(This article was originally published in Cichlids Yearbook Volume 1 pp. 82-85, It is reproduced here with the permission of author Frank Warzel and Cichlid Press).
An adult Crenicichla strigata from Rio Capim. Fish and Photo by Frank Warzel.
Most Crenicichla rarely exceed a size of more than 25 cm. in their natural habitat, but there is a group among the pike cichlids which normally grow over 30 cm. in length. Many common features like morphology, meristics of fins and scales, and similarities in the development of fry to adult fish, indicate that this group of large pike cichlids may form a distinct section within the genus Crenicichla. Although imports of such large Crenicichla have been rare, at least one species of this group was infrequently shipped to Europe in the last ten years. This species, which was collected in Venezuela, became known under the name C. strigata. The name strigata is derived from the fact that juveniles have a pattern consisting of horizontal lines on the body. Besides these lines there are also black spots on the head, arranged in an attractive pattern. A drawing of a similarly patterned cichlid in Regan's Crenicichla revision (1905) strongly suggested that the Venezuelan pike cichlid was conspecific with C. strigata Günther, 1862. The fact that there are at least three valid species with this type of juvenile color pattern was not known until recently.
The first doubts were cast on the identity of the Venezuelan species when, about two years ago, a "new" Crenicichla was found in the Rio Capim drainage. The Rio Capim was mentioned, in 1862, as one of the two original localities of C. strigata. The "new" pike cichlid closely resembled the Venezuelan species, but had a greenish coloration and a conspicuous white-edged blotch behind the gill-cover. In the same shipment of these green Crenicichla there were several, more than 20 cm-long, pikes which showed an attractive pattern of spots and stripes. The pattern was identical with that in the drawing of C. strigata in Regan's publication of 1905. Later, when the green Crenicichla gained a similar size to that of the striped individuals, it became clear that both belonged to the same species. The obvious conclusion that this species is the true C. strigata is not basically wrong but still needs some scientific verification. For certain, the species from the Capim drainage (and also a green Crenicichla from the Rio Tocantins) is not conspecific with the aquaristically known "Strigata" from Venezuela.
Another species, with Manaus as its alleged origin, likewise shares similarities with the former "Strigata" from Venezuela. It has, however, a more elongated body shape and caudal peduncle and shows a narrow black and white band in the dorsal fin. Moreover, the blotch on the caudal peduncle has an irregular shape without a light border, which is seen in similar-sized Venezuelan pike cichlids.
A female Crenicichla lugubris allegedly from Manaus. Fish and Photo by Frank Warzel.
A cichlid with a great resemblance to this species, Crenicichla lugubris, was described by Heckel in 1840. In Heckel's description there is no mention of a light band in the dorsal, but this is a typical characteristic of females which is regularly observed in the other species of this group. According to recent opinion (Kullander & Nijssen, 1989) C. lugubris is found only in the Corantijn-system, at the border between Surinam and British Guyana, in the Essequibo river, in the Rio Branco and in the lower Rio Negro. Besides morphological conformities, the alleged distribution of the species (Manaus) further suggests that we are dealing here with the true C. lugubris. The coloration pattern, as far as one can regard it as such, consists of a plain, light gray on the body and some red pigment in the ventral fins. During the breeding period, which usually takes place in winter, the fish changes its garment completely and one would think it an entirely different cichlid. The lower part of the head becomes yellow and orange, the ventral fins become bright red, while dark, violet zones are visible on the flank. As in most Crenicichla, the ventral region of the female becomes lighter with some reddish hues. Unfortunately nothing is known, aquaristically speaking, about the male coloration or about that of juveniles since only a single female has been exported.
Something more is known about Crenicichla marmorata Pellegrin, 1904, which was imported from the lower Rio Tapajós. This species, which is readily identified when adult, also shows a juvenile pattern of stripes and spots and is in this phase hardly distinguishable from the other species. Not until the moment of the color-change was the author convinced he had kept semi-adult C. strigata. In retrospect, the horizontal stripe of juvenile C. marmorata did not seem to be so sharply bordered as it is in C. strigata.
A juvenile Crenicichla sp. strigata "Venezuela" to the left, and adult to the right. Fish and Photo by Frank Warzel.
Although juveniles all look alike, adult C. marmorata show an individual color pattern. Even fish from the same spawn display a variable pattern. While some individuals have black blotches alternating with colored ones on the dorsal part of the body, others have a horizontal row of colored spots. The most common pattern is a combination of these two basic patterns.
Besides that from Santarém on the lower Rio Tapajós more populations of C. marmorata are known. The Dutch ichthyologist Alex Ploeg (1987) describes this species from the lower Rio Trombetas, where the population has nine irregular bars that reach onto the ventral region. Three specimens from the Rio Madeira system show, in contrast to the previous population, a more dorsally oriented and partially connected blotch-pattern. The head-patterns are different, too. While the Trombetas-marmorata has a completely black head, except for a small zone behind the eye, Ploeg found the head of the Madeira-mannorata dotted with small, black spots.
It will probably take years before all systematic questions regarding Crenicichla are solved. Less problematic is the maintenance of these cichlids, although some experience with large fish is required (Stawikowski & Werner, 1988).
One of the peculiarities of these large species is the social behavior of the juveniles, who, when they still have the characteristic spots-and-stripes pattern, are very peaceful and seek contact with each other. The cohesion of a group can be so strong that they jointly chase intruders from their territory. In the natural habitat this may be the duty of the parents, who guard their offspring for a period of six months or longer. After about one year the period may vary according to species and conditions the change in color takes place. A concomitant change in their behavior is noticeable, and skirmishes among the members of the group are frequently seen. In tanks larger than 150 cm these rebellious pikes can still be kept together, provided that they equal each other in size.
An adult male Crenicichla marmorata from Santarém. Fish and Photo by Frank Warzel.
Like most large cichlids these pike cichlids are monogamous, i.e. they breed in pairs. In the restricted quarters of an aquarium this might sometimes lead to quarrels between the pair. The distinction between the sexes is rather difficult as the regularly observed extensions of the unpaired fins in males of other species are not seen in Crenicichla. In general, the females have, however, a light band or zone in the upper part of the dorsal fin.
Regrettably, a successful spawning, in captivity, of one of these large Crenicichla has not yet taken place, although courting behavior and females with ripe eggs have been observed. Probably certain environmental factors, which can only partially be created in an aquarium, play a crucial role here. It would be a shame if, in future, we are not able to breed these cichlids, because then we must continue to depend entirely on imports of these magnificent fish. Many of them will then probably "ooze away" in one tank or another.
- Günther, A.; 1862; "Catalogue of fishes in the British Museum Vol. IV"; London.
- Heckel, J.; 1840; "Johann Natterer's neue Flussfische brasiliens nach den Beobachtungen und Mitteilungen des Ent.deckers beschrieben"; Ann. wien. Mus. Nat. Vol. 2; pp 327- 470.
- Kullander, S. O. & Nijssen, H. 1989; "The cichlids of Surinam". Leiden.
- Pellegrin, J.; 1904; "Contribution a l'etude anatomique, biologique et taxonomique des poissons de la famille des Cichlides" Mem. Soc. zool. France, 16; pp 41-399.
- Ploeg, A. 1987; "Crenicichla marmorata Pellegrin, 1904 du bassin du Rio Trombetas, Bresil, nouvelle description illustre"; Rev.p. Aquariol.; 14 (3); pp 85-88.
- Regan, C. T.; 1905; "A revision of the fishes of the South American cichlid genera Crenacara, Batrachops and Crenicichla"; Proc. zool. Soc. London; pp 152-168.
- Stawikowski, R. & Werner, U. 1988; "Die Buntbarsche der neuen Welt Südamerika". Essen.