Rams are a quintessential aquarium fish. Originating from the Orinoco River basin in Colombia and Venezuela, the species has been bred by fish farmers and hobbyists for decades. Rams have shimmering color, and a peaceful demeaner, without sacrificing any of the personality the cichlid family is known for. Considering this, rams are a common and highly sought-after species. There are now several line-bred strains in the hobby which do not occur in nature. Gold, electric blue, powder blue, and longfin varieties are available in addition to the equally stunning wildtype strains.
Many consider rams to be an intermediate level fish when it comes to spawning and raising the species. They are an excellent choice for aquarists who have bred convict cichlids or kribensis and are looking for a slightly more challenging cichlid to try their hand with.
Rams prefer soft water when spawning so after treating the water with Reeflowers Effective Conditioner to remove chlorine and enhance slime coat, aquarists in localities with harder water should consider doing partial water changes with reverse osmosis water, utilizing peat, or carefully dosing Reeflowers pH Minus.
Rams are pair spawners and fairly easy to sex. When mature, males generally reach a larger size than females, though they maintain a slimmer profile. Females have a more slightly more rotund build in their abdomens, which turn a bright pink-violet hue when courting, spawning, and guarding fry. In addition, several of the black rays at the anterior of the dorsal fin are extend far beyond the rest of the fin rays. Females do not have these elongated rays on the dorsal fins. This sexual dimorphism makes obtaining a pair a simple task.
Once a pair of fish has been obtained, it is important to condition them properly. Along with water quality, diet is an integral part of success with rams. Rams are carnivores feeding on small insects, crustaceans, and worms. Substantial protein and fat is important to females when developing eggs. Blackworms are an excellent food when conditioning rams to spawn. They do require refrigeration, daily maintenance, and the risk of introducing parasites or disease is always present when feeding live foods. Alternatively, feeding Cobalt Pro Breeder Flake and Cobalt ULTRA Worm Flake will provide comparable results, without the hassle of live worms. In addition, there is no risk of disease or parasites with these foods and they contain probiotics and immunostimulants which further boost the immune system of the fish. Spawning and raising fry is energy intensive so it is important to feed the spawning pair these nutrient dense foods while they are protecting eggs and raising fry.
The aquarium should have adequate filtration without risking damage to fry. A sponge or box filter can ensure adequate oxygen levels and water quality is reliably maintained. The Orinoco River basin is a tropical ecosystem and maintaining correct temperature is essential to success. A Neo-Therm Heater is accurate to less than one degree and will maintain the perfect temperature to recreate the tropical environment rams thrive in. Many breeders do not use a substrate, preferring to keep the bottom of the tank bare as it allows the aquarists to siphon out detritus with less of a risk of accidently removing fry. Hardy plants such as Java fern, Java moss, and Anubis provide cover and harbor microorganisms which can supplement the diet of the fry. Ceramic breeding caves provide cover and smooth flat surfaces on which rams prefer to spawn. The Medium Cichlid Hut is the perfect size for rams.
Once a pair of rams have the right water parameters, suitable places to spawn, and are conditioned with high quality food. It often isn’t too long before they spawn. When rams spawn, the female’s abdomen will appear noticeably slimmer and the pair will become obviously territorial. Rams are notoriously protective parents and will even attack the hand of an aquarist if they feel it is threatening their offspring. The female will often lay over a hundred small yellowish eggs on a smooth flat surface such as the top or side of a Cichlid Hut. In a few days, the fry hatch and stay attached to the spawning site by their heads. At this stage, they are wigglers and they do not eat as their digestive systems are not fully developed. Once they become free swimming, the fry begin to hunt for food. Newly free-swimming fry will often only eat live food. Newly hatched brine shrimp nauplii or microworms are excellent first food. Within a week or two of becoming free swimming, the fry can be weaned onto Cobalt Fry Minis. This high protein diet ensures the rams can achieve maximum growth rates, while providing the nutrients and carotenoids to promote healthy development and enhance color. Once the fry are large enough, a staple diet of Cobalt Cichlid Flake will continue to maintain good health and vibrant color.
When it is time to remove the juvenile fish from the tank, the fish will commonly seek shelter in a Cichlid Hut, making removal and transfer to another tank simple with minimal stress on the fish. Just cover the entrance hole with a thumb, lift the entire ceramic hut containing the fish out of the water, and place the hut in the new tank. One must be ready at this point because after the offspring are removed, it is often not too long before the parents begin to raise the next batch of fry!