Nandopsis tetracanthus male in aquarium. Fish by John Gerritsen.
(This article was originally published in "Cichlasoma Power" Vol. 17. No. 4, pp. 3-8. "Cichlasoma Power" is the official trimestral publication of The "Cichlasoma Study Group" for information about joining please check the Club section of this same site. the article it is here reproduced with the permission of author John Gerritsen).
I was lying prostrate on the bed mesmerized by the ceiling fan incessantly turning slowly like a helicopter blade. I was listening to Bob Dylan drawling out that song "Subterranean homesick blues". I was trying my best to recollect the events of the night before and of how I had made a complete fool of myself in the bar and recounting the route I had taken as I staggered home in my drunken stupor. I convinced myself that I hadn't sung "My way" with the karaoke machine, I had just imagined it. I thought about what I was doing with myself, what was the purpose of being on this planet anyway? Could it be we were inhabitants within a giants eye-ball just waiting for him to yawn and shed a tear to send us all to our fate?
All of these thoughts were beginning to depress me and then, as I took another lug from my cigarette, it suddenly occurred to me my Nandopsis tetracanthus were digging up the substrate last night. They may even have spawned.
Nandopsis tetracanthus more commonly known as the 'Cuban cichlid' has become a bit of a success story in my household. I've managed to get this species to spawn more times than any other of its heroine analogues. Just recently I managed to acquire eight of the most beautiful specimens of Nandopsis tetracanthus that I had ever seen... Wild caught!
A friend of mine Colin Osbourne and some of his chums had been out to Cuba for a holiday end of course some incidental net dipping for tropical fish. The holiday had turned into a nightmare scenario on par with "Nightmare on Elm Street"! Just as they arrived on the island a storm blew in of hurricane proportions. The storms lasted for more than eight days. The guys had searched all over the island for cichlids even in stormy weather. On the last day of their holiday they visited a place called "Zapata Park" at the Bay of the pigs. Just by chance one of the guys was gazing into one of the streams when he noticed that the rapidly running flood water had driven the fish right up to the banks of the stream, so that a fish had been forced out of the water, onto the shore and "plopped" back into the water again. The lads dashed back to their hotels for their nets and duly bagged up. The guys managed to net plenty of Nandopsis tetracanthus as well as a similar looking cichlid they deemed to be Nandopsis ramsdeni.
When the boys arrived back at Heathrow airport in London they discovered to their horror that there had been substantial losses. In their haste to pack the fish they hurriedly bagged all the fish into just two boxes and lost a number of fish through in fighting. Luckily there were still enough fish to go around. I tried my hardest to persuade the guys to part with some of their be Nandopsis ramsdeni but it was all to no avail, but they were agreeable to me having some of their wild caught Nandopsis tetracanthus.
I would have moved heaven and earth to get some of the be Nandopsis ramsdeni. I can't tell you of all the crazy ideas I had hatched to get those be Nandopsis ramsdeni off' the guys. When Colin was away one weekend I thought about donning a false beard and dying my hair blonde and turning up at Colin's house in some fantastic disguise in spectacles. "Good morning Mrs Osbourne, my name is Mr Edberg, I am from Sveeden I have come for der fish. Didn't your son tell you I was coming?" I kept looking in the mirror and practicing my Swedish accent, l just couldn't get it right. She'd see right through it. I paced up and down the room and then thought I'd try a Dutch dialect. It seemed a bit easier, you know the way the Dutch over elaborate with the English language and don't seem to be able to pronounce the word "very." "Koad morning Mrs Osbourne it is fery, fery funderful to meet you,"
What in the world was I doing to myself? Why was I behaving like this? I thought of the Walt Disney cartoon ' 101 Dalmatians' and realized I had become the 'Cruella Deville' of the fish-world. Imagine if my plot had been uncovered I can see the headlines in all the cichlid journals, "Handsome Englishman dupes frail old lady out fish" or "Cockney wide-boy cons old lady" Ed never be able to rub shoulders with the likes of Madonna or Pamela Anderson on the night club circuit ever again. No! I couldn't bear the thought of it.
My underhand and sleazy behavior had sunk to an all time low. And then a thought came to me that gave me a little comfort "Johnny baby, don't you think all the other cichlid hobbyists behave in this way?" And this was true, but it still didn't help me in my efforts to usurp the Nandopsis ramsdeni into my tanks.
Anyhow enough of my ramblings. The boys somewhat reluctantly let me have eight Nandopsis tetracanthus, they originally wanted to give me six, but I squeezed 'em for an extra two. I had kept Nandopsis tetracanthus plenty of times before but I had never seen "Cubans" like this before. They were really striking. At just 3 inches I could spot the darker colored fish as females and the more tessellated patterned fish as the males. I was sure I had three males and five females. In so much that the fish were beautiful they were just as aggressive. The females seemed to be the main perpetrators. I kept the fish in a 6 - foot by 2 - foot by 2 - foot tank with some Caquetaia spectabile and Vieja argentea.
In the ensuing months one of the three "male" Cubans stood out to be the most dominant, the females would be forever philandering with him and vying for his attention, the two inferior males were left languishing at the top of the tanks in remission from over zealous females that wanted to spawn with the dominant male.
Within a few months or so the dominant male had nearly doubled in size in comparison to the other two "males". They had become scrappy and he was looking to eliminate the two subordinates. They were both removed before this could happen. Meanwhile the females had scattered to various parts of the tank and had built up their own separate enclaves within the shards of rookery. When the females were gravid the lower half of their bodies would turn jet black and they would swim tantalizingly around the male whenever he approached near one of their enclaves.
Everything was going fine; all of the females had either spawn or were rearing a brood of their young, The problems began as the fry grew older and they would transcend into each other territories. An awful melee would break out and one morning on my arrival into my fish house I found three females mortally wounded. I decided to remove the Vieja argentea and Caquetaia spectabile as they were looking the worse for wear. One of my biggest downfalls in regards to cichlid keeping is to interfere and my biggest mistake was to remove the Vieja argentea and Caquetaia spectabile. The following day I was down to just a pair of Nandopsis tetracanthus and some stray siblings from previous spawnings.
Things were going well with the remaining pair. In fact things were looking so good I arranged for a friend of mine, who is a photographer, to come and take some shots of the Cubans who were shaping up for a spawning. The male had attained 20 centimeters (eight inches) in total length and was a real power- house, the female was approximately 13 centimeters (Five inches). On the day of my friend's arrival I awoke and dashed downstairs to tidy up the fish house before he got there. I looked into the tank which housed the pair of Cubans, something was wrong the pair weren't up and busying themselves about. I scanned the tank and spied the female caught in the slipstream of the spray of the power filter, she had been mortally wounded.
On my friend's arrival a couple of hours later I gave him the bad news. lt was a real shame because they were a handsome pair of fish and to just witness some of their Latin American behavior was incredible, all that panache and flamboyant raz-mataz was a sight to behold. It just seemed so unfair for the Cuban cichlids to deny their audience one more spawning and a better ending.
Nandopsis tetracanthus female with her eggs in the aquarium. Fish and Photo by John Gerritsen.