Ophthalmotilapiapia ventralis "Orange cap" male in the home aquarium of Sergey Anikstein. Photo by Sergey Anikstein.
Like almost all the fish in my aquariums, my Ophthalmotilapiapia ventralis "orange cap" were acquired at the German firm MalTaVi. It happened in January 2001, and it was my first attempt to obtain fish out of my area and poorly known in Russia. As the photos show, the male O. ventralis are brightly colored representatives among Tanganyika cichlids. Although I was nervous about shipping in fish, I decided the risk would be worth it, and it was. I was extremely happy with the fish I received.
Ophthalmotilapiapia ventralis "orange cap" is a color variation that shows an orange-brown color on the head. According to H.J. Herrmann, this variation is found on the border of Zambia and Tanzania, only in rocky areas southwest from Kalemie and southeast from Kabogo. Near the Kalambo River which flows between them, and whose name is derived from these two places. But more recently I have received a letter from Eric Genevelle, in which he has reported to me, that when diving in those places he did not see this morph. According to Genevelle, it is found near the coast on an extension of the Kalambo River up near Samazi in Tanzania. In the book "Tanganyika Cichlids In Their Natural Habitat" by Ad Konings, he shows the location of this fish "Kambwimba" which is just North of the Kalambo River.
Regardless of where it is exactly found, the males gain magnificent coloring at approximately 8 to 9 months of age. In due time the body is filled by a piercing steel blue color (I have been told it is as bright as a LIGHT). Even when stressed the adult males lose only a little bit of coloring. The females are colored rather modestly. Though some aquarists like them as they show a soft green with a metallic sheen.
The size of O. ventralis ranges from 14-16 cm for males up to 12 cm for females. They prefer a varied diet; in the wild the menu is basically zooplankton and some vegetation with "additives" from among such items as diatomic seaweed. In the aquarium the fishes quickly adapt to any kind of live and dry foods. I like to feed mainly glassworms, artemia and cyclops. For dry foods the fish prefer pellets from Sera "Granumit" and "Granugreen." These dry foods make it possible to recommend these fish to amateur cichlid keepers and to those who have worked with other kinds of cichlids from Lake Malawi and Lake Tanganyika, the pellets are made from a base of spirulina and artemia.
Regular water changes are important, and the fish always respond positively. Usually after a 25% change, the dominate male begins to dig his bower and protect the surrounding area, while he clears away the bottom, his nest is nearly 20 cm by 20 cm. Then the dancing begins, the male makes a sharp jerk in the direction of the females and slowly draws one back to his "building site." Once they reach the cleared away area at the bottom of the nest he continues, "dancing" to the female. As he hovers over the nest he stays in one area, trying to show the female where to lay her eggs. He begins to flash his color so brightly that he looks like he is "fishing tackle" sparkling in the light and begins going forward and backward using his ventral fins, signaling the female to spawn. She then leaves area for a few moments, and then she returns and lays a few more eggs, this continues until she has approximately 10 - 15 eggs in her mouth. The spawning consists of several passes through the nest.
The eggs are rather large and a light yellow color. The heads and tails pop out 5-6 days post spawn, and they will feed on their egg sacs the remaining 14 - 16 days and when they begin to free swim it is time for the fry to begin to eat. Color of the fry is like the females, light green metallic sheen.
The fry stay in a tight group or school, and seem to only move together as a unit. The fry do dart quickly in attempt to disappear from any perils, and they are quite fast. In this moment they resemble live shiny drops of mercury. Fry feeding is standard, shallow cyclops, milled dried foods (Tetra & Sera) but there is nothing like feeding them freshly hatched baby brine shrimp, it is really the best food you can feed your fry.
O. ventralis is not an aggressive cichlid in relation to other cichlids found in the shallows of Lake Tanganyika, such as shell dwellers "Lamprologus." My tank which is 400 liters, is perfect for my community set up of Xenotilapia ochrogenys "ndole" and "Lamprologus" ocellatus "gold zambia." At times the male ventralis simply does not notice the neighbors, as they are constantly only thinking of themselves, their bower and where the next female is.
I highly recommend Ophthalmotilapiapia ventralis "orange cap" to all cichlid keepers. This species from Lake Tanganyika will enthrall you with their behavior and the male's bright blue coloring.
Ophthalmotilapia ventralis "Orange cap" juvenile aquarium of Sergey Anikstein. Photo by Sergey Anikstein.
A special thanks to Pam Chin for reviewing this writing.