With many thanks to Erlend D. Bertelsen for his significant input into this article. All images by the author.
The Blue Phantom is the name often used for this pleco. The fish has an intense blue colour, a very rare colour in Loricariidae but the fish is not very unusual in our aquatic shops. The fishes colour and slightly shy personality makes it a majestic fish in our aquaria. It is not as shy as some other suckermouth catfish and it is in many peoples eyes a nicer looking fish than its close brother Hemiancistrus subviridis, L200. This article will tell you a little about this species, experiences and information on the breeding of the fish.
Hemiancistrus; a difficult genus
To date, there are over 20 known species in the genus Hemiancistrus. One of the most recently described is Hemiancistrus pankimpuju , Lujan & Chamon, 2008 which is quite different from the other described Hemiancistrus species. Most of the species known in Hemiancistrus are described scientifically, and there are only a small number of species which are known as L-numbers. L128 is one of the few cases- it was given its number in DATZ no 5 in 1993.
The first part of the genus name, hemi is Latin, and means half. The second part of the name is ancistrus is from ancient Greek, and comes from the word agkistron, meaning hook, referring to the interopercular spines. Ancistrus is a well known genus with many familiar species. So this means that we find some of the features of Ancistrus in the genus Hemiancistrus — half- or part- Ancistrus.
There are many species and genera in the family of Loricariidae, and it isn’t particularly easy to see the whole picture. Hemiancistrus is also a genus with large variations between its various species. In many ways it can be said that Hemiancistrus is a “collection point” for species that don’t fit in anywhere else. In recent years, new species with large variation have been added to the genus, and when we get a revision of the genus, it is likely that it will be split into several new genera. The genera that are closest to Hemiancistrus are Ancistomus, Baryancistrus, Peckoltia, and Sophiancistrus. Most of these genera are also quite difficult to define.
The genus Hemiancistrus was introduced in 1862 by Bleeker and Hemiancistrus medians is the type species for the genus. Hemiancistrus medians were first described by Kner in 1854 as Ancistrus medians. Recently a specimen from this description has been found which shows what we now call Pseudacanthicus. This when taken to its extreme tell us that what we call Hemiancistrus should be called Pseudacanthicus. This leads to problems with the name of the Pseudacanthicus genus. We hope that this is just some sort of mistake, where the type specimen has been mislabelled and can be ignored. It is likely that this will pass, but it’s a fun fact.
Hemiancistrus sp. L128 comes from the Rio Orinoco system in Venezuela. This river is one of the longest in South America at 2140 km (1330 miles). This is the same river that Hemiancistrus subviridis (L200) comes from. L128 comes from an area that is further to the north (down river) than L200. It is possible that it is the same species and just a different regional variant, but that is up to the scientists to decide. L128 is captured near Puerto Ayacucho in the state of Amazonas in Venezuela. It lives alongside with Peckoltia (Ancistomus) cf. sabaji (L124), Dekeyseria scapirhyncha and Pterygoplichthys gibbiceps. This part of the Rio Orinoco is a fast flowing river with a high temperature and a pH between 6.5 and 7.0. L128 is collected and exported in large numbers and mostly arrives via Colombian exporters. There are no restrictions on the capture and export of this species, but like many other fish the season will dictate when it can be collected. Nearly all L128 for sale are wild caught, as are very few who have bred this fish.
Hemiancistrus sp. L128 lives in the area around Puerto Ayacucho in the state of Amazonas in Venezuela
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Keeping Hemiancistrus sp. L128
Hemiancistrus sp. L128 is easy to keep and it doesn’t grow very large, around 20cm (8”). The fish is easy to feed; they eat all the food I give them. They are fed with peas, squash, mosquito larvae and various kinds of tablets for catfish. Water changes are done with about 1/3 of the volume per week. The fresh water added is straight from the cold water tap, which makes the temperature drop 3-5°C and the fish tolerates this without any trouble.
I bought my first Hemiancistrus sp. L128 in June 2007. It was a group of nine as I had the goal to breed these nice fish. The fish in the first group weren’t that large, so I ended up adding another six fish in December 2007, this time a little bit bigger. These fish measured 144-179mm (approx. 5.5-7”) total length. These were big fish with good colour.
I was unsure about the ratio of males and females with these fish, so I put them in a 900 liter (200 imp. gal. 235 US gal) biotope aquarium. This aquarium was set up specifically for this fish, with stone modules and roots hanging into the water to reflect the natural biotope. As this fish likes a lot of water movement two AquaClear 110 circulation pumps were fitted on one side-wall, combined this makes 6800 liter per hour (1700 gph). Additionally two Fluval FX5 filters were fitted in the tank. The substrate was fine-grained blasting sand.
I reduced the group from 15 fish by selling some of the certain males, making sure that the remaining fish had good behaviour towards each other. After some time, in autumn 2009, the group was down to 10 fish. Below, right, is a picture of my Orinoco biotope tank. The Hemiancistrus didn’t stay alone for very long. In the tank, I had Mesonauta insignis, Uaru amphiacanthoides and a large number of Pristella maxilaris. There were also a couple of Panaque nigrolineatus (L190) and P. Sp. (L191) and other species in the tank. So breeding in this tank would have been risky, I had to get another aquarium.
900 liter Rio Orinoco Biotope
Move to a new aquarium
In autumn 2009, I got a rack of 3 x 222 liter aquaria. Now I decided to put my L128 in there, I collected all ten fishes and put them in one 222 liter (approx 50 gal) aquarium. The tank had English river gravel as substrate. Further there were three caves in the aquarium. The caves are home-made and quite large. The cave, to the right in the aquarium, is the preferred one for the dominant male. It measures 220mm (9”) deep, 80mm (3.25”) wide and 40 mm (1.5”) tall. The second cave, like the first made from stone, is 200mm (8”) deep, 45mm (1.75”) wide and 50mm (2”) tall. The final cave is a bamboo tube, 170mm (6.75”) deep and 60mm (2.5”) inside diameter. The remaining decorations are sparse with just a few pieces of bogwood on top of the caves and a few larger stones. The circulation is provided by two AquaClear 70 power heads, which gives about 3000 liter per hour (750 gph) along with a JBL CristalProfi500 filter. Lighting is a 30W T8 fluorescent tube, which is placed towards the back of the aquarium, which makes the openings of the caves to be more shaded. Lighting is on for about nine hours a day.
After a while in the new aquarium, the time came to look at the sex distribution in the setup. It is not easy to tell the sex of these fish unless the males have heavy odontal growth on the pectoral fins and by the gill covers. One needs a well trained eye to see the difference without clear odontal growth. I invited Håvard Støre Andresen, as he has more experience in sexing fish than I have. We looked at the width of the head, which is wider and stronger on the male. The sex distribution would be critical for the future. We could not say for certain what the proportions of the sexes were in the group, but we realised, that there were probably two males too many in the group, so these were moved to another aquarium. We agreed to try to get a better look at sexing them in a few months, in the hope to make the group even smaller.
Here are pictures of the male and the female. We see the different between the head shape of the male and the female. The male is wider and generally stockier. The female has a more slender head, and not so “drop” shaped. The length of the male is 120 mm SL (4.75”) and the female 115 mm SL (4.5”)
A few months before eggs
In February 2010, Jørn Kåsa came to visit in Stavanger; he was going to the auction at the local aquarist club. He brought a male Hemiancistrus sp. L128. I swapped this male against one of mine. This was a last grasp effort to try to make the fish breed.
This was, as I said, my last attempt to make the fish breed. I thought the new male looked like it was made of the right stuff. The temperature was adjusted up to 28-29°C. I put a filter bag with peat in the aquarium, to adjust the pH down to 6.5. I also increased the oxygenation of the water by adding a diffuser to one of the power-heads. Aside from these simple steps, the water was changed by about 1/3 twice during two months. It was about 20-25 days before the laying of the eggs from the last water change. Feeding consisted of bloodworms, peas and the usual dry food. I left the fish to themselves until the day of the egg laying.
Sharing the cave
After I got the “new” male and adjusted the water parameters I choose to leave the fish in peace. I assumed that if there was going to be any chances to be eggs I must let the fish be alone and undisturbed. This assumption appears to be correct. I observed the expected sharing the cave on the 15th of April 2010. At this time the male had placed himself in the bamboo cave. The male that usually stays in the stone cave to the right has moved to the bamboo cave and blocked the female inside the cave. He blocked the female for several hours. Both the male and female lay with their head facing the back wall of the cave. I could not see anything other than the male try to hold the female inside the cave. There were no signs of vibrations in the fishes. I have seen vibration a few times in the aquarium, if it was spawning practice or fighting, I can’t say. After several hours, no eggs were laid. The next day both the male and the female had left the cave. The male was found back in his favourite stone cave on the right of the aquarium, so I didn’t think much more about that.
I kept eight L128 in this tank. The red arrow shows where the spawn and eggs took place.
The first thing I did on 17th of April 2010 was to shine a light into the aquarium. It was clear that something wasn’t quite normal. The male that usually stays in the cave to the right wasn’t there. When I looked around the aquarium I saw that there was something in the bamboo cave that I hadn’t seen before. The male was in the bamboo cave and he had something he wanted to hide. He blocked the line of sight quite well. I could see that there was something in the cave. It dawned on me that it could be eggs. I wondered what to do, and I thought of what Håvard Støre Andresen did when he got eggs of Hemiancistrus subviridis. I found a 45 liter (10 gal) aquarium that I filled with about 10-12 liter (2-3gal) of water from the tank. When I took the cave with the male and put it vertically over the water line in the small tank, I saw the eggs come out. The fish came right after, which was immediately put back into the aquarium. These were the first eggs I got of Hemiancistrus sp. L128. The joy was great, but I had a great challenge ahead of me: I was to be surrogate father for the eggs!
Caring for eggs
Since this was the first time I had eggs, I choose to take the eggs from the father. The eggs were moved to a 45 litre aquarium. The aquarium was placed so that it is leaning to one side, so that the eggs would be at the same end as the air stone from the air pump. I added methylene blue to prevent fungus forming on the eggs.
It was a large clutch of eggs, it is difficult to say exactly how many there was, but I would estimate that it was around 65 eggs. Some of the eggs were not fertilised, and some eggs burst before hatching. The next few days I changed nearly 100% of the water in the egg-tank each day. I took nine litres of aquarium water and one liter of new water, totally water change is 10 litres then adding some methylene blue. I change water one time every day. The temperature was the same as the parents, 28-29°C.
Eggs at 4 days
Saturday 17th April 2010. Eggs were laid in bamboo cave and removed to their own tank.
Wednesday 21st April 2010 around 12 noon was the first wriggler hatched out of the egg. At 13.53 there were 53 fry. I helped the fry out of the eggs, since I had taken them from the male, so the male could not help the fry out of the eggs. To help the fry out is rather easy, but I had to be extremely careful to not crush the eggs. All fry were moved to a fry basket in the parent’s tank. The fry basket was placed such that the slits were aligned with the flow in the tank, so that there is good flow through the fry basket. In the time that the fry were in the fry basket, I lost eight fry before they moved into the feeding tank.
Sunday 2nd May 2010 Fry are moved to their own grow-out/feeding tank.
A bit about the grow-out tank and the fry
All fry were moved to the grow-out tank at the same time. In the first two days, I lost three fry that I know of, but it could be more. The exact number of fry isn’t known.
In the aquarium of 222 liter (50 gal) the substrate is sand that I collected here in Norway. The filtration is a JBL CristalProfi500. The lighting is one 30W T8 tube. There are a few thick and some thin pieces wood and almond leaves. The water is around pH 7 and the temperature is 28-29 oC. Sharing the tank are some amano and cherry shrimp, they keep the tank clear of algae and eat leftover food.
The grow out aquarium
Feeding was a mixture of peeled artemia (brine shrimp), Tetra PlecoMin, peas and Tetra Vegetable Pro flakes. I fed three times a day, which seems to work well. There was a lot of food going in the aquarium to begin with, maybe too much, so I had to vacuum every day to ensure that no food remains were left that could ruin the water quality. This also meant rather large refills of water. To avoid sudden drop in temperature, I filled the water in several smaller volumes. To this day, I have lost a few fry. As far as I’m aware, I have lost 6 fry, but it could be a bit higher. Growing the fry isn’t difficult; they eat everything served, even if I gave them a limited selection of food. And they grow very quickly. After eight weeks the largest fry is 35mm (1.25”), which I think is good growth in such a short time. There hasn’t been any further spawns so far, but I hope for another this year.
Finally, I want to say a few words about this wonderful pleco. Hemiancistrus sp. L128 isn’t hard to get hold of, even if the price can be a bit high. To breed this fish has been my goal since I first got them, and it took two and a half year to make it happen. It was a long process where I tried several different methods to make get the fish to spawn. A good experience from this is that the size of the aquarium is not that important. My fish went from 900 litres (200 gal) to a 222 litre (50 gal) aquarium, and it was in the smaller aquarium that the eggs were laid. The most important factor for breeding this fish was to give them a species aquarium, without disturbances from other fish. Give the fish some time and arrange it right for the fish, and you can breed this fish too if you wish, just remember it can take some time to make it happen.
Fry development from 21st April 2010 to 19th May 2010.
I. Seidel, G Evers. 2005. Wels Atlas 2. Mergus verlag GmbH, Melle, Deutchland
I. Seidel, 2008. Back to nature L-malle guide, Fohrman aquastikk AB, Sweden
Carl J. Ferraris, Jr; 2007. Checklist of catfishes, recent and fossil (Osteichthyes: Siluriformes), and catalogue of siluriform primary types, Zootaxa. 1418:628. Mangolia press, Auckland, New Zealand
There is further information on this species on the Cat-eLog page.
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