Cichlid of the Month

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Oct 30, 2005
north carolina
Beginning this month, I'll be writing an article on particular cichlids which I've worked with in the past or am currently keeping. I've been breeding Central and South American cichlids as well as some West African cichlids for over 40 years and thus, you can expect pretty extensive coverage.

I'll begin the series with a wonderful West African 'jewel', Hemichromis

This not often seen cichlid is found sporadically throughout the Nilo-Soudanian region, an area which exhibits a high degree of geographic isolation and resulting speciation. The only other two cichlids from this area which are found in the hobby are the Egyptian mouthbrooder, Pseudocrenilabrus multicolor and Chromidotilapia guentheri. Throughout most of its range, H. letourneauxi is the only red jewel fish present in a given drainage. The only exception is the Niger River in which Hemichromis guttatus and cristatus can be found.

Like most cichlids native to the Nilo-Soudanian region, but unlike most of the Hemichromis species, H. letourneauxi prospers in hard and alkaline as well as soft and acidic water, reflecting the fact that even under riverine conditions, these fish encounter a much wider range of seasonal variation in hardness and pH than do their Guinean counterparts.

Males of this species are about 9 cm. TL while females average about 7 cm. TL. In non-breeding dress, both sexes are a dull ruby red with a central ocelli on the flanks. With the onset of sexual maturity, females take on a very intense ruby red color and do not exhibit any ocelli. Male coloration is less intense, but red nonetheless.

H. letourneauxi proves very undemanding with respect to its preferred water temperature and has been found in waters ranging from 72°- 94°F. For best results, I'd recommend a daily average of 75°F with an increase to 85°F for breeding purposes.

This cichlid is easy to feed and will eat practically anything including freeze dried krill, frozen foods such as mysid shrimp and bloodworms, flakes, pellets, and will particularly relish snails which are the primary food in the diet of the letourneauxi population found in Lake Volta.

I've never maintained my cichlids in planted tanks and cannot tell you anything about the habits of this cichlid with regard to snacking on, or uprooting your prized greenery. From what I've read however, even sexually active letourneauxi will not aggressively feed on plants.

I've previously maintained a group (2 males + 6 females) of H. letourneauxi in a 75 gallon tank together with a group of Thorichthys pasiones. In my experience, as with other red 'jewel' species, if maintained in large tanks, they will prove to be reasonable neighbors towards heterospecific species which are too large to eat and may in fact completely ignore them. They will do best if maintained with those species that will return the favor.

More of a challenge will result in relationships with conspecifics. Territorial boundary disputes between males will increase in frequency as the fish grow to sexual maturity. Generally, sexually mature letourneauxi of both sexes, indicated by the increase in the intensity of the red coloration, become increasingly reticent to share their quarters with subdominant and non-breeding males or females. Once a pair is formed, I've found it best to remove all the non-paired fish to another tank containing amicable roommates. I'm currently maintaining the above group of letourneauxi in a 40 gallon breeder and find their requirements exactly the same.

I maintain all my cichlid tanks with 2 mm natural gravel, driftwood, and usually a piece of terra cotta drain pipe over and around which I use flat Pennsylvania shale to provide caves for adults and nooks and crannies for fry and juveniles. I've had letourneauxi females deposit egg plaques inside caves, on driftwood and on flat vertical rocks in the aquaria. The eggs hatch in about 2 days at 80°, at which time the parents moved the wrigglers to an excavated pit in the gravel, near a rock border delineating their territory. Within 1 week post hatch, the parents were seen tending about 200 mobile fry of about 7 mm. TL around the aquarium. The parents are excellent protectors and enthusiastically carry out their custodial duties. Interestingly, I once maintained these cichlids over a pea gravel substrate and found that they did not exhibit any pit digging for egg placement or post hatch.

I feed the fry powdered commercial food (Hikari: First-Bites) and Artemia nauplii. Within 3 weeks they will feed on crushed flake and frozen Mysis.

At 6-7 weeks post hatch, the fry should have grown to about 20 mm. TL though as with any group of fry, there will be some variation, and the early striped pattern evolved to the lateral spot characteristic of this species as non breeding sub-adults. At about this same time in development, the parents will take a decreasingly active interest in the fry and begin the onset of preparation for another spawn.

If you can find Hemichromis letourneauxi, I highly recommend this cichlid to you. It's reasonably easy to breed and maintain, can live amicably with other species with careful selection to size and is an extremely beautiful and rewarding little fish.
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