Cichlids are ideal fish for novice aquarists wishing to have the color of saltwater fish without the precise water conditions and time-consuming maintenance. No doubt you'll spend hours enjoying watching your cichlids swim in the tank, and a few changes in their regular behavior will let you know that more fish will soon be brought into their watery world.
Fat Bottomed Girl
A female cichlid ready to begin the mating process develops eggs inside her body, giving her a broad side-to-side appearance in the region of her belly near the anal fin. She will become noticeably broader than the male. In cichlid species where males and females are identical, this will be your first tip-off to which of your fish is the feminine gender.
He Could Just Spit
The female's developing voluptuous figure signals the mature male to make preparations of his own. You'll notice him sucking up the substrate in his mouth and spitting it out elsewhere in the tank as he endeavors to create a flat, level area for mating. Provide a few smooth, flat rocks in secluded, cave-like areas around your tank or clay flowerpots turned on their sides and the male won't have to dig his way down to the aquarium's glass bottom.
The Dance of Romance
After his brooding pit is complete, a male cichlid attempts to win the attention of his mate and lead her to the pit to procreate. His coloration becomes more intense to signal his intent and the males of most species perform an intricate wiggling dance accompanied by flaring fins in an attempt to lure her to the breeding pit. Once there, the female will lay eggs and scoop them up in her mouth. Mistaking spots on the male's anal fin for eggs, she'll attempt to suck them up too, at which time the male will fertilize the eggs in her mouth.
Although some species of cichlids are more aggressive, male cichlids preparing to procreate usually become more aggressive toward males of their own species, sometimes killing them off. This is a good time to remove the aggressive male and broad-bellied female to a second breeding tank. If you leave them in the tank, the male will usually stand guard to chase away any other aquarium residents who happen to venture into the area.
If you miss all the other signals of impending procreation, you may just notice that one of your female fish seems to be missing. You'll find her resting near the bottom of the brooding pit or in a secluded cave nearby. Her cheeks will be puffed full of the eggs she's holding in her mouth, where they will develop into baby fish and be ready to swim on their own in about four weeks. The female doesn't eat during this time and inexperienced females may become so hungry they end up eating their own young.
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