Practical Information About Keeping, Breeding and Buying Dwarf Cichlids

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Breeding Ram Cichlids - Mikrogeophagus ramirezi

     Blue Rams, Mikrogeophagus ramirezi, are fantastic dwarf cichlids that are widely available and make great additions to many aquariums. popularly sold as German rams, Blue Rams or Butterfly cichlids, Rams are among the most widely available of the dwarf cichlids. Breeding Rams can be quite a challenge and I suggest you read our profile information about Blue Rams if you have not already done so.
Mikrogeophagus ramirezi blue ram female laying eggs     Photographed in the middle of laying a row of eggs, this female Mikrogeophagus ramirezi manages to create a solid dense plaque of eggs. It is remarkable how tightly together they are packed.

     Many hobbyists have a hard time successfully breeding Blue Rams. In truth, many people have spawned Rams but few have successfully raised their fry. To succeed you first must meet the water demands of the fish - very warm, 82
- 84 F, very soft and acid - pH 5.5 - 6.2. Many fish will spawn in water that does not meet these standards but the eggs usually do not develop properly and no fry are produced.

    The next problem is often that the parent fish are not good parents. Many of the Rams sold in pet stores today are raised in large farms in Asia (even if they are called German Rams!) where they have been artificially reared for many generations. These fish are extremely colorful but are often very poor parents. It is often been speculated that hormones and special food additives are fed these fish to enhance their colors and that these additives make the fish sterile. I don't believe this because wild Rams are so spectacularly colored that there is no need to enhance their colors artificially. However, I agree that it can often be very hard to get Asian Rams to reproduce. I find that they are often very poor parents and rarely will allow their spawns to fully develop before they eat them as either eggs or fry. Wild Rams, on the other hand, are usually easier to spawn, although, they are much more demanding of water conditions.

Blue ram female guarding eggs
 click photo to expand
    This female Mikrogeophagus ramirezi has just finished laying her eggs and stands guard above them. Her blunt ovipositor is still visible but will quickly be reduced in size.

    Another problem that many people have with Rams is that they are not very effective at protecting their school of fry. It is not an absence of desire, ferocity or concern. Rather, they do not have the ability to keep the fry in a tight school that will drop to the bottom on command the way Apistogrammas do. Instead the fry make a large loose cloud swarming around the parents. The swarm can be very large because the these small fish can produce a very large spawn often totaling two to three hundred fry. Within a day or two it becomes impossible for the parents to guard the school as the fry are increasingly independent. It makes me believe that, in their natural habitat, Rams inhabit waters that are empty of other fishes.

    As you might expect, Ram fry are quite small and you must be prepared to feed them with a quality food that they find easy to eat. I approach this in a couple of ways. First, I try to make sure that I have a very well established tank. This typically means that it has a good growth of algae on many surfaces. This algae provides a rich source of live microbes, more of which are found on the  prolific plants that I also stock the tank with. If you can provide these rich surfaces for the babies to graze on it will really jump start their growth.

Blue Ram pair with fry
 click photo to enlarge
    On the first day they are free swimming ram fry are very small. It is helpful if you have a lush growth of plants and algae for them to pick microorganisms off of. This photo is somewhat blurred and off color because of the layer of green algae on the glass. Note also the snail eggs on the glass. The tiny fry form a loose cloud around the parents but often wander away. 

    The first supplemental food I provide is live micro worms. These tiny worms are the perfect size for the baby Rams. They eat them easily and they are a great food source as uneaten worms will live on the bottom for hours until they are consumed.  After just a couple of days they fry will begin to take newly hatched brine shrimp and growth is quick after that. Of course, as with any fry, you must make sure to provide frequent water changes combined with good food.

    Rams are typical cichlids and as such they are all unique individuals. Some make excellent and caring parents that will raise successive batches of fry while others never get the hang of parenting and repeatedly eat their eggs. If you have a pair that just won't raise their fry you must decide if you want to try and artificially hatch the eggs. This can be a great way to ensure that you get fry but lacks the charm of a breeding pair. Your other option is to break up the pair and try to introduce a new partner. While Rams form fairly strong pair bonds it is possible to force a pairing. However, if you want to do this I suggest that you give the fish several weeks of separation before you introduce the prospective new mate.

Blue Ram pair with fry  click photo to enlarge
    Microgeophagus ramirezi pair with fry, male above and female below.  Note the three shiny iridescent spots at the top of the black side spot on the female. Female Rams will normally have several of these bright spots on each side while males do not have them.
    A couple of final suggestions. If you want to parent raise the fish I strongly urge you to keep them in a species tank with no other fish of any sort. The tiny Ram fry seem to be eagerly eaten by almost every other fish and it is very rare for any fry to survive in a mixed species tank. Also, Rams can be slow to spawn. If your fish just don't seem to want to spawn try giving them high quality live food for several weeks followed by a large water change and raise the temperature a couple of degrees. This will often stimulate a spawn.

    One nice thing for the average home breeder of this fish is that there is usually a steady demand for Rams at the local fish store. This means that you can usually trade some of your fish and they will be happy to take them. Although you will never make much of a profit it is nice to have an outlet for your fish.

    In summary, there is a good reason why Blue Rams are one of the all time favorite dwarf cichlids. They are beautiful, they make great community fish, they get along with most other fish and they present an interesting breeding challenge to the more advanced hobbyist. If you have never kept these gems give them a try and if you are an experienced dwarf cichlid keeper who considers them to be a beginner's fish take another look. Rams are a great addition to any fish room.

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