Monday, October 25, 2010

The life and times of Pelvicachromis “Sacrimontis”
By: Wiktor

            Africa is home to an abundance of beautiful cichlids but often overshadowed by their brethren from the great rift lakes are the West African riverine cichlids.  Among these cichlids is the genus Pelvicachromis and this paper is about one of the rarer and least well known, the “Sacrimontis”.  There is much conjecture on the internet over whether the species name is valid or not but if you want to find information about this particular variety of Pelvicachromis it is the only name that will yield any results.  Pelvicachromis “Sacrimontis” may in fact be merely a race or geographic variant of Pelvicachromis Pulcher better known as the kribensis.  The defining feature of the “Sacrimontis” is the brilliant iridescence of the gill plate which is visible even in very young fry of only a few weeks old.  Also males have a fin edging of blue on the inside and red on the outside as opposed to yellow on the inside and red on the outside as in Pulcher.  Females of “Sacrimontis” never have spots on their fins and exhibit the black vertical barring on either side of their trademark red stomach area similar to that of Subocellatus females.  Their dorsal fin and indeed the whole upper half of their body during breeding coloration is a gorgeous lemon yellow and the leading half of the dorsal fin is a burgundy red.

 Pelvicachromis “Sacrimontis” female  
  Pelvicachromis “Sacrimontis” male

          Pelvicachromis “Sacrimontis” hails from black-water habitats and prefers low ph and low hardness however I have kept mine for many generations in water that is neutral and sometimes a little basic with hardness around 150ppm with little problems.  They prefer their water on the warm side even for tropical fish and 80 degrees Fahrenheit is where I maintain my temperatures.  I find that with fish like these that even if the water is not exactly that of their native habitat so long as the habitat is properly designed to meet their needs and water quality is maintained they will flourish. 

          Kribensis are frequently extolled for their easy going nature (except when breeding) this is not a quality which “Sacrimontis” shares.  They are somewhat bigger than Pulcher and they have attitudes to match, they constantly squabble amongst each other and have a well defined pecking order.  Even in the absence of members of the opposite gender both sexes will not only argue amongst each other but chase fish of other species with relish.  I find with effective visual barriers a 30L tank can comfortably house a half dozen or perhaps more specimens but I would not advise using a much smaller tank for even a pair due to the sometimes violent nature of their pecking orders and mating rituals.  Despite their salty disposition “Sacrimontis” are an exceedingly shy species and without dither fish you will never see them.  They are much more comfortable in a heavily planted tank with suitable hiding places and look very nice against a dark substrate.  Suitable dither fish are large and fast, my personal choice of fish is the Congo tetra Phenacogrammus Interruptus.  

My Pelvicachromis “Sacrimontis” tank

          As with other Pelvicachromis species “Sacrimontis” is a cave spawner preferring to lay its eggs on the underside of driftwood, clay pots and the perennial favorite, the halved coconut shell.  The spawning surface should ideally be enclosed with only a small opening (preferably 2 openings) but it should also allow for water movement as I have found that eggs often fail to hatch if there is not adequate ventilation.  They lay very large eggs as fish eggs go perhaps 2-3 millimeters long roughly oval and orange.  Though I have heard accounts of these spawnings being between 50-200 eggs I have never personally seen nor feel it possible for spawns to be in excess of 30-50 eggs and often are smaller than that. 

          There is really no special method to inducing spawns in “Sacrimontis” and despite the fact that their native habitat is very soft acidic water likely in the upper 70s to low 80s in temperature they regularly breed in my neutral ph water with 150ppm hardness.  That being said they are quite a bit more finicky than kribensis when it comes to water quality and it can take some effort to convince them to breed.  The process of conditioning can take several weeks of heavy feeding and good water quality.  Often it is helpful to introduce a target fish to induce spawning behavior; my personal preference is an extra female “Sacrimontis”.  They are most easily bred in a tank like the one shown but with other “Sacrimontis” and tetras present they are not likely to succeed in raising the fry so it is prudent to remove these fish after spawning has taken place or even to remove the eggs or fry shortly after hatching.  The babies like the eggs are of a fairly good size and can eat finely powdered fish food at birth but are very sensitive to water quality.  They also seem to grow fairly slowly and it will likely take over a year for them to reach full size.

A suitable spawning site for Pelvicachromis “Sacrimontis”

          Courtship often looks more like a brawl than romance by human standards but it has a certain kind of elegance to it and it is one of the most interesting aspects of all Pelvicachromis.  The dominant male will establish a territory (in the case of the photo above, a coconut shell) which he will defend from all comers.  The females then each compete for his attention by swimming up rapidly, bending into a U shape exposing their red belly and quivering vigorously.  The male then chases them off (quite angrily) until eventually (after a period of days usually) he allows the female to live in his coconut.  He will then patrol around chasing everything away (including the female when she comes out) until such point in time as they either fail to produce a spawn or the fry are free swimming.  You will know when eggs have been laid because the female will cease to leave the spawning surface for any reason, in many cases even to eat.  Once the eggs have hatched and the fry are free swimming the male and female will corral them around the tank looking for stuff to eat.  They maintain this relationship typically until the fry are large enough to be sexually differentiated which can be months later.

          Pelvicachromis “Sacrimontis” despite their enduring charm and gorgeous color are still for some mysterious reason far harder to find then many of their fellow Pelvicachromis but are worth the trouble of finding them.  Their grumpy disposition and exciting courtship make them not just beautiful but endlessly entertaining.

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