Talk to me about Rams...
I think my tank is finally starting to settle down after some start-up issues and is finally starting to cycle, so I'm starting to think what I can add to it. (If anyone is following my thread on that, I'll update it tonight once I take one more round of test #'s).
I'm thinking I'd like to add a pair of Rams in the near future. So, I have a 44g with lots of plants and a few caves and a gravel bed. pH currently hovers around 7.4, kH around 3, gH about 9, and I keep the temp at ~78. I like the German Rams (Papiliochromis ramirezi), but from the profiles I've seen, I think the Bolivian Rams (Microgeophagus altispinosa) may be better suited to my water parameters (slightly basic and a bit cooler). But, I've also seen the profiles for both species be all over the board, so I'm looking for a little first-hand feedback.
Has anyone kept these guys? Any thoughts or suggestions?
I have kept and spawned both, so here's some information from my experience and extensive research.
First, both species are now in the genus Mikrogeophagus [with the "k"] since the Swedish ichthyologist Sven Kullander sorted all this out in 2003. Both species have been in several various genera since their initial describing by Haseman [the Bolivian, in 1911] and Meyers [the common ram, in 1948]. One still finds them under incorrect genera depending when the reference book was written. Kullander's revision of the Chiclidae was published in the Checklist of the Freshwater Fishes of South and Central America (2003) edited by R.E. Reis, S.O. Kullander and C.J. Ferraris Jr., and is considered the accepted valid status.
M. ramirezi is a very sensitive and delicate species. Although most fish sold in stores now are commercially tank or pond-raised, this fish has clearly retained its preferences for very specific water parameters (pH, hardness and temperature). There have been many threads on this and other forums about these fish not lasting more than a few months, some have better luck and the fish survive a couple years. In all cases to my knowledge, this is due to the water parameters. I know of aquarists who have maintained these fish for more than 4 years (so far) in water that is what they need.
And this is--very soft, acidic and warm. Their natural habitat are small shallow clearwater streams found in isolated oases in the savannas within the central Orinoco basin in Venezuela and Columbia. The water hardness is so low is can scarcely be measured, less than 1 dGH and KH, with a pH around 5 and a temperature of 28.5C/83F in the early morning. I had good short-term results maintaining and spawning this fish in water with zero hardness, pH 5.5 and a temperature of 79F. I am certain that the fish's early demise was due to the cool temperature; this was a 90g community aquarium and I kept the temperature at 79F. I know other aquarists with similar water and at higher temperatures (82-84F) who have now had this fish spawning over 4 years running.
This species is best kept in pairs, and fortunately it is easy to differentiate males and females. It is usually best to select mated pairs from the store, and it is normally easy to spot them by observation of their behaviours in the store tank. Pairs will remain fairly close together, the male driving off other males and females that come within a few inches of the pair.
M. altispinosus is quite different. First off, the species name is actually altispinosus, not altispinosa, due to an error in assigning the species name at some point; I can't immediately lay my hands on my notes for the explanation. This species occurs in Rio Mamore and Rio Guapore basin in eastern Bolivia, hence the common name. It is a considerably more adaptable species in terms of water parameters, due to its native habitat. The streams of this basin vary somewhat in hardness and acidity due to the different terrains over which each flows; pH of 7.6 has been recorded in some, and 5-6 in others, with varying degrees of hardness. This species is ideally suited to a more basic community aquarium of either acidic and soft water or moderately hard, slightly basic water (pH up to 7.6) with a temperature around 77-79F.
In its habitat, this fish is believed to live in solitude, only congregating to mate and spawn. It is therefore a good single cichlid for a community aquarium, as it is (for a cichlid) extremely peaceful to other fish. If the aquarium is large enough, 3-feet in length and up, two or three Bolivians can be housed provided they have space to establish their individual territories defined by wood, plants, or rock. Differentiating males and females is very difficult in young fish such as are usually offered in stores; as the mature, the male develops considerably elongated filaments on the caudal and dorsal fins.
Both species are substrate spawners, and the female practices good parental care of the eggs and fry right from the first spawn. Though in a community aquarium, this is usually unsuccessful, determined though she may be.
Ok, Byron - do you have a day job? ;-)
As usual, great info (though maybe a bit more than I was looking for)! Thanks for the background! (In my defense, though, I copy/pasted the scientific names from LiveAquaria.com.)
Based on your info, it sounds like the Bolivian may do pretty well w/ my water parameters, but I am a bit disappointed that they don't 'pair up' like the German Rams. If that's the case, I'll probably just end up sticking to one.
Wow, Byron. Great detail. Thank you for the detailed response. Your knowledge of the aquarium world is quite impressive. I will consider the Bolivian Ram when I eventually upgrade my tank. Thanks again!
I use several specialized sites for research, LiveAquaria I have only used a few times. I try to keep abreast of ichthyological nomenclature for aquarium fish but always final check things through the Ichthyological Department of the Research Divison, California Academy of Sciences. Their listing of current valid names is I believe the most accurate. And names can change frequently as scientific discoveries and advancements occur, giving ichthyologists a clearer understanding of the evolution and relationships of the fish families.
I currently have one male M. altispinosus in my 115g, a real beauty; this is not a common fish in this area's stores, and I would dearly love to find a female. Intererstingly, my male has been going through pre-spawning motions recently, cleaning depressions in the substrate and poking other fish away, even though there is no female in the tank. Wishful thinking I guess. A pair or even two males or females would work fine in enough space. If I can find some decent-looking fish, I might consider 2 in the hopes of at least one being female, since my 5-foot 115g would provide adequate separation, and probably lead to some interesting social behaviours that I'm missing now with just the one fish.
I've only ever kept ramirezi and my experience is, I suppose, typical. Originally the fish went into a community tank along with my male kribensis and the two fish tolerated one another for a while but eventually the krib was becoming visibly annoyed so the ram was moved. He lived for about a year in water ~79-80*F with a pH in the mid sixes and lowish hardness. Out of nowhere the fish stopped eating; he lived for about another month after that only eating periodically but I never could find out exactly what was wrong. I was left with essentially the same conclusion as Byron's: the lower-than-ideal temperature led to a compromised immune system that resulted in whatever illness finally caught hold of the little guy. They are great looking fish but in the future I won't be keeping them unless I've got a dedicated warm-water tank.
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