Photo: Male Skyblue OB Peacock with male Blue OB Dolphin in background.
Below is a reprint of the feature article from our May newsletter. If you’d like to subscribe to the monthly newsletter go to: http://goliadfarms.com/blog/ and enter your email address under the Subscribe section to the right.
One of my favorite things about the fish hobby is the creation and improvement of new strains of fish. There are two groups of fish, both originating from small initial populations, that I’ve created using breeding techniques and practices I’ve developed over a period of decades. One of these a large variety of color and fin types of variatus platies and the other peacock cichlids. This article will discuss the latter.
First, we’ll have a short discussion of peacock cichlids. As with all common names, the name peacock cichlids can be ambiguous. For example, one could be talking about peacock bass or cichlids from South America. These fish are in the genus Cichla and are large game fish. And the name peacock bass can be confusing since the name bass is applied to a group of marine fishes as well as a number of freshwater fishes. For the purposes of this article, peacock cichlid will refer to cichlids from Africa’s Lake Malawi with the body shape typical of fishes in the genus Aulonocara. While these fish are often descended from the Aulonocara, they are actually aquarium strains and often hybrids of Aulonocara and other Malawian genera.
Before we go further, let’s talk about hybrids. We raise many species of fish. Whenever we give a full scientific name, genus and species, of a fish, we are certain of its purity. An example of this would Protomelas taeniolatus, the red empress. If we don’t know for sure its purity we use a common name, sometimes one I make up. Any hybrid or suspected hybrid is never given a scientific name by us. An example of a hybrid would be Skyblue OB Peacock. I understand the “purists” who zealously keep species separate and never hybridize, but I also understand the human desire to mold fish. This hobby largely took off due to the hybrids of the species in the livebearer genus Xiphophorus (swordtails and platies) many of which were created by Dr. Myron Gordon in the first half of the last century. Hybrids in the genus Poecilia (mollies and guppies) also helped grow the hobby. Today, the Discus hybrids are accepted by virtually all hobbyists. The point is there is room for both the purists and the hybridizers. The critical thing is to properly label fish so that the species can be kept pure and uncontaminated. We meticulously keep species pure.
Now let’s turn to our topic, the peacock cichlids. In 2000 and 2001 we completed a long and arduous move of our hatchery, originally known as Santa Fe Tropical Fish, located in Santa Fe, New Mexico to our present South Texas location near the small, but historic town of Goliad. We settled in Goliad for a variety of reasons, but the primary one was the farm we now live on has been in my family since 1870. My mother wished to sell the farm so Susie, my wife, and I bought it. South Texas is also somewhat more conducive to raising tropical fish due to its warmer climate. I started to write milder climate, but summers here are anything but mild.
We’d just reached full production in our first greenhouse here in Goliad in the summer of 2003. We were still primarily raising rainbowfishes but had begun working with mollies, both commercial and the wild Poecilia latipinna, and a few cichlids. All of this was cut short when Hurricane Claudette struck in July of that year. We lost most of our breeding stock and almost all our ready to sell fish. We repaired what we could of greenhouse 1 and hastily built greenhouse 2. We stocked greenhouse 2 with the remaining fish, but with 400 vats we needed additional breeding stock. Among the breeding stock we bought that fall was a box of 150 1-2” OB peacocks from Segrest Farms. The OB refers to the blotched pattern the fish had. We placed the fish in their new homes and eagerly awaited their maturity. In our systems we keep the fish warm, provide excellent water quality, and feed heavily. As a result cichlids grow about one inch a month. So in about three months we had ready to breed cichlids. We sorted through the fish, selected the half dozen best males and placed them into vats with all the females. The surplus males were sold. These original breeder males weren’t much to write home about, but they had some nice blue in patches. I named them Blue OB Peacocks, more in expectation than in reality. The females, typical of Aulonocara type females, were drab grey and were blotched due to the OB characteristic.
The photo below is of a male representative of the fish we bought in 2003. The males we selected to develop Blue OB Peacocks were blue where he is orange. Later we decided to also try to enhance the orange.
Blue OB Peacock
From those original fish we’ve developed our highly popular Blue OB Peacocks. The male fish are bright blue with dark blotching. The females remain drab. It only took a few generations to perfect this strain which today breeds nearly true.
The photo below shows a typical male from our current population of Blue OBs.
From the Blue OBs we developed several other color strains. One of these is the Blue Peacock. In the first batch of fry from the original breeders I noticed non-OB fish. Initially I culled them, but in 2005 I decided to develop them as a separate strain. OB in these peacocks is a dominant gene. A few non-OBs showed up since at least one of the males and one female were heterozygous for OB, in other words they carried the gene for normal, non-OB coloration. Since the non-OB characteristic is recessive, these fish breed true. Even today, after 12 years and dozens of generations we occasionally get non-OB fry from our Blue OB breeders. But, the frequency has dropped as just by chance more and more of the breeders are homozygous for OB and also any non-OB fish are removed from that population. Our Blue Peacock strain has also proven to very popular and is one of our bestselling cichlids. We continue to improve this strain by selecting the bluest males. Today even some of the females show a bit of blue. We are using such females in hopes of producing more attractive females.
The photo below is of typical male of our current Blue Peacock population.
Skyblue OB Peacock
Also in 2005 I noticed some males with a sky blue background color with dark blue mottling. I selected the nicest male and gave him some Blue OB females. Over the years I’ve noticed the best males seem to come from light colored females. Today all of our breeding females are light. This strain breeds largely true, never throwing Blue OBs, but some of the males have lots of gold and resemble Gold OBs.
The photo below shows a typical male from our current population of Skyblue OBs.
Gold OB Peacock
2005 was an active year for peacocks. In addition to the Skyblue OBs we separated out some Gold OBs from the Blue OBs. These males were selected for a nice even gold coloration. Like the Skyblue OBs I’ve found the lighter females produced the best males. But in this strain the females are very gold. This complicates separating the sexes as they start to mature, but makes the females easier to sell.
The photo below shows a young breeding male from our current population of Gold OB Peacocks.
Albino Blue Peacock
In April 2005 we acquired some albino peacocks from Andy Moses in Austin. Additionally, periodically a few albinos showed up in our Blue OB peacocks. We took these latter fish and mated them to the albinos from Andy to yield a nice Albino Blue Peacock. This strain, like many albinos, is not as fecund as the rest of our peacocks. We keep working with it in hopes of developing a more fertile line of albinos.
The photo below shows a breeding male from our current population of Albino Blue Peacocks.
Orange OB Peacock
In 2006 while processing our Gold OBs, I noticed some males and females that were orange instead of gold. They were segregated and set up for breeding. Each generation this strain becomes more orange. Interestingly enough, some of the females are more orange than the males. These females are kept for breeding.
The photo below shows a typical male from our current population of Orange OBs.
Red OB Peacock
In late 2006 we found a single male from the Orange OBs that was almost red rather than orange. He was given some of the brightest Orange OB females. Progress in this line has been slow.
Lemon OB Peacock
During 2006 I bought some lemon colored peacocks from our customer Alamo Aquatics in San Antonio. They were placed with some Orange OBs in an effort to develop a Lemon OB Peacock. This project continues but results have been slow to disappointing. I’m hoping for a breakthrough this generation.
While selecting Blue OB breeders in 2006, I saw a couple of males that were orange, gold, and blue. They were given related females to create our Particolor Peacock strain. This is a difficult strain to maintain since it also throws Blue OBs, Orange OBs, and Gold OBs. Each generation produces a slightly higher percentage of Particolors.
The photo below shows a male from an early population of Particolor Peacocks.
In December 2007 we processed the Red OBs. There were a number of non-OBs (remember this is recessive to OB) and one male had a lot of red color. He was given non-OB females from the same breeding cohort. We continue to work on this fish with slow progress. We might be better off buying Red Peacocks, but I’m stubborn and want to produce them from scratch.
Albino Orange OB Peacock
Mid-2010 I noticed an albino fish in our young Orange OB Peacocks. He was given some Blue Albino females. We hope to set this strain soon.
The photo below shows a breeding male from our current population of Albino Orange OB Peacocks.
Albino Orange Peacock
Also in 2010 I noticed an orange fish in our young Albino Blue Peacocks. He was given some Albino Blue females. As with all our albinos, this strain is not very productive. We’re working on changing that.
The photo below shows a breeding male from our current population of Albino Orange Peacocks.
Blue & Gold OB Peacock
In the spring of 2014 a couple of young males of our Particolor Peacock strain caught my eye. Both were blue and gold mottled. They were given Particolor females. They are now being mated to their granddaughters in an attempt to set the strain.
Skyblue Red OB Peacock
Just last month while sorting young breeder Skyblue OBs, I marveled at a male with strong red markings on his shoulders and in his fins with a base color of sky blue. He was given 55 closely related females.
Now that I’ve described the various strains all derived from some nondescript OB Peacocks we acquired way back in 2003, let me go on to the breeding techniques and practices referred to in the opening paragraph. These are best summarized as follows:
- Select best male(s)
- Select large group of best females
- Produce LARGE group of offspring
- Cull rigorously
- Select best young male(s), compare to originals, & retain best
- Select best young female(s), compare to originals, & retain best
- Repeat steps 3. through 6.
Let’s take this step by step. The best male, or males if two or more are equal, is the one fish most closely resembling what you want. If you want a fuchsia peacock, then select the most fuchsia male. You want to concentrate the fuchsia color, so you wouldn’t start with a blue fish.
Next, select a large group of healthy females to breed him to. It’s best to select close relatives since they might share some of the genes that make him fuchsia. This, by the way, applies to harem spawners like Lake Malawi cichlids and livebearers in general. For pair-bonding fish, you’ll select one female per male.
The third step, producing a large number of offspring, is critical. Let’s say that it’s a combination of genes that makes your fish fuchsia. Since gene combinations are often rare, it’s important to raise enough fish to get the rare combination.
The fourth step comes with raising lots of fish. You have to cull. First, sort through and keep any fish with any fuchsia. If none, then keep the healthiest.
Next compare the best young males to their father. Are any of them equal or better? If not, you’ll keep your original male as the breeder. If one is better, he becomes the breeder, although I would retain the father as backup. If one or more is equal to the original male, then they will be added to the breeding colony.
In early stages of a breeding program, I usually don’t retain the older females and instead replace them with the best young females. Why? Because you want the fuchsia male’s daughters since they will carry some of the genes you need to produce a fuchsia cichlid strain. If any females show fuchsia, use them. If not, pick the healthiest as breeders.
The rest is repetition. If the male’s fuchsia color is heritable and not caused by an environmental condition (or is a somatic mutation that isn’t present in the sex cell line), then this procedure will concentrate the genes necessary for fuchsia and hopefully add genes to enhance the color. Often in programs like this, you’ll start with a fish with a small patch of dull color. By selecting for expanded coverage and brighter color you may eventually create what you first imagined.