Cichlid Room Companion

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Keeping and Breeding Tropheus in the home aquarium

By , 1997. printer
Don Danko, 2000

Classification: Captive maintenance, Lake Tanganyika.

" Fishroom talk taking place on 1997-feb-05 "

Juanmi says: Welcome to today's presentation of the Cichlid Room meeting. Tonight, as in other occasions, we have a very special guest. Don Danko from Cleveland US will tell us about his experiences with the breeding of Tropheus species in the home aquarium. I have know Don for ten years now and have always been impressed by his apparent easiness to breed any Cichlid species he puts his hands on. This past November I had the opportunity to visit him home and I was particularly thrilled by the several healthy and beautiful Tropheus colonies that he keeps, as well as the many Tropheus fry of all sizes swimming in many of his aquariums. I can't specifically forget those many juveniles of the Tanganyikan pearly butterfly, Tropheus duboisi, swimming proudly in his tanks. That is when the idea of inviting him to tell us about it was born, and I really hope you all enjoy it. I want to thank Don for accepting this invitation to share his knowledge with us, even with all busy he is. Thanks Don.

Gecko cheers enthusiastically.

Microsoft cheers enthusiastically.

TheDon says: Thanks for the intro Juan. I appreciate the invitation and the fact that everyone is here. So, without further delay, I'll start...

TheDon says: The genus Tropheus is a well-known one from Lake Tanganyika. It is well known for a variety of reasons, the two most prevalent being the beauty of many of the species and the extreme difficulty in maintaining them. Tonight, I plan to discuss many aspects of the care and breeding of this genus.

TheDon says: Before I start, I'd like to give a little background about my cichlid keeping experience. I've been keeping cichlids ever since I was about eight years old. And, after 3+ decades, I still keep them. The first cichlid that I kept and bred was the Jack Dempsey, and I bred them when I was about nine years old. We had two adults that we kept in a 29 gallon tank with a divider. While on summer vacation, I would watch them diligently every day and tell my father that they were ready to breed - I knew they were a pair -. And every day he would tell me to leave the divider in place. And every day, I got closer to removing it. Finally, one day, I was brave enough to violate dad's advice/orders and remove the divider. And it was love at first site. They courted and finally bred, herding fry all around the tank.

TheDon exclaims: I was hooked on cichlids for good!

TheDon says: My cichlid hobby really didn't take off until I got married and moved into an apartment. And then it started to get crazy. In the front room, I kept two large red oscars and, in a back bedroom, I kept some new fish that were called Africans. I was fascinated by the new Pseudotropheus species available, like kennyi, zebras of many colors and others. It wasn't until three years later that I got into Tanganyikans, spending what I thought was a mountain of money for a fantastic fish, called the frontosa.

TheDon says: I then spent several years keeping and breeding species of the genus that I'm best known for keeping: the then-called Cichlasoma genus. I kept and bred every species I could get my hands on, flying in new species from across the Atlantic. I even went South of the Border with some silly Mexican guy named JuanMi to get new wild species.

Maggie smiles.

TheDon says: And somewhere in my past, I kept and bred 35+ pairs of discus.

TheDon says: But, contrary to popular belief, I've ALWAYS kept both New World and Old World cichlids in my fish rooms. As you might guess, it was viewed as utter heresy last year when my good friends came over and saw that I was keeping Tropheus. "What a sacrilege; you must be in it for the money!"

TheDon exclaims: All the more reason to keep them!

Gecko smiles.

TheDon exclaims: So, my long winded (or worded) intro finally brings me to the subject of this talk!!

TheDon says: The first species of Tropheus was described by Boulenger in 1898, from Zambian collections. This species, the type species, was called Tropheus moorii. Further descriptions have been made, with several more species now recognized:

Tropheus moorii
Tropheus moorii
(Boulenger, 1898)

Tropheus annectens
Tropheus annectens
(Boulenger, 1900)

Tropheus duboisi
Tropheus duboisi
(Marlier, 1959)

Tropheus brichardi
Tropheus brichardi
(Nelissen & Audenaerde, 1975)

Tropheus kasabae
(Nelissen, 1977)

Perhaps synonym of moorii

Tropheus polli
(Axelrod, 1977)

Perhaps synonym of annectens

TheDon says: These species are described from distinct populations at specific geographical locations along the coastline of the lake. And, as you and I know, there are a wealth of additional color morphs that abound, leaving the thought in my mind that there may be many, many more species to describe. But, the nomenclatural aspects of the genus are beyond the scope of this talk.

TheDon says: Tropheus are found almost exclusively in the rocky areas of the Tanganyikan coastline. The rocky habitat provides shelter from predators and food in the form of dense algal growth, or Aufwuchs. Tropheus stay close to the rocky outcroppings, and sandy areas in between them can serve as population barriers.

TheDon says: Tropheus are maternal mouthbrooders that produce very small batches of up to a dozen or so large fry after a 4-5 week incubation period. As with other mouthbrooders, the brooding female takes little or no food during this incubation period.

TheDon says: As mentioned earlier several color morphs are found throughout the lake and can be oversimplified by geographical area, as follows:

TheDon says: Northwest: Red Kaiser (Bemba), Kaiser II (Kiriza)

TheDon says: Southwest: Chimba Red, Chipimbi, Rainbow types

TheDon says: Southeast: Kaiser (Icola), Polli, Rainbow types

TheDon says: Northeast: Red Saddle, Duboisi, Brichardi types

TheDon says: As mentioned, this is a great oversimplification, but it gives you a general overview of where some of the more well known types are found.

TheDon says: The start of maintaining and breeding Tropheus is putting a colony of them together, of course. And before you can do that, you need to have a tank ready. In my opinion, the ideal tank size for a colony of Tropheus is a 70 gallon tank (48"L, 18" W, 20"H). In my tanks, I do not use gravel, and hence no U/G filters. I use sponge filters powered by strong airflow. I have tried wet/dry filters, but have had better results with just sponges - Hydrosponges, to be exact. My theory on why I've had better luck is that waste builds up in places you cant see it and, what you can't see, you can't remove. So I keep it simple: bare tanks, sponge filters and a few clay flowerpots. I give regular 50% weekly water changes. For reference, my water source is pH 7.5, with moderate hardness, and chlorinated. Although I don't do it, the Konings article on duboisi that Juan recently circulated talks about buffering the water to get in to about 8.3 to keep the fish healthy and breeding regularly. This action could offer some benefits in Tropheus maintenance.

TheDon says: The ideal number and sex ratio per tank, in my most humble opinion, is about 2 males and 13 females. A few less works and a few more works, but those are average parameters that work for me.

TheDon says: The best way to put together a colony, if you have the time, is to buy about 30 fry and grow them out. When they get to 2"+, you can sex them by venting and remove the males. In a year or so, you'll have a young group with the sex ratio that you want, just starting to breed. They probably won't be very productive for awhile, but they should be very compatible. If you bought them from a reputable source, they should also be disease free.

TheDon says: If you just can't wait, you might find someone selling a good colony, but you'll pay an arm and a leg. You always need to ask why someone would be selling a good breeding colony. There might not be anything wrong, but then again, there might be. This approach can work, but keep in mind that moving established colonies can disrupt the apple cart, so to speak. They may begin to fight, or become ill. Try not to add odd adults to an established colony, as the colony will probably pursue and attack them, stressing them out very badly and potentially killing them.

TheDon says: Another approach to potential instant gratification is buying wild adults. There are several problems with this approach that you must be aware of:

TheDon says: Wild adults are very expensive.

TheDon says: Wild adults are typically sold only in pairs, so you must dispose of the extra males.

TheDon says: Wild adults can be very stressed out and disease carrying or disease prone.

TheDon says: Wild adults are typically very aggressive.

TheDon says: I've only taken this approach twice and it was tough for me both times. I've kept the losses to a minimum, but have had to treat extensively for bacterial problems. The further the fish are collected from the exporters facility, and the longer the time that they've been housed in tight quarters, the more stressed the fish will be. Also, the longer that they have been without good feedings and water changes, the higher the stress levels will be. And we all know what stress can do to fish.

TheDon says: Sometimes, 1.5 - 2" fish that are pond raised at the lake are available. I have had very good luck with these fish. I have seen duboisi, orange flames, cherryspots, and others available before in this manner. They seem to be free of the pitfalls of true wild Tropheus. And, due to the size, you'll be further ahead of raising tank bred fry.

TheDon says: Once you have your colony together, you can start to think about breeding. In fact, if you provide the right environment, with the right feeding and water change regimens, breeding Tropheus is a piece of cake. Hard to keep them from laying eggs.

TheDon says: To condition them, I feed a lot of spirulina flake (available from Wet Thumb Aquatics and others), Wardley spirulina sticks and, from time to time, Dorogreen sticks. That's about it.

TheDon says: There are two approaches you can employ in breeding them. You can let them do all the work, or you can artificially hatch them.

TheDon says: The first approach has the advantage that the fry will have a high survival rate, with the disadvantage that fewer fry will be produced. Brooding females can eat some or even all of the eggs that they lay. Aggressive tank mates can be the cause.

TheDon says: The second approach of artificially rearing them has the advantage of a much higher production level, with the disadvantage of a much lower survival rate. The basic problem is that eggs are touchy. They can be bruised easily and, if they are allowed to sit on the tank bottom, they will fungus and die. As a result, they must be constantly agitated or tumbled. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways.

TheDon says: Some people put the eggs in a small container with an airstone. Others place the eggs in a small net with a flow of air from beneath. Still others use specially designed egg tumblers.

TheDon says: I happen to use both methods, depending on how lazy I am at the time. My preferred method is to use egg tumblers to try to keep the production levels up. I pull all the fish from a colony out of the tank once a week and, one by one, strip the eggs from their mouths. I generally use a small container filled with tank water and hold the fish with their head in the water and pull the lower jaw down. In this manner the females expel the eggs. The eggs are placed in a tumbler and the water flow is adjusted to provide a gentle lifting action. The eggs hatch within 3-4 days and must be tumbled for about two weeks, at which time the fry can be transferred to a grow out tank.

TheDon says: A crude drawing of an egg tumbler is shown below. (I cant get it to look right in FishRoom, but you should still get the idea).

^ 0 I I AIR OUT I I I I I I I I AIR IN I 0 I ____________________ I I I I I I I I I O O O I EGGS I O O O O I I_ _ _ _ _ __ _ _ _I SCREEN ^ ^ WATER PULLED IN

TheDon says: As can be (hopefully) seen, air flow through a lift tube pulls water from below the eggs and lightly floats and rotates the eggs.

TheDon says: Things to keep in mind when tumbling:

TheDon says: * Remove fungused eggs. If not removed, they will cause the balance of the eggs in the tumbler to go bad.

TheDon says: * Do not tumble too aggressively, as eggs will bruise and die.

TheDon says: * Do not under flow them, as eggs that sit on the bottom will fungus.

TheDon says: Tumblers can be purchased from time to time from distributors, such as Wet Thumb Aquatics in New Baltimore, Michigan. There is also a design in Ad Konings Enjoying Cichlids book which you can build. Once you get the hang of using them, tumblers work pretty well.

TheDon says: Once you have fry up to transferable size, you can grow them out nicely in smaller aquariums. I prefer to use 40 gallon breeder tanks to provide an ample volume of good, clean, filtered water. Many others successfully use smaller tanks. When I can spare the tanks, I actually like to put about 100 fry in a six foot aquarium. In this manner, growth can be exceptional.

TheDon says: I start the fry out on newly hatched Artemia and crushed spirulina flakes. As they get bigger, I begin to feed Aquastable MO pellets. The pellets really put on size. I keep them on the flakes and pellets from about a half an inch up until they reach about 2". At this size, I start the adult conditioning diet discussed earlier.

TheDon says: I give frequent partial water changes like I do with the adults. Again, 50% weekly, or more frequently. Water changes, of course really aid in growth.

TheDon says: This method that I've outlined, I'm sure, does not sound very complex or intricate. But, believe me, it works. In the last year, I've probably raised well over 1500 Tropheus fry. These have been mostly duboisi, with a fair number of Kaiser IIs. Currently, I'm attempting to breed wild Icolas. I've only raised a few fry, but I've only had the adults a month or so.

TheDon says: Regarding disease, if you religiously stick to the water changes and a spirulina diet, I believe that you won't run into much disease - if your fish were healthy to start. But, the fact of the matter is that you probably will run into bloat sooner or later. I'm no expert in curing it, and I'd rather prevent it, but the following are the treatments I've used to deal with it. The first approach is to use Clout, per the prescribed dosage. The second approach is to use broad spectrum antibiotics, like Kanacyn. I prefer to use Kanacyn (kanamycin sulfate), or Spectrogram (kanamycin sulfate plus nitrofurazone) over using Clout. The reason is that it is less harsh on the fish. Kanacyn is preferred over many other antibiotics in that it does not destroy your biological filtration. Remember to complete the full treatment regimen, as per the instructions.

TheDon says: So now you know what I know about Tropheus. I've found them to be much easier to maintain and breed than I've been told over the years, not that they haven't presented challenges or difficulties. But remember, if you stick to the above, they're just not that hard. So, hopefully, if you haven't already done so, you'll try them too.

TheDon says: At this time, I'll open things for questions.

JuanMi has released muting.

Zippy claps with enthusiasm.

JuanMi applauds to Don enthusiastically too.

rsf claps with enthusiasm.

Jessica cheers enthusiastically.

Serendipity says: I have a question, please....

TheDon says: OK , Serendipity

Serendipity asks: Does all of this info apply to the other lake cichlids as well?

TheDon says: Serendipity, no all of this does not apply to other lake cichlids, mostly just Tropheus

Serendipity says: ah, ok

Maggie smiles.

Apistogramma asks: Thank you Don. I have a question... when you tumble eggs, do you ever put any antifungal treatment in the water where the tumbler is being used?

TheDon says: Apistogramma , When I tumble, I sometimes use a product called Fungus Egg Guard.

Shin asks: is there anything specific I need to know about the kaiser II's?

TheDon says: Kaiser II's follow the pattern for Tropheus and I don't have any problems with them compared to duboisi

Serendipity raises her hand.

TheDon says: Yes Serendipity.

Serendipity asks: Do you feed sinking or floating and why please?

TheDon says: I prefer to feed floating pellets to the adults. No particular reason. I do feed a sinking pellet to the fry

Shin raises his hand.

TheDon asks: Shin, you had a question?

Shin says: Are the bemba's just like the kiriza but red in color?

TheDon says: Shin, the Bemba are like an Icola Kaiser, to the best of my knowledge, just red.

TheDon asks: Any other questions?

Shin raises his hand.

TheDon says: Yes, Shin

Shin says: What is a reasonable price to get these fish and where?

TheDon says: Shin, there are many places to find good Tropheus

TheDon says: Watch the trading e-mail, for one. Also, the ACA trading post is good. And, of course, I sell them!

Serendipity raises his hand.

TheDon says: Yes Serendipity

Serendipity asks: How do you remove eggs without killing all eggs?

TheDon says: I just open the mouth of the female and she expels them. No problem at all!

Serendipity says: No, wait

TheDon says: OK

Serendipity says: I mean when you have fungus on them

TheDon says: Regarding fungus, you must remove the bad eggs from the tumbler. Also, water changes should be done

Serendipity asks: How?

TheDon asks: How to remove them?

Serendipity asks: yes. How do you get them out?

TheDon says: I just empty the tumbler into another container and use a baster. Then I put the good eggs back in.

Zippy raises his hand.

TheDon says: Yes, Zippy.

Zippy says: Do you find it more rewarding personally to have the parents raise the fry, as to removing them from the parents

TheDon says: No, not at all. I'm more gratified by raising greater numbers.

Zippy giggles.

Apistogramma raises his hand.

TheDon says: Yes,

Apistogramma asks: Do you not add buffers because of your large frequent water changes?

TheDon says: Yes, that's the main reason. And also, I don't have any problems. Or very rarely! But after reading Ad's note, I probably will try. Thanks, Juan for sending

Apistogramma says: leaving the pH at 7.5 and raising hardness has its advantages too.... the lower pH allows you to keep more fish because the metabolic wastes are not as toxic.

Jessica raises her hand.

TheDon says: Then Jessica.

Jessica asks: You said you occasionally let the mother carry the fry to term, do you house her separately?

TheDon says: Jessica, No I don't separate her. I just strip the fry as I do the eggs. I think separating and moving the fish risks aggression upon reentry into the colony.

Shin raises his hand.

TheDon says: Yes, Shin.

Shin asks: I heard that breeder put Tropheus in a 30 gallon? Basically to get the "best" group

TheDon says: Shin, I think that a 30 is WAY too small. Maybe a 40, but 70 is better. To get the best group, grow out fry.

Apistogramma raises his hand.

TheDon says: Yes, Apisto

Apistogramma asks: your tap pH is 7.5... what is your hardness?

TheDon says: It's been so long since I measured it, I can only say that it's moderate. Sorry I can't quantify.

TheDon asks: Anything else?

Shin says: at what is your e-mail address

TheDon says: Email

Juanmi says: Well, I want to thank Don for his presentation. Thanks Don

Zippy Thanks TheDon.

TheGeophile says: G'night Don, E-mail ya later.

TheDon says: Good night, Eric.

Maggie says: thanks Don.

Doogie says: thanks.

Shin exclaims: thank you!!!

TheDon says: Thanks all

BKWhopper says: thanx don

Lupota cheers enthusiastically.

TheDon exclaims: Your welcome all!!


Danko, Don. (May 27, 1996). "Keeping and Breeding Tropheus in the home aquarium". Cichlid Room Companion. Retrieved on May 26, 2019, from: