Keyhole Cichclid Pecking Order? (aggression)

toeknee

Member
Hello all. I have a 55 gallon tank that's a little over 5 months old pictured below. It currently has 12 Peppered Corys, 12 Harlequin Rasboras, 1 Bolivian Ram, 1 Rio-Negro Pleco and 7 Keyhole Cichlids. I order my fish online so I usually order one or two more fish than I actually want in case they don't survive shipping. I ordered 7 Keyhole Cichlids, all of which survived so I'm kind of pushing my limit on the amount of Keyholes that should be in a 55 considering the rest of my stocking as well. When I first got them 2 months ago they were juvenile and got along great. For the last month or so they have been bickering among each other more often, chasing each other around more often and nipping each other causing minor scale damage occasionally. It's not constant fighting, 60%-70% of the time they get along fine. I'm assuming they're maturing now and figuring out a pecking order. Is this a temporary phase or will this aggression be permanent? I haven't noticed any spawning behavior yet. As far as I can tell so far I think I either have 4 males, 3 females or 5 males, 2 females. I'm not quite sure yet.
 

Nicholas pilgrim

Member
They are generally peaceful fish, it may be because you have a male to female ratio where there are more males

It could also be due to lack of space, so as they develop territories they may fight
 
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toeknee

Member
That's mostly what I figured. My experience so with Keyholes is proving to be the opposite of what everyone else's experience with them is. Everyone says they are very shy, always hide, very peaceful and need to be kept in groups of 5-7. My keyholes on the other hand are always out and about, never hiding, come rushing to the glass whenever I'm near, not shy in the slightest bit and are becoming a little aggressive with each other. Here's a little video of them chasing each other around this morning. They've been pretty feisty this morning so far. Anyone else who's had or has keyholes experience this? Because my tank is so densely planted it's hard to tell if any of them are brooding. Most of the chasing in the video is in the first 10 or so seconds. You can see that when one keyhole chases another they all get excited and join in chasing each other instead of hiding and getting out of the way.
 

nedpatrick

Member
toeknee said:
That's mostly what I figured. My experience so with Keyholes is proving to be the opposite of what everyone else's experience with them is. Everyone says they are very shy, always hide, very peaceful and need to be kept in groups of 5-7. My keyholes on the other hand are always out and about, never hiding, come rushing to the glass whenever I'm near, not shy in the slightest bit and are becoming a little aggressive with each other. Here's a little video of them chasing each other around this morning. They've been pretty feisty this morning so far. Anyone else who's had or has keyholes experience this? Because my tank is so densely planted it's hard to tell if any of them are brooding. Most of the chasing in the video is in the first 10 or so seconds. You can see that when one keyhole chases another they all get excited and join in chasing each other instead of hiding and getting out of the way.
I had a pair(lost one last night) and I experienced the first half of what you said super sweet loved to come rushing towards the glass but they never were aggressive. They sound to me like they’re making a pecking order and I’d see if they work it out. If they really don’t work it out then I might recommend removing all the keyholes and moving around the decor and then reintroducing them to see if a change of scenery can stop this.
 

MTV'sKribs

Member
I currently have two males in my 75 gallon. One is a bit larger than the other and they are generally always together. I have seen a few pecks here and there from the larger one but it’s nothing violent. They are always out and front when I enter the room though, not very shy!

I’d say the aggression you are experiencing is most likely from the combination of space and m/f ratio. I’d say you’d be better off with 5. If you can sex them, preferably 3 females and 2 males, which is probably what you were going for in the first place I’d assume!
 
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toeknee

Member
I'm not sure what happened over the last week but they have all been very mellow and getting along just fine again. They're all swimming with each other and what not. I missed a water change last week by 5 days causing my nitrates to go higher than normal. I'm thinking maybe the higher nitrates aggravated them or something. Also, now that they have all been more still so I can look closer at them all I think I actually have 2, maybe 3 males and the rest female. Two are larger with top and bottom fins extending past the ends of their tail fin. The rest are smaller with shorter top/bottom fins. Might attempt to get a close picture of them all soon to verify.
 

DoubleDutch

Member
I expect there to be some pairing of.
 
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toeknee

Member
DoubleDutch said:
I expect there to be some pairing of.
I think you're right. The two larger Keyholes that I think are males are the only ones who occasionally chase each other now. It's not often and no nipping occurs. They've all gone back to swimming with each other peacefully. I'd imagine aggression could pick up again if and when any breeding happens.
 

ChrisX

Member
toeknee said:
I think you're right. The two larger Keyholes that I think are males are the only ones who occasionally chase each other now. It's not often and no nipping occurs. They've all gone back to swimming with each other peacefully. I'd imagine aggression could pick up again if and when any breeding happens.
I have kept and bred keyholes. The chasing and trying to establish a pecking order is normal and IME not limited to the males. My first batch of keyholes I had 1M 5F, and the females were the ones who were fighting, in fact the male was the most peaceful "gentle giant".

However, once a pair formed, they both worked together to chase away the rest; that is when I had to separate them. They didn't kill or hurt the other fish, but they were always hidden.

That breeding pair had offspring of which I kept eight. These eight were kept with the parents who after a while resumed breeding. They would chase their offspring into the plants, they would be hidden most of the time, and when the parents finished breeding, they were all sociable again, for about two weeks until they would decide to breed again. At which point I separated the breeders to their own 29g.

The eight babies are over a year old, full grown, and all shoal together. There hasn't been any breeding behavior, just minor chasing. I suspect they are 4M 4F. IDK why they aren't trying to breed in the 75g, maybe its because they have been in the same tank since young and know they are siblings. Or they could be all males. Fin length is not a reliable indicator IMO; I have females with long dorsal and analfin extensions. Females are generally smaller, but I have some that are nearly as big as the male. The males will get a slightly more square forehead.

As long as a breeding pair doesn't form, you will be ok with seven in a 55g. Ways to keep them from getting serious about breeding; overstock the aquarium or less appealing water. Mine didn't breed until I started injecting CO2 and kept soft water.

BTW, love your tank! I may get some raspboras for my tank. In that chasing video, it appears that there might be a pair (the two on the left who don't seem to be fighting each other). Keep your eyes open for "shimmying".
 
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toeknee

Member
ChrisX said:
I have kept and bred keyholes. The chasing and trying to establish a pecking order is normal and IME not limited to the males. My first batch of keyholes I had 1M 5F, and the females were the ones who were fighting, in fact the male was the most peaceful "gentle giant".

However, once a pair formed, they both worked together to chase away the rest; that is when I had to separate them. They didn't kill or hurt the other fish, but they were always hidden.

That breeding pair had offspring of which I kept eight. These eight were kept with the parents who after a while resumed breeding. They would chase their offspring into the plants, they would be hidden most of the time, and when the parents finished breeding, they were all sociable again, for about two weeks until they would decide to breed again. At which point I separated the breeders to their own 29g.

The eight babies are over a year old, full grown, and all shoal together. There hasn't been any breeding behavior, just minor chasing. I suspect they are 4M 4F. IDK why they aren't trying to breed in the 75g, maybe its because they have been in the same tank since young and know they are siblings. Or they could be all males. Fin length is not a reliable indicator IMO; I have females with long dorsal and analfin extensions. Females are generally smaller, but I have some that are nearly as big as the male. The males will get a slightly more square forehead.

As long as a breeding pair doesn't form, you will be ok with seven in a 55g. Ways to keep them from getting serious about breeding; overstock the aquarium or less appealing water. Mine didn't breed until I started injecting CO2 and kept soft water.

BTW, love your tank! I may get some raspboras for my tank. In that chasing video, it appears that there might be a pair (the two on the left who don't seem to be fighting each other). Keep your eyes open for "shimmying".
Thank you very much! I was hoping someone else has had experience with groups of keyholes. It's definitely tough for me trying to sex them. A couple of my smaller suspected females still have longer fins like my larger suspected males. I've gone back and forth on what I actually have. I only have two that are significantly larger and "beefier" than the rest.

I also haven't noticed either the larger or smaller ones being any more particularly aggressive than the others. Sometimes one of the smaller ones will dart out at one of the larger ones. Which seams to spark interest in all the rest of them and they all come out to willingly engage in a group chase.

I've been watching my tank very closely lately and I think I definitely have one pair right now. Two of them are always together and seem to have claimed the driftwood cave area on the left side of the tank that's hard to see in the picks. These two are displaying much more vivid and dark markings than the rest of the keyholes and will usually chase anyone away who gets near their little territory.(but not always) The keyholes have never payed any attention to the ghost shrimp in my tank. The other day one of the shrimp walked into their cave I saw the two suspected mates tear him to pieces. And this was shortly after a hefty feeding so it wasn't because they were starving or anything. I'd still say 80% of the time they all still get along fine. I was really only shooting to have 5 keyholes but tend to "over order" when I buy fish only in case of any losses.

I have a 20 long on standby in case I really do have a breeding pair and things turn ugly. And if it becomes too much of a hassle to move them all the time during breeding time I have a friend with a 40 breeder that can take them.
 

ChrisX

Member
toeknee said:
Thank you very much! I was hoping someone else has had experience with groups of keyholes. It's definitely tough for me trying to sex them. A couple of my smaller suspected females still have longer fins like my larger suspected males. I've gone back and forth on what I actually have. I only have two that are significantly larger and "beefier" than the rest.

I also haven't noticed either the larger or smaller ones being any more particularly aggressive than the others. Sometimes one of the smaller ones will dart out at one of the larger ones. Which seams to spark interest in all the rest of them and they all come out to willingly engage in a group chase.

I've been watching my tank very closely lately and I think I definitely have one pair right now. Two of them are always together and seem to have claimed the driftwood cave area on the left side of the tank that's hard to see in the picks. These two are displaying much more vivid and dark markings than the rest of the keyholes and will usually chase anyone away who gets near their little territory.(but not always) The keyholes have never payed any attention to the ghost shrimp in my tank. The other day one of the shrimp walked into their cave I saw the two suspected mates tear him to pieces. And this was shortly after a hefty feeding so it wasn't because they were starving or anything. I'd still say 80% of the time they all still get along fine. I was really only shooting to have 5 keyholes but tend to "over order" when I buy fish only in case of any losses.

I have a 20 long on standby in case I really do have a breeding pair and things turn ugly. And if it becomes too much of a hassle to move them all the time during breeding time I have a friend with a 40 breeder that can take them.
OK, lets assume you have a pair. The density in your tank (other keyholes, schoolers) might be high enough that they never attempt. But I suspect they may. IME, if they are allowed to spawn, they get it out of their system and harmony follows until they try again. In the 75g, the eight kids would hide from the parents for a few days whenever the parents spawned.

You could fashion a divider using acrylic or egg crate to give the pair one end of the tank. When mine raised their fry, that's what I did. Two were on one side, and the other four the other side. It was funny, thye would all hang together on opposite sides of the divider all peaceful, until I removed the divider then all **** broke loose.

If you don't want them to spawn, you could separate one out into another tank, but if you have mutlples of each sex, another pair will form. Which suggests higher density, more fish, may keep them from spawning. I have wondered what the presence of a single larger cichlid like an EBA or Severum would do to inhibit this. afaict, the best way to keep them from spawning is lots of fish in a community.

Good luck. They are some of the most rewarding fish in larger groups, hopefully you can keep them together.
 

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