(This article was originally published in Cichlid News Magazine, Jan-94 pp. 6-9, It is reproduced here with the permission of author Kurt Zadnik and Aquatic promotions).
A breeding pair (male below) of the "Red Nigerian" form of Pelvicachromis taeniatus. Photos by Kurt Zadnik.
Cichlid aquarists are familiar with the West African dwarf cichlid genus Pelvicachromis (Thys van den Audenaerde, 1968) as a result of the beauty and fecundity of the common krib, Pelvicachromis pulcher. Although the common krib is deservedly widespread in the hobby, other perhaps more beautiful members of the genus are also much sought after though only sporadically available in the U.S. Among these is the slender krib, Pelvicachromis taeniatus.
Pelvicachromis taeniatus was first described by British ichthyologist George Boulenger in 1911. Since then several other names (including P. klugei and P. kribensis) associated with the species have been relegated to the status of junior synonyms. In nature P. taeniatus inhabits slowly flowing, shallow streams, usually in clear or black water where submerged brush is present in regions of intact, undisturbed forest. In these habitats pH varies between 5.5-7.0 and hardness is 100 ppm or less. Native to west Africa, the slender Krib's range extends from the Iquidi River, a small stream on the Benin-Nigeria border eastward through the Niger River delta in Nigeria and southward down the coast to the Ntem River basin in Cameroon. Within this range, a variety of geographic races or color forms are apparent. Though more than 20 are recognized in the wild today, the most common in the hobby are as follows:
- Nigerian form distributed from the Iquidi River east to the Niger River delta, two distinct color forms - yellow and red - are known;
- Calabar form from drainages around Calabar in southeastern Nigeria;
- Moliwe form from a small drainage near the village of Moliwe in western Cameroon;
- Nange form from drainages in western Cameroon;
- Kienke form from tributaries and the main channel of the Kienke River which flows through the town of Kribi in western Cameroon; Loiselle and Castro (1980) maintain that this color form is the true Pelvicachromis kribensis originally described by Boulenger in 1911;
- Lobe form from tributaries and the main channel of the Lobe River just south of the town of Kribi in southwestern Cameroon.
Sporadically available as a wild import, the Nigerian form frequently arrives as a contaminant with wild P. pulcher, which can be easily distinguished in a dealer's tanks. The other color forms persist in the hobby only through the diligence of German explorer-hobbyists who have gone to their native habitats, collected, and later successfully spawned them. By contrast, American aquarists have had limited success with this fish; as a result, most color forms are available only periodically and usually command a high price in the U.S.
Since the Nigerian form is most commonly available in the U.S., most of my observations are based on its appearance and care. A remarkably striking fish, males grow to a maximum of 3.5" in total length (TL), while females rarely reach 2.0" TL. The ground color of the male is light brown with the lower half of the body from the chin to the caudal peduncle yellow to yellow-orange. Each of the scales along the flank is edged in dark-brown, producing a reticulated pattern. The male sports a turquoise spot on the operculum posterior to the eye and a red edge over the top of the orbit. Some exceptionally-colored males of the "red form" have a bright cherry-red throat and chin. Experience has shown that not all individuals of the Nigerian form are "created equal;" dull colored males can produce anywhere from bland to exceptionally-colored male offspring. The features that distinguish morphs of the slender krib from its congeners are traits of the unpaired fins. The dorsal fm though transparent is covered with red spots and is edged with red and white. The Calabar form, which is of dubious distinction from the Nigerian form, has an especially intense red margin to the dorsal. The anal and caudal fins are pale violet; the lower lobe of the fin has alternating vertical rows of blue and red spots, while the upper lobe has a number of large black ocelli margined in gold. The trailing edge of the caudal has a white inner band followed by a black marginal band. The pelvic spine in each of the ventral fins is black, followed by an iridescent, light-blue stripe and then a wine-red stripe.
The appearance of the female of the Nigerian form of P. taeniatus is completely different. A quiescent female's pattern is dominated by two chocolate-brown stripes, one of which runs along the center of the flank from the nose to the base of the tail, while the other extends over the back along the base of the dorsal fin. The head, dorsal fm, and tail are bright, metallic gold; the upper caudal and anterior soft dorsal fin show a number of black ocelli. The dorsal fm is also margined with white along its entire length. When sexually quiescent, the lower half of the female's body is yellowish-white with a small turquoise spot in the center of the flank. However when sexually active, her colors change markedly, as her gravid belly becomes a bright cherry-red surrounded by a metallic blue-green cast. There are very few fishes as beautiful as a courting pair of the Nigerian form of P. taeniatus.
Pelvicachromis taeniatus is best maintained as monogamous pairs in at least a 20 gal tank with appropriate dither fish. If non-threatening dithers such as pencilfish or hatchetfish are used, they pose little threat to the fry, while providing the parents with a natural outlet for their aggression. Using a second female P. taeniatus as a target fish is often successful, but can also cause problems if the spawning pair does not have a strong pair bond. As with most other cichlids, it's always a good idea to raise 6-8 juvenile fish together and allow each to choose its own mate. Pairs raised in this manner develop strong bonds and usually make good parents. Several potential spawning sites, such as rock piles, clay pots, driftwood, coconut shells, and bamboo tubes, should be provided. My pairs prefer inverted clay pots with the drainage hole enlarged enough to allow only the female to enter. The tank should be densely planted with both rooted and floating plants (such as duckweed or Salvinia) to provide the pair with hiding places and make them as comfortable as possible. The more the fish like their setting, the more likely they will be to spawn and venture into open areas of the tank, where they can be enjoyed by the aquarist.
As with most riverine cichlids, clean water with low levels of metabolic wastes is a requirement. Therefore, weekly or bi-weekly (20-25%) water changes and frequent gravel vacuumings are recommended. Undergravel filtration should be avoided; a combination of sponge filtration and an outside power filter seems to work best. Pelvicachromis taeniatus can be raised and bred under neutral to slightly acidic water conditions; they prefer organic acids in the water which can be provided by using a commercial blackwater conditioner, peat filtration, or natural driftwood or bamboo, which slowly releases tannins to the water. Temperatures should be kept between 76-78°F.
Slender kribs readily accept a wide range of foods, including prepared flakes. However, a variety or live and frozen foods is essential to prepare the pair for spawning. Brine shrimp, whiteworms, glassworms, mosquito larvae, or daphnia all work well and are eagerly accepted. Tubifex-type worms should be avoided as they can be vectors of bacterial diseases.
Spawning P. taeniatus is similar to spawning P. pulcher with one main exception. Whereas the common krib will spawn under a wide range of water conditions, the slender krib prefers soft, acidic water for reproduction. Water kept at a pH of 6.2-6.4 and a total hardness of less than 60 ppm is ideal. In order to keep water hardness at appropriate levels, water filtered through a reverse osmosis (RO) or deionizaiton unit can be used and treated with a vitamin-trace element supplement to provide important electrolytes for the fish. 1f RO/deionized water is unavailable, either distilled water or rainwater works nicely. Pelvicachromis spp. produce skewed sex ratios at extreme pH levels; a range of 6.2-6.4 results in close to a 50:50 sex ratio in the fry. For spawning, water temperatures should be increased to 78-82°F.
Spawning follows a long courtship and is initiated by the female. Once she has attained spawning coloration, she entices the male by curling her body into an S-shape and shaking herself directly in his path. The male responds by turning on his colors, spreading his fins, and quivering in the female's path. This display, along with head-shaking and tail-slapping, seems to get the pair in the proper mood. Subsequently, they work together excavating their chosen cave. Digging is a sure sign of an upcoming spawning event. Eventually the female lays her eggs on a vertical surface or the roof of a cave, and the male fertilizes them. After spawning, the male guards the cave entrance, while the female attends to the primary care of the eggs and wrigglers. At this time the female leaves the spawn only to eat. The eggs hatch in ca. 72 hours after which the wrigglers are deposited in a pit in the bottom of the cave. During the five or more days before the fry become free-swimming, the female may move them to other caves within the pair's territory. When the fry become free-swimming, they are closely guarded by both parents as they move about the tank in a tight configuration resembling a "living ball."
My second successful spawning of P. taeniatus provided me with an interesting experience. After my pair had spawned, I made the mistake of introducing newly-purchased (and unquarantined) pencilfish to the tank. Within three days, all the pencilfish had died from an unknown bacterial infection which they passed on to the P. taeniatus. Two days after the eggs hatched, the female of the pair died, and the male immediately assumed responsibility for the wrigglers. Two days later, the male joined his mate in "cichlid heaven" leaving the fry to fend for themselves. To my delight, the fry emerged from the cave a few days later; after a few hours of "indecision," they packed themselves into a ball and paraded themselves around the tank! Isn't instinct a wonderful phenomenon?
With frequent feedings of newly-hatched brine shrimp and microworms, the fry are moderately fast growers, maturing at 8-10 months post-spawning. As with many cichlids, younger pairs may be unreliable parents for the first few spawns they attempt. If parents continue to be unsuccessful, the aquarist is usually at fault. High levels of bacteria or metabolic wastes will kill eggs before they can hatch. For this reason, proper maintenance schedules are of utmost importance. If you're doing everything right but your fish still aren't cooperating, try transferring them to a completely new setting. Sometimes a change of venue is just the thing to get a pair on the right track. Courtship can also be a long, protracted event. If the fish show interest in each other but just can't seem to pull the trigger, a massive (80-90%) water change will often produce a spawn within 72 hours. The fish react to the large influx of "fresh water" as they would to the beginning of the rainy season in their native habitat.
As more and more West African riverine cichlids become available, the horizons and therefore the happiness of dwarf cichlid enthusiasts are greatly expanding. Along the way, one of the species coming your way will be Pelvicachromis taeniatus. I highly recommend it!
- Loiselle, P.V., and A.D. Castro. 1980; The status of Pelvicachromis kribensis (Boulenger 1911). Buntbarsche Bulletin 81:13-21.
- Thys van den Audenaerde, D.F.E. 1968; A preliminary contribution to a systematic revision of the genus Pelmatochromis Hubrecht sensu lato. Rev. Zool. Bot afr. LXXVII(34):349-391.