Fish, Tanks and Ponds


Fish, Tanks and Ponds
A comprehensive guide to fish

Mikrogeophagus ramirezi

Ram

Ram, Mikrogeophagus ramireziRam, Mikrogeophagus ramirezi
Photos by Andy Rapson

Etymology:

Mikrogeophagus: Greek, mikros = small + Greek, gea = earth + Greek, phagein, to eat.

General Notes:

Rams won't thrive if they are kept to cool or if the water quality is less than perfect, they require pristine, soft acidic water. For many years these fish were bred in large numbers in the far east where hormones where used to make the fish more colourful and saleable. Unfortunately it left the fish sterile, shortened their lives and the exaggerated colours faded after a few short weeks. This left Rams with a very poor reputation and a fish to avoid. Then Europeans began commercially breeding this fish and to set it apart from fish bred in the far east they gave the fish a new name - "German blue ram" they are of course the same species but European bred fish were bred without the use of hormones and so the fish were perfectly healthy and with good care could live for many years and hobbyist could once again breed this species.

Feeding

Wild rams sift through the substrate looking for tiny items of food, this is where the geophagus  part of their scientific name comes from. Geo = earth, phagein = to eat. In captivity use live or frozen daphnia, blood worms, cyclops, glass worms, adult brine shrimps (rinsed before use) and a good quality flake food if they will accept it.

Compatibility

Young or non-breeding fish can be kept with other small peaceful species which require the same conditions. Rams are not suitable for the general community tank because they require very soft, acid water which is kept at very high quality with low nitrates. They also require quite warm water which won't suit most species. Cardinal tetras make excellent tank mates for Rams. Other species worth considering are: silver hatchetfish Gasteropelecus sternicla, Otocinclus catfish and Botia. sp.

Sexing

Rams vary from fish to fish especially captive bred fish, so sexing rams isn't easy or reliable in most cases. But males tend to have elongated rays at the front of their dorsal fin, females have a blue sheen over the spot below their dorsal fin while the males spot is black. 

Breeding

Once a pair has formed they will quickly claim a territory and exclude all other fish from it particularly other rams. A compatible pair really do better in a tank of their own because they become quite aggressive towards everything else in the tank including your fingers during tank maintenance. Rams will spawn on a solid surface such as a rounded stone, in a pit dug in to the sand or even on aquarium fittings such as the heater!. Broods can be up to 500 in number from a large mature female but usually 2 - 3 hundred is the norm. Rams are very protective of their brood but things don't always work out and the first couple of broods may fail if left with the parents because Rams are quite prone to eat their own eggs. Most pairs eventually get things right by the third or forth brood and then they make excellent parents. If they continue to devour their own brood the parents should be removed after spawning and the brood reared artificially. It takes about a week from spawning for the fry to become free swimming and looking for food.

Ram fry
My own growing on tank.

Use a liquid fry food for the first few days and then offer micro worms and newly hatched brine shrimps. Once the fry are two or three weeks old begin offering some powdered flake food in to their diet and gradually increase this. Introducing flake food so early makes it easier to feed the rams latter in life because if the are introduced to dried food to late in life some individuals will refuse to eat it at all. A good quality flake food also ensures a better and more balanced diet for the fry.

Wild status

The wild population of Mikrogeophagus ramirezi has not been evaluated. All rams offered for sale unless otherwise stated will have been commercially bred.

Additional information

There are many fancy strains of this species available such as veil tail (see photo), completely white ones, golden ones even a rounded balloon form. Most of these fancy bred fish have been line bred to produce the desired effect and this has left those fish with a substantial loss of vigour. In short they are more susceptible to disease and won't normally live as long as 'ordinary' fish.

Information at a glance

pH: 5 - 6.5
dGH: 3 - 8
Temperature: 27 - 30°C (80 - 86°F)
Lighting:
Diet: Omnivore
Size: 3.4cm (1.75in)
Min tank size: 60 litres
Difficulty level: Intermediate
Aquarium type: Community
Swimming level: All levels

Distribution and habitat

distribution map for Ram, Mikrogeophagus ramirezi

Origin: South America: Orinoco River basin, in the llanos of Venezuela and Colombia

Habitat: Varied, soft acidic shallow water over sand or mud with natural shelter from over hanging branches, fallen branches or vegetation.

Classification

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Perciformes
Family: Cichlidae
Genus: Mikrogeophagus
Species: M. ramirezi (Myers & Harry, 1948)

Other common names:
Butterfly cichlid, German blue ram

Synonyms: Apistogramma ramirezi, Papiliochromis ramirezi