The Protective Mouthbrooding Fish
While many tropical fish have developed strategies to protect themselves from harm, not all have methods for protecting their young, too. Mouthbrooders, however, are well-known for their ability to care for and protect their offspring, largely due to a very unusual technique.
Mouthbrooders protect their young by using their mouths as shelter.
Numerous breeds of fish are considered to be mouthbrooders; some are paternal mouthbrooders (meaning that the male offers shelter) and others are maternal mouthbrooders. Species of fish defined as mouthbrooders include cichlids, gouramis and arowanas.
For mouthbrooders, parental care starts when the eggs are fertilized, and some even extend their offer of shelter after the eggs have hatched. African cichlids, which are maternal mouthbrooders, are an example of fish that continue to protect their young even after the eggs have hatched.
Female African cichlids hold eggs in their mouths for 21 to 36 days.
During this time, the female doesn’t eat, leaving no opportunity for an egg to escape. It isn’t until the eggs have hatched that she releases her fry. Once released, the cichlid uses distinct behavioural cues when danger is present to let her young know it is time to swim back and seek protection.