Ptychochromis sp. "East Coast Grey" female in the aquarium. Photo by David Tourle.
My fascination with Madagascan cichlids continues to grow as I manage to acquire more species. Another reason for my determination to try to breed as many of this fishes as possible, is their highly endangered status in their natural habitat. One species that my partner, Dave and I are maintaining on behalf of Bolton Museum Aquarium, Paretroplus menarambo, is now believed to be extinct in Madagascar and hence full marks to Bolton in succeeding in breeding this beautiful fish. Thankfully, we recently heard from Dr. Paul Loiselle that Denver Zoo have also managed to breed this species in the US, so perhaps a limited captive breeding program is viable for this fish.
While there are other Malagasy cichlids whose future is not looking too hopeful, there are still some species that are thankfully, not quite so vulnerable. Having said that however, the situation in Madagascar is changing all the time with habitats disappearing and rivers becoming polluted with silt and other substances. It could be said that all the remaining native species are ultimately at risk, which makes it essential for captive breeding programs, such as the one at Bolton and in various American Institutions, to ensure the future of these fishes, albeit only in captivity.
There are at least seven species and possibly as many as eleven in the Ptychochromis genus occuring in various locations throughout Madagascar and on the island of Nosy Be, which is situated off the northwest coast. While most species are similar, all are distinctive enough to be thought to be separate taxa, rather just than being colour variants, although a great deal more research needs to be done to confirm this. We are maintaining four Ptychochromis species, one from the east coast, one from the island of Nosy Be and two undescribed species, still juveniles, from Mandritsara and Fort Dauphin.
Ptychochromis sp. "Grey" from the East Coast is a rather plain animal, but its overall body shape and pronounced finnage give it an unusual attractive presence. Its normal colouration is a dark grey, with gold on the high doral fin and some lighter grey, almost white along the side of its body. What a contrast, however, prior to spawning! Both male and female go almost jet black, yet retain the light patches on its side, while the gold in the dorsal fin and around the eye really intensifies. Once the eggs have been laid the colouration changes yet again to a light metalic gold with black markings.
The species from Nosy Be, which is one of four Ptychochromis species to be found on that island is a beautiful fish, being a rich metallic silver overlaid with a gorgeous dark blue around the mouth and over the rest of the body. There are also black markings along the median line, on the operculum and in the dorsal, with the exaggerated finnage noticable on this species also. We acquired five of these fishes in Saint Louis at the 1998 ACA Convention as an unknown Ptychchromis species. During a recent visit to our home, Jean-Claude Nourissat, President of the French Cichlid Association who has undertaken many expeditions to Madagascar has confirmed that these fish are from Nosy Be. These fish have also recently spawned but that is another story!
Ptychochromis sp. "East Coast Grey" pair in front of the spawning site. Photo by David Tourle.
The Ptychochromis sp. "East Coast Grey" is found in various water types, including brackish, along the northern part of Madagascar's East coast, but, like most other Malagasy cichlids, is very tolerant of various conditions, provided the water is of high quality and well filtered. There is a second species of Ptychochromis found along the southern part of the east coast, that is known as Ptychochromis sp. "East Coast Gold" which is very similar to the "Grey". At present, it not known for certain whether this species is a colour variant or another species in its own right, but both types are very similar.
The Ptychochromis sp. "East Coast Grey" can reach 30 cms in its natural habitat but under aquarium conditions is more likely to reach a maximum of 25 cms. It is fairly tolerant of its own kind and other Madagascan cichlids, but it is necessary to provide the largest aquarium possible for all these fishes. My pair are maintained in a 1.80 x 0.6 x 0.6 m (6' x 2' x 2') tank which is filtered by two large internal filters. The substrate is inert sand which these fish enjoy sifting, blowing excess sand out of their gills, much like the South American Satanoperca and Geophagus species. The decor consists of rocks, Mopani wood, tubes and plants, with plenty of hiding places for the smaller fishes. Water conditions:- ph 7.7, KH - 8dH, GH - 15dH and temperature 26°C (79°F). Tank mates are other Madagascan cichlids - Paratilapia polleni - Lamena sp. "Blue Lips" - Paretroplus petiti and a Synodontis catfish. Like most other cichlids, the "Greys" are very easy to feed. We feed all our Madagascans a mixed diet of frozen bloodworm, mysis shrimp and brine shrimp as well as good quality Cichlid pellets. They are very partial to live food especially river shrimps and earthworms, both of which help to get them into breeding condition.
The spawning habits of the "Greys" are very reminiscent of those of Central American cichlids, but without so much jaw-locking or tail slapping. The colouration of both fish turned a very dark grey, with patches of almost black, which has already been described. The fishes spent a lot of time swimming up and down the tank obviously looking for a suitable place to spawn. Logs were inspected, caves were inspected, even one of the internal filters was given the once over. This site searching went on for over a week so Dave and I began to wonder whether the pair would ever find a suitable location. Eventually, a log right at one end of the tank was chosen with the pair defending the area, with as much determination as their Central American cousins. All tankmates, including a very large male Paratilapia polleni, were kept at a safe distance, without too much aggression.
After a few more days, the larger of the two fishes was becoming noticably swollen in the abdominal area and the spawning tubes of both fishes were visible. It was also becoming apparent that the larger fish was the female, with the male just slightly smaller in size. The defence of "their" log increased, with some of their tank mates showing a few splits in their fins and tails, as a result of approaching too close to the pair, so it was obvious that spawning was not far off. The following morning, we checked the tank and the log was liberally covered with many small cream coloured eggs, which the female "Grey" was fanning with great enthusiasm. The male was patrolling nearby, driving off any other tank mates that made the mistake of getting too close.
Dave and I now had to decide quickly whether we should remove the eggs and hatch them artificially or leave the eggs with the parents and run the risk of them being eaten. Cannilbalism of newly spawned eggs is one very unfortunate aspect of trying to breed Madagascan cichlids and can only be addressed by removing the eggs as soon as possible after spawning. A decision was quickly reached and as this was the first spawning, Dave and I decided to remove the log as we always have a small matured tank, with two small air filters set up and running in anticipation of an occasion like this. As a precaution, we drained off some of the water in this little tank and refilled it with water from the spawning tank. The log was carefully immersed in a bucket of tank water and moved very quickly to the small hatching tank. An airline and air stone were quickly added to the existing setup, positioned as near to the eggs as possible to simulate the fanning action of the parents. Finally the necessary dose of Methylene Blue to prevent fungusing was added to the water. The parents were not very happy about the situation and a "cichlid divorce" was definitely in the offing. We changed the decor of the tank slightly and within two days all was peace and harmony again to such an extent, that the "Greys" started the whole process all over again! This time they would be left alone to see how they fared as parents.
Water changes were carried out in the hatching tank every other day, with the temperature maintained at 27°C (81°F). By the fourth day, most of the eggs had hatched and many wrigglers were visible on the bottom of the tank, so far so good. After another six days, most of the fry were free swimming, so we began feeding them three times a day with WaterlifeTM Invert Food and OSITM Fry Food as they were not quite large enough to take frozen baby brine shrimp at that stage. Within a week, with regular water changes the fry had almost doubled in size and were feeding on frozen baby brine shrimp and cyclops, a welcome addition to their diet. As a precaution, half of the fry, which numbered about eighty, were removed to another tank and all have continued to thrive. A few have not made it, probably due to natural wastage which is normal in nature.
I am very pleased to be able to report that the pair have spawned again in a 1.5 x 0.3 x 0.45 m (5' x 12" x 15") tank, with just two juvenile Paratilapia polleni for company. The spawning location on this occasion was the inside of a large plastic tube which the female is currently fanning, with the male on "duty" outside. The eggs have not been eaten and a large pit has been dug, adjacent to the front of the tube. It is obvious that the wrigglers will be placed in the pit at the appropriate time until they are free swimming. Hopefully, these fry will continue to survive. Some suitable future homes have already been found to ensure that breeding stocks can be maintained but it is also important to get a few of these fishes into the hobby. This will give interested aquarists an opportunity to obtain and hopefully spawn, another Madagascan species - currently the only species available, and then only occasionally, are Paratilapia polleni and Paratilapia bleekeri.
I am hoping to be able to put a few of the Ptychochromis sp. "East Coast Grey" juveniles into the Yorkshire Cichlid Group Auction next February and also the British Cichlid Association Auction in April. If any of you are there and would like to give this interesting species a go, I would thoroughly recommend doing so. You will certainly not be disappointed and will also be doing your bit for conservation.
Ptychochromis sp. "East Coast Grey" pair caring for theier eggs placed inside the flower pot. Photo by David Tourle.
© Copyright 1999 Sonia Guinane, all rights reserved
Guinane, Sonia. (July 19, 1999). "Spawning Ptychochromis sp. "East Coast Grey"". Cichlid Room Companion. Retrieved on December 16, 2018, from: https://www.cichlidae.com/article.php?id=120.