Shane's World Right Reproduction Right Keeping and spawning Peckoltia sabaji

Article © Janne Ekström, uploaded December 04, 2007.

To which genus this species and their relatives should belong to is not yet clear; there are still many more questions than answers. In particular I'm considering that this species that was first described in 2003 as Peckoltia sabaji (L075, L124 and L301 - where L301 was the holotype) by Jon Armbruster and after just two years the author then moved it into the genus Hemiancistrus; if not officially but via his homepage. And that's not the entire story; Isaac Isbrücker described in 2001 a new genus, Ancistomus for L141 which therefore became A. snethlegae and into which genus also went P. sabaji. However, Armbruster defined this new genus as a synonym of the genus Hemiancistrus. Until the day that ichthyologists determine exactly what does, or does not, make these three genera unique from each other and, of course, this view gains wider acceptance, we hobbyists will feel insecure as to what genus they belong too. I have no opinion more then I think they are not typical Peckoltia species. I have not read the original description of Ancistomus snethlegae; and I think most of the ichthyologists don't want opinions from hobbyists either. Maybe views from aquarists would make ichthyologists more confused because we don't have the same education or any experience in that field. Even though however, it is true that we hobbyists can see other things that do not appear to an ichthyologist; they study dead species and we hobbyists study them when they are alive.

Females cheek odontodesFemales cheek odontodes

P. sabaji has a very wide distribution from Guyana, Venezuela and Colombia into the northern parts of Brazil; they even exist south of the great Amazon in rivers flowing north into the Amazon River in the state of Para. This is the first reason why they have several l-numbers, the second reason is that they are not identical in coloration. Depending on collection locale, their colors can range from a grey or beige body with dark orange fins and fewer but bigger black spots like those from Rio Xingu to having a grey and yellowish body with many black spots and orange to yellow fins from Rio do Para, light grey/yellow body with darker yellow fins and many spots of different sizes from Rio Tapajos to almost have singularly colored body and fins in the same light brownish coloration with many black spots and just a little orange or yellow colour in their fins like them from Colombia or Venezuela. The original P. sabaji is L301 from Guyana and Essequibo drainage and I not seen it in life but I have seen another species with white fins instead of orange or yellow with a very light grey body so the variations are very large in this species; even individuals from the same location they can vary from darker to lighter colorations.

So, to avoid further confusion, we hobbyists should be careful and not mix populations from different locations when we want to breed this species, they are very popular among many aquarists in the world and they are not so difficult to succeed with. All that is really needed is just to know some of their essential requirements and to be able to distinguish the sex in this genus. Like all Loricariids they require a high oxygen level and water with low or almost no pollution to bring this fish into condition and show their breeding behaviour. Simply to make frequent water changes is not enough if there is high pressure from organic materials breaking down in the substrate. Even if the ammonia and nitrite levels are under control there will be high contents of nitrate, phosphate and carbon dioxide produced 24 hours a day that affect fishes oxygen uptake through the gills and in their blood; changing water will only temporarily decrease these levels for a short time. Not keeping the water parameters stable and in good condition over a longer period is the most common reason why many fail in their attempts to breed difficult fishes. There are several things we can do to prevent the water spoiling, circulation that brings down oxygenated water from the surface to the bottom will decrease the time which is taken to break down the organic material and will also evaporate carbon dioxide faster from the water. To vacuum clean the substrate regularly will also help to keep these levels down and, of course, regular water changes will remove the rest of the pollution. In planted tanks, where the plants consume a lot of these nitrogen compounds, carbon dioxide and phosphate (and also produce oxygen), these plants will also bring down levels of pollution but in these tanks, the plants must thrive perfectly; if not they will increase the pollution levels instead. Many plecos are not suited to being kept in planted tanks because they will either eat the plants or casually dig them up when searching for food. Perhaps more importantly, many plecos require strong currents to thrive, so most of them are best kept in tanks without plants - at least for our breeding attempts. Next step is to sex them and this genus is not as easy as many other smaller species; they need to be bigger and mature before it's possible to sex them.

Male in spawning caveMale in spawning cave

When encountered for sale, they are mostly too small and it's very unusual to find them at a mature size. Fortunately they grow quite fast and from a size of around 10cm they will grow under the first year to 15cm or more and become mature. At that size they start to show differences between the sexes but these are not so obvious as compared to what we see in Peckoltia species. The first thing we notice is that the female becomes plumper and more rounded when compared to the males more slender body. The male's interopercular odontodal growth is only slightly heavier than the females but the base of these spines will be more swollen in males - this gives him a more masculine look! The males don't grow any heavy odontodes on their back or caudal peduncle, outside the breeding season - or if they are not kept under good conditions - they will look almost the same as females and be very hard to distinguish if we not have seen the differences before. When the female become ripe with eggs, her genital papilla swells and is noticeably much bigger and rounder than the males which is smaller and pointed.

A good starting point is to buy a small group of five or six of the species and let them grow up to a mature size under good conditions; they don't show so much aggression and are neither as shy as many other species can be. They will always be visible in the tank and come straight forward to the food whenever it is served during the day; a mixed variety of food can be served to this omnivorous species. They will eat almost everything but a mix of pleco tablets and frozen food like Cyclops, artemia and mysis will increase their growth, from time to time you can offer them vegetables like squash or raw beans.

The more frequently the aquarist does water changes, the faster fishes will grow together with, of course, daily feedings and not too much competition from other fishes in the tank. As soon as they have reached a mature size they will start to show sexual differences. At this point, the males will take command and dominate the females at feeding time. At this point also, the females start to get plumper and rounder. If there are mostly males in the tank with few or just one female, I suggest removing the subdominant males and only leaving the most dominant male with the female or females. If lucky you maybe will end up with two pairs selected out from the group and, if possible, you should separate them into their own breeding tanks. Whatever you do, don't leave two males together with one or two females, in such circumstances, the males will be preoccupied with themselves and their territories and spawning will take a very long time to happen if at all.

I place the intended breeding cave where the currents create turbulence in the tank (the opposite side from the power head) and place a piece of wood over the cave. I think that to use either wood or slates to cover the cave makes their residents feel more safe and comfortable. I don't use any rainy season or dry season strategy, the most important is stable water parameters and they breed in my tap water. In the tank the pH is relatively stable around neutral and the conductivity around 280 µS. I find this species prefers higher temperatures like many Hypancistrus species also do during their breeding period and the temperature is kept around 29°C. Their spawning behaviour is interesting and similar to L147 which I had bred before. The female will be very close to the male when she is ready and the male will gently help her into the cave and the right position. Compared to Peckoltia or Hypancistrus breeding behaviour, this group of species are the caring lovers of the pleco world. The male ushers the female into the cave with her head first so she can come around to the right position and then the male smoothly moves out from the cave, turns around and moves back into the cave alongside the female but positioned with his tail fin first and in this side by side position the spawn will occur. As soon as the male has fertilized the eggs he will come out and let the female leave the cave like a gentleman, after the female has left the cave he goes back and begins his caring of the batch of 100 eggs or more. My pairs are not fully grown yet and at their size around 18 cm SL they produce between 100-120 eggs, I suppose they will lay more eggs at a bigger size. The male is usual a very good father and cares for the eggs well if there are no disturbances around him. If he is disturbed too much or if the water quality changes drastically he can kick out the eggs from the cave. If everything goes well, he will turn around the eggs regularly with his mouth and fan fresh oxygenated water with his pelvic fins during the course of the following six to seven days until the eggs hatch. The emergent fry have a big yolk sac that will last for the next eight days and after that they are free swimming; at this stage the fry are quite big and reach around 20 mm TL.

Four day old eggsFour day old eggs   One day old fryOne day old fry
Four day old fryFour day old fry   Seven day old frySeven day old fry
Twelve day old fryTwelve day old fry   Twenty four day old fryTwenty four day old fry
Six weeks oldSix weeks old   Four month old juvenileFour month old juvenile

Rearing the fry and youngsters.
The fry can be left with their parents but when they are so many individuals in the tank, it can be easier to take care of them in their own space. I usually do what I do with all my species; I empty the cave the same day or day after they hatch and transfer them in a rearing container that hangs into the breeding tank. I do that for two reasons, the first one is because it's much easier to collect all the fry at that stage and move them from the breeding tank and the second reason is because it's much easier to take care of all the fry without any losses; there is perhaps also one more benefit to this procedure and that is that the parents will start towards their next spawning much earlier than they would do if the fry are left in with them. After they have consumed their yolk sac it's time to give them their first food and they do well on pleco tablets from the beginning. I feed them only for a week or two in the rearing container so I can ensure they eat well. The amount and size of the fry demands bigger space then my small rearing containers can offer so I move them after this time to their own tank, namely one of my 120 liter tanks for fry and youngsters. Three weeks after hatching the fry will have reached 25 mm TL - I too was surprised by the rapidity of the growth rate - and at this size they are camouflaged in olive green and light brown. With frequent water changes yet only with one feeding time in the evening before the lights off, they continue to grow very fast and only 5-6 weeks later they have grown to 35 mm TL, and now they have start to change their pattern. At this size it starts to be a little crowded in the grow-out tank and it's time to divide them into two separate, bigger tanks so their growth does not slow down. At this stage, I start to feed them even frozen foods like Cyclops and chopped artemia several times a week together with the daily pleco tablets, when they have become three months old they look like miniatures of the adults and have reached more then 40 mm TL, four months over 50 mm and at five months the biggest youngsters attain 80 mm TL. At the time of writing, I have not bred any species with comparable growth rate and this makes me think that L75 would be a very interesting subject for commercial breeders, they produce a fair amount of fry and these grow fast; but their beautiful looks and lack of shyness in comparison to other plecos also makes them easier to sell.

There is further information on this species on the Cat-eLog page.

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