Congo Tetras Making Caviar!

I really need to pull a pair of these tetras and collect some eggs….

Parananochromis brevirostris

This is a video of the 40-breeder aquarium where I house a breeding harem of the West African cichlid P. brevirostris (one male, five females and a few juveniles) that I collected in Gabon last February.  The dithers are a school of redcap moon tetras (Bathyaethiops breushegemi) and a couple yellow-tail Congo tetras (Hemigrammopetersius caudalis).  The giant danio is in there to condition to spawn.  If I leave her in with her male they will scatter eggs every day!

This tank is decorated with bog wood and oak leaves.  The cichlids need a low pH to spawn, so I am using straight RO water for changes and dropping the pH with an acid buffer to about pH 5.5.  There are several ‘burrito’ caves for spawning, which are roomy on the inside with a small opening.  I stuff the caves with long-fiber sphagnum moss which lowers the pH in the cave another half point or so.  The females seem to like the plants matter in the cave, and when given a choice of an empty cave they always use one with moss.

Trying these fish as a harem is a new idea.  Until about a month ago I was keeping each female in her own tank and shuffling the male between them (he appears in the video, but only briefly… the king is very shy).  As single pairs they have spawned several times, and I have enough fry on hand that I can now experiment a bit.  No spawns yet, but as you will see in the video the male is paired at the moment.  He chases all the other females.

Parananochromis gabonicus

This video shows a young female Parananochromis gabonicus caring for newly free swimming fry.  I brought the pair back from the Gabon trip in February, and they lived with a group of eight in this 20-gallon long aquarium.  By late March there were a few fish becoming mature enough to defend territories, so I removed all but two males and two females.  I did not see much indication of spawning until I was able to drop the pH to under 5.0.  I had already placed four caves in the tank, but the fish did not show much interest.

When we were in Gabon, Anton Lamboj and I were discussing the micro-habitat where these fish were found, and he suggested that Parananochromis species may be ‘leaf divers’, meaning that they like to bury themselves in leaf litter (which explains why they are not easy to net).  Other leaf diving fish I have kept (some Betta species, catfish and some South American cichlids) also chose spawning sites in dense plant matter, so I decided to fill all of the spawning caves in this tank with long fiber sphagnum moss.  That did the trick.  Within a day the females were exploring the caves and their abdomens turned bright red.

The spawning occurred in late May, and was evidenced by the female becoming very reclusive in the cave and also very aggressive to any other fish that came near the opening.  The fry did not appear until 12 days after the day I think they spawned, and this video was shot on their first foray (that I noticed) away from the spawning cave.  One of the interesting observations in the video is that the female takes many of the fry in her mouth, and keeps them there, when she feels they are threatened.  Other west African cichlids I have seen do this (other than the mouth brooding species) usually just relocate the fry and spit them out.

This is the first cichlid that I brought back from Gabon that has bred for me.  Hopefully the strategies successful with P. gabonicus will also prove effective with the others.

Going Gabon! – Mitzic and the Okana River

This episode of Going Gabon documents two days traveling out of the city of Ndjole to the north.  We spent one day in the vicinity of Mitzic, a town near the borders of Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon, and another in larger streams feeding into the Okana River.  The Okana is part of the Ogooue River system, the second largest watershed in the Congo ecoregion (second only to the Congo itself) and is contained entirely within Gabon.  One of the reasons Gabon is so interesting to fish collectors is that this large, isolated system is home to several endemic species.  Enjoy….

Back from Gabon!

I’m back! We had a good time and found lots of cool fish.  I shot a lot of pictures and video, and will share them over the next few weeks.  Here is a sneak peek…

West African Community Aquarium

This aquarium is currently my longest-established display.  It is a semi-aggressive community of cichlids and tetras from the Congo region of West Africa.  The bright red cichlids that are currently dominating the tank are Hemichromis cf. lifilili ‘Moanda’.  That name is a relatively new concept for a fish that has been in the hobby for about 6 years under the designation H. sp. ‘Moanda’.  Dr. Anton Lamboj is in the process of ding a revision of the genus, and he is now calling this fish a color form of the species H. lifilili, and he tells me that it is ok to do so.  I guess that means that when the paper is published he will identify it such.  That rumor has been around for a couple years, and there are some other notable scientists who question that this fish H. lifilili.  But Anton is a friend, a good ichthyologist and is currently the guy working on the genus… so I will give him the benefit of the doubt (and fan the flames a bit!).  The fish that has been distributed around the hobby as H. lifilili for the past couple decades is not a pure H. lifilili.  This is something that the scientists who are actually interested in tank strains agree on.  The consensus is that they are the long-standing tank strains of fish that have been crossed in and out of H. gutattus varieties, may include some H. lifilili blood from a few decades ago and could have picked up some DNA from unintentional crosses to any of several red-jewel species that are all hard to tell apart (H. bimaculatus, H. letourneuxi & H. cristatus are the most likely contributors).  Cichlid taxonomy is FUN FUN FUN!!!!!

Other fish in the community include the Brycinus longipinnis and Phenacogrammus interuptus tetras (long-fin alestes and congo tetras, respectively), and the reophilic cichlid Steatocranus glaber (one of the buffalo-head cichlids).  The big male cichlid does a good job of defending the tube cave on the left end of the tank, and the two small females (not in the video) hang around with him all the time, but they have not spawned yet (that I know of).  I have bred the alestes tetras several times and the congo tetras twice.  The plants include Anubias sp., a Crinum sp. and some Cryptocoryne sp.  The crypts are not West African, but everything else is.

This current community has been going as is for about 18 months.  There have been a few additions and subtractions along the way.  The tank has held primarily West African fish for five years.  Former denizens have included breeder pairs of Teleogramma brichardi, Steatocranus irvinei, Pelvicachromis humilis, P. rubrolabiatus, Chromidotilapia guentheri guentheri, Arnoldichthys spilopterus (I really miss those tetras) and various singleton eels, catfish and mormyrids.  There is just something about a West African community aquarium that keeps my interest over the long term.  This tank is due for a change, and when I get back from Gabon in a month I hope to be able to convert it over to an all-Gabon community.

Hemichromis frempongi

My H. frempongi pair are breeding again.  This is their second spawn.  The first time around it was interesting to see how long they doggedly protected their fry.  All of the other jewel cichlids I have kept tended to lose interest after 4-6 weeks, eat whatever fry were still around and then spawn again.  This pair were still caring for their offspring twelve weeks after spawning, and the fry were starting to lose their juvenile color pattern.  At the end there were only 10 juveniles left (because I had been removing them steadily over a couple months), but the parents would still come charging out to defend them when anyone would appear in front of their tank.

H. frempongi is a very aggressive 5-spot jewel cichlid that is endemic to Lake Bosumtwe in Ghana.  Of the three 5-spot species (the other two are H. fasciatus and H. elongatus), this one is medium in size (the largest male I have ever seen was about 9″), the most ‘cleanly’ colorful and (in my opinion) the meanest.  Establishing a pair requires a lot of fry to grow out and more than a little luck.  I started with 24 one-inch fish, and six months later I was fortunate to have two left that were male and female… and not trying to kill each other.  It still took another 4 months before they spawned for the first time.

When the pair does not have fry they are shy and hide a lot.  When they have babies they are the polar opposite, as this video will show you.  These have become my favorite cichlids in my fish room.  They are entertaining, to say the least.  Enjoy.

Chromidotilapia melaniae

This species is not common in the hobby.  My fish came from the Vienna Zoo and Anton Lamboj in 2009.  The fish in the video are the remaining male and two females from the original group of five.  The have produced fry a few times, but have not had a successful spawn in several months.  I have a few growing up that are close to spawning size, and I have distributed a few dozen around.  If you have some of this species that came from my fish room… get them breeding, because who knows if we will ever see it again!

Hopefully we will see wild fish in a little over a month.  C. melaniae is one of our target species for the trip we are taking to Gabon in February.  There are a few other Chromidotilapia species we are hoping to find as well, and my goal is to bring back as many species of this genus as I can.  The rainbow in the tank is Chilatherina fasciatus ‘Faowi Village’, a really nice larger species that makes a good tank mate for larger, semi-aggressive cichlids.

Hemichromis frempongi

This video sows my pair of H. frempongi guarding their newly free-swimming fry.  The babies in this video have all been distributed, and I am patiently waiting for the parents to spawn again.  I was surprised by how long the adults protected their offspring.  Other 5-spot jewel species I have bred were looking to spawn again after about 4-6 weeks, and any fry left in the tank were eaten.  These H. frempongi were still protecting fry after 12 weeks; and the fry were starting to change into adult color patterns.  This is a very mean species.  If you get a chance to work with them, and have to get fry, I suggest starting with a couple dozen in a large tank with a lot of places for the fish to hide.  As they grow they will kill each other off until you are left, hopefully, with a pair.  My current pair was formed this way, and they are very stable… knock on wood.

Pelvicachromis taeniatus ‘Moliwe’

This pair of P. taeniatus ‘Moliwe’ were born in my fish room from wild parents.  I gave this pair to a friend when they were just old enough to sex, and he kept them as the only fish in a heavily-planted tank for over a year.  They spawned several times for him, but he was not really trying to save any fry.  When I heard that he still had the pair I asked if I could borrow them to get a few spawns from, and he responded by giving the pair back to me (he has fry in the tank that will grow up).

I am very happy to have this species back.  This is my favorite location variety of P. taeniatus.  I was able to collect fish at Moliwe (in Cameroon) in 2009, but I did not bring any back with me because I had some wild fish at home already.  One of my dreams is to one day have a BIG tank set up as a Moliwe biotope, complete with the barbs, killies, cichlids and plants from that location.  Since the barbs and other endemic cichlid (Benitochromis nigrodorsalis) are larger and more aggressive than the P. taeniatus, I will need the tank to be at least 6 feet long.

P. taeniatus is not very aggressive towards other species.  They are very territorial towards other P. taeniatus, however, which will be apparent in this video.