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African Cichlids: Altolamprologus compressiceps

African cichlid, Altolamprologus compressiceps, from Great Rift Valley Lake Tanganyika.

By Iggy Tavares, Ph.D.

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compressed cichlid
Compressed cichlids are known piscivores, but the smaller N. brevis and their fry can reside in the same setup, especially given that they can retreat into the empty snail shells scattered about the aquarium bottom whenever threatened.

The handsome compressed cichlid fish (Altolamprologus compressiceps, Boulenger, 1898) is another small indigenous cichlid of Lake Tanganyika. This fish is also known by the common moniker of compressiceps. This species has evolved to live in areas with a rocky coast, sometimes with a sand bottom that is strewn with empty Neothauma snail shells. Here it is found at depths of 3 to 45 feet and has a choice of homes. Often they might use cracks in the rocks to hide or spawn, but the spawning is often done within a Neothauma shell, which usually only the female can enter.

Given that Lake Tanganyika (running about 420 miles north and south) abounds with rocky coasts that are isolated from each other, it is not surprising that many color morphs are available. The standard A. compressiceps, which is generally a black fish overall, is found throughout the lake. However, a full yellow form hails from Kambwimbwa in northern Tanzania, while the goldhead morph, which naturally has a gold head and a black body, is found at Tanganyika’s southern end, near Mutondwe Island in Zambia. Other morphs with descriptive names, such as red-fin black and red-fin orange, are also available from time to time.

Crack Them Up
Altolamprologus compressiceps has a laterally compressed head and body that enables it to take advantage of the crevices in a rocky biotope. Altolamprologus compressiceps is a deep-bodied cichlid fish with a large head, large eyes and an upturned mouth with thick lips. The goldhead morph has a bright yellow face, while the generally pale brown body is transversed by vertical stripes that vary in intensity according to the cichlid’s mood. Each large scale on the body has a small yellow spot that enlivens the body coloration. An abundance of these tiny yellow spots are also found in the long-based dorsal and anal fins and in the caudal fin, making for a rather pretty fish. Male fish can get to 5 inches and are usually more colorful than the smaller females, which get to around 4 inches.

Compressiceps will slowly stalk its prey in the wild. It consumes mainly crustaceans and insect larvae, some of which inhabit the cracks in its rock habitat. Their slim, compressed bodies allow them to reach these foods, which they engulf with their large mouths. Compressiceps is also a predator of fish fry and small fishes, which is a consideration when selecting them for a community aquarium.

Cichlid House Hunting
The housing needs of A. compressiceps have to be catered for before their addition. Female A. compressiceps often lay their eggs in tight-fitting cracks among rocks but will also use larger Neothauma shells.

In order to prevent too much fish aggression and conflict, the aquarium should now be furnished with some flat slabs of rock arranged in such a way as to provide narrow crevices. An extra group of larger shells should also be placed at the opposite end of the aquarium from where the N. brevis have set up home. Perhaps a few more small shells should be added to the housing complex of the N. brevis to provide added shelter to any young fish, which would be on the menu for A. compressiceps.

In Aquaria
In the aquarium, A. compressiceps are not particularly territorial and should not bother the adult N. brevis, although this could change a little if and when they decide to breed. In fact, when first introduced to the aquarium, A. compressiceps can be quite timid and resort to hiding among the rocks until getting used to their surroundings and realizing their keeper is not a predator. Any small fry in the aquarium are perceived as food and will be hunted, but extra shells and vigilant parents should offer some protection against loss for the fry of both species now in the setup.

Altolamprologus compressiceps need high-quality water that is low in nitrogenous wastes to do well. These cichlid fish will appreciate weekly water changes of 10 percent. Vacuuming the gravel at the same time to remove any detritus is also a good idea. Most of the toxic nitrogenous wastes will be dealt with by the external canister filter that also provides a good current of water in this setup.

Aquarium-bred A. compressiceps generally take most fish foods, including flake foods that should be fed in moderation. These fish should be given a mixed diet that contains some meaty foods. They are particularly fond of insect larvae and small crustaceans, and they happily feast on live Daphnia, mosquito larvae, bloodworms and brine shrimp. Frozen equivalents, including Mysis shrimp and krill, make good substitutes. All feeding should be done in moderation, thus ensuring that no food is left lying around to rot in the aquarium. Watching A. compressiceps hunt live prey is fascinating.

Compressed cichlids are handsome fish with interesting behaviors. They make a nice addition to a Tanganyikan cichlid biotope aquarium. They are generally peaceful and usually keep most of their aggressive activities, such as males chasing females, within their own group. Although slow growing, they are a generally robust cichlid fish in a well-tended aquarium. They live for as long as 10 years or more if properly cared for. Next Page>>

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