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Nicaraguan cichlids

A cichlid that always seems to avoid me, never available when I have space or another species sold under their name, was the Nicaraguan cichlid. But that came to pass 3 years ago when I imported them myself and kept 6 specimens back for my 1400 litre display aquarium.

Nicaraguan cichlids are one of the most colourful cichlids from Central America, but very dull as juveniles. A species of freshwater cichlid that is not always available at Pet Shops due to their dull juvenile colouration. For best results keep them in a large aquarium (350 liter +) that is stocked with medium sizes fish. This cichlid is very docile when compared with normal cichlid behaviour and I have kept them successfully with a variety of medium sized lower aggression fish. Lets look @ this species closer.

Scientific name: Hypsophrys nicaraguensis (also known as Amphilophus nicaraguense, Cichlasoma balteatum, Cichlasoma nicaraguense, Cichlasoma spilotum, Heros nicaraguensis, Nandopsis nicaraguense and Theraps nicaraguensis. The current name for this species is Hypsophrys nicaraguensis.)

Common names: Nicaraguan cichlid, Spilotum or Moga

Classification : Cichlidae. Subfamily: Cichlasomatinae

Distribution : Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

Habitat : They live in freshwater rivers and lakes along the Atlantic slope, from San Juan and Lake Nicaragua in Nicaragua to the Matina River drainage in Costa Rica. The typical Nicaragua cichlid habitats are between rocky outcrops with slow to moderate current over it. This fish is found from sea level up to elevations of 200 metres.

Max length : (standard = form tip of mouth till the end of caudal peduncle)
Male 23cm, female 18cm but in aquariums they tend to stay a bit smaller.

Maintenance :
Provide plenty of cover in the form of rocks and other decor, such as bogwood or large flowerpots. These should be arranged in such a way as to form caves and hiding places. A sand or fine gravel substrate is best as the fish do dig, especially when spawning. Any plants must therefore be tough and very well-rooted, or of the various species that can be attached to decor, such as java fern and Anubias sp. Make sure the décor is securely on the bottom before you add the substrate as they tend to move mountains when they want to spawn and decorations that is not secure can easily topple over.
I do regular large (30% to 35%) water changes with Pretoria tap water that is only treated with a good quality declinator and they thrived and even successfully breed in it.

Water conditions:
Temperature: 73-82°F (23-28°C)
pH: 7.0-8.0. They won’t do particularly well in acidic conditions.
Hardness: 8-20°H

Diet :
In the wild, this cichlid feeds on plant seeds, leaves, bottom detritus, snails and other molluscs. Juvenile specimens feed primarily on aquatic insects. This fish is not a picky eater in captivity and will accept anything from flakes to live and fresh food. They will accept most things offered. Feed a varied diet with good quality dried pellets as basic food and supplement with frozen foods such as bloodworm, brineshrimp, prawn and other available frozen foods. Also try to ensure the fish receive some green stuff in their diet. Blanched spinach or spirulina-based dried foods both work well.

Behaviour :
Relatively peaceful for a Central American cichlid of this size, but is still territorial and obviously grows quite large. Best kept as a mated pair. If you want to keep any other cichlids in the tank, you’ll need a large aquarium and loads of décor, but might find that the Nicaraguan cichlid still feel the other cichlid species is a threat. Don’t combine them with any super aggressive species. They tend to swim in the middle and bottom half of the aquarium, so the décor (wood) should extend well above the mid line of the aquarium to give them a secure environment.

Species that could be kept with them :
To make an comprehensive list here is not possible so I would list the species I kept with them and you can make an educated guess as to other species (or email me and ask 😉 ) The list is long, but on a side note – remember when breeding started I did feel the need to remove the cichlids for their safety, I never need to remove any other species due to the Nicaraguan cichlids aggression. But when I intended to raise the baby’s most of the other fish was removed.
Species I kept with them:
Cichlids – RED-Golden deacon, Eartheater Geophagus,
Barbs – Black ruby barb, Clown barb, Tiger barb, Redline torpedo/Denison barb, Rosy barb, Tic-tac-toe barb,
rainbow fish – RED rainbow, Variety of Melanotaenia sp.
Loaches – Skunk loach, Clown loach,
“freshwater sharks” – Bala, Red tail, Flying fox (Epalzeorhynchos kalopterus)
Gourami’s – Pearl, Moonlight, Snakeskin and Kissing.
Corydoras – Pepper, Bronze, Brochis, Schwart’s and Sterbai
Other – Silver dollars, spotted silver dollars, Giant danio, Scissortail rasboras,
catfish – Gold nugget, Royal panaque, Leopard sailfin,
Tetra – Congo tetra, Red eye congo tetra, Yellow tail congo tetra, Bolivian tetra, Longfin tetra (Brycinus longipinnis),

Dither fish : as described by Wikipedia – refers to an arbitrary group of aquarium fish used by cichlid keeping aquarists to reduce innate timidity in some species of cichlids. The technique relies on the ability of cichlids in an aquarium to use the behaviour of other fish species as a measure of environmental security and to keep them occupied to the extent that they do not kill each other in the breeding process. Thus it is important to select fish that are too fast to be caught and also strong enough to handle this aggression without themselves becoming ill or hurt in the process. So select your dither fish with care, do not offer them up to be killed or hurt in the process.
Good dithers I found were the rainbows, tetras and the smaller barbs. They stayed in the top half of the aquarium so there was no aggression by the breeders towards them and the dither fish never attempted to eat the baby’s.

Reproduction :
Although they are not as aggressive cichlid species as some of its family, obtaining a pair is not as easy as you might think. Aggression between Hypsophrys nicaraguensis is definitely something you need to plan for in advance. The best option is to start with a group of 6 or more young fish and allow them to pair off naturally. Once a pair form’s they will be seen defending a territory against all-comers and at this point it’s wise to remove the remaining Hypsophrys nicaraguensis. You may wish to consider the use of a shoal of dither fish, as Hypsophrys nicaraguensis can be quite hard on one another. I found that species that are top dwelling species do not interfere with them while breeding and when they raise their baby’s. As far as I can ascertain in nature, the fish spawn in tunnels dug into river or lake banks, but in in my aquariums they chose locations in the gravel that are a bit hidden from view but they ignored the tunnels I attempted to create with large pots.

Sexing this species is not very difficult. The males dorsal fin develop the well know point, grow bigger than the female and also develop a hump on his forehead. Unlike the male, the females dorsal fin is rounded and she will not develop any hump, but displays brighter colours than the male. Nicaragua cichlids forms patriarch-matriarch families and are generally good parents to their offspring. It can be hard to obtain a compatible pair, but once such a pair has been established the rest of the process is normally without any major obstacles. Out of my personal experience I found them to behave and breed as follow.
The female chooses the spot and start to excavate a few holes with the male following and helping her. Spawning always occurs under cover of darkness and it’s the female who takes care of the brood from any intruder, sometimes even the male. While the male defend the territory of 35 to 40 cm radius, until the fry become free swimming then she allow him back again. Unlike those of most Central American pit-spawning cichlids, the eggs are not adhesive and simply sit on the substrate. This is a problem if your flow is not planed in advance, direct your flow away from their chosen site to ensure the eggs are not blown all over the aquarium. The baby’s hatch in 2-3 days, with the fry becoming free swimming after a further 3-5 days. From this point both partners co-operate in protecting their young and territory.
The fry can be fed on brine shrimp nauplii initially, before being offered supplementary powdered dried foods. I am told not to be tempted to remove the eggs or fry too early, as the pair may turn on each other.
The water quality regarding pH etc. is not as important as the quality of the maintenance done on the aquarium. I regularly enticed them to spawn with larger than normal water changes, with water that are just 1 or 2 degrees colder than the aquarium.
As a first spawn only 20 baby’s survived but the following spawns success rate increased dramatically and up to 400 survive at present.

Notes :
Hypsophrys nicaraguensis has also been hybridised with the convict cichlid (Archocentrus nigrofasciatus), and this is not to be encouraged at all. A study in 2004 found an apparent close genetic association between this species and Neetroplus nematopus, another cichlid found in the same area in nature. The 2 show remarkable similarities in shape, form, patterns and breeding strategy’s. It was hypothesised that Neetroplus should be considered a junior synonym of Hypsophrys and that the species form a monophyletic group. For the time being, though, H. nicaraguensis remains the only species in the genus.


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