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Towards a natural breeding out of an aquarium.
Sven Fornbck (H, 1994)

Published in "Das Aquarium", book 4, 1994.
Article and photos were submitted to TBA by Damien Verdau May 15, 2001.
Translation by Steve Rybicki .

The angelfish, Pterophyllum scalare, were imported approximately 75 years ago (about 1920) bound for aquariums. It was considered during many years difficult to raise, which is not any more the case today. Pterophyllum altum remains on the other hand in this respect a challenge for the amateur. There are certainly already reports on the artificial breeding of the young, but this may be the first time that a natural method is described. "

Pterophyllum altum out of aquarium.

I have devoted myself for 19 years to the discus. Since 7 years, I also maintained Pterophyllum altum. During my preceding experiments, young wild specimens reached in a one year's time, a 25 centimeters height. I was however, confronted each time at the same failure: all these fish died in a completely unexpected way.

The stress and panic were each time the cause. An animal was frightened, left in an access terror through the aquarium to knock itself in the panes and the roots constituting the decoration. In the one moment space, all the other individuals had the same reaction. After 5 or 10 minutes, they succumbed to the wounds, which they had inflicted themselves. These tragic events caused me many nights without sleep.

In the black water of Can San Joaquim, among the immersed trees, Alf Stalsberg captures a glimpse of the Pterophyllum altum in his natural environment.

With four other Norwegian and Danish aquarists, I undertook, from February to March 1991, a voyage in Colombia. During this voyage, we went to the Rio Inirida and Rio Atabapo. It is in Rio Atabapo, which marks the border between Colombia and Venezuela and which is emptied later into the Rio Orinoco, that Chaffanjon discovered the first angelfish. This one was described in 1903 by Pellegrin, and named Pterophyllum altum.

We noted the characteristics of water, the details on the vegetation and the medium of origin of Pterophyllum altum. During the rainy season, the area is covered by water. It then forms the natural spawning grounds of the altum angelfish. We thus examined this biotope in a very attentive way, in the search of data transposable to the aquarium and which could possibly appear paramount for maintenance. Our voyage proceeded during the dry season, the rivers thus had a relatively low flow.

Danish Erik L and Norwegian Alf Stalsberg with a Pterophyllum altum coldly captured near rock banks of Rio Atabapo.

We learned that during the rain season, the level of Rio Inirida goes up 8 meters. We tried to record the subaqueous landscape such as it must be during this season. It was not easy because 8 meters of water on a vast surface offer to fish considerable spaces in which they profit from innumerable possibilities of choice of territories and sites of reproduction. This exercise was even more difficult on Rio Atabapo. This one runs indeed in a plain, which during the rain season is transformed into a giant lake. The physicochemical characteristics of the water of Rio Inirida and Rio Atabapo, measured on the spot, were: pH 4.8; conductivity 15 S; total hardness 0. All carbonated hardness 0. All nitrites 0 mg/L and temperature 30-32 C! We unfortunately could not learn the values taken by these parameters during the rain season.

Pterophyllum altum of black water of rock banks of Rio Atabapo.

In Rio Atabapo and Can San Joaquim, an affluent of Rio Inirida, we found Pterophyllum altum. In addition to the specimens captured by our care, we also bought young individuals with obliging Indians, at the price of approximately 40 pfennigs. But with our great regret, it was impossible for us to take along any fish with us. We thus left them with the care of an exporter, in Bogota, while we traverse other parts of the country. With our return, the director of this establishment told us that all the animals had died...

In November 1991, I bought in Stockholm some young 10 cm height, wild specimens. They were in very bad health. Their state was extremely alarming. They had probably not received food for a long time or had refused it for an unspecified reason. I placed at their disposal an aquarium of 700 liters dimensions 100x100x70 (LxlxH). In this aquarium, Pterophyllum altum were in company of 7 young turquoise discus. The bad health of the angelfish mentioned above, had as a consequence, that in the one week's time, two of them died. The five survivors had however started to eat, initially with hesitation. As I live only a few minutes from the sea, I can almost daily nourish my fish with live Mysis. Thanks to these delights and to others, the Pterophyllum altum came back quickly. In one year, they grew almost 20 centimeters in height and still today, with my great joy, they enjoy an excellent health.

The maintenance of Pterophyllum altum succeeded while following the "discus method ."

The aquarium was filled with tap water of a conductivity of 300 S approximately and of a pH close to 7. The temperature averaged 29-30C. In addition to the Mysis mentioned above, and of which I freeze a part, the food is made up some various species of mosquito larva and a "house" preparation containing heart of ox, spinach and of alga powder. Pterophyllum altum readily accepted this " traditional " food for discus. At the beginning, they however did not show any desire for it. On the other hand, they ate with great appetite on the particles of food suspended by the discus. After some time, they ended up being also nourished by them on the bottom of the aquarium. The decoration of the aquarium consisted of roots, which I had laid out in such a way that two territories separated by a " strategic " delimitation were thus created. For reasons of hygiene, the aquarium did not comprise of gravel or soil. I practiced this method already for many years. It seems the angelfish accepted this installation very quickly, because of the fights of dominance and for territories that took place.

Males Pterophyllum altum in full combat.

In September 1992, I was convinced that a couple had been formed, and that among the other animals were a female and two males. The couple, which had been formed, isolated and took possession of the best territory, which was exactly what I wished. This territory was indeed close to the front pane and this gave me the chance of filming and of photographing with leisure. The three others altums settled in a well defined territory, more or less forming a half-circle around that of the couple.

From September 1992 to February 1993, the territorial combat did not cease. The two other males continuously tried to enter into the territory of the couple and to obtain the favors of the female. Although it seemed sometimes that they had succeeded, the two applicants ended up failing. During this period, I distributed especially white larvae of mosquitoes. The altum angelfish truly overflowed with energy and showed an enormous vitality.

In March 1993, I replaced tap water with de-mineralized water with a conductivity of 10 S by means of continuous water changes and also started to filter on peat. My intention was to prepare Pterophyllum altum for a spawning in April or May. It is indeed during these months that, in nature, the altums reproduce. Moreover, for this period, I have access to almost unlimited quantities of live food. The black larvae of mosquitoes in particular, which are generally considered on our premises the best of foods, are then indeed available in enormous quantities.

Then at a glance, Pterophyllum altum offered a beautiful image to observers: their body was extended to the extreme, their dorsal and their anal fin shone of an intense dark red. They were held face to face, being provocative and being impressed mutually. These engagements did not want to cease. Slowly at home, the impression was reinforced that the couple would not lay with the three other individuals in the aquarium. I had then already withdrawn the discus of the aquarium for several months. I could not, however determine if I had too many Pterophyllum altum in the aquarium. We knew indeed that the presence of " hostile " fish stimulates the instinct of care and the behavior of defense of the offspring at the reproducers.

We were now in mid-May. The period of breeding reached it's end. I thus decided finally to withdraw the three other altum, but at the end of one week, nothing had occurred. I would have given a lot of money for good consultation. What was I to do? I did not have any intention to put the other altums with the couple. There had to exist a means of starting the laying. I knew it, but which?

A reproductive couple of discus, which laid three days after its introduction into the aquarium showed them the " procedure ".

The water of the aquarium had from this point, a conductivity of 30 S and a pH near 5. A few days after the discus layed, the couple of angelfish started to clean " it's " root. I placed a large foot of Spathiphyllum in the vicinity in order to offer an alternative to them. The couple could indeed prefer with the root another substrate for laying. The plant was inspected with great interest and immediately cleaned at once.

We were now at Pentecost. As of the hatching of the discus eggs, the parents transported the larvae towards the root of the angelfish. It was an error on their part. The couple of angelfish jumped on the occasion and had a true feast. I removed the discus, then Pentecost passed. They had still not layed, even if the activities of cleaning intensified.

Les larvae of Pterophyllum altum fixed on a sheet of Spathiphyllum are supervised by the female.

June 1, I had left all the day and returned at home towards 18:30. My first glance, naturally, was as usual for my angelfish. I couldn't believe my eyes: the couple was depositing its eggs meticulously and did not allow themselves to be disturbed by my presence. Stuck on the root, ordered extraordinarily well in chains, already approximately 150 eggs were there. I set up my video camera and I held ready near the aquarium and then filmed with desire. I succeeded in getting some good sequences. The attempt to illustrate the laying by slides failed because of my flash. This one broke down unfortunately precisely at this time. At 23:00 hours, the laying ended; the result reached approximately 600 eggs. The female dealt with the care of guarding the laying while the male posted itself at some distance. I remained awake most of the night. Would the laying be still present at the morning? Would complications emerge between the two parents? I rose very impatient, but my fears appeared unfounded. The couple dealt with the care with the laying in the most perfect harmony and only some eggs had bleached.

Thereafter, approximately a third of the laying mildewed and was withdrawn by the parents. According to my experiment, the rate of hatching is increasingly weaker when the laying takes place on a root than on, for example, a spawning cone for discus. For this reason, I would like to reconsider the nature of the substrate of laying. In the mass and the cracks of a root probably always remain micro-organisms which cannot be reached by cleaning fish. It is a factor, which to a certain extent, can harm a laying deposited on a root.

In the morning of the seventh day after the laying, the parents swam in a dense cloud of several hundreds d?alevins.

With a temperature of 30C, the larvae emerged after 60 hours.

The larvae were immediately transported towards a leaf of Spathiphyllum under the vigilant guard of the parents. 72 hours later, the first larvae started moving and to leave the leaf to undertake, in a still awkward way, their first movements of freeswimming. These attempts were prevented by the parents. The fugitive ones were immediately caught up with in the mouth of their parents and at once replaced on the leaf. It ran another 72 hours before the alevins all reached freeswimming. During last 24 hours, the parents were unceasingly occupied catching the fugitive ones and to replacing them with the others, an almost impossible task. Each time that an fry (alevin) is brought back to the nest, there were still two or three others, which were to flee. But the couple achieves its duty in an impressive way. By perfect team work and no rest, all the young escaped prisoners were brought back. The couple astonished me considerably. They instinctively behaved with the experience which one meets only with couples having already raised several batches.

In the morning of the seventh day after the laying, the parents swam in a dense cloud of several hundreds of alevins. It was impossible to count the alevins. I estimated their number at approximately 300. I naturally had on hand the newly hatched nauplii of artmia and immediately started to nourish the young. It was however still too early. The fry still fed from the remainder of their yolksac reserve. It is only in the middle of the day that they accepted the first Artemia nauplii.

Pterophyllum altum with its 10 weeks old young people.

Nine months had passed since the first time I had a prediction that a natural reproduction could be possible. For this period, the problems and the reflections were numerous. But finally, all was held without encumbers and much more simply than I had imagined it. The development of fry (alevins) was spectacular. They showed a good appetite and their growth was extraordinarily fast. The parents supervised their offspring with a very great attention. When I approached the aquarium to nourish them or that I showed myself too importunate, one of the two parents immediately sounded alarm by abrupt quiverings of the body while advancing, threatening, towards the frontal pane.

The fry (alevins) developed quickly and without problem. I obtained only five fry (alevins) with the abnormal belly and one with the dorsal fins and anal deformities. It is a result, which taking into account the great number of young, is almost negligible. During their growth, I lost only 3 young. The first died after 24 days and had a 26 mm length; the second after 38 days and had a 35 mm length and a 55 mm height; the third after 56 days was 55 mm long and 85 mm in height.

The 10 weeks old young people present already the silhouette characteristic of the adults.

The breeding of the young people was very simple. Each day, I changed part of water and cleaned the excrements deposited at the bottom of the aquarium. No remainder of food remained a long time in the vat! After one month, I started to make the water changes with tap water. At the time when I wrote this article, four months had passed since the laying. I placed the couple with 15 young in an aquarium of 450 liters. Still now, after four months, the parents conscientiously continue to look after and defend their offspring, even though when first placed in their new premises, the first tendencies appeared to be to give up their responsibilities. Their fins shine again of this intense dark red. Might be they will soon again start to lay!

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