Julidochromis dickfeldi "Katete" pair at their nest. Photo by Audrey Marquis.
Julidochromis dickfeldi came to my life totally unexpectedly. I am relatively new to the world of Tanganyikan cichlids, having acquired my first shelldwellers in September 2001, now my passion is concentrated around these little buggers. The fact that I have only very small tanks is the main contributor to my love for shellies... I knew about the other dwarf species, such as the Julidochromis, Telmatochromis and others, but my main focus has always been on the shelldwellers of the Neolamprologus genus
In July 2002, I planned a trip to a very reputable breeder and importer in the USA. This breeder had a group of F1 Altolamprologus compressiceps Sumbu that I wanted badly, so I made the seven hour road trip to his place with a small budget and a cycled 25 gallons (95 liters) tank waiting at home for the newcomers...
At the facility, I took the time to look at everything that was there, hoping to find some interesting shellie or small fish suitable to a 25 gallons (95 liters) tank. I chose a trio of Telmatochromis, and then some little fish attracted my eyes...
There was a group of small Julidochromis in an unlighted tank, swimming around clay pots and rocks. I didn't really like this genus, known for their agressivity when breeding, but then a flash of blue caught my eyes. These little stripped fish had intense blue coloration on the fins, something I had never seen before! They were labelled as F1 Julidochromis dickfeldi Royal dark blue, and I fell in love. I brought back 4 of these little critters, 3 large ones and a small one, hoping that the sex ratio would be correct.
Back home, I installed the 3 species in the 25 gallons (95 liters), in which they were really crowded. The next day I bought a 20 gallons (76 liters) tank for the Telmatochromis, which I cycled quickly by using only used filtration matters and old water. This new tank allowed me to leave only a shelldweller and a rockdweller in the main tank, a mix that is supposed to work fairly well, in spite of the small volume. Supposed to work, but it didn't... When looking at the 25 (95 liters), I saw my precious Altolamprologus compressiceps Sumbu being harassed by the little Julidochromis devils! My heart stopped beating, I took out my siphon and net and moved the Sumbus out of there, putting the Telmatochromis back to the 25 (95 liters). I knew that 2 rockdwelling species in such a small volume wasn't really ideal, but I loaded the tank with PVC pipes, clay pots, large shells for the Telmatochromis and rocks and hoped that World War III wouldn't start in there...
I maintained the water temperature at 80 F (26.7 C) degrees, GH and KH around 400ppm, and the pH close to 9, with the help of baking soda, epsom salts and crushed coral in the filter to raise the calcium that was fairly low. I kept the nitrates lower than 10-20 ppm by doing 25% water changes every week, with conditioned tap water adjusted to the right pH and hardness. I used playground sand on the bottom, 2 inches (5 cm) deep approximately, and natural gardening brown rocks. Filtration was assured by a Aquaclear TM 610 filter loaded with biomedia, and I used a 20 watts Aquaglo TM fluorescent tube to light the tank from 8AM to 10PM. Two Anubias barteri were attached to the rocks, and a Microsorum (Java fern) tried to survive in this hostile environment...
Tank territories. Drawing by Audrey Marquis.
As I believed all my fish were juveniles, I didn't even think about triggering spawning. I fed them a varied diet 2 to 3 times daily, composed primarily of 3 brands of high quality flakes, white worms, frozen Artemia and frozen white mosquito larvae.
So 2 weeks passed, and this tank was far from being peaceful. My Telmatochromis female had torn and ripped fins, his little male friend too, and even the alpha male had a ripped tail. Amongst the Julidochromis, the small one was chased away by the others, two large ones stayed under a rock formation, and the third large one was trying to claim a rock for himself in the Telmatochromis territory. As I had to move the tank to another location, I took everything out, netted the fish and replaced everything, the whole process taking at least 2 hours. I doubled the quantity of rocks, so there would be more hiding spots, and hid more PVC pipes and clay pots under the rocks, creating a real network of tunnels and caves.
A week later exactly, when I inspected the recovery of my Telmatochromis, I noticed something fishy going on under a rock formation, the same formation where the two largest Julidochromis were hanging out. A tiny creature was moving under the "roof", belly up! And this thing wasn't alone, there were a little group of them, some on the "walls", some on the roof!
I counted at least 10 babies. They apparently came from a PVC pipe under the rocks, and the ones under the roof seemed to be the most adventurous of the brood... The parents were swimming really softly amongst them, attacking the other fish when they came too near of the rock formation, flaring their fins and showing an intense blue coloration and green metallic spots on the scales of their flanks.
I was really surprised to see these tiny things alive, considering that 7 days before I let every rock, pipe and shell out of the tank for 2 hours... Could they reach free-swimming stage in such a short time, or did the eggs survived to this move? I was intrigued.
I decided to let the babies with the parents, believing that disturbing the tank to catch them could be enough to break their bond. I begun to feed them microworms, and these babies grew and grew. My worst fears of the Julidochromis couple attacking and terrorizing everyone else in the tank never realized, they stayed quietly in their rocks, caring for their fry. They are really good parents, when I fed them they waited for the food to touch the floor and stop moving before to eat, maybe afraid to eat one of their fry!
The new babies increased the interest I had in this specie, and I begun researching the net about them. I found out that there were no difference between the different fishing locations of J. dickfeldi, contrarily to its J. transcriptus, J. marlieri, J. ornatus and J. regani cousins. A blue finned J. dickfeldi didn't even exist... But, a new undescribed Julidochromis species with intense blue in the fins had been recently discovered at Katete, Congo, and has been given different names by the exporters: J. sp Congo, J. sp. Katete, J. dickfeldi Congo, J. dickfeldi Katete, and J. dickfeldi royal blue... It was confirmed, what I bought was these newcomers! My love for these little buggers gets growing, just like their fry, and I forgive all the trouble they caused me by harassing the Sumbus and Telmatochromis!
Two weeks later, when feeding and observing my new babies, I saw with surprise that there were new tiny fry swimming belly up with the others! And there was a lot of them, at least 14 were present. The older fry paid no attention to the youngsters at all, but were beginning to fight each other for small bits of territory. It's interesting to notice that their color pattern was clearly developing, and at this stage they were black with regular white spots along the flanks, giving the impression that they were stripped vertically, and not horizontally like their parents.
The parents were digging under the rocks and cleaning the pipes and rocks, when they suddenly decided to chase their older fry away. These little critters were now wandering everywhere in the tank, hiding at the first sign of a net or siphon... The reason for this behavior was revealed some days later, when new babies were observed. The small laps of time between each brood, around 10 days, possibly explains the relatively small number of fry produced, between 10 and 20.
Catching the newly expelled fry would not be easy, and I didn't want to mess up the tank to do that. I succeeded to catch 2 large babies by patiently waiting for them with some food in an immobile net, and with a siphon I caught 2 fry of the second brood. I tried to build a trap with a Pepsi bottle, but the babies were afraid of the clear plastic, even with sand glued to the bottle. If I wanted to breed them on a larger scale, a nude tank containing only some flowerpots would be more practical, but for now I prefer watching the parents caring for their fry, even if it means long netting sessions once in a while.
The four babies I managed to catch went into a 5 gallons tank with a small Altolamprologus compressiceps Sumbu fry. Microworms were always present in the water as the main food source, and I complemented with small white worms, frozen baby brine shrimp and high quality flakes and pellets finely crushed. When they begun to eat larger pieces of food, I added to their diet an homemade food made with shrimp, fish, eggs and broccoli. This diet was balanced to be 55% proteins, 20% fat and contained all the essential fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins and minerals in good quantities, so growth of young fry was very fast, for Tanganyikans... At the age of four weeks, the oldest fry already reached ¾ inch (2 centimeters) long.
With this kind of diet, I had to do large water changes of 40% every day. As with the parent's tank, I maintained the water GH and KH around 400 ppm with baking soda and epsom salts, pH at 9 and temperature around 80 F (26.7 C) degrees. A dark sandblasting sand was used as a substrate, which reduced the stress of the fry and allowed them to hide from the view.
This new variant of Julidochromis is very interesting, for it's intense coloration of course, but also, as far as I have observed, for a milder temperament than it's cousins and a small adult size. My breeding adults are no more than 2½ inches (6 centimeters) long, and even if they continue to grow, this size is very suitable to a small tank. They stay mostly in the rock work, but are not as timid as I have believed and are a great fish to take pictures of, almost always showing their erected fins, in a perfect immobility. They are a welcome addition to a tanganyikan community tank, but their tank mates have to be chosen carefully, they have to be able to handle the stress of being harassed. Rock work and tons of hiding places are the key for success with these little monsters...
The 25 gallons tank. Photo by Audrey Marquis.