Cichlids are either monogamous or polygamous fish with mating habits that have been shown to strongly influence many aspects of breeding behavior, including courtship and brooding.
However, cichlid mating habits and the effects they have on other aspects of breeding behavior can vary from species to species…
For example, although most monogamous cichlid species are not mouthbrooders, Chromidotilapia, Gymnogeophagus, Spathodus and Tanganicodus are all monogamous mouthbrooders.
On the other hand, several open or cave spawning cichlids are polygamous; examples of these are Apistogramma, Lamprologus, Nannacara and Pelvicachromis.
Like most animals, mating can occur only between the same species. For this reason, when setting up a cichlid aquarium, it is important to keep the number of species as small as possible.
Moreover, since older individuals tend to be more dominant and aggressive than younger individuals, all individuals in the tank should be of approximately the same age.
First signs that the mating season is approaching
As soon as the mating season comes, males that are ready to mate become paler in color (becoming highly attractive for receptive females).
Moreover, you will notice an overall increase in aggressive behavior in your cichlid society. Male individuals will commnunicate their emotional state to other males, flaring their gills and fully spreading their fins (in order to look bigger and scare competitors for the same females).
Most times, this is enough to establish dominance. However, when two individuals with comparable social rank meet, fights can occur. Some of the most common aggressive behaviors during cichlid mating season include:
- Tail beating (pushing water against the competitor)
- Increased swimming speed in the tank
How do Cichlids mate?
Cichlid mating is usually a highly aggressive behavior. During the so-called “cichlid mating dance”, scales are lost, decorations are toppled and death can occur.
Cichlids are egg layers. This means that, unlike mammals, in cichlid fish, mating (or spawning) takes place outside of the body, with no copulation between the male and the female.
The female lays the eggs and then the male releases his sperm over the eggs. From then on, both the female and the male will take care of the fertilized eggs, until the baby fish (fry) is approximately 1 inch long and can fend for itself.
Selecting a Mate
Cichlids are quite picky… they spend a lot of time choosing their sexual mates. Once a male finds a female of his liking, it starts engaging in courtship. Courtship in cichlids involves chasing, slapping the sides of their bodies together and mouth locking. Importantly, all these behaviors must be performed correctly to trigger egg laying in the female.
Examples of mating behavior in cichlids
In most cichlids, mouthbrooding starts as soon as the male attracts a sexually ripe female to his ‘nest’ (a little hole he has just dug for the occasion). Then the female lays the eggs which are then fertilized by the male. The female then picks the fertilized eggs and holds them in her mouth.
In other other mouthbrooders, like Cyprichromis leptosoma, a similar mating behavior has been described.
However, in this cichlid species, mating occurs in in open water. The female picks the eggs first and then the male fertilizes them.
In other cichlid species, females lay their eggs on top of flat rocks (open brooding). Only then they will be receptive to male courtship rituals. Examples include Pterophyllum, Symphysodon spp, and Anomalochromis thomasi.
In these cichlid species, male and female parents usually have separate brooding tasks. Typically, the male keeps intruders as far as possible from the eggs and females carefully fan water over the eggs, removing the infertile ones and and swimming by their fry after they have hatched.
In other species, cichlids lay their eggs in caves, crevices, holes or shells. These cichlids are called “cave spawing”. Examples cave spawining cichlids are Pelvicachromis spp., Archocentrus spp, and Apistogramma spp.
Finally, in other species, females lay eggs in the open water or in a cave and take the hatched larvae into the mouth. Examples are some variants of Geophagus altifrons, and some Aequidens, Gymnogeophagus, and Satanoperca.
It takes about 21 days for the eggs to hatch. You can expect up to approximately 35 fry/couple.
During mating and, more importantly, during breeding, your tank conditions should be kept at their best. Make sure that the new parents have enough food and privacy!