(This article was originally published in Cichlid News magazine", Aquatic promotions, Vol. 11. No. 1, October 2001; pp. 16-18. It is here reproduced with the permission of author Dan Woodland and Aquatic Promotions).
Where Do They Come From?
In 1994 three intrepid cichlid hunters, Ross Socolof, who helped form the aquarium hobby in the US, Dr. Harry Specht, whose lifelong dedication to the hobby is surpassed by none, and Rusty Wessel, whose tenacity and perseverance earned a cichlid species named in his honor (Theraps wesseli), set out to find the Golden Mojarra, Herichthys bocourti.
In 1984 Dr. Specht had seen a specimen of H. bocourti in a Guatemalan marketplace that had been speared by a fisherman. The species' native distribution is Lake Izabal, about 32 miles from Guatemala City. Since then, Herichthys bocourti has scarcely been evidenced in the lake, let alone anywhere else. In fact, most published information on the species (including its original description by Valliant and Pellegrin in 1902) consists of hand-drawn images and little or no information on its natural habitat.
So imagine their surprise when on the last day of their trip in 1994, Socolof, Specht, and Wessel found a fisherman with nine, nearly dead H. bocourti in his boat; he told them that the species was a very rare catch in the lake. They purchased all of them but were only able to save four specimens. Later that day the "three cichlateers" pulled a seine one last time to catch fish other than cichlids to take home with them and caught six juvenile H. bocourti. What good fortune! These ten fish were returned to the United States, and that's how Herichthys bocourti finally made it into the hobby.
Tank raised young of Herichthys bocourti. Fish and Photo by Dan Woodland.
During their long, nearly fruitless, trip they had also learned that fishermen catch Vieja maculicauda by throwing coconuts or large rocks into the lake, then quickly throwing a cast net in the same area. The fish come to see what tasty item has fallen into the lake for them to eat, but much to their surprise a net is waiting for them! Occasionally, the fishermen would also catch H. bocourti using this method. Other cichlids found with Herichthys bocourti include Thorichthys aureus, Vieja maculicauda, Archocentrus spilurus, 'Cichlasoma' salvini, Amphilophus robertsoni, and Parachromis managuense. Many other fishes found in the lake include atherinids, Hypressobrycon milleri, Astyanax aeneus, Belonesox belizanus, Carlhubbsia stuarti, Gambusia luma, Poecilia mexicana, and Rhamdia catfish. I obtained six young H. bocourti from Rusty Wessel in 1998, which is where my story begins.
Raising the Young
From the beginning my H. bocourti were extremely secretive. Many times I thought I had lost them to aggression or even jumping, only to find them hidden in pots, pipes or even in the sandy substrate! That may be one of the reasons they are so hard to find and catch in the wild.
The young eagerly accepted any foods offered to them and grew quickly. I raised them with Vieja regani until there wasn't enough room for all of them in one tank. As with most heroines, they took nearly two years to reach maturity.
A Beautiful Fish!
Herichthys bocourti sports a yellowish green head with a reddish-orange body that fades to yellow on the caudal peduncle. The moniker, Golden Mojarra, is a bit of a misnomer that has stuck, based on the fact that early descriptions of "life" colors in this species were based on dead, preserved specimens in which the actual colors had faded. My specimens also exhibit light-blue highlights on the mouth and portions of the dorsal, caudal, and anal fins. The anal and dorsal fins have short, pointed fin extensions. Six or seven broken black vertical bars fade in and out (depending upon a fish's mood) over a black peppery ground color, which is seen when the fish is stressed or not in breeding condition. Occasionally a subdominant male sports a faint black patch under the chin. There is also a black blotch in the center of the base of the caudal fin.
What a stroke of luck! The six fish I received turned out to be two males and four females. What are the odds?
Breeding colors in H. bocourti include a dark black ventrum from under the mouth to the base of the anal fin. The peppery ground color disappears, and the black bars intensify over a bright red-orange (to red-brown) or golden-yellow body. All other colors also intensify, including the light-blue in the fins.
The dominant male in my colony is approximately fourteen inches long and six inches high while the females are much smaller at eight to ten inches in length and over four inches tall.
Again, this beautiful large fish is very secretive. Upon returning from a trip I was surprised to see the male patrolling the length of the 125-gal tank where the colony is housed, and a few of his tankmates a bit torn up, but nothing life threatening. This was the first time I had seen the male's spawning tube extended, so I began to look for his mate to see if her tube was also visible. I thought: spawning imminent! I was shocked but very excited to find the female already tending a very large spawn of wrigglers not more than a day or two old. The pair must have spawned while I was on my trip! Overall, this fish is not overly aggressive and rarely hassles its tankmates, unlike other heroines. Out of site, out of mind seems to be their credo. If they don't see the opposition, they don't try to destroy them. Of course it helps that I had supplied them with six 4" diameter pipes to hide in.
The parents were diligent in the care of the young, moving them several times prior to their becoming free-swimming and protecting them from all other tank mates. Once the fry were free-swimming, I removed about three-fourths of the brood, leaving the rest for the parents to raise.
I immediately began feeding the fry de-encapsulated brine shrimp and live baby brine shrimp. What are de-encapsulated brine shrimp? They are Artemia cysts that have had the shells removed (dissolved) in a weak bleach and water solution. I had experimented with this food on other cichlid fry with success so I fed it to the H. bocourti young. As the fry grew, I began feeding crushed flake food, Spirulina disks, and crushed pellet food. I often feed the adults frozen delights such as krill, plankton, and mosquito larvae. Like the adults, the fry are not overly aggressive. I lost few to cannibalism within the spawn.
I urge you to try this beautiful fish yourself. Thanks to the efforts of Rusty, Ross, and Dr. Specht I have had the opportunity to raise and spawn this rare species from Lake Isabel, and it has become one of my favorite cichlids. Additionally, thanks to Oliver Lucanus for encouraging me to write my story.
A wild caught juvenile of Herichthys bocourti from lago Izabal, Rio Polochic, Guatemala. Fish and Photo by Rusty Wessel.
- Socolof, R., and R. Wessel; 1994; In pursuit of 'C.' (Herichthys) bocourti (Vaillant and Pellegrin 1902), the Golden Mojarra; Buntbarsche Bulletin, no. 162.