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Gymnogeophagus balzanii
Ruffer at

These fish originally come from Paraguay; Rio Parana. Their natural water conditions are 72-79 F. neutral, medium-hard water, pH around 7.0, 8-13 dGH at a temperature between 78-82 F. This fish can get to eight inches in total length in the wild. (My male was only five inches in total length.) This species was discovered in 1972 by Heiko Bleher, from Frankfurt, West Germany and Thomas Horeman, London, England. The fish seen in the hobby are captive-bred and wild caught specimens are rare.

I was walking through Capitol Aquarium, located in Sacramento, CA., one gorgeous summer day in 1995 when I looked into a tank containing seven four inch fish. What caught my eye was their body shape and markings. They were not streamlined like most fish. They were not shaped like an angelfish.

Vertebrate Organism Fin Fish Grass

They were definitely a different shape than any fish I had ever encountered in all my years of fish keeping. The males had a huge clear liquid filled 'hump' on their forehead that started at the top of the head at the beginning of the dorsal fin and continued down to the upper lip. The shape of this 'hump' gave them a very square and large looking head. They also shimmered with dazzling iridescent colored speckles on their sides ranging from green to blue. These beautiful speckles could also be seen in their ventral and anal fins. The male had a long extension on his dorsal fin as seen in most cichlid species. Both sexes had the vertical bars. The females were a bit smaller than the males, approximately two and a half to three inches, and had no 'hump' on her head.

The female does not have this beautiful coloring. There was a couple in one corner shaking at each other and the male was flaring all his fins at the female. From past experience with cichlids these two probably had become a mated pair. I bought them.

I took them home and put them in a 30-gallon tall tank. I had placed a four inch flower pot with the opening facing forward so I could watch them, a Hydro-Sponge® #5 towards the back of the tank and a large live Anubius nanna plant. I fed them flakes, frozen brine shrimp and a couple times a week live tubifex worms.

One week later the pair spawned in the flower pot. The pair laid their eggs on the inside lower part of the pot. The female is taking care of the eggs while the male is protecting the female and spawn from invaders, even though they are the only inhabitants.

When I bought the pair I did not know how they spawned. I thought they spawned like any other cichlid species. To my surprise, yes and no. This species is a "Delayed Mouth Brooder." The female will pick up the eggs from 24 to 36 hours after spawning. I believe the female is going to pick up ONLY the fertile eggs in this way. With most mouth brooding cichlid species the eggs are immediately picked up by the female after the male fertilizes them. The male is a polygynist and this means that he will spawn with any female that is ready to spawn.

The female usually cares for the eggs and fry for about three weeks and then when she releases the fry they have absorbed their yolk sacs and are ready to eat newly hatched brine shrimp. With this spawn the female waited too long to release the fry. It was her first spawn so it really didn't surprise me. When she finally did release them they all died. I looked at a couple through my camera and could see she allowed them to starve to death. The next batch I removed and placed the eggs in a fine mesh net that I hung at the top of the tank. This way I would be able to check the progress of how long it would take for the eggs to hatch and the fry to become free swimming.

Here is an interesting tid-bit that I found interesting about the female after she finally released her fry that did not survive. I had another net hanging across the top of the tank with some two day old Corydoras paleatus fry. As I had finished cleaning out the bodies of her unfortunate fry, I accidently bumped the net containing the cory fry. Into the tank went seventy percent of the cory fry! My first instinct was to try and get all the fry out before the pair devoured them. To my surprise, the female began picking the little cory babies up in her mouth and after what appeared to be a 'swooshing' motion to 'clean' her babies, she would then release the fry. She did this for several days and the cory fry did not seem to be too upset with the whole idea. The third day the cory fry were large enough for me to remove them from the tank and place them in a tank of their own to finish growing out. This female definitely had a maternal instinct.

Back to the balzanii fry. It took four days for the eggs to hatch and another eighteen days to be free swimming. Now, when the pair spawn and I want to leave the eggs with the parents, I would know how long it would take before the fry were to be free swimming. The day the fry would/should be released I would start feeding the tank newly hatched baby brine with the hopes that some of the shrimp would get to the fry through the mothers' mouth even if she did take a while to release the fry.

I eventually sold all my fry and sadly, after a couple months lost the parents. After losing the parents I was really mad at myself for not keeping some of the fry to grow up to keep the species going for myself.

In December of 1996 I was looking at fish in a friends fish room. Just before leaving, with a breeding pair of Neolamprologus sp. "Daffodil" and a breeding pair of Julidochromis dickfeldi, something caught the corner of my left eye. It was a tank to the left of me on the lower level. I couldn't believe my eyes when I took a closer look. She had five grown Gymnogeophagus balzanii! One male and four females. Through our conversation about the fish I discovered that these were originally mine as fry. I had sold her about a dozen fry around the beginning of 1995. I was in 7th heaven. She told me she had never been able to get them to spawn and just wanted to get rid of them. She needed the tank space for species she was presently spawning. We made a deal and I took these five balzanii home. My friend came over two weeks later and while she was visiting the male was spawning with the largest female right before our eyes in a 55-gallon community tank. She couldn't believe what she was witnessing. She summed it up to my having the knack for keeping and breeding this pecies.

I placed these five fish in a 55-gallon community tank because I did not have a separate tank for them to spawn in at the time. Once they began spawning in the community tank I decided to leave them in there and only removed the female to a ten gallon tank for her to care for her eggs and fry in peace. The second female he spawned with was the smallest of the females. He treated this female quite differently than he did the first female. After the pair had spawned he refused to let her near the eggs. A couple times it looked as though he was holding the eggs himself, but he was not. As he would chase this female across the tank to keep her away from the eggs, the other tank mates wasted no time in devouring the delicious caviar. I have not seen the male of this species ever holding the eggs. As far as I know, in the wild they do not either.

When the smallest female spawned again, about a week later, I took the eggs as soon as the pair were done spawning. The eggs are very small and clear.

Amber Font Cuisine Liquid Dish

After the second day the eggs had two little black dots in each of them. After four more days the eggs began hatching and the fry had large yolk sacs and very little body to even be able to distinguish it as to what species it might be or whether or not they have even hatched. Two days later it can be seen that some of the yolk sacs have been consumed by the growing fry. (I found out later from a speaker at a local aquarium meeting that the bent backs these fry had were caused by too strong a water current and that most of these fry would not survive. I then started using a very minimal amount of water flow to keep the newly hatched fry until free swimming and have not had a problem since.)

As time went by, the day finally came for the female to release her brood. She definitely had a swarm of young around her. The female would begin collecting her fry because she saw me as a threat to her young. Each time I came into the fish room in the morning to feed, the female could been seen 'flicking' her fins and twitching her body at her fry to let them know danger was near and they would immediately swim towards her mouth for safety. She had collected all but three of her young and I could see they were trying to get into the refuge of their mother's mouth. After approximately four weeks the female began refusing the fry entrance to the safety of her mouth. Her job was done. She continued to care for and protect the fry when ever I came near the tank but, she no longer took them into her mouth.

I know when I lost mine I was hard pressed to find more but was lucky enough to find them at a friends house. The original pair was spawned at 76° F. and their pH was 7.2 with a dGH of over 13 . The new pair were spawned in a temperature of 76° F. and had a pH of 7.0 with a hardness of less than 8 dGH. These fish do not seem to mind the difference in parameters. I do think they spawn best if kept in a community setting and they are not aggressive towards others. The only thing they do while spawning is chase others way. They do no physical harm to these other fish. If one keeps them in a community tank remember to not place them in a tank with aggressive fish.

One more thing I found out about this species is that they are very susceptible to bacterial infections when too much waste is allowed to build up on the bottom of the tank. One really needs to keep up with water changes.
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