Concerned About the Sex Ratio of Two Blue Rams

jmix

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Hello all,

I've been keeping an aquarium for about a year now and so far, things have been going pretty well! But recently I splurged on a new tank setup and, after cycling was complete, decided to fill it with a bunch of neon tetras and a pair of blue rams. The local fish store (which has generally been great for me) sold them as a male/female pair, but oddly enough both seem to have the traditional pink bellies and the elongated dorsal fin so I'm a little nervous. Now that they're in the tank together, there's definitely some aggression - lots of chasing, followed by a weird behavior I can't quite explain where they stay relatively still around each other but one will... aggressively kiss the other, is how I would describe it. When this happens, the other flinches a bit, but he or she doesn't run away. Here's a video I took of how they've been for the last hour or so:
I've also attached a picture I took where they were both somewhat flared out.

So anyway, my first question: Did the fish store make a mistake and accidentally give me a same-sex pair? Is there any solid way I can be sure, seeing as they both seem to have some ambiguous features? And if so, are all same-sex pairs inadvisable in a tank like mine (24 gallon, 14 x 16 x 24) or would a female/female pair be okay?

Second question: If this is a male/female pair, is this sort of aggression normal while they get to know each other and eventually pair up, or is there something I can do to help calm them down? These are my first cichlids, so I might just be overprotective. But I don't want anyone to get hurt if they don't have to!

Thank you so much, everyone - I'll be around if anyone has any tips or needs more information. And the tank is perfect in terms of water quality, with 6.6 pH and zeroes across the board on ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate.
 

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Byron

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You have a serious issue here, and the two fish should be separated ASAP. The one being targeted is not likely to last long.

I will not guess as to genders, though they may both be female; below is a photo of a pair if that helps since you have the fish in front of you. There are some observations worth noting though.

First, temperature. The common or blue ram needs warmth, minimum 80F/27C, preferred range 82-86F/28-30C. The Cardinals I see are OK with this, and the gourami. Don't know what other fish are in the tank, but many (most actually) cannot manage with this high a temperature on a permanent basis. Just so you know; rams will not last long at cooler temperatures.

Second, to the ram itself. They must select their respective mate from a group. Any female and any male put together (if genders were these) will not necessarily live peaceably. I had a pair that spawned four times before the male overnight killed the female; looking back now at their behaviours, it was inevitable but something I did not fathom 8 years ago. Two males will almost never work. Two females depend upon the individual fish. I have seen female Apistogramma kill other females when spawning, in a 4-foot tank. If either fish decides the tank is his/her space, it is game over for intruders. And unlike in the habitat, in the aquarium the targeted fish has no escape; my pair was in a heavily planted 5-foot tank and still the male considered the tank "his" and it was game over when the female refused to vacate the territory.

If the store has a tank of these fish, and if you can provide the higher temperatures, you would be best advised to return the two fish and observe the tank to see if you can identify a likely pair. Males will continually be charging one another, so that is easy to discern; if a female is allowed in the vicinity of a male without any harassment, permanently, that is probably going to form a pair. But there are no guarantees.
 
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jmix

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You have a serious issue here, and the two fish should be separated ASAP. The one being targeted is not likely to last long.

I will not guess as to genders, though they may both be female; below is a photo of a pair if that helps since you have the fish in front of you. There are some observations worth noting though.

First, temperature. The common or blue ram needs warmth, minimum 80F/27C, preferred range 82-86F/28-30C. The Cardinals I see are OK with this, and the gourami. Don't know what other fish are in the tank, but many (most actually) cannot manage with this high a temperature on a permanent basis. Just so you know; rams will not last long at cooler temperatures.

Second, to the ram itself. They must select their respective mate from a group. Any female and any male put together (if genders were these) will not necessarily live peaceably. I had a pair that spawned four times before the male overnight killed the female; looking back now at their behaviours, it was inevitable but something I did not fathom 8 years ago. Two males will almost never work. Two females depend upon the individual fish. I have seen female Apistogramma kill other females when spawning, in a 4-foot tank. If either fish decides the tank is his/her space, it is game over for intruders. And unlike in the habitat, in the aquarium the targeted fish has no escape; my pair was in a heavily planted 5-foot tank and still the male considered the tank "his" and it was game over when the female refused to vacate the territory.

If the store has a tank of these fish, and if you can provide the higher temperatures, you would be best advised to return the two fish and observe the tank to see if you can identify a likely pair. Males will continually be charging one another, so that is easy to discern; if a female is allowed in the vicinity of a male without any harassment, permanently, that is probably going to form a pair. But there are no guarantees.

Hello Byron,

Thank you very much for such a prompt reply - I really appreciate it. I should have clarified that the fish are now separated, so don't worry about that. Right now, I think the best course of action would be me returning the aggressive fish to the store and trying to nurse the bullied one back to health. Most resources online suggest that a blue ram can live on its own just fine. In your experience, is that true? I don't particularly need a pair - all that matters to me is that the fish I do have are healthy and thriving, so I'll surrender them together if one would be unhappy on her own, but otherwise I'd like to keep her. What do you think?

(And while you're at it, do you have any suggestions for some good tank mates for an individual blue ram if that is possible? Right now just have those gouramis and the neon tetras, and I'd love to fill the tank out in a way that would make sure no one gets stressed out or hurt. Thank you so much!)
 

Byron

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Yes, a solitary ram is fine.

As for tankmates, remember the water has to be warm. You have cardinals, that's fine. The gourami is fine. I didn't see anything else, are there other species? And there is not much space, how many cardinals have you (I ask because increasing these may be one idea)?
 
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jmix

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Yes, a solitary ram is fine.

As for tankmates, remember the water has to be warm. You have cardinals, that's fine. The gourami is fine. I didn't see anything else, are there other species? And there is not much space, how many cardinals have you (I ask because increasing these may be one idea)?
No, the only people in the tank right now are two gouramis, four cardinal tetras, seven neon tetras, and the one blue ram. I think I may bring in one more gourami and then maybe a few more cardinals as well to balance things out, and that would probably bring me to capacity pretty quickly. I'm running the tank at 82 degrees, which should be safe for everyone. I really appreciate the guidance!
 

Byron

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No, the only people in the tank right now are two gouramis, four cardinal tetras, seven neon tetras, and the one blue ram. I think I may bring in one more gourami and then maybe a few more cardinals as well to balance things out, and that would probably bring me to capacity pretty quickly. I'm running the tank at 82 degrees, which should be safe for everyone. I really appreciate the guidance!

This is too warm for neons that need to be in the range 21-25C/70-77F. If you can, returning the neons and acquiring more cardinals would be the best here. I would not add another gourami (they are Honeys I assume, gold variety? It was a quick glimpse in the video) though it isn't that much of an issue.

I know it is difficult for many to fathom the issues around temperature, but to a fish they are crucial. Fish being ectotherms rely on the water temperature to drive their physiology. Keeping them too warm on a permanent basis (summer heat waves are manageable, that is very different) means they are working much harder than they should in order to carry out the essential life processes. They literally "burn out." This not only weakens them, but adds stress which compromises the immune system.

The cardinals (without neons) can be increased to 10-12.
 

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