Selecting a Pair:
Females have shorter rounded fins and a broad yellow band across the top of the dorsal fin, are smaller than the males, and have a more rounded belly that is bright red/purple when they are ready to spawn. Males are longer and thinner with fins that end in distinct points. They are less brilliantly colored than the females, especially the belly. Take care to get the same species of fish. There are several closely related species that may look similar, they will not spawn with each other.
Once a pair has been established do not introduce another fish into the tank. Males will invariably fight, and even two females will quarrel for the attention of the male.
This is particularly important if the fry are allowed to remain with the adults as they are maturing. Slightly soft water at a pH of 7.0, usually yields fry in a relatively even ratio of males/females. The ideal water temperature is around 80 degrees. Lower or higher temps can affect the size of the clutch and even the sex ratio of the fry.
P. pulcher is a cave-spawner, so at least one or two caves must be available. Do not offer loose rocks as the structure they build may collapse on them causing injury or death. Either build a rock cave by gluing rocks together, or offer some other suitable structure. If using a flowerpot make a small opening in it, turn it upside down and bury it in the gravel. If using a coconut shell, cut off a small piece of one end to make an entrance, lay it on its side and press it down into the gravel.
If using PVC cut a foot long piece and secure in the gravel. Make sure all materials used are clean and free of toxins. If room allows, offer several caves so the pair can select their favorite.
Use fine gravel (under 3 mm) and fill the tank to a depth of at least an inch and a half to two inches, so the spawning pair can burrow. Large diameter substrate will hamper the pair from burrowing and also put the tiny fry at risk of dropping through spaces in the gravel, and subsequently perishing.
Factors Known to Affect Fry Sex Ratios - Experts have noted that P. pulcher produces roughly even sex ratios at a pH of 7. Softer more acid water often results in more females, while harder more alkaline water tips the scales in favor of males. However, some researchers have found that because sex in cichlids is not determined chromosomally, they may in effect 'choose' their sex long after fertilization.
It is common to see the breeding pair moving gravel out of the cave just prior to spawning. They are busy preparing the cave for the young fry. Once the pair have prepared their nest spawning will take place within the cave, where two to three hundred eggs will be laid. From the time the eggs are laid until the fry are free swimming, the female will remain with the cave, coming out only very rarely to eat. The male will patrol around the cave fastidiously protecting the female and their brood.
Caring For Fry:
Once the fry are free-swimming feed them freshly hatched brine shrimp, very finely crumbled flake food, or one of the commercially available fry foods. Offer small quantities of food several times daily. The frequent feedings as well as the wastes produced by the growing young make frequent water changes absolutely critical. If not performed the toxins can damage or kill the fry. However, take care to avoid adding or removing water or vacuuming the gravel in the area near the cave. Doing so is stressful for the fish and removes infusoria that the young feed on.
As the fry become more active, both parents will usually tend them. However in some cases one parent will take over the young and not allow the other parent near, even going so far as to attack the non-custodial parent. When this occurs the parent not tending the young should be promptly moved to another tank to avoid fights.
In two to four weeks the fry will reach approximately a half-inch in size and should be separated completely from the parents. At this point the parents are ready to mate again, and will spawn if placed in their breeding tank.
Return to Part 1 for care info.