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Cichlid Hybridization

Blake B

Posted on April 05 2019

Following up on last month’s theme of cichlid breeding, as Spring is increasingly in the air, we’ll continue with a bit of discussion on the topic of a specific kind of cichlid breeding, hybridization. This is where, you guessed it, you make a hybrid of two species of cichlids. Although African cichlids tend to mate with their own species, there are ways to get them to mate with related but different species from the cichlid family, and this is something which hobbyists do relatively frequently.

Is it a good idea to hybridize African cichlids? What are the pros, cons, or considerations? Let’s chat about it.

All About Hybridization

Cichlid hybrids are extremely rare out there in the wild, it is almost exclusively an in-captivity phenomenon, and mostly engineered by the breeders. Cichlids are relatively picky breeders, and left to their own devices, will generally only mate across species when given no other choice. This makes sense, if you think about it, as otherwise they probably would have all become homogenized by now, and we wouldn’t have such a breathtakingly beautiful variety, both aesthetically and behaviorally.

That being said, it is possible to make controlled combinations through breeding, and to produce unique and interesting specimens. However, critics of cichlid hybridization point out that this is unnecessary, and potentially damaging to the overall gene pool. Unlike other types of hybrids, such as the common mule, cichlid hybrids are not sterile, and they can and will reproduce, even if they’re ambiguous appearance may be a disadvantage, since cichlids breed primarily based on species-specific behaviors and physical traits.

There’s also the question of how this affects the hobby as a whole, not to mention the industry of cichlid breeding and selling. Many believe that hybridizing pollutes the gene pool, and will result in buyers not getting what they think they’re getting, and great difficulty in identifying truly pure specimens of any given species. Those in favor of hybridization accuse these critics of being purists.

Although it may seem a bit much to wax philosophical on a fish blog, it is worth taking into consideration the potential ramifications and ethical questions regarding hybridization. Then again, those same questions apply to the breeding of dogs, or any other creature. Are we meant to manipulate nature? Well, whether we are meant to or not, we certainly are, and have been for a very long time.

Hybrids Are a Reality

Putting philosophical quandaries aside, there are many popular types of cichlid which are hybrids. Perhaps the two biggest examples are Swordtails, Flowerhorn, and Platies. This shows that hybrids can be bred to create a new species, with selective breeding across several generations. In spite of this, producing hybrids is generally not a lucrative practice, because most aquarists seek out pure breeds, even if a few of those “pure” breeds are hybrids that have been created over several generations to the point of genetic stability.

So, is it worth it to experiment with cichlid hybridization? All things considered, we don’t support the idea. At risk of being “purist,” we at RiftCichlids support the idea that mother nature got the job just right, and trying to make a “remix” of what is already perfection is a waste of time, and does more harm than good.

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