Ptychochromis sp. "Mananjeba" in the aquarium. Photo by David Tourle.
(This article was originally published in Cichlid News Magazine, Apr-00 pp. 28-31, It is reproduced here with the permission of author Sonia Guinane and Aquatic promotions).
About 160 million years ago, Madagascar was part of a huge landmass in the Southern Hemisphere, known as Gondwanaland. Over a period of time this titanic continent broke up and 120 million years ago Indo-madagascar separated from Africa. The split of South America and Africa occurred at about the same time. Following fragmentation of Gondwanaland, Madagascar remained joined to India until 65 million years ago when it became isolated in the Indian Ocean off the East Coast of Africa. It is the fourth largest island in the world and perhaps should be called a mini continent. Following it's long isolation, most of the flora and fauna there is found nowhere else on earth and this includes the native fishes. The closest relatives of Madagascan cichlids are the Etroplus species, which are found in India and Sri Lanka, but not Africa
It is a rocky mountainous island with a high central plateau. Being in the Southern Hemisphere, it is warmer in the north, but becomes cooler travelling further south. The temperate climate in the central plateau has been compared to California. There is a narrow coastal plain on the East Coast, which has a longer rainy season, with short rivers, rapids and waterfalls. The drier, wider west coast plain, which is sheltered by the central plateau, has much longer rivers that meander to the Mozambique Channel, as well as oxbow lakes. While some native fish species are still to be found in small numbers in these lakes and rivers, most species caught are alien ie, Tilapia and Snakeheads, having been introduced as food fish. At one time most of Madagascar was covered with rain forest, but now only isolated pockets remain, again to the detriment of the native species. The majority of Madagascan cichlids, although certainly not all, are to be found in the western areas, in particular the northwest. This part of Madagascar was most accessible to the Europeans, mainly French, who subsequently settled there.
One of the Madagascan Ptychochromis species that Dave, (my other half), and I are currently maintaining were purchased at the 1998 ACA Convention in St Louis. At that time we were unsure which Ptychochromis species these attractive small fishes would turn out to be, but at a later date the mystery was solved and the species was identified as an undescribed Ptychochromis species first collected by Oliver Lucanus from the Mananjeba River in North West Madagascar. Following their arrival in the UK, our five young Ptychos or Ptychochromis sp. "Mananjeba", as we had started to call them, were initially housed in a 4' x 12" x 15" established tank, filtered by a large internal filter. Tank décor consisted of a silica sandy substrate, with rocks, Mopani wood, tubes and weeds which provided many places for the fishes to hide if necessary. Water conditions in our tanks are:- ph 7.7, KH - 8dH, GH - 15dH, temperature 26°C (79/80°F). Their only tank mates at that stage were six Zebra Danios. Like the majority of cichlids going into a new tank, the Ptychos dived for cover and for several days were only seen at feeding time for very brief moments. However, after two weeks, they became a lot more confident and spent a lot of the time browsing over the sand and décor, obviously enjoying their new environment. Feeding any of our Ptychos has never been a problem and they will take dry food with almost as much enthusiasm as frozen or live mysis shrimp, bloodworm, brine shrimp, daphnia and of course, the ultimate cichlid food, earthworms!
Ptychochromis sp. "Mananjeba" A parental female Ptychochromis sp. "Mananjeba" with free swimming fry. Photo by Dave Tourle.
Even then at their small size (4cms), it was obvious that these Ptycho juveniles had the potential to grow into very attractive adults. The overall colouration of the fish was olive green, inlaid with many small silvery blue spots, with five large black spots along the median line of the body and on two of the fishes, these spots extended onto the operculum. One was very unusual, proudly sporting a large operculum spot on one side, but not the other! All of them had the Tilapia spot that occurs in Ptychochromis species in the dorsal fin. At this time, two Nossibees were slightly larger than the other three and were starting to show a lot of dark metallic blue around their mouths and on parts of their bodies, (two males, three females, perhaps?), with some gold spangling in the finnage and on the imarginate tail.
A few months later, these two fishes were almost twice the size (8/9cms) of the other three (5/6cms) and we were certain that, they were two males. About the same time following the move of all five fishes to another tank, 4' x 12" x 18", with similar décor to their other original home, one of the males and the largest of the smaller females darkened considerably in their ventral areas and began displaying to each other. This involved tail-slapping and circling movements, which reminded us of Central American cichlids, prior to spawning. At this stage a potential spawning site was not apparent, but after two or three days, the pair were defending a large log at one end of the tank and the other three Ptychos soon learnt it was advisable to keep out of the way. We had already decided to move them to another tank for their own protection, but it was not necessary to implement this plan.
The breeding colouration of the female was jet black over most of her body, with some light olive green shading. The ventral fins and threequarters of the dorsal fin were this same sooty black, which also had the effect of intensifing the metallic blue areas and the gold edging in the dorsal fin. The male also became black in his ventral area, but to a much lesser degree than the little female. However, his third midlateral spot now extended in a line up into the dorsal fin, with the faint hint of another from the fourth spot. It was interesting to observe the female kept her black colouration continuously whereas that of the male would come and go. After four or five days it became obvious that spawning was iminent. Still showing her intense black colouration, her ventral area had become extremely swollen which gave her an amusing, almost rotund appearance due to her small size. Her thick spawning tube was now visible and about the same time it was also possible to see the male's smaller pointed tube, so both Dave and I were hopeful that we might see the actual event.
Ptychochromis sp. "Mananjeba" female in her nest in the aquarium. Photo by David Tourle.
As Madagascan cichlids are very prone to eating their eggs in captivity, we had to decide quickly whether we should risk leaving the eggs with the parents or remove them to hatch artifically. We had already done with two of our other Malgasy cichlid species, Paratilapia polleni and Ptychochromis sp. East Coast Grey. I think the fact that as far as we knew, these Ptychos were the only specimens in the UK, made the choice a lot easier! Dave and I immediately virtually emptied a small tank and refilled it with water from that of the parent. This little tank has been used before for artificial hatching and is filtered by a small mature sponge filter, at a constant temperature of 28°C, (82°F). A large airstone to simulate the female's fanning of the eggs was also set up in readiness. Having made all these preparations, were we tempting fate? When it was obvious that nothing was going to happen that evening, I went to bed wondering!
The next morning about 100 tiny cream coloured eggs were visible on the log, which the female was fanning with great enthusiasm. The male was patrolling nearby and was doing a very job at the keeping the other three Ptychos at a distance. Dave and I decided to take the eggs away immediately, but agreed that if the pair spawned again, we definitely leave them alone. He transferred the log to a bucket, which already contained tank water, taking great care not to expose them to the air and did the same while placing the submerged log into the hatching tank, so far, so good. Dave is an expert at doing this for if I tried, I would probably end up dropping everything! Then finally, the obligatory Methelene Blue was added to help prevent the eggs from fungusing. We slightly re-arranged the décor in the parents' tank and gave them some food to try to take their minds off what had just happened. Within a comparatively short time, once again all seemed peaceful in their tank.
After five days, the eggs in the baby tank began to hatch and very soon the bottom was smothered in wrigglers. These little guys that totalled about 70 in number, were free-swimming after another 6 days but were so tiny. Dave and I agreed that they were the smallest substrate spawned fry that we had ever seen. They were fed immediately with microworm and other powdered fry food three times a day. Regular small water changes were carried out as gently as possible and in spite of a few losses, most survived and grew, albeit very slowly.
Just two weeks after the first spawning, the same male was seen with the smallest female starting the whole process all over again, but this time the male was not so accommodating with the other male, who had to be removed for his own safety. In spite of keeping a very close eye on the pair, we did not witness the spawning, but were certain that a small tube at the rear of the tank was the chosen site. As we were unaware as to whether, the pair would actually raise any fry, it was a real pleasure to see the little female, resplendent in black breeding colouration, accompanied by the male, emerge from the tube surrounded by their free-swimming babies. Unfortunately, all the fry disappeared within a week, but we do not know for certain who was responsible, the parents or the other two females. At about this time, we unfortunately lost the first spawning female, but do not really know why. At least, we still have her 'children' still growing on.
The male who is now 18 cms has continued to co-exist peacefully and spawn regularly with both females, now 12 cms, so the size difference has remained the same. Late one evening recently, Dave and I were sitting in the fishroom enjoying a glass of wine and it was very obvious that something was going on in the Mananjeba tank. One of the females was showing the already described black breeding colouration, but that of the male, who was avidly displaying to the female, was something we had not witnessed before. His overall body colour was olive green with the third median spot very much enlarged and the black line to the dorsal very prominent. The second fainter line from the fourth spot was also visible to a greater extent than before. However, what really caught our eye was the appearance of red colouration in the soft rays of the anal and dorsal fins that had not been apparent before. Another difference was a black line running along the top half of his dorsal fin, which accentuated the gold edging.
On more than one occasion, both females have been seen at the same time with black colouration and tubes down, with the male spending his time equally between them at two different locations at either end of the tank! Dave and I are of the opinion that this species must a harem spawner, although we have yet to see both females with free-swimming fry at the same time.
The status of Ptychochromis sp. "Manajeba" species is thankfully not anywhere near as dire as that of some of their Paretropline cousins on the Malagasy mainland, but nothing in this world is set in stone. This particular Ptycho is a non-aggressive, very attractive and interesting species, which will breed very easily and has given Dave and I a great deal of pleasure. If you ever encounter them we would thoroughly recommend them to any aquarist who would like to give them a go, as you will certainly not be disappointed.
Ptychochromis sp. "Mananjeba" free swimming fry. Photo by Dave Tourle.