LOV­ING THE LEOP­ARD

In its strik­ing spot­ted coat, the ex­otic Leop­ard bushfish is a stun­ning and stealthy preda­tor.

Practical Fishkeeping (UK) - - Contents -

Marvel at the ex­otic spot­ted kit­ten of the Bushfish world – a stun­ning and stealthy preda­tor.

NOTH­ING SAYS ‘Africa’ quite like a fish that adorns it­self with leop­ard pat­tern. And no fish bet­ter suits this theme than the Leop­ard bushfish, Ctenopoma acu­tirostre, who’s prac­ti­cally beg­ging to be added to your od­dball African set-up. Al­though out­wardly cu­ri­ous and cryp­tic-look­ing, the Leop­ard will fit in quite well among many other species of fish, so long as you fol­low a few sim­ple rules.

Just one among many species of Ctenopoma, this dap­pled denizen is prob­a­bly the bushfish you’re most likely to stum­ble across at your lo­cal aquat­ics shop. And for good rea­son – most of the Leop­ard’s cousins are rather drab, even if they do bring a piece of per­son­al­ity to the ta­ble. Sadly for them, looks sell, leav­ing us with a rel­a­tive abun­dance of this spot­ted kit­ten of the bushfish world.

Novice od­dball keep­ers could eas­ily la­bel the Leop­ard bushfish as a bit Leaf fish-like. For those un­fa­mil­iar with them, the South Amer­i­can Leaf fish, Mono­cir­rhus poly­a­can­thus, is a highly spe­cialised preda­tor that near-per­fectly mim­ics a leaf for am­bush pur­poses, much to the mis­for­tune of the hap­lessly un­aware fish in their sur­round­ings.

While oc­ca­sion­ally avail­able for aquaria, Leaf fish some­times strug­gle to adapt to cap­tiv­ity, and very rarely lose their taste for live foods.

It would seem that Leop­ard bushfish have found a loop­hole in evo­lu­tion’s copy­right laws, do­ing a pretty good job of mim­ick­ing this same leafy cha­rade. And, for­tu­nately for all par­ties, they set­tle in aquaria far bet­ter than their South Amer­i­can coun­ter­parts, and hap­pily take on dead food to boot.

The real wow fac­tor in both th­ese species, though, are their pro­trusi­ble mouths. In the less-than-split sec­ond it takes to en­gulf their prey, the jaw­bones of th­ese fishes are ex­tended out­wards, al­low­ing the preda­tors to strike from a lit­tle fur­ther away than their prey could ap­pre­ci­ate. Their poor vic­tims have as lit­tle as a quar­ter of a sec­ond to re­act.

Hide and seek

You may need to squint into the dealer’s tank to find your Leop­ard Bushfish spec­i­mens, since on ar­rival they’re for­giv­ably shy. They’ll be hid­ing be­hind or un­der what­ever they can find, but can of­ten be spot­ted pok­ing their heads around the cor­ner to see what’s go­ing on. You can ex­pect sim­i­lar be­hav­iour when you first in­tro­duce them to their new home, so be an ac­com­mo­dat­ing host. Of­fer plenty of hid­ing places and keep the light­ing to a min­i­mum for the first week or two so your Ctenopoma can find their fins. I’ve only seen a hand­ful of th­ese fish reach­ing 15cm in aquaria, with most hov­er­ing just be­low that. Given their mod­er­ate size and re­served na­ture, you needn’t fret about pro­vid­ing vo­lu­mi­nous liv­ing con­di­tions. What’s im­por­tant is pro­vid­ing an en­rich­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

Wild Leop­ard bushfish make their home among tan­gles of plants, wood­work and sunken leaves, with each new nook and cranny po­ten­tially of­fer­ing refuge or a meal. Tak­ing a page from na­ture’s book, try to cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment that will let this cu­ri­ous fish ex­plore a sim­i­larly elab­o­rate en­vi­ron­ment. You’ll find your­self en­joy­ing your in­quis­i­tive pet’s ex­plo­rative ac­tiv­i­ties and. as an added bonus, you’ll be more likely to see your bushfish in an en­vi­ron­ment where it knows it can com­fort­ably re­treat from the lime­light if it wants to.

Adding float­ing plants to pro­vide sur­face cover will be a big con­fi­dence booster for your Leop­ards. Not only will it dim any ex­ces­sive light­ing from above, it will also help al­lay fear of preda­tors strik­ing from above the wa­ter­line. Make sure you leave some gaps, though. Ctenopoma are what we call ob­li­gate air-breathers, re­quir­ing sur­face-de­rived oxy­gen ow­ing to their re­duced gill sur­face area – an un­for­tu­nate con­se­quence of them hav­ing that oth­er­wise handy or­gan, the labyrinth.

Leop­ard fare

To draw out the in­fa­mous am­bush be­hav­iour of your Leop­ard, you don’t have to go as far as of­fer­ing live food, which I feel should be re­served for only the fussi­est of feed­ers. Most Bushfish will treat nearly any food item en­ter­ing the tank as a cu­ri­ous ob­ject, with a slow, cau­tious ap­proach, fol­lowed by a rapid strike. But once comfy and set­tled, they’re re­mark­ably ci­ch­lid­like in their de­meanour, anx­iously wait­ing at the sur­face of the tank when you ap­proach.

When choos­ing a diet for your pet, lean to­wards fish, shrimp and in­sect-based foods. Keep the por­tions large enough to grab their at­ten­tion, but small enough to be taken in one go. You can try throw­ing in pel­lets on oc­ca­sion, but more of­ten than not they won’t tickle the taste­buds of our would-be preda­tor. I pre­fer not to waste my dry foods on them, but if your fish will take dry food, be sure to mix up the diet with fresher food­stuffs as well.

Bear in mind that Ctenopoma won’t pay much at­ten­tion to smaller food

items, and should your of­fer­ing pro­duce a frag­mented mess, you’ll need some­one on clean-up du­ties. Ei­ther sim­ply net or siphon out what re­mains, or have a handy tank­mate on standby to do the dirty work. Some smaller species of Syn­odon­tis, or sub­strate-ori­ented ci­ch­lids such as Pelvi­cachromis are your bet­ter choices, but keep in mind that bossier species might have a lit­tle too much char­ac­ter for your bushfish to han­dle.

An ap­pro­pri­ate fil­tra­tion sys­tem should be em­ployed to deal with the high-protein diet of your pets, but en­sure the theme of any cur­rent pro­duced is more ‘slug­gish back­wa­ter’ than ‘jacuzzi tor­rent’.

So long as you keep any bois­ter­ous species out of the pic­ture, there’s just one more rule to keep re­gard­ing Ctenopoma house­mates, and it’s an easy one to fig­ure out given the Leop­ard’s preda­tory na­ture. Smaller fish – es­pe­cially cylin­dri­cally shaped species among the tetras, dan­ios, and barbs – will have an aw­ful night’s sleep if you at­tempt to keep them along­side Ctenopoma. While Bushfish don’t have the cav­ernous gapes of­ten seen in other preda­tors, you ab­so­lutely can­not take the risk of adding any sort of fish smaller than the length of this am­bush preda­tor’s head.

The same goes for in­ver­te­brates, which will only serve as tem­po­rary tank­mates and nu­tri­tional sup­ple­ments for your Leop­ard.

In the less-than-split sec­ond it takes to en­gulf their prey, the jaw­bones of th­ese fishes are ex­tended out­wards, al­low­ing the preda­tors to strike

Leop­ard lit­ters

As they hail from the same lin­eage as gouramis and Bet­tas, like them Ctenopoma have a labyrinth or­gan. While this means they ex­hibit the same neat trick – be­ing able to take in oxy­gen from above the wa­ter’s sur­face – they dif­fer from their dis­tant rel­a­tives in that they don’t cre­ate a bub­ble nest. Nor is it ap­par­ent that they pro­vide any form of parental care. I say ‘ap­par­ent’ be­cause, hey, the aquar­ium world isn’t al­ways fully clued up on ev­ery breed­ing mys­tery the hobby has to of­fer. There isn’t much lit­er­a­ture avail­able con­cern­ing re­pro­duc­tion in the Ctenopoma genus as a whole, and dou­bly so for the deeper-bod­ied clade the Leop­ard bushfish be­longs to.

From what is known, they are mod­er­ate to highly fe­cund fishes, scat­ter­ing or de­posit­ing their eggs – most likely in a safe spot among dense veg­e­ta­tion – where they are left to de­velop. In the ab­sence of parental care, it’s ad­vis­able to re­move po­ten­tially hun­gry adults away from the eggs and re­sul­tant fry, which should be of­fered only the small­est of live foods.

Leop­ards aren’t an­ti­so­cial fish ei­ther. That’s not to say you’ll see a tightly bound school parad­ing around your tank, but they’re def­i­nitely not averse to hav­ing some of their own kind around to form a loose group with.

In the­ory, this should make it a lit­tle eas­ier for them to pair up them­selves, should any an­a­ban­tid en­thu­si­ast out there take up the task of mak­ing par­ents out of th­ese stun­ning-look­ing spot­ted preda­tors.

Once set­tled, the per­son­al­ity of the Leop­ard bushfish re­ally shines through.

Ctenopoma means ‘comb-cover’, refer­ing to the gill cover

Pro­trusi­ble mouth parts make the bushfish an ex­cel­lent preda­tor.

CONGO Back­wa­ters and flooded for­est floors of­fer the per­fect hunt­ing grounds for the Leop­ard bushfish. Shal­low waters min­imise the chance of pre­da­tion and over­hang­ing fo­liage har­bours many a tasty morsel.

The latin name acu­tirostretrans­lates to ‘sharp snout’.

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