JEWEL OF AFRICA

While not as well known as its Kriben­sis cousins, this stun­ning lit­tle fish is the per­fect dwarf ci­ch­lid for be­gin­ners.

Practical Fishkeeping (UK) - - Contents -

Let’s hear it for Pelvi­cachromis sub­o­cel­la­tus, the lovely but lesser-known cousin of the Rain­bow kriben­sis.

IT’S A safe bet that you’ve all seen Pelvi­cachromis pul­cher, the Rain­bow kriben­sis. I might even ven­ture the sug­ges­tion that it’s the iconic, sig­na­ture species of dwarf ci­ch­lid, prob­a­bly on par with the Ger­man ram, Mikro­geoph­a­gus ramirezi. How­ever, there’s an­other mem­ber of the Pelvi­cachromis genus that’s gen­tler and more hardy than the bet­ter-known Krib, and it’s rather sur­pris­ing that it’s not more pop­u­lar and bet­ter-known than the ubiq­ui­tous Rain­bow. Pelvi­cachromis sub­o­cel­la­tus, some­times called the Ocel­lated kriben­sis, in­hab­its slow-flow­ing streams and still wa­ters. It’s colour­ful, doesn’t ex­ceed 10cm in length and is easy to keep. It’s also easy to breed, and while there are many colour morphs of this species, to pre­serve line pu­rity they shouldn’t be cross-bred.

P. sub­o­cel­la­tus is dis­trib­uted in West Africa from Gabon to Congo, with the par­tic­u­larly at­trac­tive ‘Moulondo’ va­ri­ety hail­ing from the Moulondo re­gion of Gabon.

Ideal home

The species grows to a max­i­mum size of 8-10cm, so your tank doesn’t need to be tall, but it should be rel­a­tively long, with a large foot­print. For an adult pair, the aquar­ium should be at least 60-80cm long, 30cm wide and 30cm tall. The bot­tom of the tank is best cov­ered with fine sand as the species spends most of its day down there, dig­ging in the sub­strate in search of food.

Add a good num­ber of caves in the form of co­conut shells, roots, flower pots and lengths of PVC pipe, as well as plants like Java moss, Anu­bias, Mi­croso­rum, and some float­ing ferns – this ci­ch­lid doesn’t like bright light­ing. Ex­cept when spawn­ing, P. sub­o­cel­la­tus is pretty peace­ful, and – an­other bonus – it doesn’t de­stroy plants.

Wa­ter cur­rent – from a fil­ter or a dif­fuser, for in­stance – shouldn’t be too brisk. The species likes calm, lazily flow­ing, well-oxy­genated wa­ter. The fil­ter should be rea­son­ably ef­fi­cient, so that me­tab­o­lite lev­els re­main un­de­tectable. Rou­tine main­te­nance should in­clude weekly wa­ter changes, reg­u­lar vac­u­um­ing of the tank bot­tom to re­move any food re­mains, and clean­ing of the sponges in in­ter­nal/ex­ter­nal fil­ters.

P. sub­o­cel­la­tus is flex­i­ble with re­gards to phys­i­cal and chem­i­cal

When we see a fe­male look­ing ro­tund and very colour­ful, with a pur­ple spot on her belly, tens­ing her fins and arch­ing her body re­peat­edly to­wards a male, com­pletely lost in the mat­ing dance, it can mean only one thing

con­di­tions. The species does well in both soft and hard wa­ter, and will tol­er­ate ph val­ues from 6.0 to 7.5. How­ever, in the long run, they pre­fer their wa­ter soft and slightly acidic. It’s best to use nat­u­ral acid­i­fi­ca­tion meth­ods, such as Cat­appa, beech or oak leaves.

As for feed­ing, veg­etable foods should pre­dom­i­nate. The length of this fish’s in­testines far ex­ceeds that of its body, so the fewer an­i­mal foods in the diet, the less the like­li­hood of in­testi­nal com­plaints.

For this rea­son, of­fer lots of plant fi­bre and Spir­ulina, with only oc­cas­sional shrimp mix, glass­worms, Krill and black mos­quito lar­vae. They can also be given dry foods, par­tic­u­larly gran­u­lated types that fall to the bot­tom, as they love to dig in the sub­strate in search of pe­ri­phy­ton.

Pur­ple pas­sion

Adult male P. sub­o­cel­la­tus are big­ger than the fe­males, and the species is monog­a­mous. When we buy a group of fish, there’s a good chance a nat­u­ral pair will emerge – all we need to do then is to wait pa­tiently for the spawn­ing.

When we see a fe­male look­ing ro­tund (as if she were about to burst), and very colour­ful, with a pur­ple spot on her belly, tens­ing her fins and arch­ing her body re­peat­edly to­wards a male, com­pletely lost in the mat­ing dance, it can mean only one thing – eggs will be laid very soon in one of the tank’s hid­ing places, such as a co­conut shell or flower pot. An ex­tended ovipos­i­tor is an­other in­di­ca­tor that spawn­ing will oc­cur soon.

So, there’ll come a day when you can’t see the fe­male. Don’t worry, she’ll most likely be en­sconced in one of the caves, guard­ing her eggs. Any­thing from a few dozen to a hun­dred eggs (though some fe­males pro­duce up to 200 grains) will be laid on the cave ceil­ing. Some breed­ers use a sim­ple trick to en­cour­age spawn­ing by repli­cat­ing nat­u­ral be­hav­iours – they half fill a co­conut shell with sand, or push it deep into the sub­strate. The fe­male will then dig out the sand, just as she would do in the wild. While the fe­male is in the hide­out with her eggs, the male fiercely guards the ter­ri­tory. He’ll be­come very ag­gres­sive, so it’s a good idea to re­move the rest of the fish from the tank, or sep­a­rate the pair from the oth­ers with a pane of glass or acrylic.

Some peo­ple do leave two mated pairs in a tank, with caves for each at op­po­site ends of the aquar­ium. If any ag­gres­sion or ter­ri­to­rial bat­tles are seen, the aquar­ium can then be di­vided.

Krib kinder­garten

Af­ter a few days, de­pend­ing on the tem­per­a­ture, the young hatch. Usu­ally they are then moved in the mouth to pre-dug pits in the sub­strate, though in my tank, they re­mained in the co­conut un­til the re­sorp­tion of the yolk sac. Af­ter about a week, the yolk sacs will be re­sorbed and you then need to start feed­ing the young. Freshly hatched

Artemia, mi­croworms, grindal worms and all kinds of foods for egg-layer fry will be read­ily taken.

An am­i­ca­ble pair take care of their young in turns, lead­ing the cloud of fry to var­i­ous spots in the tank (so-called ‘can­teens) where they’ll dis­cover meals of de­tri­tus and al­gae on de­cay­ing leaves and so on.

These fish can be fas­ci­nat­ing to watch as the par­ents com­mu­ni­cate with their off­spring by open­ing and clos­ing their pelvic fins, and vi­brat­ing the whole body. In the face of po­ten­tial dan­ger, fol­low­ing a sig­nal from the par­ent, the fry fall mo­tion­less to the bot­tom of the tank, play­ing dead.

Some­times, how­ever, squab­bles

Add a good num­ber of caves in the form of co­conut shells, roots, flow­er­pots

break out be­tween the pair, lead­ing to losses among the fry. In such cases, the young may be left with only one par­ent, usu­ally the fe­male, or the whole batch may need to be raised ar­ti­fi­cially. Do re­mem­ber that dur­ing the first few spawn­ings, dis­agree­ments be­tween the young cou­ple, re­sult­ing in the fry be­ing eaten, are quite likely – they are prac­tis­ing at be­ing par­ents, so don’t worry too much about it. Usu­ally, af­ter a few failed at­tempts, they’ll get it right. Af­ter four to six months, the new gen­er­a­tion them­selves are ready to pro­cre­ate.

In­ter­est­ingly, wa­ter pa­ram­e­ters in­flu­ence the sex of these fish, which is de­ter­mined dur­ing the first few weeks of life. If you want the sex ra­tio to be roughly even, the op­ti­mal ph is 7.0 and the tem­per­a­ture about 24°C. With lower ph val­ues and higher tem­per­a­tures there will be more fe­males among the off­spring; higer ph and lower tem­per­a­tures will lead to a pre­pon­der­ance of males. If you love small, colour­ful dwarf cich­lids, this species is sure to take your fancy. They are ideal lit­tle fish to help you learn about ci­ch­lid keep­ing, be­ing rel­a­tively tol­er­ant of wa­ter con­di­tions, easy to keep – and, best of all, beau­ti­ful.

RADEK BEDNARCZUK A phar­ma­cist by trade, Radek has been keep­ing fish since he was seven and has a legacy of breed­ing suc­cesses.

Fry are well cam­ou­flaged.

The fe­male sees to car­ing for the fry while the male de­fends their ter­ri­tory.

Co­conut shells make ideal shel­ters.

The lar­vae feed from their yolk sacs for the first few days.

Both par­ents will be de­fen­sive, even to­wards each other.

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