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Lake Albert's Haplochromis “Yellow Belly”

LAKE ALBERT’S HAPLOCHROMIS “YELLOW BELLY”

by Michael Helford

GCCA’S CICHLID CHATTER — JANUARY 1999    

Yellow Belly Haps are a somewhat newly available species in our area. Coming from Lake Albert, a less well known Lake in East Africa, there is no written literature about this species that I can find. Recent correspondence with Ad Konings corroborates this lack of available literature. Thus, I thought it might be of some interest to relate my limited experience with this new species over the last year or so.

The males develop a rather bright but light yellow belly and a copper or darker reddish back. The females remain a silver-gray, with a few vertical markings that show only occasionally, apparently depending on their state of arousal. I find the males attractive, and as is usually the case with sexually dimorphic African cichlids, the females look nice but are not colorful. Individuals are quite variable in their individual appearance from moment to moment. The dominant males can be very striking when they display their stronger colors and melanin pattern (thin vertical stripes on face and on fins, especially the dorsal). At these times and when displaying, the male is rather brightly colored. Individuals tend to hang motionless for periods of time near the bottom, near a plant or object, or in the water column, and then make darting movements. I find that they stay closer to the bottom of the tank most often but will feed avidly from flake food on the surface when presented. Most of their movement has that staccato quality, although occasionally (dominant males especially) will make longer movement across a section of the tank with a turn or two, but then they always end the movement quickly and stop. They appear to me as both timid and bold. Timid in the sense that they will shy away quickly when I approach to watch them, but they are bold in that they do not appear very intimidated by larger fishes nearby. They also seem rather aggressive intraspecifically. I have not observed any aggression against other species, save for an occasional warn- ing nip to a very close and smaller individual of another species. But, with other Yellow Belly individuals they occasionally dart at one another, with the dominant males chasing just about everyone pretty frequently for short jaunts.

Northwest of Lake Victoria, the Nile, the longest river in the world, runs into and out of Lake Albert. Thus, the Nile connects Lake Victoria and Lake Albert. The Victoria Nile, as it is called, runs from Lake Victoria and into the Northern part of Lake Albert, and the Albert Nile runs out also from Northern Lake Albert and up into Sudan. Lake Albert is situated between the Western side of Uganda and the Northeastern side of Congo (formerly Zaire). The water in Lake Albert is very hard (700 uS or microSiemens and probably around 13 dH) and is very alkaline with pH ranging from 8.9 to 9.5.

I first purchased four individuals of this species at the GCCA auction on January 31, 1998. They were each quite small, maybe approaching one inch. As luck would have it, one jumped out of the ten gallon that they were placed in (with a brood of sunshine peacock babies, Aulonocara baenschi) and another died of unknown causes. The remaining two individuals were moved to a 55 gallon tank, shared with the following species: Aulonocara hansbaenschi, Protomelas sp. “spilonotus Tanzania”, Fossorochromis rostratus, and Labidochromis caeruleus. These two stayed rather shy, usually hiding among the plastic plants and rocks. They would occasionally venture out into the open and did not appear fearful, but seemed more comfortable hanging back in the cover of such objects. They were all aggressive feeders, and when flake food was presented, they scurried out and grabbed it quickly and had big appetites. These two individuals grew to almost two inches and seemed to thrive until about four months later when they appeared distressed. More frequent water changes and treatment with Clout did not help and both individuals died soon after with gills wide open, suggesting perhaps gill parasites or infection.

In any case, I purchased another three babies of the species at the next auction, the May 31, 1998 Cichlid Classic. This time, one of the three died in the bag before I got it home. The remaining two, fortunately, turned out to be a male and a female. These two were placed in a 10 gallon tank shared with a brood of Copadichromis quadramaculatus. As was the case with the sunshine peacocks, the co-inhabitants got along fine. To my great surprise, these two, at about one inch, spawned. I found the female with her throat bulg- ing, showing the outline of one of the eggs. I was amazed to see such a small fish with a mouthful of eggs. She held the mouthful with commitment however, and I placed her in a small breeding net. About two or three weeks later, she released about four fry— one short of BAP requirements! The fry accepted crushed flake food and powdered Sera Marin tablets without any problem during the first few weeks.

All seemed well until I woke one day to find that one of the Quads had jumped into the breeding trap and all but one of the babies were missing. So, the remaining baby had escaped providing nourishment to the accidental intruder. Although disheartened, I ra- tionalized that the pair would spawn again and this would become just a first failed attempt. But, as if that weren’t enough, the next day I found the female dead, eyes gone, and apparently a victim of the male’s aggression. I moved the remaining baby to another 10 gallon shared with smaller quad and sunshine peacock fry. Although this individual was the smallest of the fry in this tank, she did fine and as of today is ap- proaching an inch in length.

The next chapter of my keeping of this species is currently unfolding. Although I still have the male and his daughter is growing well, I purchased two lots of Haplochromis sp. “Yellow Belly” at the recent November 14 auction. Eight individuals, all around two inches in length, were placed in a bare bottomed 30 gallon along with five one- inch Ngara Peacocks, a sponge filter, and several plastic plants, and rocks. One of the three males died within the first few days, possibly as a result of the dominant male’s aggression. The largest and most active male is showing his colors more strongly, especially vertical lines in his face and forebody. He continues to harass the remain- ing male and to almost continually display for the females. It looks as if one or two of the females may already be holding a mouthful of eggs, but I am reluctant to disturb them, so I will ascertain the certainty of their ovigerous status later. I am excited to work on breeding this species, as it appears to be relatively easy, and hope to observe and raise a full brood of fry soon. 

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