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Hi guys'n'gals,

I have developed a theory over the last few years about SA cichlid pair bonds in the home aquarium. Now I don't claim this theory as mine, it's influenced from reading published material about SA eartheaters, dwarf acaras and apistogramma, from watching quite a few videos of SA cichlids in thier natural habitat, and my own and others personal experiences. If I refer to it as my theory, it' just how I think about it. I am sure there probably is a body of work out there that discusses cichlid pair bonds in depth, it's just that I have yet to come across it.

The thoery is, that there is no such thing as a life time "bonded pair" in the wild and that this is home aquarium phenomenon. Atleast where most SA cichlids are concerened.

I believe that in the wild pair bonds will form for the duration of mating and raising fry untill the fry are of an age that the parents stop protecting them. Once the fry are "let go", the pair will seperate and rejoin the larger species group, or go thier seperate ways.

However in the home aquarium, things operate a fair bit different. In some cases we may keep a "pair" in the one aquarium for thier entire life, either in a breeding tank setup or as a pair in a community aquarium setup. There is no chance for the pair to split up and go thier seperate ways. In some cases the pair forms a strong permanent bond, with little or no aggression between the two. In other cases, the bond is strong during mating and raising fry, but outside of this period a fair amount of aggression can be witnessed, usually from the male towards the female.

Quite a few SA cichlid species live in large communal groups, I am sure most here will have seen videos of Angels and Discus in large groups in the wild. Many geophagus species form such groups as well, so do some dwarf acara species such as Laetacara curviceps, while many apistogramma species are found in small or large colonies. I believe that during mating seaon pairs will seperate from the main group and find a suitable spawning location, and subsequently raise thier fry untill the fry are old enough to fend for themselves.

Many of the "predator" species live a more solitary existence. You might find a large number in close proximity , but they do not congregate together like the schooling species. Similar to some of your North American fresh water game fish species. There are exceptions of course. I remember watching one Upper Rio ***** video that showed half a dozen adult pikes hunting together. It's possoble that with these species that males fill defend a suitable spawning site and hope to entice passing females to spawn. The pair may then protect the fry untill the fry are able to look after themselves, or are driven off. In some cases it's possible for one parent to be left with looking after the fry. Again I remember watching a video from Venezuala of a female pike with some very large juveniles in tow.

I believe that when buying cichlids, you should be carefull when some one says that they are selling a bonded pair. Especially when it comes to the larger, more aggressive SA (and CA) cichlids. The term mated pair may be a more appropriate term. They may have produced and raised fry in an aquarium before, however it doesn't mean they are mated for life, and will behave as a pair for life.
 

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Discus truly pair bond. They spend time in family pods/ shoals when not breeding and then pair off time and time again with the same mate to spawn.

Apistogramma do not pair bond and anytime I've seen folks post that they do (or that they have a "bonded" pair), I think to myself that they simply don't know what that term means.

If you think about it... it is likely that cichlids with a high predation rate on displaying and dominant males would not be a bonding species since it is highly likely that those females with a tendency to lock onto a specific mate found themselves mate-less all too often!
 

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I also have seen pairs of discus who have strong bonds together. But what happens in a large aquarium where there are more same species?

Oh and could geo. Altifrons pair bond together?
 

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I do not believe that Altifrons is a pair bonding species.

In extremely large aquariums, the Discus bonded pair go off to have a brood in private and then mix back into the group when not brooding.
 

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Number6,....discus can form a strong pair bond in our home aquarium but not necessarily. There are plenty of stories where people experience a pair falls appart and the female start spawning with an other male.

I had a very nice and interesting conversation with a very experienced discus breeder and owner that keeps his discus very diferently compared to most of us. While the rule of thumb is 10 gallons for each discus he keeps them at 30 or more gallons for each discus. From his group of wild discus (9 I belive) two pairs formed. They spawned and each raised a batch of fry. After the spawning the pairs fell appart and the fish rejoined the group. This is exactly what Peter describes.

Maybe it is the standards we choose as "save number" that should be reconsidered. We humans look at the bare minimum required number of fish, water quantety, dimensions and volume to keep on top of the water qualety. This person gave the fish A LOT of room compared to the majority and suddenly the fish act more like they act in the wild. We follow the "rules" that are set by experimenting over several decades of fish keeping but have we set the "rules" correctly? Do we still keep out fish in to cramped tanks cousing a change in behaviour?

I'll stick to discus but basicaly the same for the other chichlids that live in groups. In nature discus live in groups of 30 to say 60. Enough choice for a decent partner. In our home tanks we have mostly 6 discus (75 gallon or larger) and there is only a limited choice. So it isn't that odd if the dominant male sticks with the dominant female. Thats his best chance of producing a healthy new generation.

Domesticated breed discus show very limited behaviour compared to wilds. Wilds act much more like other chichlids and show much more communication. The breeding behaviour is diferent as well. Decades of breeding domesticated discus seems to have a serious impact on their ability to raise fry or even spawn. Is this coused by inbreeding for example or is the reason in the fact that discus don't raise broods when they consider the environment is to dangerous or the conditions are to bad for fry? For people that doubt the intellects of fish and still think fish are stupid I will give an example. Discus rarely raise small batches of wigglers. If the number is below 30 there is a small change but below 20 they just don't raise the batch and often eat them or ignore the fry. Some of the fry might manage dough. The reason is simple. Raising their fry takes an awful lot of commitment and energy. It is not worth to raise only 20 fry becouse (in nature) maybe 1 will make it. New eggs can be produced within a week time. An other example. If a pair spawns in a home aquarium in a bussy living room with kids around there is a large chance they will eat the spawn. Simply becouse the environment is not save to raise fry.
 

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Since this is a theory, string responses can be quite long and opinionated. I believe there is no "real" answer to the pair bonding habits of a family as large as and geographically diverse as Cichlidae. This makes me think the phenomina we see in our aquariums is a combined result of the familys resilience and the very stable conditions we strive to keep our aquariums in.

To keep things short I will go to just one example of nature NOT being stable - the Amazon basin. Annually it cycles from isolated pockets of almost standing water and slow flowing tracts to flooding and raging waterway that covers, in some locals, over 80% of the land surface. The infusion of water is sourced in both an intense rainy season and/or a spring run-off of melted snow and ice from the mountains. Once things stabilize, THEN our cichlids pair and spawn and remain bonded until the conditions destabilize again - virtually ad infininatum.

So the pair bonding does for the most part exist - not forever but during favorable conditions for spawning. There are species which do not form strong pair bonds and I suggest their native habitat is more conducive to short spawning conditions.

Remember, this is just a theory but it makes sense to me.
 

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What if, in theory, we used one of our cichlid tanks to test the theory I have just presented. Very slowly over a years time we drop the temperature and water circulation (available oxygen). I bet our cichlids metabolism would slow down and they would stop spawning. Hold these conditions in our tank for 2 months then slowly start raising temperature and circulation. Apetites will return, and particularly the females who start to ripen up for mating, and territorial and sexual aggression will increase. And so on-------.
 

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Interesting theory Lestango. Like I wrote before I stick to Discus in my examples and theories.

Some people actualy use temperature, PH, GH and flow to induce spawning of wild discus. I know a breeder that keeps the GH steady and very low and let the PH shift from 7 to 5,5 in a period of approximately a week, performs a large wc and the cycle starts over again. Some keep the PH steady and work with the GH to drop. Some let the water degrade and perform a large water change with fresh soft water (approximately 6 F cooler) to induce spawning.

To simulate the seasonal shift in our home aquarium like in the Amazon happends is just not posible. Pressure of the water height is also part of this becouse there can be 6 meter height diference between dry season and wet season. We can simulate small parts of it like you mentioned and this methods are used by breeders already for several decades.

A specie that needs a seasonal temperature change are Gymnogeophagus species. Without the temperature shift they don't get their rest and regeneration period and often those fish die within 2 years while their normal age is around 8 years.
 

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Dutch Dude said:
Number6,....discus can form a strong pair bond in our home aquarium but not necessarily. There are plenty of stories where people experience a pair falls appart and the female start spawning with an other male.
This is to be expected. Pair bonding is not a binary situation but simply a descriptive way to label a set of behaviors in certain species. A species would likely be quite short lived if they locked themselves onto a single mate without re-evaluating once in a while... I am sure that if we studied their behavior long enough we would document all the usual breeding strategies seen in other pair bonding animals like birds...

Using human terms for fun: cheating, divorce, re-marriage and adoptions can all be seen!

I also agree with what you mention about the "rules". I can't see it in Discus due to size limitations but I have seen it first hand in apistogramma when I have kept 60 in a 75g tank or other situations that mimic more natural conditions for a species. Behavior that used to seem strange or at odds with survival instincts then made sense!
:thumb:
 

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Fascinating stuff. Any primary literature on this? I know cichlids get a good deal of interest when it comes to parental care.

An interesting experiment might be to "bond" a female with a 'mediocre' male.... then down the road, add a fairly attractive male to see who she hooks up with.

I've seen sort of this kinda thing with my severums. One female and a sorta bland male spawned once in the 75g. I moved them into the 125g together, where the female took quite a liking to my stunning turquoise male. They spawned several times.

Very analogous to people: My bland male sev is a fairly perceptive fish. He's got a personality that's pretty interesting. Swims down and presses an eye up against the glass when I'm futzing with a filter underneath. Of course all of the females seem to like the good looker, who I don't think has as much going on inside. :lol:

-Ryan
 

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There are tons of primary information.

Here in the less temporate waters of North America, the sunfish and black basses demonstrate parental care not unlike cichlids, but to my knowledge do not pair off for other than the actual spawning. I cannot think of a single example where pair bonding as we know it with cichlids occurs in waters where the spawning period is as short as the North American waters.

In Arkansas where I lived for a while, the black-bass species might spawn 3-4 times during a warm summer while in Minnesota only 1-2 times. I have watched many male Largemouth Bass guarding eggs and fry against raiding bluegills.
 
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