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