THE LIPSTICK CICHLID
The red-bloodied Red-lipped kribensis can be something of an alpha male, but one fishkeeper has had some surprising success in breeding them.
PRACTICAL FISHKEEPING Read how one dedicated fishkeeper has had some surprising success in breeding the red-blooded Red-lipped kribensis.
RED-LIPPED AND red-blooded is a phrase that can be applied very well to the male Wallaceochromis rubrolabiatus, the Red-lipped kribensis. Rubrolabiatus means red-lipped, and as for red-blooded, the male patrols his territory with such brutish, fastidious behaviour that it’s akin to that of some of the largest, nastiest Central American cichlids. He’s ever vigilant for a ripe female (though whether she will be up to his standards is another matter…). This is in stark contrast to the fairer sex, with her humble colourings and shy demeanour.
But a Red-lipped krib male lives for the lush things in life, like well-hidden caves and thick leaf litter beds. Well, as far as acid-loving, cave-spawning cichlids go, that counts as lush!
Diamond in the rough
A fateful trip to one of my favourite aquatics shops some months ago yielded some washed-out grey cichlids under the pseudonym
Pelvicachromis rubrolineatus, which appeared to be an improvement on the name they were imported as – Pelvicachromis sp. boffa humilis. Both of these names were incorrect, but it was obvious to me what they were. Wallaceochromis rubrolabiatus – a diamond in the rough!
This scarlet-adorned species often appears a little ropey when first imported due to its specialised feeding techniques that can prevent the fish from looking its best.
Watch one closely under natural conditions and you’ll witness a sand-sifting action that’s typical of West African dwarf cichlids.
What’s happening during this behaviour is remarkable – the sand is passed over the gills and any digestible morsels are removed. It’s currently unclear, but the substrate may even play a part in digestion, the way grit is used in a bird’s gizzard to grind down food. For this reason, the Red-lipped krib should only be kept in a biologically mature aquarium with a very fine substrate.
After reading all I could find on the captive care of this species (reports were few and far between), it seemed
it would be best to give them larger quarters due to apparent aggression between conspecifics.
Now, let me tell you – those reports were 100% correct. Within two days of settling into their meagre 60cmlong, 70-litre tank, the male had tried to drive the female away, but in such a small aquarium, she was unable to escape. I swiftly removed her, and kept her in a separate tank, but on the same system. This proved to be an invaluable move, as you’ll see…
Over the following weeks, using tried-and-tested methods to reduce the ph and hardness, I increased the acidity to a staggeringly low 4.2 ph. The hardness was negligible, the temperature 23°C and the TDS (total dissolved solids) around 46. I used RO water; if you have hard tapwater, this will be invaluable.
Although perhaps difficult to believe, all species of cichlid endemic to mainland Africa (bar one) belong to the sub-family Pseudocrenilabrinae, which contains 150 different genera.
Wallaceochromis rubrolabiatus finds itself within this group alongside the diminutive Nanochromis and the ever-popular Pelvicachromis spp., the best-known Kribensis. Until recently, the Red-lipped krib was classified as
Pelvicachromis too, though this is no longer the case, and it’s now placed in the genus Wallaceochromis.
Hailing only from Guinea, West Africa, this largish dwarf cichlid – males can grow up to 12cm, but are usually around 10cm – is found lurking in a biotope of fairly shallow, acidic blackwater strewn with branches, roots and leaf litter.
To emulate this in the home aquaria, oak branches and leaves would be a good place to start, while alder cones will reduce the ph and also turn the water a lovely, rich tea colour. Alternatively, splash out on some botanicals from an aquatics store.
The substrate would typically be a fine sandy/silty medium, rich in the rotting organics that provide a food source for both adults and fry alike.
Now, you might be wondering why I made such a deal of keeping the female separately, but on the same system?
Well, as I said, the male isn’t keen on a female trespassing on his precious territory when she’s not in prime spawning condition. How dare she! So I decided to condition the female, but that turned out to be trickier than it sounds. She’s a naturally shy, retiring fish who is outcompeted for food by her tankmates, so she’s best kept solitary.
Feeding consisted of tubifex, whiteworm, a small amount of bloodworm and a lot of Artemia. The whiteworm and tubifex were live, the others frozen. She was also given a generous helping of oak and
The male isn’t keen on a female trespassing on his precious territory when she’s not in prime spawning condition. How dare she!
beech leaves, on which beneficial organisms thrive, and these provided a great addition to her diet.
Once I was confident that spawning condition had been achieved – as with many other west African cichlids, a conditioned female will show a nice, round, pink belly – I decided it was time to reintroduce her. Due to both tanks being on the same system, this was simple and stress-free – just catch and release.
So in she gently plopped, and out ventured the male to investigate. You might be thinking, “Aw, what a fairytale ending”. Err, NO! Out he shot, and the harassment began again, just as relentlessly as before. Out of the tank she came. This repeated itself like clockwork for the next five weeks: every second or third day she was introduced, swiftly attacked, put back into her own tank and reconditioned. Then one day, the female went in, usual stuff. Wait. What’s going on here? Something very different happened this time – the female turned perpendicular to the male, began to shake vigorously, and the male started to examine her. I thought things looked promising, so I left them together that evening.
Success at last
The following morning, I rushed eagerly to the fish room to be greeted by 42 perfectly round, bright white eggs on the floor of a cave. Within three days, the eggs hatched and a shimmering patch of fry could be seen blending in with the substrate.
Things were looking good until on the eighth day, a hiatus of fry visibility occurred. The only thing I could put this down to, sadly, was parental predation, but next day, some perfectly formed mini kribs appeared from a tangle of root. The amount of development that had taken place during this period was phenomenal, and I can only attribute this to the nutrition in the substrate, as no fry foods had been given.
From this point on, the fry grew rapidly on a plethora of fine foods, including my ever-trusty microworm cultures, baby brineshrimp and powdered fry foods. At the time of writing, they’ve been weaned onto frozen Daphnia and small tubifex.
Interestingly, since the two adults began to get along, I haven’t witnessed any signs of aggression between them!
Rare, challenging and very rewarding.
Colours can be highly variable.
When not in breeding condition, the female is quite drab.