Mikrogeophagus Ramirezi originates from the Llanos. The Llanos is the savannah grasslands of the central Orinoco drainage in lowland Venezuela and Columbia. M. ramirezi is also found in the upper part of the Orinoco delta. It is not an Amazonian fish. This beautiful South American species has many names. It is known as: Ram, Butterfly dwarf cichlid, German Blue Ram, Papiliochromis ramirezi and Apistogramma ramirezi. The scientifically correct name is Mikrogeophagus ramirezi according to Dr. Sven O Kullander, Senior Curator, Dept. of Vertebrate Zoology, Swedish Museum of Natural History.
A pair of Mikrogeophagus ramirezi in the aquarium of Max Galladé. Photo by Max Galladé.
My first encounter with this colorful and popular species happened many years ago. The owner of my local fish store managed to breed the German Blue Ram, a colorful domestic bred strain of Mikrogeophagus ramirezi, in one of his tanks at home. He had one gorgeous male left which I had to take home. Unfortunately, it took a while before I was able to find a female for him. A few weeks later the same store got a shipment of German Blue Rams in. I bought two good looking females with bright pink bellies. Those females were very short lived. Unfortunately, I ended up buying more females every time they got a shipment in.
Ending with the same results, the females usually didn't last longer than two months. I found out later that those Rams were mass produced in Asia. Asian bred Rams are usually loaded up with hormones to stimulate egg production and to make them look real good right out of their shipping bag. Adult Rams show their best colors only after they settled in their new environment and feel secure in it. Juvenile Rams don't develop their full color until they they're sexually mature. Stay away from young specimens that look great in the dealers tanks. Most Asian Rams are infertile and not suitable for breeding.
I decided to stay away from this species because of the above mentioned problems. I chose to keep the similar, not as colorful, but less sensitive German Rams bigger brother, the Bolivian Ram - Mikrogeophagus altispinosa instead.
A male Mikrogeophagus altispinosa in the aquarium of Max Galladé. Photo by Max Galladé.
I just recently got interested in the German Rlue Rams again and decided to give them another try. This time I wanted to make sure that I was getting pairs of either wild caught or domestic bred stock. I found two different sources for domestic bred Rams and bought three pairs from each source to begin with. They were kept quarantined in a 110 liters (30 gal) holding tank for two weeks just to make sure that they didn't carry any diseases. A bonded pair was chosen out of the three and moved to their own 40 liters (10 gal) tank. You can tell that a pair bonded when they seem to stick more together. They will also team up against other fish and chase them away.
1 st day
It took my pair about a week and a water change before they decided to clean a spot on top of a pebble. Male and female spend a lot of time cleaning their chosen spawning site. I knew then that something was going on. Sure enough, I found a medium size clutch of about 100 eggs on the pebble later that afternoon. This was the pairs first spawn. According to Linke and Staeck's book "American Cichlids 1: Dwarf Cichlids" M. ramirezi is known to produce clutches of more then 200 eggs!
Unfortunately I was unable to watch the actual spawning. The color on male and female really intensified after they had spawned. My pair are still juveniles and I expect bigger spawns in the future. I tried to get some decent shots of the spawning site. Unfortunately the pair chose a spot in the back of the tank, getting clear macro shots from that distance was impossible.
The one thing that stood out right away was that male and female where taking turns fanning and guarding their eggs. This is a different breeding behavior than other Apistogramma species where the female guards the clutch and the male guards the surrounding territory.
Left: A pair of Mikrogeophagus ramirezi with the female spawning on a small flat rock in the aquarium of Max Galladé. Right: The female of Mikrogeophagus ramirezi cleaning her two days old eggs. Photo by Max Galladé.
2 nd day pm
The female moved all the eggs/wrigglers into a pit in the back of the tank, behind a piece of driftwood. I was able to tell later that the eggs had hatched by some short quick swimming motions of the wigglers. Again, male and female took turns guarding their wrigglers. When one partner left the wigglers the other took immediately over. The temperature was moved up to 29° C (84° F) at this time to ensure fry survival.
Two day old wigglers of Mikrogeophagus ramirezi. Inset: a newly hatched wriggler. Photo by Max Galladé.
3 rd day
The male started attacking the female really badly this morning so, I moved her out of the breeding tank and back into the holding tank. This makes me wonder if the same thing would have happened in a bigger tank then in my 38 liters (10 gal) tank?
5 th day
I usually don't get too excited anymore breeding my fish , but today was truly a fun day. I witnessed 3 of the fry free swimming this morning. The very excited male went straight after each one and picked them up with his mouth. What looked like fry chewing turned out to be some kind of cleaning attempt .He spit them out at the same spot where they were picked up, he then went straight back to the pit to clean the rest of the fry.The fry already lost their yolk sack and it was time to feed them their first Infusoria* and Microworm meal. This is also a good time to start a new batch of Baby Brine Shrimp(BBS). The fry will be able to eat freshly hatched BBS in a few days from now.
6 th day
Wow, what a surprise this morning. I got my first glance at all the younglings. The male paraded/guarded a fairly large school of very hungry fry around the tank. The tiny free swimmers seem to be a little bit bigger than Tetra fry. I fed them a squirt of Microworms which were eagerly eaten, followed by another squirt of fresh hatched BBS. Some of the fry ate a few shrimp but it seems that the Artemia nauplii is way to big for their tiny mouths right now. I'll continue feeding a mix of BBS and Microworms. I was amazed by the movement of the youngens. They are all over the place and the male has a hard time keeping them together. He goes after every stray and picks them up with his mouth to spit them back into the group. I managed to get some pictures this morning: Male with a school of first day free swimming fry.
So far everything seems fine. I made a 25% water change this morning due to heavy feeding of Microworms and BBS. It was fun to watch the male attacking the vacuum tube. He really went after it and even got caught inside the tube. He really turned out to be a good father and guards his fry around the clock.
Male Mikrogeophagus ramirezi male guarding his two day old babies. Photo by Max Galladé.
10 th day
Last night, 20 minutes before lights went out, the male decided to dig a new pit in front of the tank. He used his caudal fin almost like a shovel to form a 3.8 cm (1.5" diameter, 2.5 cm (1") deep depression into the sand. You could literally see the sand flying. The whole school of fry was let into the pit for "bed time" after the male finished digging. Unfortunately, I was unable to take photos of the actual digging but managed to get some shots of the male in the new pit surrounded by youngens:
Top: The male surrounded by five years old fry in a freshly dug pit. Bottom: male with eight days old fry. Photo by Max Galladé.
The temperature in the tank was gradually lowered back to 27° C (81° F). The fry grew to almost double their hatching size now. I noticed this morning that the fry were staying very close together near the substrate and weren't following the male as much. I don't know if this behavior is temperature related or caused by the fear of predation by the camera or me. A second pair started to show breeding signs in the holding tank this morning. The females belly looked very plum and pink. I moved the pair to a similar 38 liters (10 gal) tank that was set up in expectation of the next spawn last night.
14 th day
The fry are growing at a good pace. Everybody eats BBS now. I stopped feeding Microworms to keep up water quality. BBS live up to 12 hrs in a freshwater tank. This ensures a constant food supply for the youngens. I squirt BBS in the tank twice a day, mornings and evenings, three hours before the tank lights go out.
15 th day
The fry are growing into the typical Ram body shape. Their bodies are still transparent. My wife and I are amazed at the fast growth now. We can really tell the difference in size from morning to evening.
17 th day
I moved the male out of the breeding tank. He seemed to have lost his interest in guarding the juveniles. The usual attacks of the vacuum hose stopped during my biweekly 25% water changes. The juveniles reached about 5 mm TL and are now ready to survive on their own.
The juveniles reached about 8 mm in total length. They are still growing strong. They were fed a mix of crushed flake food, BBS and Cyclops for the first time this morning. I'll wait one more week before they will be moved to a larger grow out tank. I'll move my breeding pair back into this tank once the juveniles were moved to their new quarters. I hope you enjoyed this breeding journal and that it will help you to breed this very colorful and interesting species someday, too.
I probably raised over 1,000 ram fry since this article was written. I still enjoy finding a new batch of eggs deposited on a pebble or a turned over flower pot in my tanks. It’s still quite a challenge for me to raise Ram fry from eggs to a sellable size. I changed my breeding technique to a more commercial approach nowadays and hatch 90% of the spawns artificially in specially setup hatching and grow out tanks. I also noticed that I got much better hatch rates by using straight reverse osmosis water in my breeding and hatching tanks.
*I always keep a handful of Jave Moss in all of my breeding tanks. The micro organisms aka Infusoria found in the Java moss make an excellent first meal for hungry small fish fry such as Ram fry.
*We keep the fry in our hatching tanks until they are big enought to be moved to larger growout tanks. All our hatching and growout tanks receive 50% Waterchanges with either pure R/O or special filtered / aged tapwater. All our fish get the highest quality frozen, live and dry foods.
This is a picture of the 10g breeding tank. The school of fry is above the pebble on the right. The breeding tank was set up as natural as possible with intentions to witness Mikrogeophagus ramirezi's quite interesting natural breeding behaviors and to get good photographic results. Upper right: Close up of a one month juvenile. Photo by Max Galladé.
The breeding tank setup:
- Size: 38 liters (10 gallons).
- Water specifications: Ph 7.4, TDS 120 ppm, Spawning at Temperature 27° C (81&def; F).
- Rearing: 29° C (84° F).
- Substrate: Pool filter Sand.
- Decoration: Planted driftwood, one flowerpot, three granite pebbles/li>
- Plants: Java fern, Java moss, Anubia var. barteri, Babytears, Echinodorus tennellus, Baby Tears.
|Mikrogeophagus ramirezi basic aquarist table|
|Geographical Origin||Venezuela and Colombia as known|
|Native Water Conditions||Small slow flowing creeks and still ponds. Soft water, sometimes clear, otherwise blackwater|
|PH||Ph ranging between 6.0 and 7.5 Recommended < 7.0.|
|Temperature||Recommended 27-29° C (80-85° F)|
|Food||Live food, Frozen Foods such as brine shrimp, daphnia, glassworms, flakes and small pellets.|
|Tank Size||38 - 76 liters (10 - 20 gallons) a pair for breeding. Larger Community tanks for keeping several pairs. Rams do great with Discus and other South American Dwarf Cichlids.|
|Recommended Breeding Conditions||TDS < 80 ppm, Temperature 27-29° (81-85° F.), PH < 7.0.|