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Information on Lake Victoria Haplochromis perarrae Cichlids

Haplochromis perarrae is aspecialist predator that eats the fry of other cichlids.

By Paul V. Loiselle

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Q. I recently purchased a pair of Lake Victoria cichlids sold as Haplochromis "perarrae." The fish were about an inch long when I purchased them, and are kept in a 55-gallon community tank with about two dozen other small to medium-size African cichlids.

The pH of the water is 7.4, the temperature 78 degrees Fahrenheit. The tank is filtered with an outside power filter and an undergravel filter driven by two powerheads. I do weekly 25-percent water changes using a hydro-vacuum.

The pair is doing well and they are not being harassed by the other fish, but the male has lost the yellowish-green color he originally had, which I assume was his breeding coloration. Would purchasing an additional female increase the likelihood of breeding this species successfully? I have been unable to find any information about this fish or Lake Victoria cichlids in general.

A. On the basis of both your description of its color pattern and the name it was sold under, your Lake Victoria cichlid is, in all probability, Haplochromis (Prognathochromis) perrieri (Pellegrin 1909). This species is a "dwarf" piscivore, growing to approximately 4 inches, not including the tail, and breeding successfully at about half that size.

In nature, this species is a specialist predator that seeks out the newly released cichlid fry of other species. Captive specimens can prey successfully on fish up to the size of a male guppy, but pose no risk to tankmates that are larger. Despite its feeding specialization in the wild, H. (P.) perrieri eagerly accepts all the usual prepared and frozen foods in captivity.

Like other Lake Victoria cichlids, this species prefers neutral to slightly alkaline, somewhat soft (1 to 5 degrees DH) water, and is highly intolerant of both dissolved nitrogenous wastes and prolonged exposure to temperatures in excess of 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Given your filtration arrangement and the maintenance regimen you are following, you should have no difficulty raising your specimens to adult size in the tank they are currently inhabiting.

Like all haplochromine cichlids studied to date, this species is a maternal mouthbrooder with a polygynous mating system in which a number of individuals participate in the spawning activity. While it is usually possible to breed this species on a single-pair basis in a community setting, it certainly would not hurt to have more than one female present.

Sexually active males usually excavate a nest pit adjacent to a rock or piece of waterlogged wood. Breeding territories average about 18 square inches. Males begin courting females up to a week prior to spawning, but lengthy bouts of chasing and displaying typically begin about 72 hours prior to actual spawning. At this point, the female grows extremely intolerant of the close approach of any fish other than the courting male. She also exhibits a sooty wash along the lower half of her head and body that is similar to the male's breeding dress.

Spawning follows the classic Haplochromis pattern in which the female picks up the eggs in her mouth as quickly as they are deposited, and then nips at the egg- shaped pseudo-ocelli of the male's anal fin. This attempt to pick up "phantom" eggs elicits ejaculation and assures that she will take sufficient sperm into her mouth to guarantee the fertilization of the eggs already present within.

Females are excellent mothers, and rarely have any difficulty carrying a brood to full term in a community situation as long as there is a reasonable amount of cover available in the tank. The developmental period is 14 days at 82 degrees Fahrenheit. Females removed to a separate nursery tank will release their fry at the appropriate time and defend them for 10 days post-release.

In a community setting, females will not release their fry. It is thus incumbent upon their keeper to separate mother and fry lest her excessively protective behavior result in their death from starvation. The newly released fry measure 10 to 12 millimeters total length, and can manage either Artemia nauplii or finely powdered prepared food for their initial meal.

With good feeding and regular, frequent partial water changes, the fry grow quite rapidly. The young can be reliably sexed on the basis of color differences by the 12th week post-release, and they attain sexual maturity six to seven months thereafter.

You can find a useful synopsis of information on the maintenance and breeding of Lake Victoria cichlids in my book, African Cichlids, distributed in the United States by Tetra Press.

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