Melanochromis johanni

I have two thirty gallon tanks in which I keep my “Africans” and I keep a variety of these cichlids. Among them were two pairs of Melanochromis johanni. The males were separated but the females were kept together. Since I had raised these pairs from half a dozen small fry given to me by a friend, I was wondering when they might spawn. The males changed colour after about one year and became too aggressive to be kept together. Nothing happened for another five months and I began to think my “females” might change colour and become males. Finally I decided to switch males between tanks and things started to happen.

The new male sensed his mates and within a few hours a spawning site was being prepared by removing all the sand from the aquarium bottom, right down to the glass. Three rocks, placed in a triangle, gave the site some shelter from invaders. Any fish coming close to the sacred enclave lost a bit of finnage and the females were sometimes gently persuaded, but more often wildly pursued. These games continued until the next evening.

None of the fish felt like eating but I could see a change in the mood of the females. They began to fight with each other and the “Number 1” girl would occasionally enter the nest. Breeding began just a little later. Male and female close beside each other, they started to quiver and shake and while doing this, moved slowly around in a circle. As soon as an egg was dropped, the female turned around and hastily picked it up into her mouth. To their (and my own) annoyance, there was a male M. auratus present who closely watched these procedures. He was too eager to pick up the eggs himself and so disturbed the breeding pair. However, once the process had started there was no changing their minds. They finally settled in to breed wherever they found a quiet corner between the open rocks right on the gravel. This game took close to two hours and ended with the female, empty at last but with a mouthful of eggs, sitting by herself in a corner. This was not the end for the male however. He was busy courting female number 2 and with more success than the first. Almost immediately after the first spawning was completed, the second one started. It was the same procedure all over. Spawning took place whenever there was an undisturbed moment in the tank, and they changed their location constantly. Finally all the quivering and squeezing had no more effect and this female withdrew as well. I removed both of the females into different tanks where I gave them shelter under broken flower pots. During the incubation period the females would not feed.

The spawnings took place on Feb. 8. Female “one” expelled 24 fry on Feb. 27 (19 days) and female “two” expelled 11 on Feb 28 (20 days). This was the first spawning for both females.

Each female and batch of fry behaved alike. Motherhood was lacking in not giving the little ones protection in times of “danger” but on the other hand the fry did not seem too eager to look for protection in their mother’s buccal cavity once they were released and aware of their freedom. They preferred to hide under the rough edge of the flower pot. I removed the females and gathered the fry together into one tank.

Once released, the fry were free swimming and able to find their own food. I fed them powdered dry food and after a few more days, “topless” brine shrimp, on which they grew even better. There was one thing that bothered me; they were extremely shy and constantly hid under or behind the filter box, so that I could never really observe them. A towel over the front glass of my tank, with a small gap at the bottom, helped finally as did my dropping the food at the opposite end to the filter. Now they had to cross the whole aquarium to get to the food. But as soon as I lifted the towel they were all back under the filter! Now it so happened that I also had a spawn of M. auratus from Feb. 22. These babies were not shy at all; they already came rushing to the front at feeding time. My experiment proved to be right. Putting the two species in one tank solved the problem. The outgoing auratus pulled the rather shy johanni away from underneath the filter box. Feeding got better and growth became more rapid. After three weeks of Sur Gro and brine shrimp I was able to change most of them to adult frozen brine shrimp. I kept them (71 fish) in a ten gallon tank for six weeks, siphoning the bottom every evening and changing 2½ gallons of water most mornings and evenings as necessary. They are now transferred into a thirty gallon tank with some other “Africans”. Their main diet remains coarser Sur Gro and once a week treat of frozen brine shrimp or ocean plankton. After nine weeks the average size is 3½ cm and I have not lost a single fish.

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