Mikrogeophagus altispinosus (Bolivian Ram) A guide to sexing and breeding.
Mikrogeophagus altispinosus (Bolivian Ram)
A guide to sexing and breeding.
As time goes by, I have noticed that more and more people are beginning to become more and more interested in the idea of keeping, and breeding Bolivian Rams. Myself, being a big fan of these curious characters decided that I would have a go at keeping them, without any real desire to breed them. So off I went, did some research, asked some questions, and four or five years ago I bought my first pair of Bolivian Rams that lived happily among eight Black Skirt Tetras, and three Swordtails, in a twenty gallon tank. Maybe that set up isn't the ideal arrangement for some of you, but for me it worked out really nicely. Bolivian Rams proved to be the ideal species of fish to brighten up my community tank, and brighten up my day. They really are a wonderful little fish, and that's exactly the reason why I decided to try and breed them. I wanted more of them!
So off I went, back to the books, back to the forums, and back to google to find out whatever I could about numbers of Rams to keep, male to female ratios, tank sizes, sexing, everything! It's a wonder I don't wear glasses after all of the reading that I've done, and still doing! But that's enough about me, I had better be getting on with sharing whatever information that I have with all of you, before I bore you to much and you decide to go out and buy something other than Bolivian Rams, and we can't have that, now can we!
First thing to think about is the tank size. Personally, I wouldn't put these little guys in anything smaller than a twenty gallon tank, a thirty gallon is what I have used, and it worked out really well. Of course, you can go bigger if you would like to try for multiple pairings, but if you're just starting out, then a twenty gallon or thirty gallon is the way to go. It's better to start small, until you get an idea of what you're in for. When you decide on the tank size, then comes the fun part - setting it up!
To set up a tank that is comfortable for the Rams, and ultimately the most breeding friendly environment is pretty easy - you just have to follow a few simple rules. Have plenty of plants, have plenty of rocks (nice flat surfaced ones too), some driftwood, nice fine sand for the substrate, and have fun setting it all up! Pretty simple, don't you think! Bolivians love plants, they like to snuffle around the base of them, they might pick at them a little here and there, but they also offer the Rams some safety too. The rocks do the same thing. When the rocks are set up to form little caves, they offer the Rams a place to explore, a place to forage for food, and again a place for safety. The flat surfaced rocks that I mentioned earlier, in the rules, are very important - they are what the Rams will eventually lay thier eggs on. Do not forget the flat rocks.
How should I set up all these plants and rocks, you might ask? Well, really it's up to you. It's whatever looks good to your eye. But this is how I learnt to set them up, from a good friend of mine who bred Bolivian Rams for years, before I even got interested in them. Of course, after your sand goes in, plant some of your plants in a couple of corners of the tank, preferably either end - nice and close to the glass - making sure that they cover a few inches of the two pieces of glass that make up the corner - kind of like two little curtains. Then get one of your nice flat surfaced rocks and place that in front of the plants, making sure that there is about two to three inches gap between the edges of the rock and the plants/glass. I'll explain the reason for the gap a little later on. The reason behind setting up the plants and the flat rocks in the corners is quite simply because it gives the Rams more security when they have spawned, and they have to protect thier eggs and wrigglers. Any other fish or fishes that are in that tank have only one way to get to those eggs or wrigglers. They can't sneak in from behind or from the sides because there is glass in the way. If they want to try and get a snack, then they have to get through mum and dad, who only have to worry about thier front door. But like I said, you can set up the tank however you like, this is just an option. All the rest of your rocks should be scattered around for the Rams to hide behind, or making up little caves for them. The rest of the plants can be used the same way, put them where you would like them. This is one of my favorite part of keeping fishes! I love setting up the tank!
Filter placement and choosing a filter is important too. You need to choose a filter that is easy to modify for when the fry become free swimming. I like the HOB filters (hang over the back filters). The intake tube of those types of filters are simple to attach a piece of sponge or your wifes or mums stockings to! :) Word of advice - make sure you pick a pair of stockings that they're not wanting to use - it's safer that way! The reason behind this modification is because the fry are tiny and curious - you don't want to accidently suck them up into your filter. A sponge filter, one that you attach a pump to, is another good option. When placing your filter, put it somewhere away from the spawning area, if you can. If you can do this, then there is less chance of sucking up the fry, if the sponge or piece of stocking falls off the intake tube when you're not around. Plus you don't really want too much water current around the area for the fry to try and battle against. The spawning area really should be as calm and peaceful as possible.
Now it's time to add your water. Everyones water perameters are different, and some fish keepers are fussy about the ph, softness or hardness of thier water. This is what my ph read, straight out of the tap. My tap water was reading nearly spot on 8.0, which is a little higher than a prefered ph for the Rams, but in my opinion, if you can stabilize your ph, then quite often it's just as good as having the ph in a prefered range. I added quite a large piece of driftwood to my tank, which after a while actually lowered the ph about 0.1 - 0.2 anyway, so if you're worried about the ph being too high, then driftwood can be a nice, chemical free way of adjusting it slowly and slightly, and keeping it stable. The last thing you really want to do, is fiddle around with the ph while you're attempting to make your new Rams comfortable, or breeding them.
If you are just going to keep the Rams for a while, then a water temperature of 26 degrees C (80 degrees F) is a nice temperature. If you are going to breed them, then I recommend that you raise that temperature to 28 degrees C (83 degrees F). Now, Bolivian Rams can spawn in water as low as 25 degrees C, but I have had more luck with the eggs actually hatching in the 28 degree C temperature. PLEASE, MAKE SURE THAT YOU HAVE COMPLETELY CYCLED THE TANK BEFORE ADDING THE RAMS. Use your dechlorinator in the water and get yourself some nicely matured filter media from another tank, if you can, and add as much of it as you can to your filter. This should give you an instant cycle. I also recommend that you add six or eight other fishes to this tank - if possible - for a couple of weeks, and test the water each day, to make sure that the media that you have used will keep up with the bio load of the Rams. Better to be safe than sorry when it comes to adding new fishes to your tank. Plus those other fishes will keep the tank cycled, until you are ready to buy your Bolivians.
At this stage, you are ready to go out and choose a nice little group of Bolivians! :) I'm gonna go out and buy eight Bolivian Rams and put them in my tank for everyone to see, you might say! Well, it's not as easy as that! There are a few rules that are common to keeping any kind of cichlid, dwarf, less aggressive or more aggressive, it doesn't matter. You need to follow the male to female ratio. If this rule is followed to the best of your ability, then you should be able to keep these fish without any major dramas. The ratio is simple, you need more females than males. For instance, you decide on buying a twenty gallon tank. For a twenty gallon tank, I would not buy any more than five Rams in total, and your male to female ratio should be one male to three females. If you decide on five Rams, then it should be one male to four females. If you decide on a thirty gallon tank, then at the very most, you could buy two males and six females - although I personally would still stick to one male and three or four females. Any tank bigger than a thirty gallon, then a larger male to female ratio would be totally acceptable. The main thing is to have triple the amount of females as you add more males. 1-3, 2-6, 3-9 and so on.
There are a few reasons why this ratio should be put into place.
Example 1. You have three males and three females, two of the males decide that they would like to start spawning with one of the females. Those two males could get aggressive, fight, and if they're not seperated, one of them will be killed. Also the female won't care too much for being pestered by two or three males at a time.
Example 2. I'll use the same scenerio, three of each sex. The three males will fight to be the dominant male in the tank, the aggression escalates and the whole six of them will never get comfortable in that tank. There will be no time for relaxing and spawning in that tank, and quite often the females will get stressed and die because the aggression won't remain within the males.
Example 3. Sometimes males can be down right pests at spawning time, and for no apparent reason can be aggressive towards the females. A three on three set up is making the aggression more concentrated - two males picking at one female, three males picking at one female, two males picking at one male.
Aggression within a group of females is very, very low - sometimes you don't see any. If you have one male to three females, there will be no male to male aggression. If you have one male to three females, the male to female aggression is shared among three females. Both scenerios = less stress. Less stress = less dead Rams and a happier Ram owner. If you have one male to three females, your male has three lovely ladies to choose the perfect partner to spawn with. And it can make some healthy competition for the females - they can get to be more willing to spawn if they have to try harder to impress the male. Bolivian Rams are not very aggressive at all, but sometimes if that ratio is not put into place, then there can be trouble.
Next step is choosing the fishes. How do I know if I'm buying males or females? How do you tell them apart? These are questions that I hear all of the time. Well, here is where I help you pick the differences.
1. If the anal fin is more pointed/more defined angles, squarish in shape, then it's a male. If it's longer and rounder then it's female.
2. The little breeding tube, just in front of the anal fin. Kind of looks like a little bump. Well, the male has a smaller, more pointed one, while the female has a larger more rounded one to pass eggs through.
3. The dorsal fin can be a give away too. The female can have a gradual slope, sloping backwards at the front of the fin. And most males can have a longer third ray (the spikes in the fin). This isn't always accurate though.
4. Males tend to be larger and more colourful. The pinks and blues brighter, and the eye spot on each side much more vibrant.
Female Ram. Notice the anal fin. Long and rounded, no sharp edges, not squarish.
Male Ram. The anal fin is sharp and made up of angles, squarish. And not elongated.
Male Ram. See the breeding tube, in front of the anal fin? The little bump? It's smaller and pointy.
Female Ram. The breeding tube is larger and rounder.
When you buy Rams from your fish store, they are usually still quite young, and some of those ways I have shown you to sex them just can't be put into practice. But nine times out of ten, you should be able to sex them by looking at the anal fin, when they are still young.
So, you have chose your males and females to the best of your ability, and you are now ready to add these little guys and gals to thier new home! When you add all the fishes to the tank, give them time to settle in - don't just expect them to all fall in love and produce lots of little Rams in the first month of having them. They need to sort eachother out, create pecking orders, meet eachother each day and night, feed together, forage together, and just get used to the new surroundings. Some Bolivians start spawning quicker than others, and some of them do not need any kind of tricks to get them started. But others can take some time to get used to things, and need a little trick to be played on them to get them started. Give them one or two months at least before you try and push them into spawning. If they spawn earlier, then great! But as I mentioned earlier on in my guide, you will have to have that sponge or piece of stocking on stand by, to put over the filter intake, and you will need something to feed the little ones. I'll go through what to feed the fry a little later on. If they don't start to spawn for you, the little trick that I mentioned is quite simple! If your water temperaure is at 27 degrees C (81 degrees F), raise it to 28 degrees C (83 degrees F) and leave the tank alone for a week or two. After that time has passed, you then do a 50% water change. This drops the water temperature by around 2 degrees, simulating fresh water running into the little stream or area of water that they would be living in, out in the wild. That simple little trick should get them thinking about spawning.
Watching the Bolivians start to pair up is really beautiful. It's like a little aquatic love story! Very romantic! Just picture this... It's a beautiful, low lit evening, and at feeding time, two Bolivian Rams meet face to face, lips to lips, when they both go to eat the same piece of spirulina flake. Ok, ok, maybe I have been watching to much TV, but honestly that is probably what starts the whole thing off. Eventually a male and female will pair up, their colours will really pop out at you and you will see them following eachother around, rubbing sides together, foraging for food together, and have the occasional big smooch! Yep, that's right, they do what we call lip locking - underwater smooches! This lip locking is their way of impressing eachother. If it's male to male lip locking, it's a test to see who gets the right to be at the top of the pecking order. Whoever lets go first loses the contest. Once they have gone through the whole courting process, you might just see one of them, or both of them getting busy at cleaning the surface of one of those nice flat surfaced rocks that you have so kindly provided for them. It's at this point where that gap you left, between the flat surfaced rock and glass/plants comes in very handy for the Rams. They will usually dig what appears to be a moat or trench in the sand, all the way around the rock - sometimes they can do this after the eggs have been laid. Once all this happens then you can be pretty sure that a batch of eggs is to follow quite quickly. If all goes to plan, you could see somewhere between fifty and a hundred and fifty eggs on the rock, the morning after the cleaning takes place.
The amount of eggs is usually determined by the age of the female and how often she has spawned, so don't be disappointed if you only have thirty or fourty. Also, don't be disappointed if you find that the eggs have vanished within one or two days. The pair are still only learning, and there is quite a bit of work involved in fertilizing the eggs and looking after them properly. Sometimes there will be a problem with the eggs, and the parents can eat them. Sometimes they might leave the eggs for a little too long, and the other Rams in the tank can swoop in and eat them. It's all part of learning to be good parents. But sometimes the parents are repeat offenders, and that's when you have to step in and take the eggs under your own supervision, which involves you having a seperate tank set up and moving the eggs into it to let them hatch. To do this, you will need a container which is big enough to fit the spawning rock in, but small enough so that you can submerse it in the tank. It's very important that the eggs do not become exposed to the air - this is why you need to transfer the rock with the eggs on it, into the container, under the water. Once you have done that, you gently add the rock and eggs to the fry tank, again keeping the eggs under water. But once the parents have practiced a couple of times and are used to spawning, and have hopefully matured into good parents, they will learn to defend that spawning area ferociously. Some parents will pick it up quite qickly and do it from the get go, but it is quite rare with younger Rams.
I'VE GOT EGGS!!! WHAT AM I GONNA DO? ARE THEY FERTILE? HEEEEELP!!! I hear this quite a lot, and honestly, I was asking those same questions once. Between research and asking people that knew what they were doing, I got my answers, and then I was able to know what to do and what to look for. So, your female Bolivian Ram has laid, lets say one hundred eggs on the rock. The eggs should appear to be a light greyish colour to start with, and then in around twenty four hours they should change to an amber colour. During this time, if the parents are up to the job, the female will be hovering above the eggs, and the male will be flexing his muscles and protecting the spawning area. Occasionally they will swap jobs for a while. Along with the eggs turning amber, you will be able to see the eye spots quite clearly on the second day. The infertile eggs will usually start to turn white, along with any eggs that might have unfortunately been effected by fungus. In around three days, the eggs should hatch, with a little help from mum, and you will have a bunch of what we call wrigglers!
The female will then start to gather up the wrigglers and take them away to the moat/trench that both parents have dug around the spawning rock. Both the male and female will be constantly chasing the other fishes away from the spawning area, quite aggressively. You now have four to five days - before the babies become free swimming - to decide what you are going to do with the fry, and what you are going to feed them. Would you like to take the chance and leave them in the tank with the other fishes? Would you feel better if you were to relocate the adult fishes to another tank? Would you concider relocating the fry to another tank? Those are the options that you have, depending on your situation with fry tanks and such. If moving the fry is the decision you make, then I would advise you to leave a few of the fry with the parents, to attempt to keep the bond with the pair. Sometimes changes to the tank that are too big can split the pair, and you have to go through the whole pairing up process again. Be prepared to leave some behind, and be prepared for them to be picked off over time by the other fishes. Not very nice, but that's nature, and you have done your part in saving the rest of the fry for you to keep, sell or set up more breeding tanks with.
What do you feed such a tiny little fish with? Well, there is a few different things that you can use. Some are better than others, but sometimes the best things just don't come easy. I'll go through some of the options.
Liquid fry foods: This is probably the best food that you could possibly feed the fry with. Some pet/fish stores will sell this, but if you would like to try and make it, the ingredients should be fairly easy to get your hands on. Powdered egg, the yeast that you buy from health food stores, chick-pea flour, and filtered water are all some of the ingredients. If you look around on the internet, you can find quite a few variations of liquid foods, and how to mix them up. Liquid foods are a well ballanced diet for the fry, and the great thing about it is that when it's made up, it is really tiny - perfect for the tiny mouths of Ram fry.
Live foods: Newly hatched brine shrimp, is really the only suitable live food for the fry. They are small enough for the Rams to eat, and at that newly hatched state, the shrimp hold quite a bit more nutritional value than the regular brine shrimp that you buy frozen.
You can buy the newly hatched brine shrimp in some pet/fish stores, frozen, live, or freeze dried. And if you are clever enough, you can breed your own. I have never done this, so you will all have to warm up your researching fingers.
Infusoria: Infusoria are the tiny creatures that are found in water, mostly around areas which contain decomposing vegetation. This is probably my second choice of foods to feed the fry with, and it is pretty easy to make. You get youself a jar, and empty out the contents... C'mon, be brave, you've got hungry little Ram mouths to feed - mum or the wife won't mind the new jar of peanut butter tossed out! Ok ok, so to save yourself from being beaten around the head mercilessly, you get yourself a nice clean, empty jar. Now, it's outside with all of you! Grab yourself a handful of grass - making sure that it hasn't been sprayed with anything - and put it in the jar. Cover the grass with some dechlorinated water and sit it on the window sill, where it can get nice and warm in the sun. Now, just like cycling a tank, you need bacteria to grow in the grassy water, and bacteria thrives on oxygen. So if you can manage it, aerate the water with a small pump. The infusoria will feed on this bacteria, and multiply quickly. In a couple of days - just like cycling a tank - the water should become cloudy. This is the bacteria building up in the water. After another couple of days, the water should clear up, this means that the infusoria have grown, multiplied, and are eating the bacteria. Four days should give you a good starting amount of infusoria, and you can feed it to your fry. You can not see the infusoria, but it is there. When I used this method of feeding, I bought myself a medicine cup - you know the little plastic ones? I used it to scoop up some of the water from the jar, and you just tip it into the tank, away from the filter. Each time you take some water out of the jar, replace it, and you will have a nice supply of infusoria. I find that I use this method of feeding, combined with a liquid fry food, just to make sure they are all getting something.
Hikari first bites: I have never used this, mostly because I have never seen it in any of my local pet/fish stores. I have researched this, and people have used it to feed the Bolivian Ram fry. Their method of using this food, is to soak it for an amount of time that allows them to mash it up into the finest possible particles.
So there you have it! A few methods of feeding the new members of your family. But you can't just sit back and watch them grow just yet.
Bolivian Ram fry can be very sensitive to water conditions, and a little bit more work is required to keep them healthy. Water changes to keep the nitrate readings as low as possible. Also I have found them to be sensitive to rapid temperature changes, so be careful when you do the water changes. This is what I learnt to do. Instead of one big 50% water change, I did a 30% water change every second day. Each day is fine, if you can manage it. What I would do, is a 10% water change in the morning, middle of the day, and then in the afternoon. This way, you are doing a fairly large water change, but doing it slowly so that you don't get a large temperature change. Now you can sit back and watch these beautiful little fish grow.
All of what I have shared with you, throughout this guide is quite simply that - it's only a guide. This is how I managed the breeding of Bolivian Rams. Others may have other methods, and may disagree with mine, but if my methods work for you, then I'm happy! If they do not work, then by all means do some more research and find something that suits you better. But please, have a go at looking after these little guys. It will be worth every minute of your efforts.
Thanks for reading, and good luck!
Chris. AKA escamosa.
Last edited by escamosa; 05-22-2012 at 02:36 PM.
Three-fourths of the Earth's surface is water, and one-fourth is land. It is quite clear that the good Lord intended us to spend triple the amount of time fishing as taking care of the lawn. ~Chuck Clark