most intense colors, swim up, and do a little quivering dance in front of the females, who have been nonchalantly watching the construction from a distance. If a female is ready, she responds by following the male to his pit. He quivers and circles the pit, laying almost completely over on his right side (at least my males were all “right handed”), clamping his anal fin and dragging it along, almost touching the substrate. This clamped anal fin is outlined in a bright red band, which, when clamped, forms a small red blotch—this is unlike other mouthbrooders, where the male actually has egg spots on his anal fin. The male P. m. victoriae keeps the fin clamped while doing his dance, and the red spot is not round, nor does it really resemble the species’ eggs. The female joins the male in his circling dance and eventually starts nipping at the front of the male’s anal fin, not at the red spot as would be expected. Some authors report that she is actually nibbling on the vent, but having never witnessed actual contact with the vent, I can’t say for sure. What I can say is that after several repeats of this preliminary dance, the female begins to lay a few eggs and scoop them up, then nudges or nibbles near the male’s vent again. Does this act stimulate him to fertilize the eggs in her mouth? Or does it stimulate him to release more milt in the pit and stir it around with his dance, so the eggs are fertilized as soon as the female lays them? Either of these scenarios is possible—or both. Whatever it turns out to be, the mating ritual is repeated until several dozen eggs are laid and picked up by the female. Larger females may lay and carry up to 80 or even 100 eggs, with smaller females sometimes only being able to handle a dozen or so. Over time my females averaged about 40 fry per spawn.
After several repeats of their spawning dance, the female lays a few eggs and scoops them up into
After spawning is complete, the female
then moves off into the plants and begins
to incubate the developing eggs. They
can often be seen hanging in the floating
plants near the surface, and it is best to
gently remove these females to another
tank to allow them to finish brooding in
peace. There are some hobbyists who strip
the eggs from all female mouthbrooders,
but since their fry care is so interesting, I
think it is best to let a female carry the fry
to natural release and to care for them a
bit afterward while building up her body
weight and strength again.
The mother keeps the eggs and larvae
well oxygenated by chewing and pumping,
moving the eggs and later the larvae around
in her buccal pouch. Over the next two
weeks, the female will not eat and her body
will slowly shrink, making her head appear
much larger by comparison. The skin of
the buccal pouch will stretch and the
eggs—and later, the larvae—can be clearly
seen in their maternal nursery.
Then one day, about 14 or 15 days after
mating, she will release these tiny copies of
herself into the world. In a day or so she will
begin eating again, but will stay close to the
fry. If there is any hint of danger, she will
open her mouth and take them back into
her buccal pouch until the threat passes.
Her buccal pouch also serves as a nighttime
The P. m. victoriae female holding eggs in her buccal pouch.
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