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Keeping and Breeding Farlowella vittata


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#1 CanadaPleco

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Posted 13 October 2009 - 02:23 AM

This brief article describes my experiences keeping and breeding the twig catfish, Farlowella vittata. Twig Catfish are frequently imported and often mistakenly identified as F. acus. The true acus is a very rare fish, both in the hobby and the wild. The most commonly imported species is F. vittata, although occasionally, F. mariaelenae finds its way into dealers' tanks. The two species can be distinguished by the number of rows of ventral plates, in vittata there are two rows, in mariaelenae there are three.

I picked up four young 8cm fish in the Summer of 2007. They were housed in their own 25 gallon tank on the top rack of my fish house which enjoys a temperature around 28C. Considering their reputation for being quite delicate, I resisted the temptation to add other potential competitors to the tank. The tank was filtered with both an external power filter and an internal sponge filter with additional aeration from an air stone. Decoration was minimal with a few pieces of bogwood, anubias and java fern. Typically the tank has a pH of 5.5, which sounds low but is typical for many of my tanks, where buffering capacity is limited through the frequent rain-water changes. Recently I have started using limestone chippings (from my driveway!) to prevent significant pH crashes.

In the autumn, I was lucky to come across a full grown 20cm male Farlowella in a local fish shop, which had come from a customer. Although I had intended growing on my existing fish, I couldn't resist this opportunity. The decision was well founded with that male pairing off with the largest of the existing group to form a breeding pair. The picture below illustrates the difference in size between the male and female.


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Adult male (L) and gravid female.


Sexing adult fish is relatively straightforward with the males developing pronounced odontodes (bristles) along the rostrum (or nose). The picture below shows this feature.

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Odontodes on adult male rostrom.


With regular feeding of courgette, shelled peas, and proprietary dry foods, the twig catfish soon came into condition. The common view is that Farlowella are strict vegetarians, however like other related genera such as Sturisoma and Hemiloricaria they enjoy a wide range of foods, including bloodworm, whiteworm, Tetra Prima (enjoyed by most fish) and of course algae wafers. Prior to spawning I increased the frequency of water changes from fortnightly (10%) to weekly (30%), using 50:50 tap and rain water.

The indication that they could reproduce in my tank was evident in the size of the female, who ballooned in size as if fit to burst. Early in January 2008 she busied herself in selecting a suitable spawning site and spent a couple of days cleaning and parading in front of the very reluctant male. It was noticeable just how much convincing the male needed and subsequent spawns have enforced my view that the female does all the hard-sell in courtship. The male does make up for an apparent lack of interest in his mate in the devotion he shows to the eggs and will brood them for nearly 2 weeks, apparently without feeding, before they hatch.

I have witnessed a number of spawns thanks to the pair engaging in the prolonged egg deposition during the day. Indeed the full sequence from first egg to last often takes over 12 hours. Once the male has finally roused himself to participate in the spawning, he appears to use his nasal odontodes to stimulate the female, finally shimmying alongside her as an egg or two are released. The role of the odontodes is not entirely clear, although a second function appears to be in facilitating the young to break free from the egg membrane, by gently rubbing his rostrum over the eggs when hatching is imminent.

On release of the egg, the female pressed them to the glass and during the course of the spawning 40 eggs were deposited against the tank side. After the eggs were laid, the female played no further part in brood care and the male assumed his responsibilities. I assume that the male is more concerned with defending the eggs from predators rather than keeping them clean or well oxygenated and doesn’t appear to fan the eggs as obviously as other loricariids.


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Eggs after 5 days.


I was lucky in that the pair decided to lay their eggs on the front glass, alongside a digital thermometer. This allowed me to take some reasonable pictures of the spawning sequence, egg development and fry growth.



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Eggs after 12 days, immediately prior to hatching.


No attempts were made to remove eggs or fry from the tank, safe in the knowledge that the tank inhabitants do not regard them as food. Indeed, after 12 days in the egg, the fry were developed sufficiently to fend for themselves, immediately adhering to the tank glass near the surface where flow is greatest. The egg sac was utilized after only two days and fry were seen to migrate over the tank, grazing on java moss and the tank sides. No special fry foods were offered and the fry soon developed into miniature adults relying on the accumulated debris typical of most established aquariums.


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Fry after hatching.


The pair spawned 5 times between January and April and the result has been a tank full of young Farlowella. The only significant losses have been through youngsters getting trapped in the filter intake, although a sponge pre-filter has reduced this hazard.

Growth of the youngsters is best described as steady, with young twigs reaching 5cm after 6 months, about the minimum size to share them with other hobbyists.


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6 month old youngster.

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