Interview by Rick Borstein
GCCA’S CICHLID CHATTER — MARCH 1999
Tell us about yourself... how did you get started with Cichlids?
When I was born in 1956, I didn’t have gills, yet— unfortunately as, at an age of 2, I al- most drowned in the goldfish pond of my grandma. It was not until I was twelve that I got my first aquarium. Not long after that I got more, stocked with the first Tanganyikan cichlids that were available in the Netherlands. I made all the mistakes that novice aquarists make today, but experience was built up. During my biology study, I helped out on Saturdays at Verduijn Cichlids, at that time, Europe’s best assorted cichlid shop. My first trip to Africa was to Malawi in 1980 and from then on I was hooked on “cichlids in the wild”.
In the last ten years, I have visited Lake Malawi and Tanganyika more than once a year and I am slowly developing “the cichlid picture” in my mind. Coupled with yearly trips to Mexico, I’m getting an idea how cichlids do in the natural environment. After 42 tanks in Germany, my wife allows me only two in El Paso; the first is almost 500 gallons...
You’ve been diving and observing cichlids in Africa for many years. Can you share with our members an interesting story of finding new cichlids?
For many years, I have been publishing books and articles on Malawi cichlids in German and in Germany. Some other authors in Germany don’t like that and try to outdo me. One of them, let’s call him Andreas, even tried to copy every single step I took in getting photos of Malawi cichlids. When I went for the first time to the Tanzanian part of the lake, that same person managed to go a few weeks earlier and got a boat from the same fish collector as I did. I was with Martin Geerts and Laif DeMason, who owned the boats all of us were using, was with us as well. At Manda, halfway through our trip, we chanced to meet Andreas and since our visit was a surprise for him, he couldn’t conceal a new fish he collected in the area we were supposed to go to next. In a little baby swimming pool, he had little a blue-black barred mbuna which resembled Pseudotropheus saulosi males. He refused to tell us where he found them even though the diver, who caught the fish, was on Laif’s payroll. Laif’s partner in Tanzania, Erling, agreed with Andreas, who was leaving the country in a few days, that he would take these new fish home! Laif was very angry because Andreas was using his boats and his divers and now that a new and exciting new mbuna was found, he wasn’t even able to get it. Worse, someone else was going to breed the fish and make money on the European market. Andreas and Erling left with the lake steamer to Itungi port, where Laif’s fish house was. Since Andreas wanted to visit a crater lake north of Itungi port, the two of them left for a couple of days. In the meantime, Laif took the next lake steamer —in those days there were two services a week— and steamed up north, to Itungi. In the fishhouse, he found the little mbuna and added a few big predators to the tank after he made sure that there were no females among them. Andreas, was upset —we later heard— but still took the remaining fish with him in a box to Germany. He desperately wanted someone to name this fish after him and also had preserved material. Since his voyage would take him through Malawi (shorter than flying out of Tanzania), he was faced with a very cold check-in agent at Lilongwe airport. Nobody is allowed to take live fish out of Malawi, no exceptions! Whatever he did, there was no way he could take the fish with him. Therefore he asked the driver and manager of Laif’s operation in Tanzania, Freddy, if he would take the fish back and ship them the next week with the proper documentation. Freddy agreed. Unfortunately on his way back to Tanzania, Freddy’s had car trouble and he had to stay overnight in Malawi, in the highlands (cold nights). You guessed it— the fish were dead the next morning. So, Andreas only had preserved specimens left. In the meantime, Laif, Martin, and I continued our trip and also found the fish, collected it and preserved some specimens. I thought it a good idea to quickly name this species after Laif — he had done so much for me and other hobbyists by making available Tanzanian cichlids— before someone else could publish a description naming the fish in honor of Andreas. So I did and that is the story of Pseudotropheus demasoni.
Are there any current or forthcoming environmental issues that concern you as an observer and writer about African cichlids? What are they and what is the risk?
The environmental issue in Lake Malawi is the overfishing done by the local population. There is exponential [population] growth in Malawi and food is scarce. More and more Africans revert to fishing on the lake, just for their own families. There is nothing we can or should do about it. The situation is better in the Mozambique and Tanzanian part of the lake. Fishing on Lake Tanganyika is very extensive in the southern section, which belongs to Zambia, and many species have been lost from that area. Other parts of the lake are in relatively good shape. Fortunately, the infrastructure of the surrounding countries is very poor so that big industry is not likely going to settle on the shores of these lakes and pollute the water.
You often speak of interesting fish behaviors that you observe while diving. What can we do as aquarists to promote natural behavior in our tanks? What cichlids might respond best to changes? What fish will be a continuing problem in regards to eliciting natural behaviors?
The best way to promote natural behavior is to provide the fish with a natural environment. Therefore, I write books. I tell you how the fish lives and what it needs and the aquarist has to use his or her imagination in trying to copy that. I under- stand that a complete natural environment cannot be created in your living room, but you can go a long way. In principle, the fishes that can be accommodated with relatively little space do best in an aquarium. Fishes that are large and territorially aggressive, such as Petrochromis species, are not good aquarium fishes— they want to show their natural behavior!
You’ve traveled extensively and met cichlid hobbyists in clubs around the world. What differences have you noticed between hobbyists and clubs in the US and around the world? Similarities? Recommendations for our members and club?
Granted that an aquarium is always unnatural, there are many possibilities to create a very natural looking environment for your fishes. And my idea of a modern aquarium is a “slice from the wild”, a most naturally looking habitat for fishes. Unfortunately, a great number of US hobbyists, even though they love their fish, do not know or do not want to spend the effort and money to create such an environ- ment. We must not forget that we don’t really know whether or not a fish is dis- tressed because the shelter given to him consists of a gray plastic pipe instead of a rocky cave. The issue here is that such a fish is given a shelter or is given the amount of room and compatible room mates. And in this area, regrettably, many aquarists fall short. If a hobbyist is interested in e.g. Tanganyika cichlids, he or she is not going to try to keep all 200 different species. The big boom for cichlids happened about ten years ago when a lot of people could make money with breeding some, at that time, rare species, but now these species are not rare any longer and we are back to those hobbyists that enjoy keeping a good-looking aquarium. And, I might add, those numbers are growing. There is nothing more pleasing than a beautifully decorated aquarium with healthy fishes in it. Even for non-aquarists such a setup is a joy to watch! A friend of mine in Sweden deals in those very natural looking rocky backgrounds and he says that the sale of those very expensive —but also very natural— backgrounds in Scandinavia is skyrocketing. The reason seems simple— people want to have a “slice of the wild” and now, it seems, they can get it! As I see it, the cichlid enthusiast of the next century has a single, large tank of more than 100 gallons with a decoration which equals that of the natural environment of the fishes he/she is keeping. The fish in this tank of the future are compatible with the artificial environment and with the other tank mates. The peripheral systems, such as pumps, filtration, heating, are state of the art and keep the quality of the water at its best. Everything is automated so that the aquarists and his/her family can fully enjoy the tank without the weekly water changing and cleaning chores.
You’re an author, speaker and publisher and acknowledged cichlid expert in our hobby What’s next for Ad Konings? What is your next challenge?
I don’t see writing and speaking about the cichlids as a challenge. I’m a hobbyist like anyone who reads this and I love to observe and to think cichlids. So my next challenge is— more cichlids! ■
Editor’s Note: I recommend that you visit http://www.cichlidpress.com which is the web site for Ad’s publishing company. On the site, you can learn more about collect- ing cichlids in Africa and even get a look at the accommodations available for your own cichlid safari!
by Keith Knapp for BAP
GCCA’S CICHLID CHATTER — MARCH 1999
When I first started to keep Cichlids, I had a Metaframe twenty gallon high tank. I started with Angelfish and Festivums. Later, I started to keep expensive fish with names that even the fish “experts” could not say because they didn’t have a trade name. Growing up I did not have any room to setup more than two tanks, so when I started to keep other fish I bought a ten gallon tank to fit under the twenty.
One day, I noticed seven of these small little, about one-centimeter long brown fish huddled in the corner of a dealer tank. The tank was labeled L. multi. and not knowing any infor- mation about the fish like most impulse buyers, I had to have them. I later found out after doing a lot of research that this fish was Neolamprologus multifasciatus. I took all of them home and added to them to the tank and they did very well from the beginning.
The tank was filtered by a Whisper 1 filter with the intake wrapped with a pad. I deco- rated the bare bottom tank with empty gold apple snail shells and plastic plants. I thought that all the fish had died, since I had not seen any in a few days. I went back to the store to see if they had any more and, to my luck, they had twelve. This time they were a little larger— about 1.25 cm. Once again, I bought them all. I thought that a larger group would have a better chance of surviving. When I added them to the tank, I could still find most of them. I later found out that they were hiding in the shells. So I took out the plants and added more shells, enough to cover the bottom the whole tank four centi- meters deep. When I did this, all of a sudden there were eighteen fish I could count. What had I done? Were there now too many fish in the tank?
I left the fish alone and assumed some were going to die. Well I was wrong! Within four months, there were about thirty fish. What was I going to do with them? Well, I did absolutely nothing, figuring if this works why screw it up. However, I knew some- thing was going to have to be done sooner or later. I waited until there were more than sixty fish before I pulled any of the fry out. I had to buy yet another tank to hold all of the babies. I set it up and used a sponge filter for filtration. This species is the fish that got me addicted to keeping all species of Cichlids from all over the world.
This fish is from Lake Tanganyika in eastern Africa. The lake has a high pH around 9.0, hardness around 13 dGH, and a temperature 79° F. I tried to copy this, by adding crushed coral under the snail shells. The fish stays very small— only 2.5–3.5 cm. They are a light brown in color with fifteen dark brown stripes. The fins usually will have a light yellow hue to them, and the eyes are blue colored.
Both tanks used florescent lights for seven hours a day. The fish were feed a variety of flake foods made by different manufacturers. The males are larger than the females at sexual maturity. When it is getting close to breeding time, the male starts to become more aggressive and chases the female into a shell whenever he can. My fish paired up on their own and bred monogamously in the same shell time after time. On average, they lay about twenty yellowish eggs per spawn. They are both extremely good parents and de- fend the shell and the fry. In about two weeks, you will start to see the free swimming fry in the opening of the shell. I let the parents take care of the eggs by themselves with no help from me. The fry started to eat finely crushed flake food, the same food as the adults, about four days after free swimming. Growth of the fry is slow. I recommend this fish because of its ability to live in a small tank and ease of breeding—with no interference or help from humans. Another thing to recommend this fish is the parent’s tolerance of having multiple spawns in the same tank. If I were to keep this fish again, I would do everything the same, except use a different filtering system on the breeding tank. ■
Editor’s Note: Keith found that these fish bred for him in a large group setting. His observations are consistent with the latest research being done on this fish by Uwe Kohler who is studying this fish for his PhD thesis in Germany:
“Observations and experiments at the Southern end of the lake showed that this fish lives in groups with several adult males and females, which jointly defend their territory of about 40 cm in diameter. Molecular genetic (microsatelite) analysis of relatedness between group members revealed that often more than one male and more than one female of the group reproduce and that reproductive males beside the alpha male are usually his offspring. The structure of this social system is most probably the conse- quences of a high predation pressure and very small chances of successful emigration.“
by Del Calhoun
GCCA’S CICHLID CHATTER — MARCH 1999
At our Fall auction I saw a pair of Red Bay snook come up for sale and as I started to bid for the fish, I told myself “Stop! This is not the color morph you want. You want that ugly silver morph.” So, I let the pair go to someone else. You see, as you might have already guessed, this fish comes in two basic colors. The variety common to the hobby is a beautiful red-orange color with the male having many silver-white spangles on the scales, hence the name “Red Bay Snook”. The fish that I have always wanted to keep has a much plainer silver-brown background and black pattern markings on the body.
Petenia splendida gets it’s name from Lake Peten in Guatemala where it was first dis- covered, but it can be found in Mexico and Belize as well. The fish is a pure predator in nature, but it will accept most prepared foods. I have always found Tetra’s Doramin to be a great staple food. Actually, the phrase, “suck and gape predator” is more com- monly used to describe Petenia’s feeding habits. In Don Conkel’s book Cichlids of North & Central America, he states that the fish is closely related to C. managuense and C. dovii, but the mouth is larger and the maxillary more exposed. However, I tend to think, at least from a hobbyist point of view, that this fish is much more closely related to the South American cichlids from the family Caquetaia, which has three members; krausii, myersi, and spectable. In fact, in our own Cichlid Classic show, Petenia is placed in Class 4 while dovii and managuense are in Class 7. To add to the confusion, in Aqualog Volume 3, Petenia is placed right after the family Nandopsis, which managuense and dovii belong to, and right before the family Caquetaia. By the way, if your are just getting interested in keeping Central American species, both of the previously men- tioned books are excellent. Having said all that, if you have ever gone fishing and caught a crappie, you now know what the mouth structure of this fish is like.
There are only two real problems to keeping this fish. A large aquarium is needed to house Petenia which are said to grow to almost 20 inches. The other problem with keeping this fish is finding suitable tank mates for it. Even though they grow quite large, they are not too terribly aggressive. They are usually quite happy to swim around the top portion of your tank and wait for food. If you were to put them in a tank with C. managuense, I’m afraid they would get shredded. On the other hand, if you put them in a tank with any fish that are too small, they will just swallow them up. So I would suggest some of the mellower fish from the Theraps family like synspilum or melenurum, or some of the larger non-aggressive species from the Amphilophus family like rostratum or robertsoni. I always thought that a large tank filled with about four synspilum, six robertsoni, and five snook would be pretty cool. The snook would occupy the top portion of the water column, while the robertsoni would spend most of their time sifting through the substrate, and the synspilum would happily take up the middle portion of the water column or stay near any structures provided.
Years ago, members of this club used to take annual trips down to St. Louis to a place called Beldts Aquarium. I was always happy to go on this trip because Beldts used to have a large tank set up with a group of Red Bay Snooks in it. As I recall, the tank had about ten snooks ranging in size from 10–16". On our last trip, when I went to the tank that housed the snooks, they were no longer there. Oh well, I guess time finally caught up with them. As I walked through the isles, I noticed a 30 gallon tank that had a snook in it that could barely turn around. The fish had to be almost 18" long and 8" high and from what I could see it looked great. I thought to myself “even though it would be cheat- ing, this would make a great show fish, and how often do you see a snook in a show anyhow?” How- ever, when we went to catch the fish and it did fi- nally turn around in it’s little tank, it had a huge hole in it’s gill plate that you cold stick your finger through. The fish seemed healthy enough, but it was obvi- ously worthless as a show fish.
Rusty Wessel has been to Guatemala, collecting cichlids many times. During his collecting trips he has reported that he always found Red Bay Snooks in the same water with a particular type of water lily with red leaves. The leaves of a water lily plant start out folded and only uncurl as they reach the surface. Rusty noticed that the snooks would hang out under the plant mimicing the lily leaves and wait for their prey to swim by before lunging after them. Rusty also told me that while collecting cichlids at other locations, he would catch several petenias of the other color morph, but seeing as these were the ugly silver type he would just throw them back. That hurt!
Breeding this cichlid was fairly easy for me. Although it has been a while since I kept them, I remember that I started out with five young ones and raised them up in a community tank. As the fish got larger, about 8"–10", I noticed a pair bond beginning. If you are new to Central American cichlids, noticing a pair bond is really easy. Two fish will patrol three-fourths of the tank and the remaining fish will have to hover in the top corner at the other end of the tank. Because this is not such a great thing for the other fish in the tank, I pulled the pair out and set them up in a 30 gallon tank. Throw in a bunch of food, crank up the temperature a bit, watch them clean off a spot to lay the eggs, and before you know it, eggs are every where. OK, it wasn’t quite that simple, there were a few times when the female had to hide in a tube or more often, at the top of the tank, in between some floating plants. My pair did an excellent job of raising the fry and it was truly a pleasure to watch.
In fact, Red bay snooks are generally just an enjoyable fish to keep. They love to eat so they’re always at the top of the tank when you come in. They’re big enough that you can see them from across the room. Their temperament is such that you don’t have to worry about coming home from work and discovering that your one large male has killed every other fish in the tank.However, they will occasionally eat one of the fish that you thought were big enough for them not to bother. They will really try to eat any fish that is less than half their size. All in all, I would say that the only thing wrong with these fish was that they were red and not those ugly silver things that I want.
So, please do me two favors. If you ever go on a collecting trip and see a lot of silver-green snooks, don’t tell me how many of them you threw back. It’s just something I shouldn’t know. If you’re at a pet store and you see some 3 or 4 inch silver fish don’t call me. If they’re marked Red Bay Snooks on the tank, they will eventually turn red. I’ve tried this before hoping they would stay silver. The temptation might be too strong and I’ll try it again. ■
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The Greater Chicago Cichlid Association — GCCA — is a not-for-profit, educational organization, chartered in the state of Illinois, dedicated to the advancement and dissemination of information relating to the biology of the fishes in the family Cichlidae, with particular emphasis on maintenance and breeding in captivity. We are simply cichlid hobbyists who love cichlids.