COUNT ON MONTECRISTO

Meet the ‘Carls­berg’ ci­ch­lid. Ac­cord­ing to one Cen­tral Amer­i­can spe­cial­ist, Os­cura het­erospila is prob­a­bly the best ci­ch­lid in the world…

Practical Fishkeeping (UK) - - Contents -

Why one ci­ch­lid buff reck­ons the Montecristo ought to be re­named the Carls­berg fish, be­cause it’s ‘prob­a­bly the best ci­ch­lid in the world’.

KEEP­ING CEN­TRAL Amer­i­can cich­lids can be a bit of a learn­ing curve. While there are many won­der­ful species avail­able in the hobby, there are some over­grown, ag­gres­sive bul­lies out there too. Many a novice fish­keeper has bought a fish with­out do­ing their home­work prop­erly, and ended up with a big, bad bruiser who’s at­tacked (or worse) ev­ery­thing in their tank.

How­ever, there is one ut­terly per­fect, yet often un­der­rated species that I’d go so far to de­scribe as the ‘Carls­berg’ ci­ch­lid. To para­phrase the lager’s best-known mar­ket­ing slo­gan (and in your best Or­son Wells voice), it’s “Prob­a­bly the best ci­ch­lid in the world”.

Os­cura het­erospila, com­monly known as the Montecristo ci­ch­lid, is classed as a medium/large Cen­tral Amer­i­can ci­ch­lid. Some aquar­ists have de­scribed it as a rather bland-look­ing fish, but that’s sim­ply not the case.

If kept in ex­cel­lent con­di­tions un­der nat­u­ral-coloured light­ing, it’s ac­tu­ally a very colour­ful deep-bod­ied ci­ch­lid – a rain­bowhued fish, dis­play­ing at­trac­tive cop­per and black mark­ings on the flanks and an iri­des­cence of sparkling blues and greens on its un­paired fins.

Aquar­ium care If you plan to pair Os­cura het­erospila, then it’s best to buy a group of at least six fish. This will en­sure the like­li­hood of a good male-to-fe­male ra­tio and hope­fully pro­duce a strongly bonded pair. Tank size is well in the range of the ev­ery­day fish­keeper; you don’t need a swim­ming pool-sized aquar­ium to keep and breed th­ese fish. To keep a semiadult pair or a young group, you would be look­ing in the range of 150x60x60cm. To keep fully grown adult pairs long term, in­crease the length of the tank to around 200cm. A Montecristo male can grow up to 25cm in length in the con­fines of the aquar­ium, so he needs a bit of space for ter­ri­tory and dis­play to his fe­male com­pan­ion. There are no spe­cial re­quire­ments for keep­ing and breed­ing this species. They will adapt and live in most un­ad­justed tap­wa­ter, so long as you have medium/high hard­ness and a general ph of 7.0. Most Cen­tral Amer­i­can cich­lids are fairly adapt­able, so avoid the very

It’s ac­tu­ally a very colour­ful, deep-bod­ied ci­ch­lid – a rain­bow-hued fish, dis­play­ing at­trac­tive cop­per and black mark­ings on the flanks and an iri­des­cence of sparkling blues and greens on its un­paired fins

ex­tremes of both ends of the scale of hard­ness and ph and you should be good to go. Good fil­tra­tion is re­quired as cen­trals can be a lit­tle messy, and you need to aim for a steady tem­per­a­ture range of 24-28°C. Re­place 20% of the wa­ter weekly, as this will en­cour­age steady growth rates.

As for feed­ing, of­fer a mixed range of foods in­clud­ing both float­ing and sink­ing pel­lets, flake with added spir­ulina, blanched let­tuce or spinach leaves, and reg­u­lar amounts of higher protein foods such as chopped prawns and mus­sels. Th­ese foods will bring your fish into good colour and con­di­tion.

Recre­at­ing habitat

In the wild, Os­cura het­erospila is found in rivers and lakes on the At­lantic slope in South East Mex­ico and Guatemala in the Usumac­inta/ Gri­jalva and Can­de­laria river basins. Its habitat ranges from open, rocky lakes and la­goons to slow to medium-flow­ing rivers, with ei­ther rock or quiet river­bank ar­eas with sub­merged wood and leaf lit­ter. Some of th­ese habi­tats have lots of plants like Myrio­phyl­lum.

Since the species is found in so many dif­fer­ent habi­tats, tank decor is en­tirely up to you, but I like to keep my Mon­te­cristos in tanks im­i­tat­ing quiet, jun­gle ar­eas, with

lots of wood, branches and de­cay­ing leaves. The se­cluded jun­gle-scape based around the peace­ful river­banks of the Up­per Can­de­laria River in Mex­ico is a good biotope to repli­cate. It makes an in­ter­est­ing cen­tre­piece, es­pe­cially if you have a large aquar­ium, where you can keep other fish too, and bring a real slice of Cen­tral Amer­i­can na­ture to your home.

You can safely in­tro­duce plants such as Myrio­phyl­lum or Cer­ato­phyl­lum sp. (Horn­wort). Horn­wort is per­haps the eas­i­est to grow as it doesn’t need to be an­chored down – sim­ply en­tan­gle the stems on sub­merged beech tree branches and let the plant just trail, pe­ri­od­i­cally cut­ting it back if it starts to get out of con­trol.

Dec­o­rate the aquar­ium with big pieces of drift­wood. I col­lect my own – often large, weath­ered, oak branches with thin­ner beech branches. Use a nat­u­ral sub­strate such as sil­ver sand and mix in a lit­tle fine gravel to add tex­ture. Add a small place­ment of smooth river rock, as th­ese might be used as spawn­ing sites. You could also place some pre­pared beech tree leaves upon the sub­strate, im­i­tat­ing the nat­u­ral look of the river

and jun­gle. Tank­mates Montecristo cich­lids are ex­cel­lent can­di­dates for a Cen­tral Amer­i­can ci­ch­lid com­mu­nity tank, as you can add a range of com­pat­i­ble species. Like many cich­lids, Os­cura het­erospila are gen­er­ally mild man­nered but, like all cen­trals, they can be­come quar­rel­some, es­pe­cially when breed­ing. I’ve found it bet­ter to keep them with smaller so­cial species, such as both Thorichthys and Cri­bro­heros com­plex.

They can also be hap­pily kept with much larger species in big­ger, dis­play aquar­i­ums, and can cer­tainly hold their own – es­pe­cially large, ma­ture fish. But in all the years I’ve kept them, I’ve never known one to be­come a bully who ter­rorises its tank­mates. I’ve even kept them safely with much smaller live­bear­ers,

like Xiphopho­rus hel­lerii and Poe­cilia mex­i­cana, with­out any prob­lems.

Rais­ing young

Breed­ing Montecristo cich­lids is fairly straight­for­ward. Pairs can form fairly early on in their de­vel­op­ment and I’ve had them breed when they’ve only been 10cm in length. It’s also worth rais­ing a num­ber of young if pos­si­ble, as Os­cura

het­erospila are fairly un­com­mon in re­tail, so you should be able to spread them around the hobby. Re­move a por­tion of fry from the par­ents af­ter around two weeks and rear them on brineshrimp and finely crushed spir­ulina flakes. So, in a nut­shell (or a pint glass?),

Os­cura het­erospila is my Carls­berg fish – my per­fect Cen­tral Amer­i­can ci­ch­lid. They aren’t bul­lies, they’re com­pat­i­ble with many dif­fer­ent species, they have colour and per­son­al­ity, they’re easy to breed and they won’t eat and de­stroy cor­rectly cho­sen plants. Give them a try; you won’t be dis­ap­pointed.

Could this be your per­fect ci­ch­lid?

Leaf lit­ter con­tains mi­cror­gan­isms for fry to feed on.

Par­ents use sub­merged wood for cover.

Pairs spawn on smooth-faced river rocks.

BE­LOW LEFT: Fe­male. BE­LOW RIGHT: Male. Note the size dif­fer­ence.

BE­LOW: O.het­erospila with fry in a biotope aquar­ium.

Above: Spawn­ing is easy enough.

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