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Geophagus steindachneri
By Kaycy Ruffer at

Geophagus steindachneri origin-ates in Columbia, in the upper reaches of the Rio Magdalena and its tributaries. They were first described by Eigenmann and Hildebrand in 1910. It has also been called Geophagus hondae and Geophagus pellegrini in the past. These fish reach a total length of six inches in the wild. It is an immediate mouth brooder, who picks up the eggs at the time of spawning. It is an open polygynist, which means the male will spawn with any ripe females. The female provides all the parental care.

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I usually go to one particular fish store. I have a habit of looking in their many tanks in hopes of finding Cichlids, Corys and other species that are paired off or already spawning. I have purchased Corydoras sterbai that had laid eggs all over the glass, "Kribs" that had paired off, etc. Keep your eyes open when looking in your favorite fish store because you never know what you might see.

This time I found a pair of Geophagus steindachneri. As I looked into the tank I could tell a female was definitely holding. This means the female has either eggs or fry in her mouth. I bought the pair and took them home. I was not sure that she would still be holding once I got her home. I was lucky and she did not eat her fry as some mouth brooding Cichlids might do when stressed. I would surely think seriously about stripping a female before she is bagged to take home in the future. Less stress on my part.

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I put the pair in a ten gallon tank for a few days. I stripped the female of her eggs/fry. I do this by holding the female with my right hand and squeezing her mouth together with my fingers on either side of her mouth. I then shake her up and down in the water and soon she starts releasing what she is holding. I usually take the eggs/fry the first time the fish spawns to be able to document how long it takes the fry to actually hatch and become free swimming. This way I will know approximately when a female should be releasing her fry.

A week after stripping the female, the male had taken the big leap out of the tank. At this point, I was very glad I had taken the fry. From my experience with other mouth brooders, I could tell they were about four days old, by the size of the yolk sacs. There were approximately 81 fry.

I put the fry in a net and hung it in a 10 gallon tank that had a sponge filter. After the fry became free swimming, I turned them loose in this tank. I started feeding them newly hatched brine shrimp. The fry were approximately two weeks old when I started adding finely ground basic flakes. I did twenty five percent water changes once a week. After the fry were large enough for sale, about one and a half inches in length, at three or four months of age, I began selling just a few of them.

I had moved the fry to a 20 gallon tank near a window. I left the fry in that tank for about five months. After selling most of the fry, I was left with six and the original female. I told my fiancé that I could not get rid of any more fry, because I needed to raise them up, so I would have a good chance of getting at least one male. Needless to say, I had three males and three females out of this batch of fry. I then placed these six fish in a 55 gallon tank to grow out more. After about a month. I decided the fry were large enough that the adult female wouldnt hurt them and I then placed her in the tank in hopes of getting another spawn.

I was lucky to catch the dominate male flirting with a younger female one day when I was just watching the fish, doing what fish do, swimming around. It was definitely something to behold. I noticed the male would get low in the sand of the tank and would flare all his fins. He also did something that really took me by surprise. It would look as though he was blowing a horn, as he extended his mouth and lower jaw. He would then begin shaking rapidly to the female who did not seem the least bit interested in these silly actions. He reminded me of a frog that is making his croaking sounds. The lower skin of his throat was all blown out.

The male would also let the water out of his mouth, little by little, like a frog letting out his music. I was really surprised to be allowed to witness this event. The males were sexually mature at seven months. I remember reading information about the species in my books and the main difference was a red area at the corners of the mouth. After observing them for several months more, I was able to tell the males had larger red areas at the corners of their mouths compared to the females. The most distinctive attribute of the males is the Red Hump that appeared a month or two later. Observing these fish closely, I noticed the red markings had disappeared on the corners of their mouths. My fiancé and I were talking about this and we think the markings are in the younger fish only. Not in the fully grown adults.

The males still did not look like their father but they were on their way to achieving his beautiful coloration. The males began showing the Red Hump which gives this fish its common name. The surprising part was, the male that was starting to show his "hump" was not even the dominate male! I have also noticed that the female, if observed from above, has a red mark area where the hump should be! I found this to be quite interesting.

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In May of 1997 the original female was holding! I then knew I had at least one male. From this spawn, of 122 fry, I was able to record that G. steindachneri fry hatched in two days at 78° F. and the fry became free swimming in another seven days. I was overcome with amazement at how the female could hold so many large eggs/fry. The eggs of most mouth brooders are quite large so I did not suspect that she would be holding 122 of them at one time.

In June, one of the young females that I had kept from selling, had also spawned and was now holding. I removed her to a twenty gallon tank of her own and unfortunately she ate her fry.

In the summer of 1998, I had moved the trio, two males and the original female, to a community tank. I needed the 55 gallon tank they used to be in for housing my Lethrinops lethrinus, that were growing so large they needed a bigger tank, but that is another story. I sold the other young steindachneri breeders and decided to just keep the original female, the dominate male and a subdominant male, which had a larger red hump. Now was the time to put this group in a community tank and quit breeding them.

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While observing the pair on August 4, I noticed they both helped in making a little shallow pit in the gravel. The other male had been constantly chased into the left corner of the tank, too afraid to come out of his hiding place. The pair would face each other and act like they were kissing one another. Then they would go side to side, with head to tail, and shiver a little bit. The female would then go to the bottom of the pit, and deposit four eggs. Sometimes she would turn and pick the eggs up immediately and then there was a couple times when she would wait and lay another four eggs before picking up all eight eggs at the same time. After picking up the eggs, the female would face the males side as he then moved lower into the shallow pit and she mouthed his ventral area. After they were done, they rested a couple minutes, the male chasing off intruders, and then the sequence would begin all over again. They took about one hour to finish their spawning ritual.

Geophagus steindachneri are a relatively easy species to maintain and spawn. I enjoyed observing their breeding behavior, and found working with them was a very rewarding experience.
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