(This article was originally published in Cichlid News magazine, Aquatic promotions, Vol. 1. No. 3, July 1992; pp. 7-9. It is here reproduced with the permission of Don Danko).
Lake Catemaco, México, home of the pink Paratheraps fenestratus. Photo by Don Danko.
Since Rolón (1984) reported on the occurrence of a rare oligomelanic form of Cichlasoma fenestratum from Lake Catemaco, a crater lake in Veracruz, México, I knew I had to have specimens of this rare pink beauty - but how could I obtain them?
When my first collecting trip to México materialized in April, 1987, thoughts of the pink fenestratum hounded me: I had to get to Catemaco! Unfortunately, the distance from my primary collecting sites in the Rio Pánuco basin and a shortage of time kept me from this goal. Although I returned to Cleveland with several novel species, including Herichthys bartoni, Herichthys pantostictus, and several varieties of C. labridens, I felt some- what unfulfilled for not having made it to Catemaco.
Finally three years later during a trip to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in May, 1990, my dream-trip was attained. Accompanied by my good friend and fellow cichlid enthusiast, Juan Miguel Artigas Azas from San Luis Potosí, a beautiful city north of México City, we first visited the Rio Grande at Matias Romero in the upper reaches of the Rio Coatzacoalcos, a large river basin in southern México. Here we collected Torichthys callolepis, Torichthys helleri, Cichlasoma salvini, Paratheraps zonatus, Paraneetroplus bulleri, and Vieja regani. My favorites, of course, either didn't survive (e.g., Thorichthys callolepis) or were extremely difficult to catch (e.g., Paraneetroplus bulleri).
Thorichthys callolepis is a lovely species of the Thorichthys group with subtle blue and red striations on the belly. Uniquely, it is the only Thorichthys species without a conspicuous black opercular spot. Paraneetroplus bulleri is a lightning-fast rheophilic species which navigates bouldered rapids with the ease of an Olympic downhill skier traversing a moguled slope. No wonder this speed-ster isn't available in the hobby! After fishing in the Coatzacoalcos, we headed west, making stops in eastern tributaries of the Rio Papaloapan, the next large river basin to the west. Here we took beautifully-colored C. salvini, a Thorichthys species we refer to as "East Papaloapan Thorichthys" (for incredibly obvious reasons!), the widespread riverine Paratheraps fenestratus, and one of the prizes of our trip, Paraneetroplus nebuliferum, a rapids-dwelling cichlid similar to Paraneetrolus bulleri.
Finally we arrived at the locale of the pink fenestratum, the main subject of this article. Lake Catemaco, a beautiful crater lake with several small islands and tropical vegetation, is truly a sight to behold. Eight kilometers wide and eleven kilometers long, the lake is situated within a volcanic crater at 338 meters above sea level (Artigas, 1992). Approaching from the south by Route 180, the highway ascends noticeably over a stretch of several kilometers, signalling one's imminent arrival in the town of Catemaco, which borders the lake. Upon our arrival, we gained access to the lake for swimming and fishing purposes along the southern shoreline on the property of a local family. The lake water was warm and somewhat cloudy, making snorkelling impossible. We fished for some time with 5- and 6-foot cast nets, which are always our primary means of fishing. Collecting was quite difficult and unproductive for several reasons. First, the native cichlids frequent areas over volcanic rocks which litter the bottom. Frequently, our nets would snag on or engulf these rocks, and we would have to swim down to free them. Any trapped cichlids were certainly released as a result. Second, the lake is expansive which complicates efforts to trap cichlids. Third, water temperatures increase rapidly as the hot sun rises, and cichlids move away from shore to cooler depths. Luckily, we were able to do some of our casting offshore from the canoes of local fishermen.
Despite the difficulties, we managed to collect specimens in the 4-6" size range of both the normal and oligomelanic varieties of the P. fenestratus type species present. These cichlids differ significantly from the P. fenestratus found throughout the Papaloapan drainage. The Catemaco forms presumably evolved from the riverine type following a period of isolation resulting from the creation of the volcanic crater. Probably a new species, the Catemaco form differs from the riverine fenestratum most notably in its more gradually-sloping dorsal profile and in wild-caught specimens its more fleshy lips. Also, the rosy-pink morph is not known in the "conventional" riverine P. fenestratus. The normal-colored morph of the Catemaco fenestratum appears to be much more prevalent than the pink form, based on our collecting results. Alas, all the Catemaco specimens collected were too large for transport back to Cleveland and had to be left at Juan Miguel's house. At least that gave me a reason to return to Catemaco!
The following April we did return after fishing in northern Oaxaca. This time Juan was able to capture fry from a breeding pair of the normal-colored morph. Our hope was that some of the fry would later transform to the pink color; however, this did not occur. Though the young, now 4-5" in length, are doing fine, none has changed color. It seemed I might never obtain the pink variety!
My disillusionment was finally absolved in a most bizarre fashion. What I couldn't capture in México, I actually succeeded in purchasing in Cleveland! Last fall while visiting a local pet shop, I happened to notice two subadult pink fenestratum in a large display tank. They had been purchased from a Florida cichlid farm, and the shopowner had no idea what they were. Imagine my amazement after two failed trips to the lake! It turns out that these two specimens were descendants of wild stock collected by Don Conkel a few years before. However, they were both females, further extending the drama and delaying successful breeding of this morph. Fortuitously, a few months later, a good friend of mine obtained a male from another shop in the Cleveland area, which paired off shortly after with one of the females. After a couple of false starts, two successful spawns followed. Spawning occurred after a long courtship accompanied by lip-locking and incessant circling over potential spawning sites. The chosen site in both spawns was a clay flower pot turned on its side. Spawning occurred in typical Cichlasoma fashion with 200-300 eggs deposited in the pot. Hatching occurred after four days at 80' F, and fry became free-swimming in another five. The young appeared larger than most Cichlasoma fry and readily accepted newly-hatched Artemia. The fry are now 1/4" long and are growing rapidly. Though uncertain of the maximum size of this cichlid, most of the collected specimens were seven inches or less in total length.
With my visit to Catemaco and eventual spawning of the pink fenestratus accomplished, my quest for this rare and unusual cichlid has ended successfully. This mission complete, it's now time to get on with the challenges of Paraneetroplus nebuliferum and Thorichthys callolepis tasks that could take me another decade! It seems a cichlid keeper's work is never done.
Paratheraps fenestratus from Papaloapan river system, a widely distributed species. Photo by Don Danko.
- Artigas Azas, J. M.; 1992. Rare Jewels of the Tehuantepec Isthmus: Cichlasoma Power! Bulletin of the Cichlasoma Study Group, vol. 11, no. 3:6-15.
- Rolón, A. H.; 1984. A Pink Form of Cichlasoma fenestratum. Buntbarsche Bulletin 102, Journal of the American Cichlid Ass'n, Inc., pp. 8-10.