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Breeding Fish: Cichlids & Bettas

Almost all of the fish that we carry have been bred commercially on fish farms, and most of them have been bred in captivity for so long that they will breed fairly easily for hobbyists. Please realize that you do not “breed” your fish – you simply provide the conditions that they want, and they breed for you. We will discuss the different breeding strategies that our fish have, and give some examples of specific fish that will breed easily for you.

Easy Cichlids

Cichlids are a large family of fish that include angelfish, convicts, kribensis and firemouths to name some of the more popular ones; there are, of course, many African cichlids that are also available. Cichlids are an interesting fish to have breed for you since they exhibit a complex pattern of care for their babies. Cichlids lay eggs, either in caves or on rocks, and they defend the eggs until they hatch and then they continue to defend their babies. African cichlids are mostly mouthbreeders, which means that after the male and female have spawned, the female (usually – males sometimes) incubates the eggs in her mouth. When the babies are ready, the female spits them out into the tank, and in some fish species the female continues to offer the protection of her mouth for the babies until they get too large.

The two cichlids that will absolutely for sure spawn for you are the convict and the kribensis. Often the first spawning event for either of these fish in a community tank will be announced by the pair taking control of one half of the tank, and the rest of the fish cowering in the other half of the tank. Cichlids are very protective of their spawning, and in smaller tanks (less than 30 gallons) when they spawn they will try and claim the entire tank for their spawning territory. Kribensis spawn in caves, and an overturned clay flowerpot, with a notch taken out of it or the hole enlarged so the fish can get in is a perfect spawning site for them. Convicts will pretty much spawn anywhere, but they prefer a flat rock cave.

Once you have a pair of either of these cichlids, or others like firemouths, it is very important to give them a tank of their own in which to breed, as they will make life completely miserable for any other fish in the tank in which they are spawning. A 15 or 20-gallon tank is fine.

In terms of equipment, you really don’t need anything other than a heater and a simple sponge or box filter. If you want to put gravel in that is fine, but it really isn’t necessary. For convicts or firemouths put in some flat pieces of rock, and lean them against each other so as to make a cave. For kribensis, take a 6” or so clay flowerpot; turn it upside down so it rests on its rim, and ream out the bottom hole, which is now on the top, so that the hole is big enough to let the fish swim into the pot. The convicts or firemouths will spawn on the flat rocks, and the kribs will start their family in the flowerpot. Typically about a week after they have laid the eggs, the fish will parade their babies around the tank. Live baby brine shrimp is the best food for the babies at this stage, but they will also do fine just with finely ground up regular flake food. Be sure to do 20% water changes every couple of days. The parents should be removed from the tank after a week with the babies, since they will want to spawn again and will eventually consider their own babies an impediment.

Bettas and Other Nest Builders

Bettas, along with gouramis and some other fishes, are bubble nest builders when it comes to spawning, and what we say about breeding bettas applies to all of these fish. The male builds a nest at the top of the water using bubbles that he blows, or sometimes using small pieces of plants in the nest. some folks will even float the bottom of a Styrofoam cup, to give the male a place to start. Often you will notice the male bettas we have for sale will have built a bubble nest in their container.

In a tank with other fishes, although they will often build bubble nests, there is no possibility that these fish will successfully spawn and raise babies. To get them to spawn all you have to do is to set up a small tank – 5 or 10-gallon is fine. The water temperature should be around 80 degrees, and the tank should have a good, tight fitting cover. It is important that you condition both the male and female separately. You can condition the male in the breeding tank, but the female should be kept apart from him; the best way is to keep the female in a small “breeding trap” or other clear plastic container that floats in the main breeding tank. The two fish being able to see each other gets them into condition fairly soon. When the male has built a nice nest, and the female is distinctly fat when viewed from above, let the female loose in the main breeding tank. If all is ready, the fish should start courting, and soon they will position under the nest. In a series of embraces, the female will let loose eggs, the male will fertilize them, and he will spit them out into his nest.

After they have finished spawning, remove the female. The male will guard the nest until the babies hatch and are free swimming; once they have hatched, and look like little slivers of glass, you should remove the male. Lower the water level to about 4 – 5”, since when the baby fish develop the structures that allow them to breathe atmospheric air they cannot take deep water. The babies need to be fed liquid commercial fry food, green water, and/or strained cooked egg yolk for a few days, until they are large enough to eat live baby brine shrimp and finely ground prepared foods. In a few weeks the babies will be large enough to move them into a bigger tank, and in a month or so
you will have to separate the young males into individual containers.