How To Strip Cichlid Mouthbrooder’s Fry

There are many reasons as to why we keep fish, and what fish we keep. It could be color, behavior, personality, exclusivity? The reason I keep mainly African Cichlids is because of their unique breeding behavior. Over the course of thousands of years these amazing fish have evolved a method of caring for their unborn progeny unlike any other animal on the planet. During spawning the male and female will perform a ritual “dance”, where the male will convince the female that it is time to spawn.

Once the eggs are released the female will incubate the fertilized eggs in her mouth or buccal cavity for around 30 days. After that point the fry will be released free swimming and fully formed. Some parents will continue to care for their young , retrieving them at the first signs of danger for several more days, while others would be tempted to eat their young should they try to return to the safety of mothers mouth.Stripping is the removal of eggs or fry from the mouth of brooding females before the incubating period has finished.There is some debate within the aquarium hobby regarding stripping fry from mouthbrooding fish. Some feel it is unethical, some think it unnecessary, while others feel it is the best option to ensure that the largest number of fry survive.


  • When done properly, more fry will survive, than would if they were released naturally in a community or species tank.
  • Stripping the females early will ensure that they do not lose conditioning, and can spawn again sooner than they would if they held to term.
  • Stripping will allow finicky females to produce fry when they won’t incubate to term.


  • The entire process deviates from the “natural” order of things.
  • It is possible to damage the females during netting and handling.
  • Females under stress may eject the eggs before she is captured, jeopardizing the entire brood.
  • Some breeders report that over time, future generations of stripped fry will lose their ability to mouthbrood. This claim however is unsubstantiated.

Step 1

Is it time to strip yet?

This is a question that has fostered much debate. First off, if you were lucky enough to witness the spawn, you’ll know when to start the clock. If not, you may have to guess. As previously mentioned most mouthbrooding females will incubate the eggs for a round 30 days, this is somewhat dependent on the species. I have experimented with stripping the fry at different stages of incubation. I find the most success waiting at least one week after the spawning before stripping the fry.

At seven days the eggs have developed eyes and tails and most of the unfertilized eggs have been ditched or swallowed by the female. Once removed from the female these eggs will need to be “tumbled” in an “egg tumbler”. An Egg tumbler is designed to simulate the flow of water in the females mouth so that all the eggs receive oxygen evenly. If you do not tumble the eggs they will rot and fungus, potentially ruining the entire brood. Any white fuzzy eggs should be removed immediately to stop the spread of fungus. There are many different egg tumblers on the market all designed with the same purpose : to continuously rotate the eggs in a controlled fashion. A DIY egg tumbler can be built in minutes at a fraction of the cost of a retail unit.

At three to four weeks or 21 -30 days the fry will have absorbed their remaining egg sacs and resemble miniature versions of their parents. The holding female’s buccal cavity will be extended to the point were you will be able to see eyes staring back at you.

The mass of the fry will greatly affect the mothers swimming ability hence the head down motion. At this point you can strip the fry with out having to worry about an egg tumbler. They should be free swimming and able to get around on their own. They can be placed in a fry saver/trap or into a grow out tank until they are large enough to be either sold or reintroduced to the main tank.

I will leave the question of when to strip with you, as each species has it’s own requirements and behaviors. It is best to observe the females in question very closely for signs that spawning has occurred (mouthful of eggs) or is about to (egg canal has been lowered). It is best to write down the date, since in some cases there will be more than one female incubating at one time, sometimes with spawning dates weeks apart. In these cases I will try to limit the amount of time I am tearing up the tank trying to catch fish, and wait until the most recent spawning female has been holding for at least a week. Then i will net all the holding females and strip them one after another usually during a water change. They are so much easier to catch with only half the water in the tank! This method also reduces the amount of interruptions in your fish’s day to day life, and hopefully keeps the spawning schedule consistent.

Get prepared

Thing you may need.

  • a couple of nets for catching the target fish.
  • two or three buckets or containers for holding females and fry.
  • Tooth pick, pen cap, or some other similar object for prying open the fish’s mouth.
  • Turkey baster/Funnel
  • Egg tumbler
  • Head lamp or strong light to illuminate your workspace.

Step 2

Catch That Fish!

Prepare 3 buckets. Each with an appropriate amount of water for the fish you are about to catch. You can catch the females one at a time or all at once . Put them in the first bucket. Now make sure you have the turkey baster with in arm’s reach so that if a netted female starts to spit out her eggs as they often will when under stress, you can quickly retrieve them.

Step 3

Make sure you hands are wet before handling any fish, this will help protect their slime coat. Over the second bucket grip the fish as shown in the picture below. If you’re not sure that you can control a larger fish, you can grip it through the net leaving only it’s mouth exposed.

Time is of the essence, so use your best judgment. If you’re ever in doubt, put her back into the holding bucket to rest up for a minute before continuing. 30 seconds out of water being on the long side for an already frightened fish,

Step 4

Using a toothpick or pen cap carefully pry open the females mouth by pushing down on her bottom lip. You have to be extremely careful when doing this to avoid injuring the female. Study and research the way your fish’s mouth is designed, how it opens and closes, and be gentle! A steady hand is required, I find that you can brace one hand against the other for more control.

Step 5

While holding the mouth open, dunk the female in and out of the water head first to allow the fry to escape. You can always give her a break if you feel she has been out of the water too long.

Step 6

Once you are sure all the fry have been stripped, you can then place the female in the third bucket and allow here to “catch her breath” before returning her to the main tank. Repeat the process with any remaining females.

Step 7

Care of the fry

As mentioned before, if the fry are able to move about under their own propulsion and their egg sac has been mostly absorbed, they should be fine being vacuumed up with the turkey baster and put directly into your fry saver or grow-out tank. If not, it’s off to the tumbler with them!

The Funnel Technique

With some species such as Cyprichromis genus, the jaws are very fragile. Given their size, it’s a wonder that females can take the eggs into ther mouths at all! You would be hard pressed to pry open their mouth given the complex hinge mechanics.

To strip these types of fish you can use the funnel technique. You can either remove the squeeze bulb from a turkey baster or find a similar tall funnel. Place the fish head first into the baster/funnel, and submerge it in your bucket. As you lift the funnel in and out of the water the fry will be expelled by the force of gravity, continuously add tank water to the funnel via small container until you are satisfied all the fry have been released.

These stripping methods should work well with most mouthbrooding African Cichlids. Other mouthbrooding fish such as Arowanas and certain catfish my require different techniques not covered here. I would encourage our readers to share their methods either in the comment section or even start a thread in our forums. Questions are always welcome!


2 Responses to “How To Strip Mouthbrooder’s Fry”

  1. david on 11 Sep 2008 at 9:38 pm #can you send me step by step on how to make a eggtumbler and how much air to flow through it and how to flow it?

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