How Long Do Cichlids Hold Eggs? How To Tell If Eggs Are Fertilized?

Aug 21, 2021

How Long Do Cichlids Hold Eggs

Credits: Ken Schwarz on Flickr under Creative Commons license

The mating ritual, brooding technique, and parental care in cichlids are nothing short of miracles. It’s even more true in the case of mouthbrooders – they scoop entire batches of eggs into their mouths and keep them warm and fuzzy until they hatch into free-swimming fry. 

And there are 1,650 identified species to this day – with estimates of actual numbers clocking somewhere between 2000-3000. So, do they all share the same brooding length? 

How Long Do Cichlids Hold Eggs?

Cichlids hold eggs in their mouths for around 3-5 weeks (21-36 days). The time taken to hatch these eggs is positively related to the egg’s size. Bigger the egg, the longer the incubation period. 

During the holding period, the female will fast so she doesn’t accidentally swallow her eggs. Maternal instincts are quite strong in cichlids. Even when the fry are free-swimming, she will occasionally hide them inside her mouth if there’s danger nearby. 

On the other hand, eggs of substrate-brooding cichlids take around 1-2 weeks (5-15) days to hatch.

How Long Do African Cichlids Hold Eggs?

Most African cichlids are mouthbrooders. They will hold eggs and fry in their buccal cavities for around 21-36 days. The fry will remain in the mother’s mouth for a brief period even after they’ve hatched. 

How Long Do Peacock Cichlids Hold Eggs?

Credits: Ictheostega on Flickr under Creative Commons license

Peacock cichlids will hold their eggs for 21-28 days on average. After that, she will keep the fry safely inside her mouth even after hatching and spit them out once they develop into free-swimming fry. 

How Long Do Electric Yellow Cichlids Hold Their Eggs?

Electric yellow cichlids hold their eggs for an average duration of 18 days. Females spawn on the flat rock surface before picking the eggs with their mouth and transporting them to the buccal cavity. The male will then directly release the milt into the female’s mouth to fertilize the eggs. 

How Many Eggs Do Cichlids Lay At Once?

In mouthbrooders, the number of eggs is naturally limited by the buccal cavity’s capacity. In general, they can hold around 50-80 eggs. Also, first-time mothers will have smaller clutch sizes compared to experienced moms. 

In substrate-brooders, the clutch size can range from 20-30 eggs for small shell breeders to thousands for big ones. 

How Long Does African Cichlid Hold Unfertilized Eggs?

African cichlids will lay eggs and hold them in their mouth even if there’s no male present in the tank. However, they’ll usually swallow or spit them out after a week or so. 

How To Tell If Cichlid Eggs Are Fertilized?

Fertilized cichlid eggs have a yellow tint as opposed to stark white unfertilized eggs. Upon close inspection, you can also see tiny dots in the eggs, which are, in fact, eyes. 

Cichlid eggs don’t hatch a chicken’s egg with a discarded shell. The eyes develop first, quickly followed by a tail. And what actually seems like the egg eventually transforms into a belly. 

How Often Do Cichlids Have Babies?

cichlid fry yolk sac
Credits: calwhiz on Flickr under Creative Commons license

On average, African cichlids breed once every six weeks. But the answer varies from species to species. And of course, we have to take things like the mother’s age, her health, and the tank’s environment into account. 

One owner of a fish forum reported that his peacock cichlids breed once every one or two months. The second person shared that his geophagus cichlids bred once every two weeks. So, as you can see, there’s no one timeframe set in stone. It differs from cichlid to cichlid. 

When Should I Strip My Cichlids?

The incubation period differs from cichlid to cichlid. Still, it’s recommended to strip them only during the later stage of the holding period. That’s because it’s easier to take care of the fry than eggs.

If you strip the eggs early, you need to place them in a tumbler with ample aeration to avoid fungus buildup. 

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How To Strip Cichlid Eggs?

Step 1: Prepare Your Equipment 

Before you strip the eggs, make sure you have all the required equipment in place. You’ll need a fry tank or a breeder box. You’ll also need a tumbler to keep the eggs in as soon as you strip them. 

Here are the links to our favorites:

Fluval Multi-Chamber Holding And Breeding Box

Petgroup Cichlid Fish Egg Tumbler 

You’ll also need something sharp enough to prise open the mother’s lips but blunt enough not to hurt her. Of course, the best tool is your thumb, but you can also use a q-tip or the blunt end of a toothpick. 

Step 2: Transfer The Holding Female 

First, fill a mid-sized container halfway with the tank’s water. Next, gently net the holding female and place her in the container. Make sure that you are at your gentlest self – a stressed female may swallow or spit out the eggs in the tank. 

If you’re having trouble identifying the holding female, look for one with an unusually swollen mouth and an underbite. She’ll usually keep to herself and remain aloof in the tank. 

Step 3: Strip The Eggs 

Gently hold the female and bring her to the surface, but ensure the mouth is still in the water. Be careful not to injure her while holding or suffocating her. You may wrap the fish in a wet net while holding her for easy grip without using force. 

Next, open her mouth with the tool of your choice and slowly tilt her. The fry or eggs should swim out by now. If some stubborn ones resist, tickle the mother’s chin, and they should come out. 

Step 4: Transfer The Eggs To Tumbler

Carefully transfer the eggs or young fry to the tumbler with an air stone. Incubating them in a tumbler set on the medium is important, so they don’t develop fungus, to which they’re very prone. 

Transfer the mother back into the main tank. As for fry, once they become free swimming, place them in a separate fry tank or the breeding box, so other fish don’t snack on them. 

Final Words: How Long Do Cichlids Hold Eggs?

Mouthbrooding cichlids hold their eggs for 21-35 days tentatively. It depends largely on the species, the tank’s environment, and the matriarch’s health. Usually, the bigger the eggs, the longer it will take for eggs to hatch. 

Happy Reading!

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rohit gurung author at urbanfishkeeping

About Rohit Gurung

My never-ending love and fascination with Aquascaping started when I received a red-eared turtle for my 10th birthday.

Apart from researching and writing, I spend hours gazing at my 3 turtles. And yeah, I bask alongside them too.