Paracyprichromis nigripinnis in the home aquarium. Photo by Sergey Anikstein.
It is at times difficult to explain why people completely trust what they hear or read, even if it is unsupported. So, even though I was not a beginner aquarist, I read and listened with interest to the stories of "connoisseurs" about the difficulties in keeping and breeding the cichlids from Lake Tanganyika. Many times I read and re-read the words from German exporters, and the papers that I could find in Russia which both led me to believe that it is very difficult to breed these rare cichlids. I shall not bore you with what they said.. But, I was eager and anxious to find out for myself just how difficult it really was.
Finally my own Paracyprichromis arrived, the long awaited package contained 18 gray fish, and were unattractive at first sight. It is hard to explain to non-fish person how I felt; it was the mixture of pride, fear, and excitement all at the same time. Scared that I might kill them, but thrilled that I had the opportunity to work with these "gems!"
Paracyprichromis nigripinnis is found throughout Lake Tanganyika. Some of the popular sites where they are collected include Chituta Bay in Zambia, and Kigoma, and Msambu (Nkove) in Tanzania. The adults range in size from 10 - 14 cm. One of the myths that is linked with P. nigripinnis is there inability to take water changes, especially from the tap. But I knew in reality that it was going to be impossible to adhere to this rumour. I learned that I could change about 20% of the water weekly, and they did fine. However, it is necessary for me to tell you that in my other aquariums with Tanganyikan cichlids I could easily change 25% - 30 %.
Paracyprichromis nigripinnis has been on the list of rare and interesting fish for a long time. First off, it is a very swift moving beauty that is completely absent of aggression. In a territory of 100 x 50 cm, it is easy for 4 males to coexist and manage to spawn with several females; they are most content in groups of at least 10. I have come to the conclusion that these cichlids are so friendly and have such good attitudes towards one another that it is rare to see the fins ripped or sides scraped. In general, this is a good acquisition for the Tanganyikan community tank where other non-aggressive Tanganyikan species are represented and the beginner should not be afraid to give them a try.
They prefer to occupy the mid-water areas in your tank, and as they school together the P. nigripinnis look their best. A good tank mate for them is Xenotilapia, which typically inhabits the bottom portion of your aquarium. Although the Xeno's will fight among themselves, especially the males who are contending for territories, such "fights" do not result in trauma, providing you have provided an ample size tank. I housed Xenotilapia sp. "Ochrogenys ndole" with my Paracyprichromis without any problems.
Selection of tank mates is a critical, for example large Cyphotilapia frontosa is not a good choice for your community of Paracyprichromis. Nor is it recommended to house them with Tropheus which can upset their phlegmatic neighbors, besides all the other reasons, diet is certainly a factor. While the Paracyprichromis like forage for; cyclops, brine shrimp, glass worms, and shallow shrimp, which is not going to be good for your Tropheus. Tropheus are algae eaters, who will eat anything offered whether it is good for them or not. The fast moving Tropheus will beat the Paracyprichromis to the food, and then Paracyprichromis will remain hungry.
Paracyprichromis require vitamin rich foods, if you expect them to show their best colors. Brine shrimp is especially good for this reason and I have found after adding this to their diet that they will blossom in to the colors that are most desirable for this species. There is no sense to for me to describe it the pictures speak for themselves. Simply said, to achieve this color it is extremely important to include carotenes in their diet. Proper lighting helps too, and for example adding two Aqua-glo lights, will certainly help intensify their color. The spectrum of these lamps will not only allocate the red coloring of the body but also will force the neon bands that outline the body and fins and show you how fantastic this cichlid really is.
Certainly taking this all into account it is also necessary to create the appropriate landscape. I would recommend a fine sand of light coloring (quartz white, light yellow) and vertical black rocks reaching all the way to the top surface of the tank. It is best to use rocks that will contrast with the color of the substrate. Then the magnificent colors of the Paracyprichromis nigripinnis will be a good contrast against the vertical rocks, whether they are dark stone or gray marble. As for the neighbors, this type of landscape will be good for any of the Tanganyikan cichlids that prefer the sandy substrate.
A group of 10 - 20 Paracyprichromis nigripinnis in a 250- 300-liter tank is a magnificent choice. When they are content, the holding females will spit their fry in to the tank, with no worries about predation, as the adults do not eat the fry. In such a tank it is possible to create a growing self-sustaining population. Which is another reason to house them in a species only tank, or with Tanganyikan's that are not aggressive.
Breeding Paracyprichromis nigripinnis depends on many components, however with a competent aquarist many of these elements are always present. The chemistry of water should be completely absent of NH3\NH4 (Ammonia\Nitrites), NO2 (Nitrogen dioxide) is a concern to them, a minimum level of NO3 (Nitrates) and PO4 (Phosphates), GH (General Hardness) 12-30, pH 8-8,5. The temperature should be 25 - 27 celsius.
Paracyprichromis nigripinnis become sexually mature rather early sometimes at 10 - 11 months, but they basically have bad results. The female continues to forage for food, because she is young, usually she doesn't hold longer than 3 - 4 days. The successful spawnings usually begin after one year.
Once you do have a female holding, what are your options? It will be necessary for you to decide whether you will artificially raise the eggs yourself, or allow the female to hold to term. If you decide to strip the female and manually hatch the eggs in an incubator you will need to take the same precautions that you do when stripping other mouth brooders; such as preventing stress caused by catching the holding female, and being careful not to damage the female during the stripping process.
In any case if you are fast, and accurate in using an incubator (egg tumbler) is a productive way to be successful. I have managed to tumble Paracyprichromis eggs together with eggs of Cyphotilapia frontosa whose eggs are 2 - 3 times larger than the eggs of Paracyprichromis. Female P. nigripinnis average about 18 eggs per spawn, naturally you will have a percent that will perish. According to my calculations I typically get about 5 - 10 fry per spawn.
Now we move to the question of what to feed the fry. The key to this question is diversity. Fry depending on the temperature of the water are ready to start eating about 24 - 27 days post spawn. They are rather large just under 12 mm., and therefore feeding all kinds of shallow live foods like brine shrimp, cyclops, etc., are all good. I do not start feeding them dry goods until they are at least a month or two old. At about 2 months the Paracyprichromis nigripinnis have a soft, and gentle cream coloring.
I want to recommend Paracyprichromis nigripinnis to all fans of Tanganyikan cichlids even beginners. Remember not to believe all that you hear about them, it is best to do your research and then sort it all out and apply it to your situation. I think you will find them a most rewarding species to work with, and not as difficult as you think!
A special thanks to Pam Chin for reviewing this writing.