|A male adult 'Cichlasoma' grammodes in the aquarium of Brian Traas, Netherlands. Photo by Brian Traas|
When it comes to keeping cichlids I seem to go through phases. My latest fad is one of the guapotes; 'Cichlasoma' grammodes. Over the last twenty years or so I have kept 'Cichlasoma' grammodes on four separate occasions. They are relatively new to the hobby and were only recently introduced in Germany in the early 1980's. 'C' grammodes has been assigned to various genus' in the past such as Nandopsis, Parachromis and Heros but the current generic status of 'C' grammodes remains in limbo as per Kullander (1996) and is referred to as 'Cichlasoma' until a suitable genus is found and this cichlid can be reclassified.
The 'C' grammodes cichlid is one of the most striking of all of the guapotes. The torso has a beige background that is adorned with small red spots, an appearance that has earned grammodes the nickname the "sieve cichlid". There is a dark lateral line that runs from the eye to the tail. The face is covered with red vein like streaks. I believe that the word grammodes translates from Greek into English as fine lines, which possibly purports to those vein like streaks to the face. The unpaired fins have a violet hue. The head is very large, especially in males, and gives the fish the appearance of having a head that looks far too big for its body, another trait that has some fish keepers calling 'Cichlasoma' grammodes "the mini dovii". It is a very handsome cichlid and the only other cichlid I can liken 'C' grammodes to is 'Cichlasoma' istlanum, which seems to be more uncommon in the hobby.
'Cichlasoma' grammodes type locality is the Rio Grande de Chiapas, a tributary of Rio Grijalva between Tuxtla Gutierrez and Chiapa de Corzo in Chiapas, México. The fish is endemic to México and is found in various locations on the Pacific slope down towards the Western borders of Guatemala. They inhabit large rivers as well as small streams with fast flowing and well oxygenated water. They are happy with temperature parameters between 24°c and 30°c and water in their habitat is always alkaline with a pH of around 7.5. They occupy shallow creeks where there are plenty of rocks and overhanging tree branches. They are found living alongside the likes of Paratheraps hartwegi, Poecilia mexicana and various other Poeciliopsis species.
Early last year I bought eight 'C' grammodes from a company that imports tropical fish all over the World. I was delighted when I took delivery of eight very healthy looking 25 mm 'C' grammodes. When I got home I floated their bags in a 2 meters tank that was home to some much larger inhabitants that included Vieja argentea and Tomocichla tuba. The new arrivals were emptied from their bags and immediately adapted to their new environment by dropping to the gravel and seeking out little nooks or crannies for shelter. I have found from experience that it is safer to keep 'C' grammodes with larger species of cichlids or target fish that are too big to be engulfed as prey, such as the larger characins. 'Cichlasoma' grammodes has the guile to adapt with the larger species and becomes restricted in any attempts to harass the weaker or smaller conspecifics, due to their unwillingness to leave their safe havens for fear of reprisals from the larger inhabitants, in fact I found the only time I saw the 'C' grammodes as juveniles was at feeding time and then after they had eaten it was back to their small enclave.
I will add that filtration is critical with 'Cichlasoma'grammodes as they are messy eaters with a heavy waste load and a potential size of 30 cm so the best solution is an exterior filter or a couple of large interior filters to cope with the nitrate build up. I also made regular weekly water changes of around 30 per cent. Over the subsequent months I fed the fish frozen bloodworm, brine shrimp, krill and pellets, when they got to around 75mm I began to feed them bulkier food like prawns and mussels. A few months further on and the 'C' grammodes were 100mm and had become less shy, as well as beginning to colour up nicely plus they had begun displaying to one another. Three pairs commenced to pair off all at roughly around the same time. Two of the anticipated pairs occupied opposite ends of the aquarium while the third slightly smaller inferior pair took a territory to the middle of the tank. The other much larger inhabitants of the tank, the tuba and the argentea never troubled the three pairs, as the 'C' grammodes were encamped in their territories in long terra-cotta pipe sleeves that were buried under bog wood and shards of rocks, places that were too elaborate and intricate for the Vieja and Tomocichla species to enter. I also let a faint trace of algae cover the front of the tank, just to try and induce the C. grammodes in to being less shy, as occasionally they would be out by the entrance of their enclave only to disappear within the rocks whenever I approached.
They were forever digging pits and they would come to the entrance of their territories and spit out gravel. Breeding pairs show sexual dichromatism, the females had turned dusky and their eyes looked shiny and metallic looking, they were clearly gravid, while the more elongate and slender males develop a distinct nuchal hump. Whenever the males became agitated they would constantly weave flamboyant circles around their consorts. I knew that they were ready to spawn at any time, albeit that 'C.' grammodes is such a stealthy fish and gives very little away to the untrained eye. I focused my attention on the pair to the centre of the aquarium. They had left just enough space for me to just see their little tunnels and mounds of gravel they had excavated around it. They were acting furtively and if I got too close to the tank they would retreat into the safety of their refuge within the network of rocks.
So, of the original eight 'Cichlasoma' grammodes I still had two of them spare that hadn't paired off. They were smaller but quite capable of looking after themselves, sometimes I wouldn't see them for days and I started to worry, only to see them swimming quite happily amid the caves where the larger 'C' grammodes were incapable of intruding. I must say that 'Cichlasoma' grammodes is a sneaky cichlid and seems to be able to manoeuvre itself into the tightest corner.
A friend of mine suggested that maybe I should take some of the bogwood out and create some more open spaces to try and encourage the fish out so I could at least get a better view of them. I thought about it and decided against it as I thought it would lead to territorial battles and ruin the status quo. I thought of the old adage "if it works don't try and fix it".
As the days unfolded I noticed that the pair who had paired off in the centre of the tank seemed to be bickering with each other. I put that down to my arrival at the front of the tank. The female had turned extremely dark and was pushing the male out of their nest. I assumed that the female had laid eggs and didn't want him in there with her, she needed him at their territorial entrance to guard their borders. After a few days I could just make out some fry hovering about within the rocks and the pair seemed more relaxed, they were both within the nest with their youngsters.
'Cichlasoma' grammodes appears to be a monogamous cichlid, as never once did I see any flirting of any of the pairs with their conspecifics. A few days further on and the pair had become confident enough to bring their offspring right to the front of their territory. I noticed that the fry were never allowed to move more than a few inches away from their parents.
A couple of weeks later and I noticed that the two other pairs who occupied the left and right hand corners of the aquarium also had young and they were being closely watched by both sets of parents. Now and again the Vieja argentea or the Tomocichla tuba would swim close by, but the parents were unperturbed and remained calm. If any interlopers got too close the parents would assume threatening postures by flaring their fins, it was all bravado as they never actually attacked their adversaries.
Over the ensuing weeks I had been feeding the fry infusoria and it was obvious that the fry had increased in size quite considerably and they were becoming more adventurous. The fry would graze on algae that had grown on the rocks and on the walls of the aquarium as well as crushed flake that had sunk to the floor, all under the supervision of the female.
A month further on and the fry begin to become uncontrollable, their parents begin to bicker and it's only the presence of the other inhabitants of the tank that stop the parents from harassing each other. The fry are gradually whittled down by predation and maybe the stronger fry survive. Within a few more weeks the fry are forgotten and the 'Cichlasoma' grammodes are ready to spawn again.
A male adult 'Cichlasoma' grammodes in the aquarium of Jeff Dubosc. Photo by Jeff Dubosc.