By Don Kinyon
Sometimes called the pin-striped dwarf cichlid, Nannacara taenia, comes from the state of Parà, Brazil, and the only known spot they are native to is a small area in the Rio Tocantins basin near Belèm. These are not very common in the hobby and are seldom found in pet shops or even in stores that specialize in tropical fish. This may be partially due to the unremarkable appearance of the fish outside of spawning and rearing coloration and the reclusive nature of the fish in the aquarium.
There was a group of four of these fish donated to an auction at a local aquarium society’s event and I’d never seen them available before, so the bidding was on. As it worked out, I took them home without spending as much as I’d expected. From my observation, it appears that there are three males and a female in the group, but I may be mistaken; one of the suspected males may be a smaller female. The very similar shape and color of the sexes and the shy nature of the fish make it difficult to tell unless you put the fish though the trauma of close inspection in a specimen container. The male of this species is the smaller of the pair, opposite of the more common Nannacara anomala. My fish appear to be nearly full grown: the males at 1 ¾”, female 2”. Both sexes, outside of breeding and rearing coloration, are silvery white with olive pin stripes running longitudinally along the body. The fins of both sexes are mostly clear, but there is some dark coloration in the dorsal and the first few rays of the pelvic fins.
The fishes' new home is a standard 15 gallon aquarium with soft, acidic water (mostly rain water) with a pH of 6.5, TDS of 35ppm, and temperature of 75° F. Filtration was a simple air-driven sponge filter in the corner. Anubias broad-leaved plants and some Java fern were added for cover, along with several crocks and stone caves to keep the aggression of the fish to a minimum. A thin layer of river sand covered the bottom glass. There was no lighting other than ambient and the tank’s location on a lower level made for a dimly lit environment for the fish.
The first thing you notice when you set these fish up in a planted or semi-planted tank is that you seldom see them unless you lure them out with food. They’re shy to the point of reclusiveness. Once they are settled in, you notice that they are a little on the territorial side, chasing each other away from each fish’s chosen area. I’m not sure if it was only the males doing this or all four of the fish, as they are very fast and tend to stay under cover as much as possible even when the chase is on. Some Hemigrammus hyanuary tetras were added to the tank in order to make the cichlids more comfortable, and seemed to help out a little. I was a little concerned that the tetras were too big; the adults being larger than the largest of the Nannacara. I found later that my fears were unnecessary.
These fish are not fussy about food. They will accept flake foods or freeze-dried, but go crazy for frozen blood worms, live black worms, chopped earth worms, and particularly mosquito larvae. This was the spring of the year and the mosquitoes were plentiful outside, so they could be collected every day and the small cichlids ate very well indeed!
It didn’t take long, with all the live food and twice-weekly water changes at a rate of about 40% using rain water, for the fish to come into condition. My first sign that something had changed was one of the females guarding a small crock near the center of the tank. She had dramatically changed in appearance as well. While she was an olive and white before, she had transformed into a striking silver with bold dark markings crisscrossing her body into a semi-checkerboard pattern. Her eyes had turned extremely dark, giving her a sinister look.
Assuming that there might be eggs in the crock, I carefully reached in to turn the pot and have a look. My hand hadn’t gotten very close to the pot yet when the female bit me! The bite didn’t draw blood, but it was more painful of a pinch than many larger cichlids had done in the same situation. Yes, there were eggs in there and no, she wasn’t thrilled with my intrusion. I hated to disrupt the natural scheme of things, but I wasn’t sure how well she could take care of the nest with the other fish in the tank, so I removed the crock carefully and put it into a smaller tank that had been filled with water from the original. Once it was set up in the hatching tank, the crock was placed on its side and an air stone was placed at the opening in order to keep water circulating over the eggs.
It was two days later at about 75° F. that the eggs hatched out and fell to the bottom of the pot and floor of the tank, and a full six more days before they became free-swimming. The fry are small; maybe three sixteenths of an inch, but capable of eating newly-hatched brine shrimp as a first food. They were also fed decapsulated brine shrimp eggs and Golden Pearls brand powdered food. Coloration of the fry is quite different than the adult fish and very attractive. If they kept the contrasting light brown / dark brown pattern I think they would be a very popular aquarium fish. The head and main part of the fry’s body is chocolate brown, the belly and lower body orangey-tan (more orange after feeding on BBS) and there’s a silver stripe along the top of the body from the head to the tail. The dorsal fin has wide bold chocolate and yellow vertical stripes.
It was only a few days after the first bunch of fry were free swimming when one of the females in the breeding tank had changed color and was guarding the top of another clay pot. I had to know, so I turned the pot over to look and, once again, was bitten for my nosiness. This time it was left to the fish to do hatching and raising of the fry. I didn’t bother the tank again and just watched. I should never have had concern about the female’s ability to guard the nest. Though the tetras were larger and faster, they wouldn’t come into the open when the female was present. The other cichlids were nowhere to be found when the mother took the brood around the tank to forage. All residents of the aquarium stayed out of sight or paid the price. She was a vicious protector of her brood. I have not seen the male of the pair displaying any sort of protective behavior of the nest or young fish. If he has a role in this, he does it with subtlety.
The young fish in the second brood, being left with the mother in the breeding tank, were much more active and visible than the first group. I’m assuming that presence of the mother fish gave them the confidence to be out in the open to feed without fear. As a result, they grew more quickly and soon caught up to the first group in size. Until the fry were old enough to be on their own, the mother stood guard and the other residents stayed out of the way. Even during feeding, they only darted out long enough to grab a bite and rush back, and even then they sometimes incurred the wrath of Mom.
Once the youngsters were around five weeks free-swimming, they no longer stayed with the mother fish and ventured around the tank on their own. Other than a short chase now and then, they showed little aggression towards each other and the aquarium was at peace once again.
The second brood hadn’t been on their own for more than a week when I noticed all the tetras and a good share of the Nannacara all huddled into a top corner as I was feeding them. A quick look around the tank showed that one of the females was guarding an upturned pot near the center of the tank and no one was going to test her. Not wanting to stress the other fish out any more, I removed them to another tank and left the mother and her nest alone.
At this writing, the eggs have hatched; the female is still guarding them and looking for any other fish to come into sight. I get the feeling that she’s disappointed there are no interlopers to challenge.