In terms of maintenance, think of them as satanopercoids. That is, the water must
be kept scrupulously clean. Gymnogeophagus balzanii
is not particular about the chemistry
of the water, just the quality
. I think of Gg. balzanii
as the canary of the neotropical cichlid world: when water quality erodes in a community tank of mixed cichlids, these are the first to react to it. And react they do.
The neuromasts of the head (sensory pits of the lateral line system) turn red and inflamed and, if nothing is done to correct the water situation, they will begin to erode — a condition known to discus enthusiasts as "head hole." Drugs won't help. Only quick and massive intervention in the filtration and quality of the water will. Large (50 percent), regular water changes are a must, as is high-quality filtration.
Unlike the satanopercoids, however, these fish needn't be kept hot. Hailing from the subtropical regions of Paraguay and Argentina, they can take temperatures down to the low 60s, but are best maintained at 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Feeding is no problem at all. The regular repertory of prepared, frozen and live foods suffice to keep these eager eaters in the pique of health. They do sift the substrate, so sinking foods are relished. Their molariform, pharyngeal-mill teeth suggest that they feed on snails and other shelled invertebrates in the wild.
Despite Richter's (1973) description of Gg. balzanii
as a peaceful, community tank resident, in my experience they are anything but, including those that are tank-raised. Males are particularly aggressive: In a community including several males, a dominance hierarchy will be established early on. In a one male/one female situation, the female will be harassed incessantly as Gg. balzanii
males are programmed to do just two things: eat and court.
Like the red hump eartheaters (see Part 9, AFI
, January 1993), these are best maintained as harems — one male to at least two and as many as five or six females, depending on the area of the tank. Obviously, ceramic flowerpots, rockwork, PVC pipes, driftwood and so on will allow females to escape the male's unwanted attentions and will provide an eventual haven for egg-carrying females, recognized by their distended throats, skulking behavior and total avoidance of food.
Mature, reproductively active males spend most of their non-feeding moments actively courting any and all females in their immediate vicinity. Male courtship behavior is similar to that of red hump males. It is perfunctory and consists of head snapping and lip extrusion.
Unripe, unreceptive females flee — ripe, receptive females respond aggressively. They establish and defend territories with a spawn receptacle (e.g., rock) as a focal point and spend much time cleaning the receptacle or digging in the territory. About 24 hours prior to egg laying, ripe females assume brood-care coloration, which consists of a darkening of the mid-lateral splotch and bandit eye-cheek stripe and a darkening of the edges of the ventral fins. This distinctive coloration, not unlike that of female dwarf cichlids of the genus Apistogramma
, will be maintained throughout spawning and subsequent brood care.
Site preparation is the sole responsibility of the female until about one hour before the actual spawning event. Her thick genital papilla (tube) will have appeared by now. The male, who has been courting any and all females in the tank, will begin spending more time near the spawning site and, as the time grows near, will participate in "nipping-off" the object where the eggs will be placed.
Eventually, both male and female begin a series of dry runs over the receptacle, pressing their abdomens to the surface — the male's tube will have appeared. Approximately 30 minutes after commencing this dress rehearsal, the first eggs appear. The eggs are laid in a haphazard series of intersecting lines that eventually forms a circular plaque of 200 to 500 ivory, elliptical (0.5 x 1 millimeter) eggs pasted directly to the surface — no filaments — along their long axis. Egg laying is over in about one hour.
With the male's role discharged, he is summarily chased away — and kept away — by the female for the next 24 to 48 hours while she guards and fans the eggs before chewing the larvae out of their eggshells and incubating them in her mouth for an additional six to eight days (they are delayed mouthbrooders). Interestingly, like the "juruparoids," the female covers the eggs with a fine layer of sand or gravel.
In many spawnings of Gg. balzanii
that I have been fortunate to witness over the past decade, which involved many different individuals, the female, with one exception, always took complete charge of incubating and rearing the brood. I did have one particular male who routinely turned the tables on his many consorts and took over the job of raising the kids completely, but I have never witnessed biparental cooperation. However, I have always spawned them in harems and the males seemed just as happy to leave in order to spawn with the next ripe female. When maintained in a harem situation, the females tend to cycle and ripen together so that it is not unusual to have two or three females spawn with the same dominant male within a few hours of each other.
As was recommended for the red humps, egg-carrying females should be gently removed to a smaller "brooding" tank where they can be left to raise their kids and to recover fully before reintroduction into the harem. Mom can be trusted with her kids two to three weeks. It's neat to frighten them and watch them scurry for safety into mom's waiting mouth (this will be discussed in a future installment of this series).
The fry, despite Richter's (1973) experience, are too small to take newly hatched brine shrimp and should be fed on the usual diet of microworms, Liquifry and so on, provided to other gymnogeophagine fry for a few days. Growth to 1 inch is rather slow, despite regular water changes and copious regular feedings. The fish are sexually mature at a size of 2 to 3 inches, which is attained at one year or so.
Info courtesy of Wayne Leibel's article on this fish, found at this location: