Breeding Festivums (Mesonauta insignis) - Got it right the first time
If you had to pick the most underrated commonly available new world cichild, if festivum didn't head the list it would certainly be up there near the top. These are beautiful fish, sort of arrowhead shaped, reenish brown shading to cream, with long pelvic fins and subtly speckled tail, dorsal, and anal fins. There's also a heavy dark brown stripe that starts just behind the eye and runs to the back point of the dorsal, and an eyespot at the base of the tail. And just to make things more interesting, they have a pattern of vertical stripes that vary according to mood from not visible through green to almost black. (A festivum in fight/flight mode could almost be mistaken for a convict, so bold the stripes get.) The particular batch I have managed to lay hands on also has a lovely golden throat.
As with may fish in the hobby, Festivums you are likely to see are not the fish they are named after. Mesonauta festivus is rarely imported. You are much more likely to find M. insignis (from whence the other common name: Flag cichlid), or M. acora. There are another half dozen species, described and undescribed, that are occasionally available. They are difficult to distinguish. The easiest way to do so is to find out the source of the wild fish. There are a number of sites that document the various species, their source localities, and their differences. One of them can be found at Mostly Cichlids - Is that a Festivum?.
Now, if you go out on line to find festivum beeding tips, you'll be largely diasppointed. They're isomorphic, so you can't tell male from female at a glance. They're monogamous pair bonders, and they're nearly as picky about their mates as people. Badman notes that they are substrate spawners, that they are difficult to sex, and that they are hard to pair, but pair for life. Mongabay rates them an 8 of 10 in breeding difficulty, " due to troubles with inducing the pair to spawn". Animal world does have a better description of breeding (Flag Cichlid, Mesonauta festivus, also called the Festivum Cichlid), but notes they are, "somewhat more difficult than other cichlids to breed in captivity".
So, I obtained a 55 gallon tank, which sat in my garage until my LFS could lay hands on some good festivums for me. Finally, they arrived. With isomorphic species (the sexes look the same), and with hard to pair species, I like to get at least a half dozen. Since I hadn't set up the 5 yet, I purchased six juveniles, selecting for good finnage, golden color on the throat, and to the frustration of the person catching them, speed and ability to evade the net (and boy did that come back to bite me.) I initially hosed them in a 55 gallon south American community with tetras, cories, and plecos. Later I moved them and some cories I was planning on breeding to a 20 long, and then parceled out the cories to breeding tanks, and moved the festivums to a 33 tall. I mention this to point out that, while moving fish around is generally not a good idea, these guys were shuffled about quite a bit before finally going into the breeding tank.
Setting Up the Breeding Tank
Finally, I set up the 55 for them to grow out, pair, and breed. The tank has a 2" sand substrate with Malaysian trumpet snails stirring it. There's a large hunk of java moss covered driftwood in the middle of the tank. Filtration is with a pair of hydrosponge 1 filters, matured for months in other active community tanks, stacked three sponges high, and placed one in the back corner of each end. This causes very little water movement – just a slow cycling. The tank is kept at 80ºF with a 150 watt submersible heater in the center of the tank. For breeding substrate and possible hiding spots, I placed five 6" clay flowerpots on the sand on either side of the driftwood (I eventually reduced this to three to one side only). I planted with a number of species: Hygrophilia corymbosa "angustifolia", H. difformis, Ludewegia repens, and Hydrocotyl brasiliensis (Pennywort). I also let a good amount of pennywort float on the surface. This is all lit with a 2 bulb shop light from a big box store, putting out 80 watts of 6500K light 12 hours a day. Into this I introduced my six young festivums.
I gave them a varied daily feeding. Three different types of flake, 2 different pellets, and possibly freeze dried bloodworms 3 or 4 times weekly. Frozen bloodworms or mysis shrimp or spirulina enriched brine once or twice weekly, and live brine and blackworms at least once weekly (and on Sunday they fasted).
A Short Lived Success
Initially, all six tended to school together, but over time two claimed the territory over the three flowerpots. I thought I might be seeing a pair form, and found that I was right about three days later, when I found the female hovering over a 2" round patch of quite small, whitish eggs (I guess about 200, but there were more than I cared to count.) The four remaining fish had been relegated to the far side of the driftwood, and any that came out of the Hygro thicket on that side the male rapidly chased back into hiding. "Away we go!" I thought.
Such disappointment when the next day the eggs were nowhere to be found. However, it is not uncommon for new cichlid pairs to eat their first (or first several) spawns. I had a pair, and I was past what the limited information out there indicates is the hard part.
At this point, I removed 3 of the 4 unpaired fish (2 to the 33 high, 1 to the 55 gallon community where they were initially housed). The fourth and smallest, the one that prompted the fish store employee as near to vile language as I have ever seen her, remained persistently elusive. With the amount of sand that had gotten kicked up, I gave her up for a bad job, les I accidentally fish out one of my breeding pair. I also pulled out two of the five flowerpots at this point.
And Away we Go
It didn't take the pair long to get back to business again. They picked the pot nearest the driftwood for their spawn this time and drove the third wheel into hiding in the thickets. On the second day, the color of the eggs darkened. As small as they are, I wasn't 100% sure, but I think I was seeing eyes.
During this time, I continued to feed the adults lightly once a day (on the same schedule). The female tended to hover over the eggs, fanning them with her pectoral fins.
I was unable to locate anywhere how long it would be until hatching, so I was a bit surprised on the third day to find the eggs gone from the flowerpot. A bit frustrated too, since I thought I was seeing another false start. then I noticed that a patch of driftwood was grey and pulsing, and there they were, looking for all the world like eggs with tails, in very nearly the same configuration as they had been on the flowerpot. Over the next six days, the parents moved the fry several times between that spot and one near the top of the wood, where they cleared a patch of moss about 3" around. every day the yolk sacs shrank incrementally, and at about 4 days the fry started to look less like eggs with tails, and more like baby fish with goiters. Finally, after 6 days (the morning of this writing), the fry ran through their egg sacs and went for their first swim.
How Fast is Too Fast?
On the day after the hatch, I noticed that the third wheel, the speedy, wily, elusive one, was nowhere to be found. So I went in there with a net and chased it out from behind a filter. The pair had be at it, and it was missing some scales. Apparently the parents get really short tempered with interlopers in their territory when they have fry. They quickly chased it into the opposite corner of the tank. Fortunately or not, the third had been beaten up enough that I was able to net it out and put it in my 55 gallon South American community, when it has mostly recovered (it's still a bit timid).
Feeding the Swimmers
On the second day after the hatch I was able to lay hands on a culture of micro worms and get it running (my infusoria experiment was less successful). The feeding schedule will be as follows or the next several days: Microworms in the morning. Frozen rotifers in the mid afternoon.Cyclop-eze powder (and food for the parents every day) at night. I expect to graduate them to baby brine in about a week.
At this point, we are up to the present. I'll make the occasional progress report until the fry are large enough to sell.
They spend periods of lights out down near the substrate. While the lights are on, they swim in a globe around the parents. One thing that freaked me out was during the midday lighting hiatus, when the tank isn't really light, but isn't actually dark either, some of the fry headed for the bottom, and some stayed in their swarm. The parents swam to the bottom and picked the fry up in their mouths and spat them back into the school. On the one hand, I was initially worried that they were eating the fry, and I would have to move the parents (I have been advised not to do that, since apparently the pair bond is strengthened by consistent surroundings). On the other, when they spat the fy back into the school, the sand that they had picked up with the fry dribbled down on the driftwood, which solved a question that had puzzled me since I noticed white specks seemingly growing there. I was wondering if maybe there was something in there of which I was unaware that was laying eggs. Nope. Just sand.
OK, now we really are up to date.
25 January 2009
The fry are about the size of 3 day old swordtail fry. While they still largely bunch up around their parents, they are in a lot looser formation than they used to be. Also, they tend to be in a bunch around each parent, and sometimes a group will break off and swim between them, sometimes the length of the tank.
Did a 10 gallon water change with aged and heated water last night. I'm going to try and do that every other day. I keep a 15 gallon rubbermaid tub full of treated water in the room. I keep it room temperature for Sunday changes (to try and get my cories breeding), but I have a spare heater I can sit in it the rest of the week.
I also need to start thinking about setting up a grow out tank or so that I can move any fry that get conspicuously larger than their sibs out and raise them for auction.
Wow! I really enjoyed reading your post. Congrats on the spawn. Festivums are a beautiful and, as you stated, an often overlooked fish. Good luck with the babies.
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