When To Separate Cichlid Fry From Parents? Should You Even Try?

Oct 28, 2021

When To Separate Cichlid Fry From Parents

Credits: Deanpemberton (Creative Commons license)

Raising cichlid fry is a super gratifying experience. Seeing them transition from a tiny ball with black dots in their mother’s mouth to inquisitive, free-swimming fry is so rewarding, isn’t it? So, on that note, in today’s blog, I will answer a question we get asked so often – when to separate cichlid fry from parents?

To be honest, I didn’t quite know the answer too until I read through several dozen forums and deduced my own conclusion. So, take my advice as a second opinion, because nobody knows your cichlid more than you! 

When To Separate Cichlid Fry From Parents? 

Very small angelfish
Credits: Chris Larkee (Creative Commons license)

It’s best to separate the cichlid fry from parents as soon as they hatch because cichlids often eat their own babies. Disclaimer: not all cichlid parents perform infanticide, but from what I found on cichlids forums on the web, most parents gobble up their children (all or some). 

Personally, I prefer stripping the eggs and incubating them myself. 

Matter of fact, it’s difficult to conclusively answer this question because there are at least 1650 species of scientifically classified cichlids in the world today. 

Some Make Great Parents. Some Don’t. 

Some cichlids make excellent parents. For example, both male and female jewel cichlids attentively care for their young ones until they are big enough to fend for themselves. 

On the other hand, electric yellow lab females show little to no interest once the fry are out of her mouth. And male venustus cichlids are known to eat their own fry at every chance they get. 

Wait, the answer is going to get even blurrier. 

I found divided opinions on whether convict cichlids eat their fry or care for them during my research. Some swore that their convict cichlids make fantastic parents. In contrast, others were adamant that they consumed the entire batches of fry. 

Therefore, the answer depends from cichlid to cichlid. Even members of the same species don’t show identical behavior when it comes to raising the fry. 

Cichlid’s Maturity Level Determines Extent of Care For Fry

From my own experience and reading the ones shared by fellow cichlid parents, I have concluded that cichlid’s maturity level plays a pivotal role in determining whether it will care for the fry or not. 

First-time parents often eat the eggs/fry or don’t care for the young ones after hatching. I think that’s because they haven’t yet developed the knack for parenting. 

However, starting from around the third to fourth time, they’ll start caring for their fry. 

However, if you still have reservations, I recommend separating the fry at the earliest possible and raising them separately. This is the method I use too. 

Stressed Cichlid Parents Can Eat Their Babies 

Yes, you read that right. In fact, the most common reason behind a parent cichlid devouring its babies is stress. Sometimes, stressed mouthbrooding females will swallow the entire batch of eggs/fry at one go. 

And there can be several underlying factors behind the stress. It can be lack of space, bullies, insufficient resources, lack of hiding places, and so on. Cichlids are more prone to anxiety if they’re in a community tank. 

Relevant Readings! 🙂

How Often Do Angelfish Lay Eggs? Breeding Guide With Pictures

How Many Cichlids In A 75-Gallon Tank? Mbunas, Peacocks And South American

Why Is My Oscar Fish Lying On Its Side? 7 Possible Reasons Why!

How To Care For Cichlid Fry?

Credits: Krista Kennedy (Creative Commons license)
  • Buy a 5-gallon tank 
  • Set up the tank 
  • Transfer the fry 
  • Feed protein-rich food 
  • Transfer fry to the main tank

Buy A 5-Gallon tank 

A 5-gallon tank is good enough for cichlid fry. If it’s for bigger species like oscars, maybe a 10-gallon tank will be alright. If the tank is too large, the fry will have a more challenging time finding their food. So, we recommend not going overboard with the tank size. 

Here’s a link to a 5-gallon tank by Aqueon that I use:

Set Up The Tank 

You don’t need to add any decoration to the tank. It will only make cleaning and water change a hassle. Since the fry require frequent feeding, I also recommend keeping the bottom bare as leftover food can easily get hidden in the substrate. 

And since you shouldn’t use gravel vacuum when fry are present in the tank, going bare bottom is the best choice. 

Add the same water from the breeding tank into the fry tank, so the young ones aren’t prone to environmental shocks. 

For filtration, go with a sponge filter so that it doesn’t suck up the fry. Also, get a stable heater and maintain temperature around 75-80°C. And it’s also best if you add an air pump because they especially need oxygenated water. 

Here are the links for the filter, heater, and air pump if you need them. 

Transfer The Eggs/Fry 

If your fish is a substrate-brooder, it will lay the eggs on a flat rock, a broad leaf, or a breeding cone. Once the eggs hatch, the fry will still be attached to the spawning site from their yolk sac. You can gently remove the breeding site (rock, cone, or leaf) and place it in the fry tank. 

You can add a few drops of methylene blue to the water since it has anti-fungal properties. 

If your fish is a mouthbrooder, you can first transfer the mother fish to the fry tank, strip her eggs/fry and transfer her back to the main tank. 

If the eggs already turn into fry, by the time you strip them from the mother’s mouth, you can directly place them in the fry tank. If they are yet to hatch, add them in an air tumbler. 

I’ll tell you how to strip the eggs from the mother cichlid’s buccal cavity in a bit. 

Feed Protein-Rich Food 

For the first 3-5 days, the fry rely on their yolk sac to fulfill their nutritional needs. This sac is super rich in protein and effectively boosts the fry’s growth. 

Once the fry are free-swimming, you can give them freshly hatched baby brine shrimp, crushed pellets/flake food, microworms, and daphnia. 

Cichlid fry should be fed 5-6 times every day. Give small quantities but provide regularly. They’re susceptible to starvation and malnutrition during this stage. Therefore, if they seem to deter certain kinds of food, immediately try feeding something new. 

Transfer Fry To The Main Tank 

Once the fry grow big enough to not fit into an adult fish’s mouth, you can transfer them to the main tank. 

How To Strip Eggs From Mouthbrooding Cichlids? 

First, start by turning off the tank’s lights. Also, take out some water from it and place it in a container. After turning off the lights for an hour or two, slowly net the carrying fish and transfer her to the container. Make sure you’re gentle with the handling. Stressed mothers often end up swallowing their eggs. 

Once the fish is settled in the container, gently hold her with your left hand and slowly raise her above the water surface. With the right hand’s index finger or a bobby pin (the blunt side), slowly open the fish’s mouth, shake her ever so slightly, and partially submerge her into the water so the eggs float out of her mouth. 

Once all the eggs are removed, directly transfer the fish to the main tank or the breeding tank. Make sure that you don’t release her in the container with the eggs. She will jolt as soon as you release her and can end up damaging the eggs. 

Next, transfer the eggs to a tumbler and watch them grow into little fish! 

Here’s a link to egg tumbler by Senzeal that I use:

And once the eggs hatch and the fry absorb their yolk sac, you can transfer them to the fry tank. 

Final Words: When To Separate Cichlid Fry From Parents? 

If you are keen on raising the fry into adulthood, we recommend separating them from their parents as soon as they hatch. 

If your cichlids are mouthbrooders, you can strip the eggs and incubate them in a tumbler. 

Set up a 10-gallon tank with a sponge filter, a heater, and an air pump for the fry. You can keep the bottom bare as it makes it easier for the fry to find the food and easier for you to clean the tank. 

Relevant Readings!

Will Cichlid Fry Survive In A Community Tank? Try These 5 Tricks!

How Many Cichlids in a 55-Gallon Tank? Use This Simple Formula!

Catfish With Cichlids? Don’t Make This Mistake!

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.