Breeding the Dwarf Egyptian Mouthbrooder

A Mouthbrooder Cichlid that is Fun and Easy to Breed in the Home

Dwarf Egyptian Mouthbrooder
RT fry in mouth, background proper breeding tank bottom set up, CT 10 GL tank, TR fry returning to mouth, BL fry exiting mouth, BR thin mother after fry leave mouth.

The Egyptian Mouthbrooder it is also referred to as the Haplochromis multicolor mouthbreeder. However, even though the descriptions of the fish are almost identical and I believe them to be the same fish, depending on the source you research, and how old that source is both names are correct.

One thing is certain, you must make sure you get the Dwarf Egyptian Mouthbrooder, or they may list it Mouthbreeder, the one with the mature size of 3 – 3.5 inches.

All other varieties are HUGE 14 -24 inches full grown and will absolutely destroy your aquarium! The Beauty of breeding the Dwarf Egyptian Mouthbrooder is just how simple it can be to breed and keep this fish compared to just about any other egg laying fish that will care for its young.

The Basic Facts to Remember

Decades before there were African Cichlids clubs, websites, and stores that specialize in all things African Cichlid, there was only one, the Egyptian Mouthbreeder. Well, there were others from the Congo River, but the Egyptian was the first of the class that would become African Cichlids. You see they actually came from the part of the lakes famous for all the fish we classify as African Cichlids today.

When you see one today, you may wonder what all the fuss is about, the colors of the male, even at breeding time is not all that bright compared to the dullest of what we refer to as African’s today.

It is also the only fish that looked like this, and even though dull by today’s standards, the fish that inspired generations of aquarists’ to explore and breed and grow a whole genre of the freshwater aquarium hobby, the African Cichlids of the great lakes of Africa. Quite a mighty little fish when you look at it that way!

  • Origin: Eastern Africa, Lower Nile.
  • Size: Approximately 3 inches
  • Behavior: Surprisingly Peaceful for a Cichlid. The Dwarf Egyptian Mouthbrooder can be kept in a community aquarium with fish its own size, much like Angel Fish, another semi-peaceful cichlid. However like all cichlids, this fish becomes territorial and aggressive at breeding time, will damage or kill its own kind if more than its mate is in the aquarium when breeding commences.
  • Feeding: As a rule, the Egyptian Mouthbrooder eats anything it is given, they can live happy healthy lives even on straight flake food. However for best results breeding, feed insect larvae such as mosquito larva, red worm, daphnia, white worms or brine shrimp to condition this feeding should be frequent and heavy to encourage breeding activity.
  • Sexual Differences: Males are larger and more colorful; females are smaller and paler, with dark markings. Males have red on the end of the anal fin and rainbow like colors on their bodies in full breeding mode.
  • Water: 72 F – 81 F pH 7; 10 – 15 dH, however, these fish are not very picky when it comes right down to it and not much special attention must be taken to reach exact water conditions for successful breeding activities.
  • Tank Set Up: Keep in a relatively small tank, as small as 5 – 10 gallons for a breeding tank. Use a sand bottom with live aquarium plants around the outer rim (sides and the back leaving the middle and front of the tank open and clear). Have a rock formation that creates an arch or cave that the pair can swim through. For best results introduce 2 well-fed females and 1 well-fed male. Remove the male and the female that does not have a full mouth after breeding takes place.

Note:This is the extreme of what is needed, these fish are so prolific, they often breed in the fish store, with 30 fish crowded into a 10 gallon tank, hundreds of people walking past tapping on the tank, and a bare bottom, but do the above for best and 100% assured results.

Water conditions are not critical, the temperature is best at what is always best for most tropical fish, 78F.

A small private tank is best, I suggest a 10 gallon (not that they need that much space to breed, but the fry will need the space to grow up). These fish will actually start breeding when they are as small as 1 and ½ inches long, so no matter how small they are when you get them, they are probably ready to breed.

The First Steps

The first step is to feed them heavily on frozen blood worms, brine shrimp and if you can find it, daphnia. This is necessary to fatten up the female so she does not starve during the mouthbrooding period, remember she will not eat as much as a scrap for at least 3 weeks; it is also to mature the eggs and sperm within the male and female before breeding.

The live or frozen food feeding also will “color up” the males, so you can tell males from females, remember the male will be much more colorful than the plane female, and have red on its tale, if you have several males the dominate male will always be the most colorful, the best female being the fattest (most full of row). You really do not have to do anything with these fish at this point, nature will take its course, their instincts are strong to reproduce, and they do it whenever they can. Think guppy of the egg layer world.

What to Expect

50 to 100 eggs are deposited in a shallow pit in the sand in the open area on the bottom of the tank, 5- to 10 at a time. After each batch is deposited the male fertilizes them and the female scoops them up in her mouth, and deposits 5-10 more, and repeat. As soon as you can see that all spawning activity is finished, all fish except the female with the full jaw should be removed from the breeding tank.

What Happens Next

The mouth of the female is enlarged, stretched, and the mouth walls are thin so that the eggs can actually be seen in the mouth through the skin of the sides of her mouth. You will see her constantly “chewing”, she does this to keep the eggs aerated, and free of debris and fungus. Her mouth gets bigger and bigger and her body shrinks for 2-3 weeks.

Finally, during this time the young hatch, but you probably will not know it, since they will still be attached to their yolk sacks, so she dutifully keeps them in her mouth and keeps them moving around, but you may see glimpses of them in her mouth now, exciting!

Soon the fry emerge from her mouth in a little cloud, 2 things must happen very quickly:

  1. Feed the female frozen or live food right away!
  2. Feed the fry baby brine shrimp preferably live, frozen if need be.

The fry will return to mom’s mouth frequently, this is normal, at first all the time, later just when startled, or always at night. Do not think she is about to eat them, this is the part of nature you are getting the rare chance to glimpse, not many people get to see this first hand, enjoy it, video it, put it on YouTube for others to enjoy. Today it is a rare treat to see these fish in action.

Soon at about 3–4 weeks from when the eggs were first laid, the fry will venture off into the plants throughout the breeding tank. At this point, the female should be feed back to normal size and ready to go back into your community tank or where ever you keep the rest of your Egyptian’s. Use the breeding tank to raise the fry, 3–4 months later, you should have 30 or so very healthy 1 and 1/2 Egyptian Mouthbrooders ready to sell, or give to friends, and let them enjoy this wonder of nature!