Improving Your BAP Results, Parts 1 & 2
Chases’ 9’X10’ Fish Room, left side
(Note: The Breeder Award Program (BAP) keeps track of a club members’ species bred. This article was written about a year after winning the Federation of American Aquarium Societies (FAAS) international award for “Breeder of the Year” in 1984 with 79 species bred in that year)
BREEDER AWARD PROGRAM
The Breeder Award Program (BAP) has been instrumental in the growth of the hobby and in making more species available to hobbyists. The expansion of knowledge and more active participation of club members are obvious benefits of the program. Everyone can participate, whether one has 4, 40, or more aquariums. An article of this type does not allow complete coverage of the subject of breeding tropical fish, but here I hope to emphasize the importance of the BAP program and to share a few ideas that I learned which help me in breeding fish. If I can increase the enjoyment others get from this part of the hobby, I will be satisfied.
I have found six areas of fishkeeping important to getting better BAP program results. They are:
Information and Records
Each will be discussed separately. Because of the amount of material, I will cover the first three areas in this article (Part 1), and the last three in a subsequent article (Part 2).
INFORMATION AND RECORDS
The most tedious, but probably the most important part of breeding tropical fish is gaining knowledge about the species of fish you are trying to breed. I try to learn as much as I can about the varieties of fish I am working with. Their temperment, food needs, water requirements, temperature requirements, sex determination, mature size, and how others have succeeded in breeding them are all important . There may be several articles, magazines, and reference books you can get the information from, as well as from club members who have spawned them. (Update 2016—the Internet was not a factor in 1986, but obviously should be also used today. However, some of the most accurate information is still in printed form). I find it helpful to write down a summary of this information about each species in my “3X5 Computer” card file that I can add to as I get more material. There is often conflicting information in different articles. What works in one situation may not work in another. With much information about a species, I can choose what might work best in my situation, and have several other ways to try if that doesn’t succeed. The SWAMAS club library has been an excellent source of breeding information for me.
Be open and share your knowledge with others. Club members have been very helpful to me in sharing their knowledge and experiences. I have learned more about more fish species and how to spawn them in the last couple of years in SWAMAS than I did in the previous 25 years in the hobby. I am still asking questions and learning. No one is an “expert”, as there is always more to learn.
It is very helpful to keep good records of the spawnings you get for each species. Record in the card file the temperature, water chemistry, or anything you think may have influenced the spawning. Also record the conditions and method of hatching the eggs and feeding the fry. Getting eggs is a long way from 10 fry checked in for BAP. Also record the conditions of your failures. I have gotten eggs from many species of fish that I couldn’t get to hatch. At least I will know what not to try next time! I learn much more from my failures because I have so many more of them. Don’t be discouraged. With thorough information and persistence, you will surprise yourself and spawn many difficult species of fish.
Organization is the key to getting things done. Filter cleaning, water changing, feeding, egg hatching and other tasks can usually be improved to save time. All one needs to do is to “dream” a little about the possibilities of how one might improve a given task. Try it. You might be surprised at the results. Probably the most time-saving yet most difficult thing to organize is your tank setup. A simple example would be a person with 4 aquariums spread throughout the house. Feeding, cleaning, and changing water would involve many trips with bucket, hose, food, and other items to care for them. One solution might be a portable service unit carried from room to room. A better solution would be to move all 4 tanks into one area, preferably near a drain and sink. Of course, not everyone can do this. Use your imagination on how your setup might be improved.
For those with a separate fishroom, consider ways it might be re-organized and improved for efficiency. It is best to put tanks of the same size together and if possible with the ends out to save wall space. A small, well-insulated fish room with aquariums closely organized is more efficient and less expensive to operate than a large basement room. A few years ago I was fortunate enough to be able to design and build (with the help of a carpenter) a small fishroom in my basement. One four-tier tank rack holds 28 twenty-gallon long tanks on one side, all in less than 8 ½ feet of wall area. Observing, cleaning, and feeding these tanks is much easier in this arrangement. Because the room has a vapor barrier and is well insulated, water in these tanks stays from 73 to 80 degrees all year. No heaters are used, as adequate heat is given off from a large air pump and florescent lighting fixtures in the room. In the summer, the door is kept open and a dehumidifier is used in the basement.
There are many simpler things that can be done to save time. Just using a larger diameter siphon hose or siphoning into a drain will help when changing water. If your tanks are close together, use a ¾ inch garden hose for faster siphoning and jump from tank to tank. To replace water, attach the other end to a H/C mixing faucet and run water back into the tanks while adding dechlor. A plastic gallon jug with the top cut off is used to carry the hose from tank to tank with the water running. Try to standardize procedures as much as possible to save time. For example, I use undergravel filters in most of my tanks because they are effective and easy to clean with a power, canister, or diatom filter after being stirred up. (Update 2016: I now use sponge/large gravel pan filters that can be easily removed and quickly cleaned. See “Pan Filter” article). One canister power filter can reach all of my 20 gallon tanks and is easy to move from tank to tank. In breeding fish, set up several breeding tanks at the same time. Cleaning tanks, moving water, and observing for eggs are more easily done together. For feeding fish, decide ahead of time what foods you will be giving each tank, then feed one food at a time.
Probably the most time-consuming yet most enjoyable part of my hobby is observing my fish. By being organized in other areas of fishkeeping, I can be assured of enough time for this. Spawning activity, sickly fish, polluted water, and unusual or aggressive fish behavior are things I look for in order to take early action when necessary. Because much time is involved in breeding fish, it is important to be organized in order to improve your BAP results. People organize differently, and ideas I use may not work in your situation. I suggest that you consider how you might improve your own setup. Increased satisfaction and enjoyment may well be your reward.
I feel that tank cleanliness and water quality are extremely important in breeding fish. Optimal health is essential. Some fish may be unable to breed if kept in poor quality water for even short periods of time. We all have kept “delicate” species of fish that seem to die off easily. It is usually poor water quality, not water chemistry that is the culprit. Overfeeding and overcrowding are the main causes of tank pollution. Also, unnoticed dead fish, plants, and snails can quickly pollute a tank and kill sensitive fish. Proper conditioning for breeding requires heavy frequent feedings of a variety of foods. Yet, tank cleanliness is essential for optimal health needed to breed fish. The two are opposites, and we need both. Therefore, we must take extra care and time to maintain clean tanks and pollution-free water. Following are a few ways in which I keep my tanks as clean as possible.
Clean filters frequently
I use undergravel filters because they keep the water clearer than most other types. Every 2 to 4 weeks I will stir the gravel and pick up the suspended debris with a power filter. The fish in the tank always seem to perk up when I do this, and often show spawning behavior. There is always enough bacteria left to restart the biological filter.
A 30% water change one or two times per week seems about right for larger tanks. Small tanks (1-3 gallon) need a more complete water change. For these, I siphon out 80 to 90% of the water and replace it with fresh aged and filtered water.
Observe fish and tanks daily
Finding and quickly removing dead fish, plants, snails, and uneaten food is essential. Also, look for any discolored or cloudy water. Quickly check the general health of the fish in each tank. Slightly clamped fins, fast breathing, inactivity, and other subtle signs indicate that a filter cleaning and/or water change must be done soon. Too often I have waited a day or two, only to find a prize fish belly-up! Pollution will not usually cause all the fish in a tank to die at once. Usually, the weaker fish and more delicate species are affected first.
Remove any algae from the glass
If light is not excessive, algae is usually a sign that pollution is building up. Use a razor blade scraper to suspend the algae. This is usually done while cleaning the filter so the power filter can remove it from the tank.
Catfish, snails, and growing plants
Scavengers can help. Use smaller species of snails so if one dies, it will not foul the tank. Growing plants will adsorb some pollution. I like to use floating Hornwort on the surface and anubias and potted cryptocoryenes on the bottom where there is less light. Catfish, barbs, and livebearers are good “bottom pickers” and do a fairly good job of cleaning up excess food.
Think about how pollution affects fish. The effects accumulate slowly over a period of time. We might even relate this to humans, since poor personal hygiene and sanitation cause many infectious diseases, and chemical pollution (asbestos, pesticides, smoke, etc.) is related to human cancer and other diseases. Cleanliness is important to both people and fish!
This is the second part of a 2-part article about breeding tropical fish. The first article covered 1) INFORMATION AND RECORDS, 2) ORGANIZATION, and 3) TANK CLEANLINESS. This article will cover 4) BREEDING CONDITIONS, 5) HATCHING, and 6) MENTAL ATTITUDE. It is my hope that the information contained in these articles will help more club members to participate in and enjoy our fine Breeders Award Program at SWAMAS.
4) BREEDING CONDITIONS
Proper A) Selection of Breeders, B) Conditioning, C) Breeding Environment, and D) Spawning Stimulants are all important factors when attempting to breed fish. I will cover each factor separately.
A)---Selection of Breeders starts with healthy, robust fish. If you are going to raise a small group and let them pair off, six should be an adequate number. Chances of not getting at least one pair are very remote, and as we all have limited tank space, more are not necessary. We then tend to raise larger, healthier fish. Consult on past Fry Raising articles in our newsletter for points on how to raise them. Basically, warmth, light, live plants, frequent feedings of a varied diet, an efficient filter, and frequent water changes will promote the best growth and health for your breeders. If you are purchasing fish at an auction or pet store, be very critical as to their health and age. Auction fish are sometimes bagged with dirty water or insufficient air and should be avoided. Fish in a pet store should be closely examined also. Each and every fish in the tank should be examined for any sign of disease. Look for alert, active fish in good coloration. Poorly fed fish are in weaker condition and generally more difficult to sex. Fish kept undernourished or in polluted conditions may be infertile anyway, and it doesn’t pay to purchase them. Fortunately, in our area, we have several pet stores that take the time to maintain healthy fish. If there is any fish with even minor signs of ick, tail rot, fungus, or other infections, don’t buy fish from that tank. Fish shop owners generally appreciate being shown these fish, as they can quarantine and treat it early. The age of breeders is a factor in selecting fish also. The first spawn or two of a young pair may be infertile or hatch poorly, so some patience may be needed. Old fish, especially barbs and tetras, may become eggbound and unable to spawn. Avoid the super-fat females that look like they will drop eggs any second. The best breeders are young fish of adult size that have been kept and raised under optimum conditions. Sexing of breeders can get fairly involved for some species, and references should be consulted if there is any question.
B)---Conditioning the Breeders involves optimal environment and optimal feeding. The principles of Fry Raising work here nicely. Water changes must be done frequently. The water hardness and pH is not critical, but should be in the range that the species prefers. Clean the filter and siphon the bottom frequently, as you will be feeding more heavily and more often than usual. The temperature should be in the middle of the range that the species prefers, with a good average temperature for most species around 75-77 degrees. If at all possible, use light and live plants. Plants adsorb pollutants, are a salad snack for some fish, and provide cover. A relaxed environment, free of bullies, is very important for many fish to eat properly and reproduce, especially the shy species. Think of that as a little “wine and music” for fish! Optimal feeding involves offering a varied diet at least 2 or 3 times a day. This should include live foods, frozen meats, and dry foods. In foods for humans, some nutrients are lost when we process foods. Then we add sugar, flour, and numerous chemicals to make them taste, look, and smell good. As a general rule, the least processed foods are the best nutritionally for us. In many respects, our fish may be eating better than their owners!
At the top of the list for fish are live foods. Newly hatched brine shrimp, daphnia, and white worms seem to work best, since they are easy to cultivate and readily available. They are very nutritious and very little, if any, is left over to pollute the tank. For frozen meats, I use scraped beef heart, beef liver, and frozen brine shrimp. All of these can pollute the water with beef liver being the worst. I feed some beef liver because many species, especially tetras, seem to prefer it over other frozen foods. Liver is a rich organ meat containing appetite stimulant vitamins B6 and B2. Feed it carefully and use heavy filtration, but it can do wonders to condition some fish. Alternate the liver with frozen brine shrimp and beef heart for best results. I also feed a good quality flake food at least once a day, since there are nutrients present in it that are not in meats, especially spirulina (vegetable products) that many fish require. For species of fish that need plant matter in their diet, it would be best to use an algae flake food (spirulina) as well as having live plants present. Many of the home-prepared food mixes are cooked and frozen and have many different food items in them. But look at it this way---how would you like to have leftover beef-stew-goulash for every meal for the rest of your life? Pretty boring! Variety is the spice of life, and fish seem to do best on a varied diet. Even the biological filters seem to work more efficiently if a variety of foods is fed---maybe the bacteria do better on a varied diet also!
C)---The Breeding Environment is the actual conditions needed to get a pair or group of fish to spawn. This can vary widely with the different species of fishes. Some factors include temperature, light intensity and duration, water chemistry, water flow, filtration, water changes, diet, plants, bottom substrate, caves, cover available, quietness of tank location, and water depth. We begin by setting up an aquarium with the recommended conditions needed for the group of fishes our species is in (e.g. barbsa, anabantoids, tetras, etc.). Then we research several articles and references on the particular species we are trying to breed. It is here that my “3X5 computer” cards really help . By summarizing all articles read in the past about a given species, I don’t have to re-read them. When I get to the point where I can read articles, memorize the information, and recall it all several weeks, months, or years later, I will throw away my 3X5 card files. Guess when that will be!!
Here are a few general tips on breeding some groups of fishes:
BARBS—Medium hardness water that is clean but aged works well. Some species like softer water. A night-day light cycle with growing plants seems to stimulate their breeding, especially if the temperature goes up slightly during the day. Barbs need lots of plant cover in the breeding tank, as they are aggressive and avid egg eaters. With some species, males can be very nasty and even kill females. With others, 2 males may be necessary to get a female started spawning. Watch them closely to avoid damage to breeders.
TETRAS---A very clean tank and absolutely fresh water seems to stimulate many tetras to spawn. Dim light is quite important, as many tetra eggs and fry are sensitive to light. In fact, neon and cardinal tetras spawn mostly at night. Artificial spawning grass is easier to keep clean and helps maintain a very low bacterial level. Ion exchange softened water works best for me to get fish to spawn. Hatching conditions, however, are very different, as I will explain later. I have had limited success using acidifiers and peat extract.
KILLIFISH---Peat moss treated water (box filter) with 1 teaspoon of salt per gallon works for me. They do well on live foods, but I feed frozen rinsed brine shrimp for variety. By adding a few small snails and changing water frequently, water conditions are kept clean for spawning. Dark colored spawning mops of soft acrylic yarn work well. For bottom substrate spawners, I use two or Three mops on the bottom in a pile. They dive into this and lay eggs as if it were peat moss. The eggs are picked from the mops, siphoned from the bottom, and put in moist peat.
LIVEBEARERS---They often need harder water or even salt added to their water (especially mollies), but some fish don’t always go by the book. I have bred 12 species of goodeids in softened (DH-6) water when the references said they needed quite hard water. Many livebearers prefer warmth and live plants to nibble on. An algae flake food (spirulina) is very beneficial. Some species are quite sensitive to pollution in the water and need strong filtration and frequent water changes.
ANABANTOIDS---Most bubble nest builders like a low water level and high temperatures (82-85 degrees) to spawn. Summer is a good time to spawn them, as it is easier to maintain higher temperatures and humidity levels. Strong light and live plants, especially floating, seem to stimulate spawning. Use clean water but little or no aeration or filtration as water movement seem to discourage them from spawning. Hiding areas are important to protect the female.
My experience with this group is somewhat limited, although I have bred several species in my softened water using dolomite undergravel filters to harden it. They need lots of cover, rocks, and structures to identify their territory. Larger bunches of plastic plants work well also. Some plants, algae, or spirulina flake will help with their diet. Water changes seem to stimulate most spawns. Observe these fishes frequently. Their aggressive behavior and secretive spawning habits need close scrutiny.
CICHLIDS, SOUTH AMERICAN
Generally, soft water works best for these fishes, especially the dwarf varieties, who often need lots of heat (82 to 85 degrees) and super clean water. Most larger South American cichlids feed heavily, are messy, and will do fine in harder water. Breeding them requires many water changes and heavy filtration. Raising the temperature can often trigger spawning. A cave rock, or slate present will often promote spawning. With dwarf cichlids, live plants seem to be very helpful, as they provide cover and adsorb pollution. With the species that are shy, a few small tetras in the tank will bring them out more.
D)---Spawning Stimulants More often than not, a person will research the group and species to spawn, set up a tank with “ideal” breeding conditions, and still the fish won’t spawn. At this point, many would separate the breeders, recondition them, and try again later. However, this doesn’t always work either. Rather than give up on the species or run out to get a new pair, I like to try some different conditions first. From the research done, there will usually be an article or two by authors who have succeeded in breeding the species under different than usual conditions. Also, ask club members who have bred the fish what they felt was important in getting them to breed. Changing the temperature, light, water, and environment conditions can often be done with the fish still in the tank to try again. It is this aspect of breeding fish that I find very exciting, challenging, and rewarding. If breeding fish had cookbook directions and predictable results, I probably would not be interested. After several more tries, sometimes it pays just to sit back and wait for the fish to breed. Some fish are known to breed only when they are good and ready. This is likely an , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , excuse for the fact that there is much more to learn about breeding them. Finally, if there is good reason to believe that your breeders are old, eggbound, or not in top health, by all means obtain new breeding stock and try again.
Getting eggs to hatch and fry to the free-swimming stage is the most difficult part of raising egg laying fish. Environmental conditions are much more critical at this stage than when breeding fish. Countless times I have spawned fish only to watch the eggs fungus or the fry die before free-swimming. And with cichlids, it is frustrating to sit by and watch spawn after spawn get eaten by the parents! For these reasons, I prefer to remove the eggs from the spawning tank and hatch them separately on all fish except mouthbrooders. The eggs are removed by using an airline hose siphon, one end to which a foot long stick is attached for control. In the case of cichlids, the end of the siphon is maneuvered to the rock where the eggs are and gently moved through the eggs to pick them up as loosened. Smaller rocks and pots can be removed to another container of the same water and “blown off” the rock by squirting water at them with an eye dropper. If you desire to give the parents a chance also, take only half the eggs and quickly replace the rock. This removal doesn’t seem to bother the eggs at all, and few if any will stick together. The only eggs this doesn’t seem to work on are corydoras catfish eggs, which are ultra-sticky. For egg scatterers (tetras, barbs, etc), use a glass bottomed tank with no gravel to spawn the fish in, and the eggs can be easily siphoned from the bottom after removing the plants. Shining a flashlight along the bottom will make the eggs visible. Next, I clean the eggs off in fresh hatching water by swirling them in a one quart plastic semi-translucent container. The viable eggs are heavier and will collect in the center, and the lighter infertile ones will be farther out. It is easy to collect the viable eggs in the center with an eyedropper (no, this will not produce dizzy fry!). This procedure is extremely important with tetra eggs, as the sperm and infertile eggs in the water will quickly raise the bacteria level and kill the remaining eggs.
At this point, the eggs are placed in their preferred water for hatching. With tetras, this means clean, slightly acid rainwater (or RO) with 2-4 drops per gallon of 5% methylene blue added to decrease the light and reduce fungus. Barb eggs will do well in this water also. This is fine for apistos, but many South American cichlid eggs do better in water with some hardness. In about a day, the tetra eggs have hatched and must be swirled and cleaned again, since the eggshells pollute the water. If there are around 100 or more eggs to hatch, at least a gallon container would be best to use. After hatching, the methylene blue does not have to be used, but there is a period of 5 or 6 days the fry are developing and should not be fed, but lightly aerated. Keep in mind that some fry are light-sensitive, so dim light is best. If I am trying to hatch eggs from a new or unfamiliar species, I will split the eggs into 2 or 3 different containers and try different hatching conditions in each. This is one way to determine the best hatching conditions. Killifish eggs are picked from the mops and placed in floating containers in my “killie hatcher” where salted and peat treated water is filtered and circulated around the eggs from beneath (see “Killie Hatcher” article).
Hatching eggs is very unpredictable and many factors are important. The health and conditioning of the parents may affect viability. Temperature also has an effect. If the water is too warm, a high rate of mutation may occur. If it is too cool, there will be a very slow, or possibly no hatch. There may be a sex determining factor with hatching temperature in several species where the ratio of males to females could be way off. Once the fry are free-swimming, they can be moved to larger quarters, fed, and scavengers added (see “Feeding Tiny Fry” article.
6) MENTAL ATTITUDE
This section could just as easily be called “Philosophy” or “Outlook”. The outlook for SWAMAS and the hobby in general is positive. Keeping and breeding tropical fish is an exciting and rewarding hobby. The learning and sharing of knowledge is very stimulating. Fish and their environment are constantly changing, which adds to the challenge. In the same light, the hobby of tropical fish is a great way to unwind in a stressful world. What could be more relaxing than a quietly bubbling tank full of gracefully gliding fish? I would like to mention a few suggestions that members might use to help maintain their interest in the hobby and the BAP program in particular:
Try breeding difficult fish. What have you got to lose? A lot of knowledge is gained even if you don’t succeed. And if you do spawn them, you feel great all over!
Try breeding all groups of fishes. Don’t limit yourself. Knowledge gained from one group can be used to help you in other areas. Don’t be afraid to try one group because you don’t have the “proper” water. By learning and adjusting, you may surprise yourself.
Keep on breedin’ (fish, that is). SWAMAS has several very capable Master Breeders as members who are willing to answer questions on breeding that others may have. My wish is to encourage them as well as other breeders in the club to fully participate in the BAP.
Now you see it, now you don’t. Don’t put off breeding fish till later. It may be that species you can now obtain won’t be available later in our area. There are thousands of species of fish that have been bred by BAP participants over the years, with new fish being added constantly, meaning lots of opportunity.
On again, off again. Be aware that your time and interest spent on your fish will vary. Accept this fact and adjust your schedule and set-up accordingly. I seem to do more breeding of fish in the late spring and summer since my professional and outside activities are less at this time. This also is the natural time for breeding of many species, and fish ship better then.
Above all, don’t get discouraged. Fish dying, jumping out, eggs not hatching, etc. are all learning experiences. Keep on trying. What a tremendous feeling you get when you finally do succeed! One success can wipe out the memory of many failures. By keeping several species you are trying to breed at the same time, your chances of success will be much greater.
In conclusion, there are many different facets in breeding tropical fish. Much of what I have written is no more than the basics of fishkeeping. Any suggestions or techniques used must be altered to fit each individuals’ set-up and disposition. Breeding fish can be as simple or as complex as each person wants to make it. The Breeders Award Program (BAP) is very important in helping our hobby keep active and growing. It is also essential in maintaining and distributing species of fish. The purpose of this article was to increase the interest of members in breeding tropical fish and to participate in the BAP more fully.