Juvenile Male Haplochromis ishmaeli— only 5 months old and look at that color! Photo by Rick Borstein
Haplochromis ishmaeli is mouthbrooding cichlid native to Lake Victoria in Africa. This fish has been in the hobby for years, but few cichlid aquarists are aware of what a stunningly beautiful fish this is!
In general, Victorian Haps are given short shift by many hobbyists. Some Victorians are just as colorful as their Malawian and Tanganyikan counterparts. Perhaps more interesting, many of the newest fish-- many of which lack scientific names-- are coming from this lake.
Haplochromis ishmaeli was first typed in by Bourlenger in 1906 from specimens collected in what is now Uganda. I have heard that this fish is extinct in the wild, but I have not been able to verify this.
This fish is primarily found over the muddy bottom of the lake. Few individuals were found over sandy bottoms. Haplochromis ishmaeli is found at depths up to 9 meters.
Haplochromis ishmaeli is quite easy to keep. Like most African cichlids, it appreciates clean, hard water. This fish is fairly aggressive, however, and you should only keep it with tankmates that can "take it." I kept six of these fish along with three Pseudotropheus daktari, six Crytocara moorii and some dwarf bristlenose plecos in a 40 gallon breeder. I think this crowded arrangement diminished aggression.
Even at the juvenile stage, they show aggressive tendencies, so be forewarned. Provide cover for the females. If a female is not ready to spawn, the male may pursue her and damage her severely. I have read that these fish grow over 5" in length, but at one year old, my largest male is just over 2.25" in length. They are slow growers.
In the wild, Haplochromis ishmaeli were found to feed almost exclusively on mollusks, occasionally snacking on an insect or two.
Fortunately, in the home aquarium, this fish will happily gobble a variety of prepared foods-- flakes, sticks, etc. They are very good eaters. I fed mine Tetra Cichlid Flakes, New Life Spectrum, HBH Graze and Tetra Cichlid Sticks.
It is easy to tell the male from the female. Males hae bright yellow splashes on the flanks, a bluish-grey head and vivid black stripes. On the male, the tale is an orange-red color.
Females have brown stripes over a golden tank background and lack yellow and blue coloring. Sub-dominant males will also look similar to females, but the stripes will be vivid enough that you should be able to tell the difference.
I suggest starting with a group of six to eight fry and raising them up together. A dominant male will appear at only four months of age and-- a trait common to many Victorian Haps -- these fish will actually breed at only one inch long! However, broods at this age will be very small; only 3 to 4 eggs.
If you're trying to raise up enough fry to sell, it's better to wait until the fish is 10 to 12 months old when brood size will approach 15-20. Despite a lot of aggression in the tank, my nine-month-old female delivered 12 free-swimming fry for me. They're quite good holders once they get the hang of it.
Like the parents, the fry are voracious. I started mine out on Cyclop-eeze (a brine shrimp replacement) and switched them at 5 days to crushed flake food. Fry are a pinkish-tan color.
$3 (fry) to $15 U.S for adults
It's rare to find Victorian Haps in pet stores. More's the pity, too, because they deserve more attention from cichlid hobbyists. At GCCA Auctions and swap meets, they're usually a bargain, too, since few folks know much about them. Someone recently brought in Haplochromis sp. #44-- some of these fish just have numbers they're so new!
I do see Haplochromis ishmaeli on wholesaler's lists from time to time.
Report by Rick Borstein