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Spawning Pterophyllum Leopoldi
© rob raulings ( (2001)

Pterophyllum Leopoldi

I've always admired tropical fish, particularly South American species, and it was with some glee that I picked up a 1.8m (6') tank after a long absence from fish keeping.

I'd been cruising the local aquariums for anything interesting from South America - and chanced across 6 adult Leopoldi angels in a 1.5' tank with about 25 cardinals. It was only a vague recollection I had from one of Herbert Axelrod's early prints of Freshwater Angelfish that this species even existed. (When I checked later there was indeed a photo of P. dumerilli (now leopoldi), but it was a pale comparison to these fish.

Where they came from the dealer couldn't (or wouldn't) say, but given the general appearance, vigor and size of the fish, they must have been either wild caught (F0) or early generation offspring from wild fish (F1/F2). Even better than that, it was obvious that two of the fish had paired off and were trying to breed in that tiny tank. Though the fish had been available for a number of months (they were expensive!), I immediately reserved them and set about setting up the 6' tank.

Melbourne, Australia has the great advantage of having very good local water; 1-3dGH, 1-2dKH, pH 6.5 to 8.4 all year round - the same can't be said for other areas of Australia where low rainfall, salinity, high hardness and strong chlorination make soft water aquariums particularly difficult to set up without reverse osmosis units.

Within two weeks, the aquarium was reasonably established - ammonia 0, nitrite 0, nitrate 0, thanks to large doses of commercial biological starters. In any case the tank had two large UG filters with power heads (total 1600 lph/400 gph) and an external 1100 lph (275 gph) canister filter - more than enough for the relatively small number of fish planned on being supported.

Getting the angels out of their cosy 1.5' tank proved much more difficult than you would think - they certainly didn't want to leave! Of course the fish were a bit freaked out by the whole ordeal, zooming around the tank, trying to leap out of the water and generally behaving in a most un-angelfish like manner. These were definitely far stronger fish than the normally placid, pretty inbred varieties of P. scalare normally found.
Since I wanted some cardinals as well, it seemed to make sense to take the ones in the tank with the angels - they hadn't eaten them, and they definitely had passed any quarantine period.

Introducing the fish to the 6ft tank posed no real problem - on introduction water parameters were: 25.5C, pH7.0, dGH 2, dKH 2 - matching the water in the dealers tank pretty closely (25C, pH7.0, DH4, KH4).

You wanted plants in there?

A stock of frozen brine shrimp, frozen blood worms and Tetra Red was purchased - as these were the staple foods they were used to. Right from day one the fish accepted food greedily and also took a great liking to the offering of aquatic plants I'd been carefully nurturing - Cabomba aquatica they 'loved' to the point of extinction, and they also liked biting the growing tips of the leaves from Heteranthera zosterifolia. Cabomba furcata, Echinodorus sp. and Limnophila sessiflora they wouldn't touch, however.

I was worried about the amount of stress the fish had been under in the move, and so I was particularly careful to keep an eye out for any unusual signs. It wasn't surprising when one of the angels developed some growths on the gill plates that looked like Dactilyogyrus. A number of treatment remedies were tried, but the one that finally did the trick was repeated doses of methylene blue.

During this time water changes were carried out (based on Takashi Amano) - 20% once a week, alternating with 50% the following week. In order to keep the temperature high during the changeover, three 300 watt heaters were used to minimize temperature fluctuation (since there was no easy way to pre-heat 300 liters/75 gallons of water). It took between 3 to 5 hours to refill the tank. At the end of the change water temperature had decreased to about 23.5C. Just before the refilled water started entering the tank - the lights were dimmed to simulate lower light conditions during tropical storms when increased runoff might be expected to enter the river.

Feeding routines were also followed; small amount of brine shrimp in the morning, some flakes at lunch time, and a few bloodworms later in the day. Feeds also occurred as the water for refilling the tank started entering. In every case, the fish were never fed more than they could eat in a minute or so. The fish could also be observed cleaning algae from the walls of the tank, and sucking in any film or residue which might occur from time to time on the surface of the water.

After 2-3 weeks of this treatment, it was obvious that things were looking up. The angels were responding by choosing territories, and the previously paired male and female spent a lot of time in one part of the tank signaling to each other by scissoring their caudal fins. The female's ovipositor started lengthening over a period of a few days, and this was accompanied by increased aggressiveness towards the other angles. Strangely though, they ignored the cardinals and Corydoras in the tank.

Territorial spawners

The male in particular was very aggressive, rotating until horizontal in the water then chasing away anything he perceived to be a threat. On the third day after the female ovipositor appeared, it had extended to a length of 3 mm.

On the day of the spawning both sexes aggressively chase away all other fish, while simultaneously tail scissoring to each other, and cleaning numerous leaves in part of their territory. Finally, later in the afternoon (1-2 hours from sunset) the pair select the spawning site and clean it thoroughly. In this case it was the angled leaf of E. martii. Once cleaned, the female makes a number of dummy runs across the leaf, with the genital papillae just touching the leaf. The male follows closely behind these passes.

If every thing is still going to plan, the female then lays eggs on the leaf, depositing a run of perhaps 8 to 10 eggs at a time. The male (usually) also follows after her, but it is difficult to tell if fertilization occurs at this time or at the end of the egg laying process. Only approximately 70-90 eggs are laid in this manner - further evidence to suggest why P. leopoldi may not be as numerous as its more prolific cousin P. scalare (300-400+ eggs). The actual spawning process is quite fast, perhaps no more than 2-3 minutes. (This depends on how many times the pair feel they need to chase away other fish from the spawning site).

Water parameters at spawning were: 25.5C, pH6.5, DH 4, KH 4, although Baensch suggests higher temperature (28-31C) and lower pH (6.0). (Note: Over the course of a few months, a second pair came into season which bred at much higher GH/KH 10/8, but this happened only once).

The eggs are roundish, yellowy, opaque and 1-1.5 mm in size, and are guarded and fanned in turn by the parents. The male tends to guard the territory more than the female, although both take turns at fanning the eggs, and the female will also chase away intruders.

Of course the difficult decision is always whether to leave the eggs with the parents, or remove them and hatch them artificially - in the end the other fish in the tank gave me no choice but to remove the eggs, as the Cardinal tetras continually harassed the spawning site to the point where either they, or the parents, were sure to eat the eggs. In a breeding tank setup, the parents would probably take very good care of the fry.
Once separated from the other fish by removing the leaf, 75 eggs were still attached to the leaf. Over the next 2 days another 14 eggs developed fungus, held in check with a dilute solution of methylene blue.

The larvae hatch after 36-72 hours, but generally remain attached to the leaf for another six days (those that fall off the leaf lie on the bottom of the hatching tank - so it is best to use no gravel). On the seventh day the larvae are well enough developed that they could swim about. Five days later, when their egg sacks are adsorbed, feeding can commence. Initially some powdered commercial liquid, and frozen baby brine shrimp can be used, although the liquid is probably not necessary.

The fry grow reasonably rapidly with enough food (feed small quantities regularly, i.e. 4-5 times per day). Soon after becoming free swimming the fry are golden brown in color with no other markings, and measure 4-5mm in length. The fish are long and thin - shaped like a tetra. It takes another 6 weeks before the fry start to develop height and gain vertical stripes. At this time they are a bit sensitive to strong currents - so best to keep them in fairly still (but well aerated) water. There are up to 7-8 dark brown to black vertical stripes, many of which fade as the fish grows.

Pterophyllum Leopoldi juveniles

After three months or so, some of the fish are large enough to put back with the adults - Although adult fish are territorial to other adults, the young never seem to be hassled as long as they are bigger than the adults mouth!

These fish seem to be quite territorial, and my established breeding pair have now spawned about five times in the same 30 cm (1 ft) area of the 1.8 m (6 ft) tank. About two to two and a half weeks occurs between spawns (all spawnings were removed and artificially raised).

Although it would be great to be able to say this is the first account of these fish spawning, Baensch notes that Swedish aquarist Jörgen Erlandsson published an account of the spawning in 1986 in Swedish magazines. Oh well, there's always Peckoltia pulchra! If you ever see P. leopoldi available in its wild form, you can be assured that you'll be getting a robust, active fish that will run rings around your other angels.

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