by Janne Ekström, uploaded October 30, 2007
Three month old juvenile
This little beautiful dwarf Panaque (Panaqolus) has been available in the trade since Datz introduced this species in 1996 and gave them their L-number L204; despite that, it has not been scientifically described yet. Differing views exist concerning if this group of smaller species should belong to their own genus Panaqolus which was introduced by Isbrücker & Schraml in 2001, again in Datz, but is rejected by Jon Armbruster, who claims that the differences between them are to small to place them in their own genus and they should belong to the same genus as their bigger relatives. My personal opinion is that these dwarf Panaque are much more closely related to Peckoltia species then they are to the bigger Panaque, they share almost the same body shape and their odontodal growths are identical, they also share the same breeding behaviour; what they don't share is the shape of their teeth and, logically therefore, their diet. This is maybe not enough to place them in their own genus but it makes them very different to the larger examples in the genus Panaque. I don't mean to say what is right or wrong but it shows us how hard it can be for a hobbyist to understand how ichthyologists function and what preferences they use to differ one species from another and between genera.
L204 originate from the Rio san Alejandro in Peru which are is small tributary of the Rio Ucayali near Pucallpa on the Andean slopes, this river is different from most of the rivers in the lowlands of Amazonia which are very soft and acidic. The Rio san Alejandro has a conductivity around 200 µS (~ 5 dGH) and a higher pH level that we are used too when we think of South American rivers; a pH above 8 is what most people associate with the African rift lakes but in the Rio san Alejandro, the pH level reach around 8.4 and although this river is on the slopes it is a warm river up to 30°C. This makes this species very suitable for many a community aquarium as many people have these parameters in their tap water. However, they are very adaptable and will thrive in a wide range of hardness, e.g. 3-15 dGH and a pH level of 6.5-8.4 with good aeration.
|Close-up of head of female||Close-up of head of male|
|Close-up of male's odontodes||Close-up of male's genital papillae|
This is one of the most desirable species to breed and it can be done with some patience, they can be difficult to sex before they reach a mature size which is around 9-10 cm SL and is when the males start to grow odontodes on their backs. Both sexes have interopercular odontodes of almost the same size except that males are slightly thicker, the pectoral odontodes are also small on this species so it is easiest to sex them are the body shape; females are much more rounded and stubbier compared with males but as soon as a male starts to grow body odontodes, there can be no doubts as to what sex they are. Their genital papilla look a little different when compared to other genera in the family Loricariidae, both sexes' genital papilla have a rounded out curved shape. The females is oval and the males is more rounded and blunt. The best way to start on a breeding project is with a smaller group of 5-6 individuals and grow them up together, when they have reached sexual maturity all males except the most dominant male should be removed from the group. The most dominant male is also that male with the most developed odontodes on the body, a breeding group with 1 male together with 2-3 females is a suitable composition.
As with all Panaque species, they need and require soft wood in their diet and they consume a lot, they also prefer wood as hiding places over rock work and don't show so much interest in caves before they are mature and in breeding condition; females have very little interest in caves and prefer to hide on wood.
In their natural habitat they can be found in shallow water among tree trunks and roots that have got piled up agasinst the gravel banks in the river and similar environment is also preferred in the aquarium, in the aquarium they should not be without soft wood or roots that are a part of their natural diet and is needed to keep them healthy. Their bigger relatives have many nicknames in South America for example "Chupa-cayuco" which can be translated to canoe-sucker because of their bad habits in occaisioanlly chewing holes in canoes when they are laying at the shores of the rivers, locally, this makes them not always so popular.
As I've said, they prefer wood as hiding places and they don't show any interest in caves before they have reached mature sizes and are in breeding condition; females show very little interest in caves even as adults; unless, of course, it's not occupied by a handsome male. To bring them into breeding condition a varied diet of root, vegetables (such sweet potatoes), pleco tablets and small frozen crustaceans like Cyclops is a very good diet; small frozen crustaceans are a much better diet for this species and their relatives then other type of heavier frozen food because of their sensitive intestines that are adapted to a diet very low in nutrition. To avoid spoiling them to much with this kind of food it's a good idea once a week to give the feeding schedule a break, and outside the breeding season make longer periods with less food; under this time they will eat more of the wood in the tank which will help them to keep the intestines in good shape. On this diet the females will soon become plump and ripe with eggs, if there is proud male occupying a suitable cave, then the females will gather outside and show their interest. The male is lying inside the cave with his tailfin and the filament protruding outside the entrance and the female will turn her back and tailfin with her filament so they touch each other, they can stay like this for hours up to several days; this is the way they communicate with each other.
When they are ready, the male will let the female into the cave and breeding can begin, the male will lie over the females back and in intervals start to vibrate at a high frequently to stimulate her to release her eggs. This behaviour they share with the genus Peckoltia and Hypancistrus but with L204 it's rare that the female stays longer then one or two days, I think the answer can be found in their more intimate behaviour and communication before they actually start to breed; other species belonging to the other genera I mention lack the "foreplay" and just trick the females into entrapment and that's why they can be trapped for many days and sometimes weeks. L204 have a more sophisticated breeding behaviour and that maybe will be shared of other species in this genus which also have long filaments in their tailfin.
How to decorate the breeding tank in the right way? Most of the species in the family Loricariidae live in strong or very strong currents and are adapted to these circumstances, it doesn't matter how many power heads we use we will never even come close to the torrent of water or the volumes of water that are in play in their natural habitats. What we can do is to create small worlds in miniature in our tanks with areas there the currents are heavier and other small areas with calmer water, by using roots and some stones we can shield the tank in different areas. I usually decorate my tanks with a bigger piece of wood in the middle so the tank is split in two different parts of equal size.
Place a power head on one side with the outlet near the surface and the inlet near the bottom, on the other side of the tank where the water flow will hit the glass I place the breeding cave at an angle so that the entrance faces to that side. When the water current returns near the bottom it will pass the entrance of the cave, this is similar to what happens in a river behind a stone or a root in a river where turbulent water is created by the strong water flow. On the same side where the pump is placed it will be calmer because the root placed in the middle of the tank will break the current on the way back to the pump, there I place smaller stones and small pieces of wood and the food will be collected in that part of the tank where they can eat. I use fine gravel as substrate, just a few centimeters but the area around the cave it will be moved by the current and bare the bottom glass. To make them feel safe around the cave it's important to cover the bottom and the side of the tank in that area so no strong light reachs into the cave. The waters character like hardness and pH is not so important if isn't extremely hard, I breed them in my tap water which have following parameters in the tank; pH 6.8-7.0 and a conductivity around 280 µS (~6 dGH). What is important is that the gas exchange in the water remains as good as possible, to keep a high level of oxygen and as low as possible the level of nitrogen and carbon dioxide. That is one of the most important things with strong currents, it will lift up the water from the bottom to the surface and mix poorer water with good water; the more frequent this exchange, the better. The temperature in my breeding tanks vary between 27-29°C which is the temperature I have in my fish room, if I need lower temperature for any species I have to keep these in the lowest tanks near the floor with their own filter system which are one or two degrees colder. To keep up fast and good nitrification it is a good idea to use a filter that is a little bigger then we think is needed and which are also easy to clean without interrupting the breeding group too much. In my case I use old aquariums which I have rebuilt to a big filter tank with several steps, the nitrification is very fast in these filter and either ammonium or nitrite can't be measured with the type of test kits you can buy in the aquarium trade. However, I can always measure an increasing level of nitrate day by day and to prevent the nitrate reaching higher levels I have to do regular water changes every second day; in combination with using zeolite in my filter tank I can keep the nitrate level under 5 ppm.
There are as many solutions to filtration as there are aquarists but you can never make a filter too good. These big filter tanks are connected with several breeding tanks in my fish room and process quite big volumes - each filter tank has a volume of 10% of the total water volume in that specific system.
Spawning and rearing the fry.
When the female decide to make her visit to the male in his cave and the spawn has taken place, it will usually result in 60-70 eggs (my females are around 10-11 cm SL) and the male will release the female out from the cave and start to care for the eggs; he places the eggs in the far end of the cave and uses his body to protect them. At regular intervals he turns around the batch of eggs with his mouth to keep the eggs clean and oxygenated, he is a very protecting father and should be left alone as much as possible and not be disturbed during the time he is guarding the eggs. The male can be very nervous and if he is disturbed too often it's a risk that he kicks the eggs out of the cave, this can also happen if the water quality gets too poor; when the eggs have hatched after 6-7 days, the risk will decrease radically. In this genus the males don't eat either eggs or fry which sometimes happens with Peckoltia and Hypancistrus species, instead he will do everything he can to protect his offspring.
After 10-12 days the fry have consumed their yolk sac and at that time they start to make small excursions near the cave, the male doesn't seem to take any notice and lets them come and go as they want. When the female gets ripe with eggs again after 30-40 days or if another female is ripe and shows interest in the male, he will kick the youngsters out of the cave and make room for the next spawn. I usually empty the cave before the fry have consumed their yolk sac, either on their second day or the third and place the fry in a rearing container that hangs in the breeding tank; in that way it's easier to collect all the fry before they are spread in the whole tank and also easier to feed them later. With this method I usually do not loose any fry and the whole batch will be saved, the fry don't need too search and compete for food with the adults in the tank and I have found this way to be the best for me.
To avoid lowering oxygen levels in the rearing tank some kind of flow of fresh water into the rearing tank from the breeding tank is required, this can be achieved with an air driven sponge filter placed outside the rearing tank with the outlet spluttering new and fresh water into the rearing tank. It's very important to take care for this problem, without continued exchange of the water in the rearing tank, most fry will not survive very long and they will die one by one until there are but a very few left.
When the fry have consumed their yolk sac it's time to give them their first food. Beforehand, with other species in this genus, I had waited to give them any kind of wood until they were around a month old. With these fry I tested giving them a small piece of wood as soon as they had lost their yolk sac, even if it tooks a few days to a week, I noticed that they, from an early stage, started to consume wood which could easily be seen in the rearing tank. I also fed them pleco tabs from the beginning and they grew quite fast from to be 15-16 mm when they started to feed to reaching 20-22 mm in four weeks. After 2-3 weeks I moved the fry to a smaller tank where I use a thin layer of sand together with some small pieces of wood so the fry can feel safe and find shelter. They continue to grow slightly faster then other species I have bred in this genus and that perhaps has something to do with the presence of wood in the early stages. After this time it's obvious how important wood is in their diet when you can see 60-70 youngsters leaving very visible tracks in the tank. To ensure the youngsters grow and do not succumbed for bacteria infections it's important to perform frequent and regular water changes and to clean the tank several times a week. Again, if neglected, you will lose them one by one and the remaining youngsters will grow very slowly if they grow at all. After 3 months have passed they will reach between 3-4 cm and look very pretty, if we can call a catfish pretty, anyway, in my eyes they are really sweet.
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