(This article was originally published in "Buntbarsche Bulletin" 125 and 130 (April 2001) pp. 1-8, the journal of the American Cichlid Association, please consult the ACA home page for information about memnbership. It is here reproduced with the permission of author Don Danko).
Cichlids are extremely well represented in México, flourishing from the Rio Grande in the north to its southernmost border. The genus Herichthys is especially well represented in México and is best known for the two species H. cyanoguttatus and H. carpintis. Other lesser known Herichthys species exist, however, and one such species is the subject of this article. This species hails from Poza Rica, México, and has been referred to as the turquoise Herichthys, due to its amazing blue-green coloration. Previously thought to be undescribed, this fish may actually be Herichthys geddesi, a fish described by Regan in 1905. In this article, I will convey my experiences with this striking fish over a twelve-year period that has spanned collecting, maintaining and spawning the fish.
The dream of collecting this species originated in early 1989 when I was planning a trip to México with friends, Juan Miguel Artigas Azas of México and Willem Heijns of the Netherlands. The plan was for the three of us to collect 'Cichlasoma' beani over a weekend on the west coast, followed by a weeklong trip to the Huasteca, a rich tropical area in the lower basin of Rio Pánuco. Since this would be Willem's first trip to México, I had planned to introduce him to the beauty of the country, and specifically the Huasteca, and to show him several of the picturesque, clear water springs that occur in that region. Since I had visited the Huasteca several times before, I wanted to enhance the trip for me personally by heading a bit south of the region, surveying the coastal rivers between Tampico and Veracruz, in search of the Herichthys fishes that can be found there. Juan Miguel and I had passed through that region in April 1987; however, the rains of that time had made collecting impossible. I had seen photographs of Herichthys species from this area in a book entitled Die Buntbarsche der Neuen Welt by Rainer Stawikowski and Uwe Werner (1985) and was intrigued by the possibility of collecting one or more species new to me. Willem provided his impressions of this trip in two brief articles presented on pages 72 and 73 of Cichlid Yearbook Volume 1 (1991), however, the actual collection point of the turquoise Herichthys requires clarification.
The weekend prior to traveling to the Huasteca entailed a fast paced trip to the Pacific coast to collect 'Cichlasoma' beani near the city of Tepic. This trip was truly a whirlwind tour of the Pacific coast of México. We left San Luis Potosi on Saturday morning and drove the whole day and well into the night, finally arriving in Tepic near midnight. The trip by truck was very slow going and tedious, traveling through the large city of Guadalajara without the aid of any freeway, bypass, toll road or major highway. One town along the way, Tequila, was particularly interesting from a tourist standpoint in that it is one of the primary cities in which Agave azul is grown to produce the well known alcoholic drink with the same name. Sunday morning was particularly productive and we caught all of the "C". beani we had planned within an hour or so from a very muddy river near Tepic. Since Juan Miguel had to work on Monday, we promptly piled back into the truck and drove back to San Luis Potosi shortly after collecting the beani. The prized collected fish remained in Juan Miguel's tanks while Willem and I visited the Huasteca.
The next morning, Willem and I picked up the rental car that Juan Miguel had arranged for us a small, well used, red Nissan compact car. This wasn't the stereotypical four-wheel drive vehicle that people think of for collecting trips, but it turned out to be very dependable, serving us quite well. Shortly after picking up the car, we headed east out of San Luis Potosi in the direction of Ciudad Valles, our planned headquarters for the week. The three hour trip first took us through the beautiful but dangerous Sierra de Alvarez mountains. This mountainous section of the trip always keeps you very attentive and on edge due to its many hairpin curves. After passing through the mountains, we reached the city of Rio Verde, the home of Laguna de Media Luna, a beautiful and famous spring fed lake where H. bartoni and H. labridens are found. Although we would visit Media Luna on the return trip, we stopped for a brief look at the canal that crosses the main road through Rio Verde. Vowing to return, we continued on, later also crossing the road to Tamasopo, another planned destination for later in the week. Once at Ciudad Valles, we stationed out of the Hotel Taninúl, a wonderful hotel on the outskirts of Valles. This hotel is very close to the fantastic Taninúl Spring, called El Nacimiento and located at the origin of the Rio Florido, in the Rio Pánuco system. The Hotel Taninúl served as a central location that allowed us to easily reach all of our targeted sites, which included Tamasopo, Axtla, Taninúl and Poza Rica, with minimal driving.
|Rio Cazones at Poza Rica, Veracruz, México, habitat of the turquoise Herichthys. Photo by Don Danko.|
The Hotel Taninúl is a wonderful place itself. On the grounds are a small zoo with animals from the region, a large sulfur swimming pool, ponds with gar and caiman, a nice restaurant and bar, and much more. Even after staying there several times, I always consider it a true pleasure to return. Once settled at Taninúl, we scanned the maps and outlined a series of roads to go to Poza Rica as directly as possible. Also, we highlighted all of the potential fishing stops along the way. As the day figured to be a very full one, we opted to take Highway 105 to Tempoal, Highway 127 to El Alazán, and then head south, passing through Alamo to Poza Rica. This route should have saved time over the longer coastal route through Tampico. Even with cutting off the corner, the day indeed was a very full one, leaving very early in the morning and returning late at night, with dinner at about 10 p.m. in a very small town south of Valles. The roads were poor for most of the trip, however, once we reached Alamo, they became very good, albeit with heavy traffic. The first major fishing stop was at the city of Alamo, in the Rio Pantepec. Here we caught several Herichthys of a type that turned out to look very much like H. carpintis after raising them to maturity. This spot, however, was not the site at which the turquoise Herichthys was collected, as previously indicated in Cichlid Yearbook, Volume 1.
After spending some time at Alamo, we decided to continue on southward to Poza Rica. Upon arriving there, we went to the main river in town known as the Rio Cazones that ran eastward through the city. We fished below the large bridge in a wide, fast flowing river. After casting diligently in the wide river, I was able to eventually catch a four to five inch specimen of the fish we very much desired a moment that was spellbinding for me. The beauty of the fish was breathtaking a near solid turquoise fish, highlighted with thin red facial striations. This beauty was enhanced by the sunlight of the clear Mexican day. Instantly, the common name of turquoise Herichthys was born! I continued to fish for more to try to get twelve specimens that both Willem and I could take home six, and hopefully propagate the species. This proved to be a near impossible task in the large river, with the river's speed and having only one casting net. As a result, we left the large river to search for a smaller tributary with a lower flow rate and, hopefully, more cichlids. We soon found a small tributary with very low flow that was heavily overgrown with plants. The water was very dark and organic with a rather unpleasant odor. Despite the odor, the fishing had to be done. We fished the balance of the day at this pool and ultimately caught the twelve specimens that we had targeted. It actually took until dusk to catch the final specimen. Fishing was especially difficult due to the heavy population of tilapia and the seemingly light density of Herichthys, not to mention again the shortage of casting nets. Oddly enough, only specimens with a length ranging from three and a half to six inches were caught, not one smaller. To make matters worse, the murky water prevented us from snorkeling to find a breeding pair with fry that would have allowed us to quickly harvest many small cichlids. Needless to say, the late night bistek mexicano and the Corona were very refreshing indeed after the long, exhausting day of collecting. Fortunately, all of the turquoise Herichthys survived the return trip to Valles, the balance of the collecting trip in the Huasteca, and the long journey to their eventual homes in the United States and the Netherlands.
Turquoise Herichthys pair guarding their eggs in the aquarium. Fish and Photo by Don Danko.
Once at home in their aquariums, the turquoise Herichthys turned out to be every bit as beautiful as they were at the river in México. Any tank housing them commands attention. Juveniles start out with heavy turquoise spangling that later turns into a nearly solid body pattern as the fish grows and matures. In fact, most adult males that I have kept have indeed shown a striking, solid turquoise color across the body. Adult females, however, have shown some spotting and spangling. In shape, the turquoise Herichthys is very similar to H. carpintis with a high, compressed body and a sloping forehead. The maximum size that I have encountered in the aquarium is about seven inches for females and about nine inches for males. Within a couple of months of capture, the wild caught Herichthys began to pair off and court. During this courtship, their coloration yielded to a whitish one with a black belly and chin. Shortly after displaying this coloration, a spawning was realized. The chosen substrate for the first spawning was the inside of a large clay pot. Despite the first spawning being located in a simulated cave, it is more common for the Herichthys to deposit their eggs on a flat rock out in the open. Spawn sizes have been quite large, numbering over 500 eggs.
Territorial defense and care of the eggs and fry is very typical for the Herichthys genus and for most other large cichlasomines. The turquoise Herichthys pairs that I have kept have been excellent parents, diligently caring for their fry. They seem to enjoy moving newly hatched fry from pit to pit, and herding them around once they are mobile. The fry grow swiftly on newly hatched Artemia and finely divided Spirulina flakes, reaching a size of one inch in about six weeks. In temperament, the turquoise Herichthys is identical to H. carpintis. In this regard, they can be quite belligerent and rough on themselves and other fishes. Greatest personal success in spawning this fish has come in maintaining a single pair in a 70 gallon aquarium. Despite a high degree of success, I once lost a large female that was killed suddenly by her mate without any advance warning. I have also successfully spawned them in a 55 gallon tank with an egg crate divider. This approach clearly mitigates any aggression problems, however, it increases the risk of low fertility. I have kept several young Herichthys adults successfully together in 70 and 125 gallon aquariums, but have no community tank experience with other cichlid species.
Feeding the turquoise Herichthys has never presented problems. Prepared pelleted foods are taken with enthusiasm, as are frozen krill and freeze dried plankton. As with other Herichthys, plant life, such as romaine lettuce, is also eagerly consumed.
No special water conditions have proven to be necessary, with moderately hard, slightly alkaline local water being totally conducive to productive maintenance and breeding.
As to the nomenclature status of this fish, personal discussions with Juan Miguel Artigas Azas and Dr. R. R. Miller, Professor Emeritus of the University of Michigan and Mexican fishes authority, indicate that this fish may be H. geddesi, a cichlid described by Regan in 1905. The last discussion on this possibility occurred in the summer of 1999 during an ACA Convention side trip to the University of Michigan. I have reviewed the original description, however, little detail is given that can confirm this belief. Hopefully, Dr. Miller's book, once published, will put to rest any uncertainty.
After almost twelve years, I continue to maintain this fantastic fish and it is clearly one of my favorites. I am currently maintaining what I believe to be the third generation and am hoping to spawn these young adults to keep the strain going. Hopefully, I'll be able to keep the strain in the hobby for another twelve years!
In summary, the turquoise Herichthys, possibly H. geddesi, is a remarkably colored cichlid from Poza Rica México that is highly recommended to the experienced cichlid keeper for its exceptional beauty. While it can be aggressive, the shear beauty is worth the effort to successfully maintain them. It is clearly one of México's finest jewels.
Female turquoise Herichthys guarding her fry in the aquarium. Fish and Photo by Don Danko.