The Fish Cave - Breeding brachybranchus

Breeding Geophagus brachybranchus

In Australia they are commonly referred to as Geophagus surinamensis, also called Red Horse Face and Black throats.No matter what they are called, these fish are a splendid and wonderful addition to most aquaria.

This is not a document spitting out facts and figures, there are numerous books and websites that will list this information. This is more a story that details what I went through in order to get these fish to spawn and keep their eggs alive. Even if you are not interested in this particular fish, the information that follows should encourage people to try different methods and to evaluate the outcomes.

Brachybranchus will grow and survive in a pH of up to 7.8 quite happily. I grew my batch in just such a tank that I loosely refer to as my “display tank”. This included multiple zebras, red empress, hongi, venustus, green terrors, various lorricardes and synodontis etc etc. They all get along just fine and the pH is 7.8. Ideally these fish need a neutral pH, as a higher pH stresses the fish and results in diseases such as hole in the head.

They paired off at about 150 mm in size, their aggression level lifted around the spawning site and the pair attempted to spawn in with the rest of the inhabitants.

The residents of my display tank are used to being pushed around as a pair of Green Terrors regularly spawn in the same tank. Unfortunately the green terrors also decided to spawn shortly after the brachybranchus had cleaned their rock. The aggression level of the green terrors was greater and the rest of the tank invaded the planned breeding site.

The brachybranchus were moved into a standard four foot tank, in the garage. I have read somewhere that they required a quiet place in which to spawn. This fact (?) really doesn't make sense when you consider that they were about to spawn in the display tank, but who knows.

The filtration for this tank was an Aquaclear 300. The substrate was gravel, 8-12mm, that has no effect on pH or hardness. The parents chose the highest point in the aquarium, a log, located immediately beneath the water outflow and the cleaning commenced.

Shortly after, the ovipositor in the female had “dropped” and this was later followed by the males and the spawning commenced. Although this episode was not viewed as I had to go to work that evening. In later spawnings, the process was viewed and taped for later reference. The process is quite involved and each time the female lays her eggs the male goes over each egg fertilising it. The process took over an hour, I only witnessed the last hour, so I would expect the spawning to easily exceed two hours.

This first batch of eggs were cared for by the parents with about 10 eggs suffering from fungus, the rest 200-300, all matured. After 2- 3 days the eggs were gone! I was heart broken. The textbooks were opened and I discovered that the eggs/fry are taken into the parents’ mouths and cared for there and I waited anxiously for the parents to show me that they hadn’t eaten them.

Sure enough one lovely morning there was a swarm within the tank, about an eighth of the tank volume. When closely observed the parents were placing the fry where they wanted them to be. They were very careful at all times. At night the fry even stayed in their parents’ mouths, this lasted no more than a few days.

I became a little nervous with such big fish and such tiny fry. So out came the siphon and we took away about 100 fry. My fears were for nought as the parents were wonderful and I think they raised all of “their” fish. The fry that were left with the parents were smaller than the ones taken, however the fish raised by their parents were far stronger and better able to look after themselves than the ones I syphoned off.

Buoyed by this first extremely successful spawning, I considered them easy to spawn. I was wrong. They seemed to have no trouble spawning. The eggs were layed and fertilised. Then the eggs were seriously affected by fungus. Each egg in turn would be attacked and destroyed. I felt terribly sad for these wonderful parents and they tried over and over, to no avail. Until eventually they would remove all of the evidence of the eggs demise.

I tried changing their tanks, bigger, smaller, lower pH, Higher pH, hotter, 29 degrees down to 22 degrees. I tried dither fish, no dithers, no bristlenose cats, more bristlenose. I increased their filtration, added icecream filters, another Aquaclear 300. I tried feeding them better foods, not feeding them, live foods only, worms only, vegetable only. Dropping their water level, then simulating rain. Covering the tank so light came in from a limited area and thus didn’t disturb the fish that much, covering the tank completely and the fluro light at the top as the only light source. Funny thing is that no mater what was done they just kept on spawning. Various medications were also tried. In the end I was considering that maybe one of the parents was sterile, I didn’t know the reason but the eggs were just not progressing, I was even considering trying another male or another pair altogether. Regardless the eggs suffered from fungus and died.

The books it seemed were not telling me something and my pride had to be swallowed. I started talking to others and the ideas increased but a solution was elusive. Then some words of wisdom followed, “What have you done differently” (thanks Gus and Anita)? Days earlier I had also been discussing egg tumblers and water flow. Now I had been asked this question before by other people and never came up with any ideas.

The only different thing I could think of was the Aquaclear 300 over the log. At the time I remember thinking that the eggs will get be washed off by the current. But they weren’t! Finally the penny dropped, it took long enough.

The second last time they spawned I got a powerhead/internal filter that was pumping out 600 lph and aimed it above the eggs, the rubber suction cups were not the best and the water ended up firing straight at the eggs. Guess what? The eggs weren’t all suffering from fungus! I was winning? Unfortunately the plug got knocked out and the current stopped. I found the eggs suffering from fungus the next morning and couldn’t work out why, until I checked the plug.

The last time they spawned I watched them and videotaped them, it was after a cichlid meeting and it was about 2 am, but I stayed there taping until my arm hurt and my head screamed continuously for sleep, I had to work the next day. The powerhead was setup and was firing directly at the eggs, I checked it often to ensure that water was still flowing. Within about three days the eggs were gone and the parents had a gob full! I was so happy!

Another mishap occurred with their heater and the temperature dropped to 23 degrees. The fry and eggs were not harmed, I think?, and the temperature was slowly increased back up to 28 degrees.

Time marched on and finally there was a swarm of fish in the tank. It was about 4 or 5 days after they were mouth brooded. The parents had selected the end that was away from the filter intake and managed their school magnificently. The fry were fed powdered up adult fish food and they seemed to be growing. I tried getting some vinegar eels down to them but alas the current was a little to strong and they always seemed to miss out.

A day later the fry were decreased in number, about 25 were left. I resolved to take them out the next morning.

I never saw any fry after that.  Now I am waiting and watching patiently for any spawning behaviour. Two days ago it looked like the females ovipositor had dropped, unfortunately this has proved false and it has since departed. They should spawn at the earliest after six weeks. Time will tell.

PS. They spawned four days after I originally wrote this story. Fingers are crossed.

The plan

I have heard that sometimes the parents will fight amongst themselves for care of the fry. So for this reason I will be taking the fry from them once they become free swimming. I will leave about 20–40 fry for them to care for, my theory is that one parent should be able to hold onto all of the fry whilst the other eats.  I also intend on introducing dither fish to see what effect this has as maybe the aggression in the parents could be directed to the dither fish, we had Bristlenose in with their first spawning, who knows maybe that is the solution?


What I have learnt

Patience is a virtue, but when it takes too long then start thinking outside of your old ways, research everywhere and then start talking to others.

  1. Water current over the eggs is absolutely required!
  2. Good food, pellets, worms, live foods
  3. Excellent water
  4. High filtration to tank volume ratio
  5. A high place for the adults to spawn upon.
  6. The correct water parameters – Neutralish
  7. Setup a tank that is at least a standard 3 foot. I prefer a standard 4 foot as a minimum as I believe it gives them a lot more room to swim around in. Now I have them in a 4ft x 18 x 18 all by themselves and this seems to be adequate in terms of their space requirements.
  8. Wood and gravel is all that you need in the tank. As a spawning site select wood, slate or rock as a place. They will usually select a place that is the highest in the tank.
  9. Try taking about 90% of the fry off their parents once they are free swimming.
  10. Temperature 27-28 degrees. This optimises fry and egg development.
  11. Re-evaluate after every spawning, what worked and what didn’t?
  12. Did I mention that the eggs need water current? It seems the more the better, but I am sure there is a limit.

The above article led me on to design a spawning platform.

These are air powered. I have since spawned these fish many times on this platform. As you can see below I am also using them to spawn Satanoperca leucostictus.

Spawning PlatformBrachybranchus and Spawning PlatformPlatform leuco

Written by Matthew Begaud


What you will find at TheFishCave

Here you will find lots of DIY Fish Projects, some techniques that I use, along with some of my inventions that I use to both keep and breed my fish.

Some have taken a long time to develop and other ideas just appeared out of the blue. A good example of how an idea needs to develop, is shown in the article on brachybranchus breeding, it shows what work was done to find the problem and a possible solution. Then later on a real solution/invention needed to be made to solve it properly.

Please be a little patient with me

This is my first attempt at writing a website. I am trying to build this by myself, that way when a problem occurs I will be able to solve it, well that is the plan and so all of the bad bits are mine. The site will be a work an ongoing project so please check back soon to see how the site progresses. For the moment please email me with your suggestions or questions matthew <@>
Soon I will post up a contacts and notifications page, well as soon as I learn how to control php scripts .

cya Matthew

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