Above Etroplus maculatus,wild female in breeding coloration. Photo by Rick Borstein. | Video Below
Etroplus maculatus (Bloch, 1795) is a substrate-spawning cichlid native to India and Sri Lanka. Common names for this fish are the Red Chromide or Orange Chromide.
Line-bred specimens of Etroplus maculatus are solid yellow to solid orange and are not at all uncommon in the hobby. Generally, these line-bred fish are pond-raised in Asia. Recently, however, we have seen a good number of imports of the wild-type fish from India.
Females in breeding color are a bright yellow-orange with black spots on the flanks. The lower portion of the flank has a large black blotch. Paired fins are either clear or black. Males sport a similar pattern, but have a gray-white background color. During breeding, the large side splotch is maroon to dark black.
Many hobbyists assume that brackish water is required to keep this fish. This is not true! I've read many aquarium accounts of successful breeding in fresh water.
Etroplus maculatus is found primarily in lagoons and small streams in both freshwater and brackish environments, typically associated with plants and cover.
Etroplus maculatus is generally hardy and easy to keep. It does best in neutral to hard water. This fish can be a bit aggressive when spawning. If you have kept small Central American cichlids like Convicts, then you can manage this fish, too. I kept mine at 78F in Chicago tap water at pH 7.4, 300 ppm hardness. I performed regular partial water changes of 25% weekly. I kept a group of six fish in a 4-foot 90 gallon tank along with six Chromidotilapia kingsleyae. No losses occurred.
Etroplus maculatus is easy to feed. I fed Dainichi Veggie Deluxe pellets, New Life Spectrum pellets, spirulina flakes and various other flakes.
I obtained six juvenile wild fish at The Wet Spot Pet Shop in Portland, OR while visiting the area on business. I had kept the line-bred Asian-sourced fish before and never found them to be particularly hardy. The fish at the Wet Spot were in great shape, eating well, and bargain at $6 each for 1.25" wild fish. They quickly went in my suitcase for the plane ride home.
I placed the Etroplus maculatus and the aforementioned West Africans in the 90G tank. This tank had a sand substrate and several caves, pots and rockwork. The tank was filtered by a large wet/dry filter. Although Etroplus maculatus is found in lagoons, I've seen videos by Heiko Bleher of this fish swimming with fry in moving water, so I wasn't too concerned that the water flow would be too high. As fry or juveniles, the pattern is the same, but the background is sort of a muddy tan.
Once the fish reached about 2.5 inches, I began to see the first signs of sexual differences. Colored up, both males and females are very attractive fish. I think they are much better looking than the line-bred stock that is found in pet shops.
Soon, I found a pair had spawned and laid about 100 eggs on PVC water return tube. I've had other pairs lay eggs on the rocks and inside pots. Interestingly, the eggs are very dark, nearly a chocolate brown. The eggs wriggle for about four days after which the fry are free-swimming. For my first batch of fry, I siphoned off about 40 babies and experience high mortality. Of this original batch, I was only able to raise nine babies.
A challenge with Etroplus maculatus is the small size of the fry. The babies are quite tiny and can have trouble eating baby brine shrimp. I fed green water and NLS fry powder before switching off to baby brine shrimp with subsequent batches.
Pairs work well together to defend the fry. The female stays close to the babies, signaling them with fin flicks to stay close. If you watch the video below, you'll see the female gather up an errant baby in her mouth and spit it back into the group. The parents will leave the babies to eat, providing an opportunity for other tank inhabitants to make a meal of a few of the kids. In my 90 gallon tank, pairs defended fry for a week to ten days. In the wild, brood care extends until the fry are close to one-half inch long.
The fry are fairly slow growing and I have noticed unequal growth among individuals.
Line-bred Etroplus maculatus is a common fish at pet shops selling for as little as $2 for 1-inch individuals. Wild fish have recently become available in the $6-8 range for 1 inch fish.
Report November 2012 by Rick Borstein.