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by Michael Helford


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. 


by Rick Borstein 


After seven years, I finally set up a 150-gallon tank. It was my hope to keep and breed Frontosa and in August of 1997, I visited Elite Cichlids to buy some.

My six-year-old Sam accompanied me and while there I saw a cichlid that was new to me—Labidochromis sp. “perlmutt”. Perlmutt, I learned, means Mother of Pearl in German. The dominant male on display was truly spectacular and sported a gorgeous pearlescent sheen with yellow highlights on the fins. Females, as is often the case with Malawian mouthbrooders, were indescript— a light tan with dark brown vertical stripes. The fish is very similar in form and behavior to Labidochromis caeruleus, another attractive Malawian that I had bred several years prior.

My son loved the perlmutts and we trooped home with the Frontosa, the perlmutts and several Leptostoma cyprichromis “tri-color”. Fortunately, Elite Cichlids accepts credit cards!

Once home, I placed the juvenile fish in a 55-gallon tank that also housed several Melanochromis johanni and Paratilapia nkala. I did weekly 40% water changes and fed a variety of dry foods. The tank is maintained at 78°F and is filtered by a large Supreme Aquamaster filter and a dual Tetra Phas sponge filter driven by a powerhead. My water, like most of the Chicago area, is very hard and great for most African cichlids.

The fish grew quickly and a within four months a dominant male developed the char- acteristic pearlescent coloring that had so intrigued me during my visit to Elite Cichlids. My son named the dominant male “Captain” and indeed he did his best to strut his stuff and “run” the tank himself.

About a month after the male colored up, I discovered a small female holding eggs. I let her stay in the fifty-five for two weeks, then netted her out and placed her in a ten gallon tank with a seasoned Tetra Billi sponge filter. At 22 days, the female released 7 rather large fry which were immediately able to eat baby brine shrimp. I left the female with the fry for a few more days to recover, then returned her to her original tank.

The fry were not prodigious growers for me. This may be because I was not able to feed them twice a day or easily transition them to dry foods. Eventually, I discovered, that they readily accepted finely crushed Tetra Bits and started growing rapidly. After keeping them for three months, I submit- ted them to the club’s Breeders Award Program.

A couple months later, I was able to witness the Perlmutts spawning. As you know, we cichlid buffs live for this— spawning behavior is very interest- ing to watch! After a wa- ter change, I noticed thedominant male and the largest female select and clean a smooth piece of rock in the aquarium. The female seemed to do most of the work while the male kept busy driving away the other inhabitants of the tank. The fish chose an inclined, flat river rock on which to spawn. In typical mouthbrooder fashion, the pair danced around each other a bit, then the female laid an egg and turned (while the egg slowly tumbled down the incline) and picked it up in her mouth. The male fish vibrated while the female bit at his egg spots fertilizing the eggs. Most books describe this at the “T”position.

By this time, the females had gotten much larger and subsequent spawns, as you’d guess, were larger. The largest spawn I obtained was 22 fry. Later fry were also a little more robust and easier to grow out. In fact, I got lazy and didn’t even bother with baby brine shrimp and simply fed finely crushed TetraBits— works great!

If you like mouthbrooding Africans, I think you would enjoy keeping and breeding Labidochromis sp. “perlmutt”. The fish are attractive, not demanding, and fairly


by Bob Blaho 


The first thought that pops into many readers’ minds may be, “why bother?” The intent of this article is to show you why. We hope to establish for you, whether you have or might have a need for use of such an instrument. We’ll show what choices of microscopes you have, how they function, and what purpose you, as an aquarist, may have for this tool. Some of this material is a compilation from various sources and some is based on personal experience. Some specific sources, for more information, are listed at the end of this article.

First, what is available out there? The answer to that question is also a question. What do you need to accomplish? If you’re looking to gather more information about your aquarium environment, this is one way to do it. Visual information can provide us with facts that we can respond to. The first thing most of us do when we walk into a room, which has one or more aquariums, is to take a closer look at them. We look at what types of fish are in them, what types of plants are planted, and the condition of the fish, plants, or water. In other words, what we can see! The limit, to what we can see, is our eye. We frequently aid (especially as we get older) our eyes with prescription glasses or magnifying glasses. Those of us that do extremely fine detail work use a loupe or binocular magnifier. These are instruments that are simple, inexpensive, and usually easy to use. They let us take that closer look to get the information that we’re after. The lenses we use to see and identify what we’re looking at, come in a variety of choices. Selection of your lens type is usually determined by the level of magnification and detail needed to accomplish your job. As the magnification and quality level rise, so does the cost. Each level of capability has its purpose. The microscope, the com- pound light optical version, is only a multiple lens design to help us see items closer up. Its capability for magnification covers the range of 20-1000X. The electron micro- scope versions which go beyond 1000X will not be discussed. The compound light microscope then is what we’re concentrating on. It answers the question, “why bother?” If you have the desire to take a closer look at your aquatic environment, a need to identify what might not be normally visible, then you probably would benefit from using a microscope.

Selection of your microscope is again based on your needs. The toy versions for children are probably the reason that many people don’t proceed further. Any optical instrument is only as good as the precision and quality of the glass it uses. A microscope should be bought as a lifetime investment, much as a high quality camera system. Buy the best you can afford, to do the job you want, or may want to do. Look for the magnification range you need in selecting your eyepieces and objectives. Buy those models that conform to one of the best recognized standard configurations. These are the Deutsche Industrie Norm (DIN), most common, or Japanese Standard (JIS). Stick with DIN standard compo- nents and you’ll have the best of all worlds. This will enable you to select a greater variety of components for your microscope that will be inter- changeable and expand your capa- bilities (and also its resale value). A typical compound microscope consists of these basic components: an eyepiece lens (ocular), tube, objective lens, stage, stand, condenser, and light source. Look at a drawing or photo of a typical compound microscope and you will have no problem in identifying these parts.

There also is a choice in variety for each of these items. Eyepieces can be monocular, binocular, or trinocular. The monocular variety is the least expensive, since it uses only one eyepiece. Typical types of eyepieces can be Huygenian, Ramsden, Kellner, and Periplan. Each succeeding class of optics increases in quality and cost. Objectives also are available in the degree of optical correction desired. These are achromatic, semi-plan, and planar. Achromatic objectives provide a flat field of view in about 65% of the center of the image. Ramsden eyepieces, often called Wide-Field, are usually used with the achromatic objectives at higher power. A look at a catalog listing selection will quickly establish what you wish or need to afford. The best way to go, is to buy a microscope that comes as a system, so you can expand your choices later. An eyepiece in 10X Wide- Field and turret arrangement with your selection of objectives in 4X, 10X, 40X, and 100X will get you started for most purposes. This gives you the capability of 40X, 100X, 400X, and 1000X. Most of your aquarium work will be done between 40X and 400X. 1000X (oil immersion) is used for more advanced cellular and bacterial work. The stage of your microscope can be plain with spring clips to hold your glass slide or have a mechanical stage that adjusts for the short distances a slide is normally moved. For bright field illumination, the light source can be external, using a mirror to direct the light to the slide, or be built into the base to provide illumination. With either light arrange- ment, alternate types of lighting may be desired. This could be the basis of another article in itself. The question is, at this point, what should one consider as the basic minimum setup? Consider these items:

  1. Make sure that the microscope has a solid stand, with fine and coarse focusing and a monocular tube.

  2. The eyepiece should be 10X to start, with a selection of 5X, 15X, and 20X oculars added as needed.

  3. A turret holding at least three objectives, achromatic in 4X, 10X, and 40X will be sufficient to start.

  4. The stage can be equipped with only removable spring clips or have the mechanical stage to allow more precise placement of the slide. Removable mechanical stages can be added later if desired. This option starts at about $70.00 and goes up in price, based on capabilities.

  5. A light source, such as a microscope lamp or even a simple high intensity desk lamp, unless the illumination is built in.

  6. Beneath the stage should be a condenser lense that can be focused to properly illuminate the slide. A diaphragm to control light intensity and a filter holder should be part of this package.

The Swift M3200 (see Figure 1, next page), is an example of a good starting package. A basic package for the above, new from a catalog or outlet, will start at about $200.00 and can go higher based on quality, choice of lenses, and other options. A good used microscope can be found around college campuses and in papers like the “Trading Times.” This would enable you to buy a better quality instrument at the same or lower cost than a new one. Going up in price range will obtain a binocular, four objective turret, a mechanical stage with built-in illumina- tion, microscope starting at about $500.00 used. A Bausch & Lomb binocular mi- croscope (see Figure 2, next page) is an example with these features.

A good quality microscope of this variety, new, will start at about $800.00 and rapidly escalate based on optics and brand name (Leica-$1500, Zeiss-$2000). Figure 3, an American Optical dual binocular head microscope, is an example of some of the specialized features available. You can expect these additional capabilities to add to the microscope cost.

So now that you’ve selected what you think is the best microscope for you, what do you do with it? You will have to use it and acquire some experience in develop- ing your techniques. Books and manuals are available in most libraries covering just about all aspects of microscopy you may want to learn. Concentrate on devel- oping your basic skills. Use your microscope for checking the quality of water, identify the microscopic plants and creatures that inhabit your aquarium along with your fish. If you have baby fish, which require live food, check for paramecia, rotifers, daphnia, and other micro food cultures in your aquaria. Keep tabs on how the cultures are doing. See what other helpful or detrimental organisms are present. Do you keep egg layers? Pluck an egg and put it under your lens to see if it is fertile. If you see no life (movement) in the egg, it is not fertile. Then just continue with your process of elimination to establish what caused the infertility. Do you have health problems with your fish, plants, or snails? Check to see what’s differ- ent with the healthy versus the unhealthy. Identify your problem hosts so you can take a targeted approach to correcting the situation. The books below can give you more ideas for use of your microscope.

Several books you may want to look at are as follows:

Using the Microscope - A Guide for Naturalists by Eric V. Grave, Dover Publications, 1984

Exploring with the Microscope by Werner Nachtigall, Sterling Publishing, 1996

Hunting with the Microscope by Gaylord Johnson and Maurice Bleifeld, Arco Pub- lishing, 1980 3rd Edition

Diseases of Aquarium Fish by Robert Goldstein, T.F.H. Publications, 1971 Handbook of Fish Diseases by Dieter Untergasser, T.F.H. Publications, 1989 Discus Health by Dieter Untergasser, T.F.H. Publications, 1991
1998 Optics and Optical Instruments Catalog, Edmund Scientific Co., 609-573-6250

These sources will help you develop your techniques and aid in identifying what you’re looking at. The Edmund Catalog will be an aid in establishing beginning choices and prices. As you gain experience, you’ll add to your library those periodicals that cover your areas of interest. The knowledge you gain can be useful not only in your hobby as an aquarist, but also in any other areas where you want to take a closer look at your environment. ■

If this article was of interest to you and you would like more on lighting techniques, slide staining and preparation, photomicrography, or other areas of interest related to microscopy, let me or your editor know. We may start an ongoing series of articles if there is sufficient interest. 


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