Laetacara curviceps - Basic Characteristic and Care Details
This delightful little fish is one of the dwarf cichlids that is very popular among fish keepers and is often kept for its breeding prowess, they are prolific breeders once a pair is established but unfortunately they can be overlooked in the aquatic stores as they are often sold as juveniles, the young fish can look drab but when they mature their markings and colouration shine through.
They are most commonly known as the Flag Cichlid or the Flag Acara, one of their common names which certainly appeals to keepers is the Smiling Flag Cichlid due to the unique development of their mouths giving the impression that they are always smiling.
They are found naturally in the Amazonian River Basins and some of its tributaries where the waters are calmer and slow moving. Unlike a lot of the other cichlids, these fish do not require all of the traditional décor associated with a cichlid tank like lots of bog wood or caves, their main requirement is plenty of swimming space as they are a very active fish. Due to their small size they do not even need a large aquarium, adult specimens will only reach 4” maximum but they do need to be kept in pairs as single specimens will tend to hide away a lot and sulk. They can even be added to planted tanks, another unusual trait for most cichlids, they will not disturb the roots of the plants or attempt to eat them, the Flag Acara is a very good choice for keepers with limited space and also require a tank set up that will impress their guests.
Caring for Laetacara curviceps
As mentioned above, these fish do not require a large aquarium to be happy, they are perfectly at home in a tank that holds at least 20 gallons of water. They do need to be kept in pairs, often these fish will pair up at the end of their juvenile stage and this pairing will often happen for life, replacing a lost partner can be tricky but will happen over a period of time. Although they do prefer soft, acidic water, they are quite hardy and will adapt to water that is slightly alkaline. Using the higher end of the pH range is not ideal and you may not get the best colouration from the fish by doing this but they will live a normal life in these conditions, the ideal pH range is between 5.5 to 7.5 but try to keep the water below 7.0. The temperature of the tank should be set at 72-80 deg F, for breeding purposes it can be set a couple of degrees higher. Add a few plants to provide cover for the fish and use sand or gravel for the substrate. Bog wood can be added to help keep the water acidic but any other décor is optional. Tank mates should be peaceful as this fish is not aggressive but may become territorial when spawning, some of the larger Tetra species are ideal and a smaller catfish or Corydoras for bottom dwellers will keep the substrate clean.
For a small fish they do produce a lot of waste so make sure that the tank is well filtered and regular water changes will be required, at least 25% per week to keep the water quality high.
Breeding Laetacara curviceps
Sexing these fish is very simple, even for a novice fish keeper, the mature males will have developed extended dorsal and anal fins, these will be noticeable straight away. The males will always be slightly larger than the females, this can usually be spotted when they are juveniles. Pairing will occur at a very young age, the males will often only be 1.5” in length when they start to take notice of the females and will display to them. The pairing will last for life, this can have advantages as well as disadvantages, replacing a lost partner can be tricky sometimes but with patience it will eventually happen.
The breeding tank can be as small as 15 gallons, set the pH between 6.0 and 6.5, make sure that the water quality is high and that the tank is cycled. The temperature of the water should be set at 24 deg C (75 deg F) and use an air driven sponge filter for filtration, this will ensure that no potential fry will get sucked up intake pipes. Keep the tank bare bottomed to help with the tank maintenance and add a few flat rocks which will be used as spawning sites, unlike a lot of cichlids, these do not require caves for spawning.
Condition the parents with regular meals of live or frozen foods, not only will this help to trigger the spawning but it will build up the strength of the fish as they will reduce the amount they eat once the fry are hatched. Performing small water changes with unheated water will often trigger the spawning but these fish do not need a lot of prompting, once they are ready the fish will clean their chosen spawning site ready for the eggs. As the female starts to deposit her eggs on the rock, the male will keep jumping in to fertilise them straight away, she will only lay a few at a time, allowing the male in periodically until all of the eggs have been laid.
Both parents will tend the eggs, fanning water over them and removing any that have turned white from fungus. They will continue to do this until the eggs start to hatch which normally takes place 36-48 hours after being laid. The fry at this stage do not require feeding as they will consume their yolk sacs and will remain in the nest until this process has been completed.
Once the yolk sacs have been consumed the fry will become free swimming, now is the time to start giving them small meals 2-3 times per day. They will accept newly hatched brine shrimp or to make life easier for yourself there are commercial fry foods available to feed them with.
You may find that new pairings will not be successful with their first few attempts at breeding, they can be easily startled when they first spawn and may eat their eggs, this is perfectly normal. Eventually they will get the hang of it and become successful parents.