(This article was originally published in Gaceta del Ciclidófilo 3, bulletin of the Grupo Mexicano de Ciclidófilos, 1995).
One of the most interesting things about keeping South American cichlids is their wide diversity of behaviors and spawning strategies. African cichlids usually fall into one of three groups: mouth brooders, substrate spawners or cave spawners. South American species utilize these strategies, as well as mixed strategies that combine any or all of them. A few South American species even use a different spawning method on each of successive spawns. One of these species is Burjuquina vittata, the Gold-cheeked Flag Cichlid.
Burjuquina vittata is one of the smiling acaras that hails from the rivers and streams of Paraguay. It was formerly known as Aequidens paraguayensis, A. vittata, and most recently put into the genus Burjuquina like many of the medium body size acaras. The overall body coloration is light yellow with a distinctive black lateral line stripe that runs most of the length of the fish. The face is barred across the nose with light blue iridescent stripes, and the throat is a bright lemon yellow. The Dorsal and anal fins of both sexes vary from red to orange, and the male's fins are rather long and filamentous. The ventral fins of the male become quite long, and often extend to the caudal fin. The caudal fin is clear of markings, but may fade from a pink color at its base.
Burjuquina vittata reaches about 12 centimeters as an adult, with the male getting slightly larger and bulkier. The male is obviously the dominant player in the pair courtship, and often bullies the female into a corner if she is not immediately receptive to spawning. A large aquarium of at least eighty liters is appropriate for a large pair. Water conditions that are slightly acidic and a medium hardness are preferred, but there is a wide tolerance range. Live plants are not bothered by this species, and a well planted aquarium will enhance their coloration and make them feel more at home.
Live foods and prepared dry and freeze dried foods are readily accepted by Burjuquina vittata, and there seems to be little difference between live and prepared foods in conditioning the fish to spawn. Live worms are the live food of choice in any case, and mosquito larvae and daphnia are also ravenously accepted.
Burjuquina vittata is not aggressive towards tank mates, except to defend a nest site during courtship and breeding. They do very well with large tetras and rainbowfishes, as well as Corydoras sp. catfishes. A few dither fish will help overcome initial shyness, but even these are not ultimately necessary for a successful spawning.
Spawning Burjuquina vittata is an inevitability fact when a compatible pair is house together for any period of time. The question is what method of spawning the pair will choose to use. When kept in a tank with no or very few other denizens, my pair seems to like laying the plaque of eggs on a movable object, that I call a 'sled', like a piece of bark or plastic on the bottom of the tank. The pair drags this 'sled' around the tank constantly from one easily defended place to another. As soon as the eggs hatch, the pair moves the minute wigglers to pits in the sand. When the free swimming fry are coming up off of the bottom, the parents will alternately bring the whole brood into their mouths and spit them out where they want the group to be.
This same pair, when kept in a tank with several other fish and without an available sled, will lay the eggs on an immovable but easily defended object. Once the eggs hatch either parent will mouth brood the wigglers until they are free swimming. Whichever parent picks up the brood first will carry them the entire time. No trade off have taken place with this pair. If a sled is offered when other fish are around, it will be used rather than a static site, but the wigglers are still carried by a parent until free swimming.
Yet another strategy that has been observed with this pair is what they do in a bare tank (with a gravel dusting on the bottom). If no suitable spawning site is found the the eggs will be placed on the bottom of the tank in a gravel pit, and immediately pick them up to be brooded in their mouths until the fry are free swimming. Either parent will do this chore, and often the role will switch from one spawn to the next. If the bare aquarium has other fish present, the initial spawning site will usually be located in a defensible corner.
Spawn sizes vary greatly depending upon the strategy being used. The highest yield comes from the sled to pit method of rearing the fry. After that is the sled to mouth, then immovable site to mouth. The lowest yields come from the bare tank spawnings. An average size brood has about 100 150 fry, with little attrition.
The fry grow quickly up to about 2 cm, and then slow down quite a bit. Water quality becomes an issue if the fry are reared in to crowded a space. If water quality is not maintained, deformed gill covers and a stunted body shape are the fist indicators that there is a problem.
First food should be live baby brine or microworms, followed shortly thereafter by crushed flake and shave frozen foods. The juvenile usually reach the 2 cm stage in three months or so, but take the rest of a year to get up to 5 cm. At this length sexual differences begin to show clearly, and they will begin to spawn in the near future.
My next round of experiments with this species, ( now that there are plenty of them to go around), is to see what breeding strategy a pair uses in a mixed sex group: one male to three females, two males to three females, etc. It would be interesting to see if they will practice any sort of harem polygamy along with their already diverse repertoire of spawning methods.