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Altolamprologus and Their Fry
by Russ Fairburn (aka: Razzo)

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Plant Wood Branch Twig Trunk

Altolamprologus grow out tank


You see it quite frequently in Tanganyika cichlid internet forums: "My calvus have spawned, now what?" My first thoughts are, "Don't get your hopes up for any survivors" or "Get ready for massive fry die offs." Altolamprologus calvus & compressiceps (Altolamps) are notorious for having exceptionally high fry mortality rates in captivity. This article answers some common questions and shares some of my "best practices" which have helped me avoid those dreaded mass die offs.

In the ten years that I have been breeding Altolamps, I have experienced many highs and lows with my endeavors to keep their fry alive. I have suffered repeated mass die offs and struggled with not knowing the reasons for the losses. I tweaked my practices with each new brood and just when I thought that I had things figured out, I would wake the next morning to discover yet another mass die off. Believe me; I know the frustrations of wondering, "What the heck do I have to do to keep these fry alive?" Through trial and a lot of error, I was able to see my Altolamp fry survival rates improve from 0% to 95+%. The keys to success are water quality, diet, and physical environment.

Meet the parents

The focus of this article is not necessarily how to get your mature Altolamps to spawn, rather, what to do after they have spawned. In my experiences, mature Altolamps will pair or harem spawn. If they are provided with good water conditions and nutrition, it usually doesn't take long for them to start spawning and once they start, it's hard to stop them. Altolamps are known as substrate spawners and will spawn on rocks, in crevices, in caves, or in my preferred locale: shells. I prefer medium-large sized shells with a wide base like "Tonna Tessalata" and "Rapana" shells. I have never had an adult female get trapped inside one of these shells, which can happen with elongated, corkscrew shaped shells.

Botany Organism Underwater Fin Water

A. compressiceps pair (the female is nearest the opening of the shell)

In regards to male to female ratios, the conventional wisdom on internet forums is to start with a group of six in order to get a pair or to start with a proven pair. While that may be prudent in smaller tanks, once you increase the tank footprint to 48-inches, you have a lot more flexibility when it comes to a stable breeding group. I have enjoyed long-term success with harems (1m/5f) and I have had similar success with multiple pairs too (3m/2f). When attempting multiple pairs, it is important to have at least three males. The addition of a third male sufficiently distributes the dominant male's aggression among the subdominant males so that no one receives a lethal dose of aggression. The constant competition among three similarly sized adult males is very entertaining! However, this should not be treated as a "golden rule." Ultimately, the personalities of the individual fish will determine if multiple pairs will work in your tank. There are some males that just will not share a tank with other males.

Vertebrate Organism Fin Fish Underwater

A lone male calvus is standing guard over two of the females in his harem

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