Most fishes have shown no apparent responsibility for the care of their fry – indeed, the every opposite may be true. However, with Cichlids, the picture changes completely. Here we have a species that chooses its mate, jointly selects and defends a spawning site, spawns out in the open and then safeguards its young offspring against all-comers. Can you imagine what it’s like to witness such a sequence?
Although Angelfish will spawn in the community aquarium (much to the discomfort of the other fishes), it is far better to give them a tank of their own where they can become parents without the added stress of having to consider the presence of other fishes.
If possible, the Angelfish spawning tank should have a fair depth of water, 38 cm (15″) or so. It should be furnished with some broad-leaved plants, such as Amazon Swordplants and a few pieces of slate (possible spawning sites) leaning against the sides of the aquarium; these pieces of slate should be fairly long and can be nearly vertical.
A good trigger to set Angelfish spawning is a slight rise in temperature, so set the thermostat to a couple of degrees higher than in the main aquarium.
To obtain a compatible pair of Angelfish – they seem to like to choose their own mates – the best way is to buy half a dozen young Angelfish, grow them up and let them self-select. There are numerous strains of Angelfish around and should you have a mixed selection then don’t be surprised if say, a Silver strain pairs off with a Gold strain, they’re not that selective. If you want to minimize peculiar colored offspring then it might be best to stick with one particular strain.
So, one day you notice that in your community tank two Angelfish are going around together, perhaps shooing away the other fish from one particular area. This may be the early signs of selecting a spawning site. Look closely at the vent areas of the Angelfish and you will probably be able to see the white ovipositor tube projecting from the vent. This tube is through which the female extrudes eggs and the male his sperm. Sexing Angelfish can be a hit and miss affair and although many authorities have decreed certain clues, there is only one definite clue to decide things for you.
The size and shape of the male’s ovipositor is different to that of the female. The male’s ovipositor is not so broad and it rather pointed; the female’s ovipositor has to be thicker in order to pass the eggs through it whereas that of the male only has to pass liquid sperm. Conjecture about the sexes of the fish may be the subject of some discussion, but really it is only relevant at spawning time – when the fish have already made their minds up about things – and this is the only time you will be able to see their ovipositors anyway. Now is the time to give them their own quarters.
Angelfish spend a few days selecting a spawning site, which may be a leaf surface, a piece of slate, a filter tube or even the front glass! Whatever they choose, they will then clean it scrupulously by biting off any debris and spitting it out.
When satisfied that all is well, the female fish will then make a few practice passes up the spawning site, pressing her ventral surface against its whole length, with her long bony pelvic fins folded back along her body.
Eventually, she will repeat this exercise but this time eggs will be laid on the surface of the spawning site. The male will have been watching all these manoeuvres and soon will make similar passes up the spawning site to fertilize the eggs.
Keeping the fertilized eggs clean, and supplied with a flow of oxygenated water, becomes the most important task for the two adult Angelfish. They will fan the eggs continuously with their pectoral fins and, without warning, are likely to transfer the whole batch of eggs to a new, previously selected and cleaned site, much to your consternation as you may have thought they were eating them!
After a couple of days, the eggs hatch and become a wriggling mass of tails and egg yolks. The fry will remain on the spawning site for about a week before they rise, as one, and become free-swimming young fish. During this time the parents continually take them into their mouths to clean them before returning them to the spawning site surface; you have to be brave to watch this – there’s an overwhelming urge to net out the parents to protect the fry!
Now the parents really begin to worry! They actually herd the young to where they want them to be; any fry that ventures too far from the crowd is rapidly sought out, taken into the parent’s mouth and spat back with his brothers and sisters. The parents even put the flock of fry to bed each night, back on the spawning site.
Feeding the young should commence with newly-hatched Brine Shrimp. Feed the parents their normal flake food as normal; any flakes that settle on the tank base may be fanned up by the parents, taken in and spat out as miniaturized food for their young.
But suppose the adult fish do not conform to this expected parental role, but decide to neglect or start to eat the eggs? What can you do then? You must remove the parents obviously and put them back into the main aquarium. You then have to take over as guardian of the fry.
Place an airstone near to the spawning site so as to create a flow of water over the eggs. Carry out partial water changes every other day in the fry tank to minimize fungal growth on the eggs. Cleanliness is the most important factor in artificially raising eggs away from the natural parents.
Do not add liquid fry food to the tank until the fry are free-swimming and actively looking for food. To do so, would be to waste the food and also run the risk of polluting the tank; remember, during the first seven days the fry are absorbing nourishment from their yolk-sacs and have no need of extra food.
The same previously made comments about feeding and leaving the light on over the tank 24 hours a day applies to these fry too.
After a couple of weeks of regular feeding with Brine Shrimp and so on should result in the tiny fry taking on the high dorsal and long anal fin typical of the Angelfish and you know that you have successfully bred another species.