Q. I am requesting information on breeding the brichardi fairy cichlid fish. My pair has had two batches back-to-back, not even a month apart. From the first batch I only had four that survived, but the next batch was very large. I managed to save the smaller fry using a vacuum hose. I put them in a 10-gallon freshwater aquarium. They are only four days old, and I am feeding them small fry liquid food. I was only able to get about half of them out of the big aquarium. Could you please give some advice on how to keep the ones I have in the 10-gallon aquarium alive and healthy? Thank you in advance for your help.
A. You have one of the most interesting cichlid fish from Lake Tanganyika. These beautiful cichlid fish are a mainstay of the aquarium trade and for good reason. As you’ve found out yourself, they spawn readily. They also continue to get more and more beautiful as they grow to the aquarium maximum of about 5 inches. This is larger than most wild variants which rarely reach 4 inches. The extensions on the dorsal, anal and caudal fin (top, bottom and tail, respectively) can be quite impressive.
Although at least eight species make up the Neolamprologus brichardi-complex, N. brichardi and N. pulcherare the two species commonly referred to as “brichardis.” While the dark markings behind the eye in N. brichardi are the shape of a T lying on its side, N. pulcher has two slightly forward-leaning parallel bars that are almost vertical. The other members of the brichardi complex are N. falcicula, N. marunguensis, N. gracilis, N. savoryi, N. crassus and N. splendens. However, it’s unlikely you have one of these other six species.
In the lake, these cichlid fish form large social complexes composed of many pairs and younger fish. Generally each pair has a territory which it guards when danger threatens the group, either from a predator or another pair. In the aquarium, the breeding pair usually has a cave or shell as the central point of their territory. By now, you know that they are good parents, and they won’t bother their young until the fry begin to reach sexual maturity. By this time, there are usually several spawns growing up together in the aquarium. These cichlid fish don’t care how large the aquarium is; eventually, they will fill it with their offspring. This can make for a spectacular aquarium, with every possible size of brichardi, from tiny little hatchings to pairs, and the fantastic pair responsible for producing every fish in the aquarium.
Because it’s your goal to remove the fry and grow them in a smaller aquarium, you’re on the right track. However, most breeders remove the shell or cave containing the fry as soon as the eggs hatch. Place these fry in your 10-gallon aquarium filled with, at least, ½ water from the parent’s aquarium. The best filtration for this aquarium is an aged sponge filter that has been used in another healthy aquarium.
Don’t feed the fry until they reach the stage where they swim up off the bottom. Once they start swimming, add a bit of fry food in the form of baby brine shrimp or one of the professional fry foods available. Generally, these foods have a higher percentage of protein than foods for older cichlid fish. Some of the fry products available just don’t seem to be adequate. I don’t know of any breeders using liquid fry food to raise baby cichlid fish. I wouldn’t recommend any such commercial liquid fry food, but I have had success with several professional dry fry foods and even with the dry egg yolk product used in professional kitchens and more recently by discus breeders. However, baby brine shrimp is still the mainstay for several reasons. It survives for up to several hours in the fry aquarium, providing a great source of live food. Because it’s swimming around, it stimulates the prey-response drive in the young cichlid fish. Fed carefully, very little is wasted, and therefore it’s less polluting to the water. You can buy eggs and hatch them yourself, or you might ask your local fish store if they carry live baby brine shrimp, as it’s sometimes available. You can also purchase frozen baby brine shrimp, but feed very carefully so as not to foul the water. If you’re not overfeeding, you can do up to a 50-percent water change, weekly or biweekly . The more often you change the water, the faster the fry will grow.
One last note: The aquarium isn’t a natural habitat. Depending on the size of your aquarium and the aquascaping, you’ll eventually find that brichardi will kill older fry (young adults) if you leave them in the breeding aquarium that long. With a really heavily rocked 55-gallon aquarium, you may get a second pair breeding at the opposite end from the original pair, but eventually things get too crowded, and the young adult cichlid fish pay the ultimate price.
Best of luck growing baby brichardis, the “fairy princess” of Burundi cichlid fish.