John Rundle explains how to breed this popular dwarf cichlid.
When visiting a new fish shop in my area my attention was drawn to a tank of fish that were shining like brightly coloured butterflies. Mikrogeophagus ramirezi, commonly known as the Ram or the Butterfly cichlid, comes from Venezuela and Colombia and reaches around 7cm/2.75".
When I first started breeding fish the Ram was considered difficult to breed. Now if you can supply them with fairly soft water you can breed them without too many problems.
Since its introduction into the hobby in about 1948 the Ram has been bred and developed by commercial fish breeders in a variety of shapes and colours including gold, long-finned and albino.
The Rams I bred were young adults. I was told that they were German bred; they had brilliant normal colour, normal shaped fins and were in excellent condition. Because of these facts, I decided to buy two males and three females. Female Rams are smaller than the males and the second ray of the dorsal fin is shorter. The male dorsal ray extensions (third and fourth rays) are longer than the female's.
When in breeding condition, the female's belly area will be a brilliant red in normal coloured fish.
Aquarium literature cites that the Ram should be kept and bred in water that is acidic and soft. This would be best if you have wild stock, but fish from commercial stock will do well in water with a neutral pH of 7, moderately soft 3 to 6 GH.
However, it will not do well in hard water. In my case I have tapwater that is neutral pH and very soft, which is ideal for keeping Rams.
The five Rams were housed in a 76 x 30 x 30cm/30" x 12" x 12" tank along with six Rosy tetras.
The tank had no substrate, but there were groups of Java fern and small clay plant pots laid on their sides to provide shelter.
The temperature was set at 26°C/78°F and filtration was a homemade gravel filter.
The fish were fed a diet of dry foods, frozen bloodworm and live foods such as grindalworm and whiteworm. On this varied diet I hoped they would come into breeding condition and start to form pairs through natural selection.
I didn't have long to wait... One morning I went to feed the fish and noticed something was going on; a male and female Ram were being very active over the top of one of the plant pots at one end of the tank.
All the other fish, including the tetras, were at the opposite end of the tank, well away from the Rams.
On closer inspection I could see the male guarding a large batch of amber coloured eggs that were placed on the plant pot.
I decided to leave the situation as it was and allow the pair to guard their eggs. They did very well and within eight days there was a large brood of about 200 tiny fry free swimming around the proud parents who still kept the other tank inmates at bay.
Rams can become unsure and panic and then eat their young, so need peace and quiet when they have eggs and fry. That's what happened in this case as I think they felt insecure with the other fish in the tank and devoured the fry – I know because I watched them.
My next move was to set up a 60 x 25 x 25cm/24" x 10" x 10" tank with a mono-layer of aquarium gravel, plants such as Java fern and Java moss, flat stones, small clay flower pots and a sponge type filter.
A heaterstat was added set to 27C/80F and there was no overhead tank lighting, just daylight from a nearby window.
Into this tank the pair of Rams that had previously spawned were placed and fed the same diet as before. The tank was the uppermost in a bank of four – I thought that this would allow the pair seclusion from seeing me pass by each day.
Within a few days the pair began to clean a flat stone and I could clearly see the genital papilla (the tube extending from the urogential opening, used for egg or sperm deposition) on each fish starting to show. On the female it was smaller and more rounded than the male. The colours at this time were brilliant on the male and the female, as they showed off to each other and prepared to breed.
I was able to watch them breed, with the female passing over the stone and laying a few eggs. The male would follow closely behind to fertilise them. This action continued until there were about 200 amber coloured eggs on the stone.
The Ram is monogamous, with the care of eggs and fry shared by both parents. In four days they were a wriggling mass. I did panic on the fifth day when I peeped into the tank – the stone was bare, no mass of hatching eggs and no parents!
On closer inspection, there in one of the plant pots that was turned on its side was the male and the tiny wriggling larvae. Within another four days the male was seen swimming with a large brood of very tiny free-swimming fry all around him. The female was close by and lost no time in coming to the front glass to tell me to go away!
The fry appeared to be smaller than other dwarf cichlids I have bred and I wondered if they would take brineshrimp nauplii for their first food. I use San Francisco strain brineshrimp which produces smaller nauplii than the Utah strain, so I decided to try it for their first feed.
I had no need to worry for they were soon seen feeding on the brineshrimp with the parent still in attendance. Within another week I was feeding brineshrimp nauplii, microworm, and a ZM fry food called ZM-000 which is 30-90 microns in size and ideal for tiny fry.
When the fry were three weeks old, I removed the parents as I was concerned they would take fright again and eat the brood. After another two weeks I carefully moved the whole brood from the breeding tank into two 60 x 30 x 30cm/24" x 12" x 12" bare set-up tanks to grow on.
Baby Rams look nothing like their attractive parents and indeed have no sign of colour until they are about 12mm long.