful situation.
Once the debris settled, I observed continued outstanding care by the juvenile fish.
The four one-inch fish moved the young fry to pit in a corner of the tank and guarded
them vigorously against the plecos and platys that occasionally came near.
Neolamprologus gracilus is a beautiful, undemanding fish that is relatively easy to breed. Without doubt, the parental and juvenile care is interesting to see and makes this fish a great addition to your fishroom. □