Sciaenochromis fryeri male. Fish and Photo by David Felix.
Sciaenochromis fryeri is commonly known as the "Electric Blue Haplochromis". This common name explains in few words the wonderful coloration that this fish owns! In this next lines, I'll try to describe what I've learned with this species, starting with his description, behavior, food preferences and breeding.
Like lots of other African Cichlids, this species can be found in various races, which belong to different biotopes of lake Malawi. But, all this races have the magnificent metallic blue. The only difference between S. fryeri populations are on dorsal fin white stripe, and on anal and caudal fin coloration. The most known and pretended population has a enormous white stripe along the dorsal fin, starting from the head. Others, like this one of the pictures only have on the dorsal fin. The anal fin can be found from a "fire" red, to a golden yellow, such as little spots on anal and even dorsal fin can be found. The blue coloration of this fish depends if the fish is excited or not, such as the appearance of dark vertical bars. The fish size, also depends on the population we get. Some stay with 12-13 cm, but others can reach 20 cm. The females are smaller, and have a gray coloration, but with a soft blue shine.
This cichlid origin is from one of the most known African lakes - Niassa, known commonly as Malawi. This lake is one of the largest in the world, with an extension of 30 800 Km2, and surrounded by some countries like Congo, Burundi, Tanzania, Mozambique, and of course, Malawi. Just like the "neighbors" Tanganyika and Victoria, Malawi is a very recent lake, originated by rift growth. This is very important, because is what gives this lake their appearance and chemistry. In this large area, we can find different habitats like rocky areas, planted and sand fields, and others. This biotope variation are the reason for getting some different fryeri's population in Nature.
At the tank
Sciaenochromis fryeri, is a very beauty fish to keep on a Cichlid tank. This species, like all the other species, has territorial habits, but in my opinion isn't an aggressive fish. I used to keep the couple in a 325 litter tank, with other Malawi fishes like Aulonocaras, Nimbochromis and Labidochromis, and I never had any major problem, even in breeding time.
To keep this fish, like great part of the hobbyists (fortunately!) I think we should try to imitate the original biotope. This shouldn't be a very rigid rule, but must be respected because it is almost impossible to make in a community tank without getting some fish hurt! In nature, males construct large conic structures with sediments to get females attention. In aquarium, I've tried long time ago to make males able to construct this, but with no success. I found that the traditional rocky setup (with large rocks) is the best way to keep fryeri's with other species without getting territorial problems. With this kind of setup, the male usually set on a dark corner or a cave on the tank! We should, of course try to keep the chemistry parameters correct. The correct ones are: a pH of 8.5-8.6, and a total hardness higher than 20 German degrees. To make this, I use a solution o Calcium carbonate.
Taking a look to Siaenochromis fryeri mouth, we can watch a medium sized "lips", which are common in all fish which feed in Nature from insect larva and small crustaceous. This, should be the most appropriate food we can give. But, in my tanks I noticed that the healthy combination was to give graze flakes, red mosquito larva, artemia, and dried gammarus. (these ones are used to feed turtles)
Sciaenochromis fryeri female holding eggs. Fish and Photo by David Felix.
Just like almost Cichlids from the great lakes, Sciaenochromis fryeri is a mouth breeder. But, unlike most, this species has no egg spots on their anal fin. Mouthbreeder females usually pick the eggs with the mouth after the spawn. Then, the male, showing his spots to the female, tricks her to think those are eggs. She tries to pick them, and at this time, the male release the sperm. Curiously, this species didn't use the same technique! In these fishes, the eggs are first fecundated, and the are finally stored in female's mouth one each time. To make this possible, the male takes care of a bowed rock on the side, which is against the water stream. When ready, the female spawns an egg on the top of the rock, which rolls until the male catch with his anal fin. At this time, the egg is fecundated and picked up by the female. After that, the male starts a dance around the female which stays on the top of the rock. This process restarts when the female is ready, and usually as a duration of about 20 to 30 minutes, unless another fish get some trouble. A mature female lays between 60 to 70 eggs, which are very similar to corn seeds! And, all of them are stored in female's mouth. The spawn takes place against the water current, and it make us to get some nice conclusions: The water movement make that the eggs when rolling on the rock get a slower velocity, making easy to the male getting ready to catch the egg, just like it makes that the sperm get direction into the egg making this part more efficient After this, the female keeps the eggs on the mouth about 17 to 19 days. This is possible to observe, because the female gets it's mouth very dilated. During this time the female doesn't eat, and stays all the time rolling the eggs inside her mouth in order to get them more oxygen At these period, the oxygen levels are very important! When levels are low, females which are keeping large quantities of egg from long periods became stressed and can spit some or all the egg out. This already happened on my tank some times.
After the 17th day, we can get ready to raise the fry. And, we can do it using different ways: naturally, placing the female on a empty tank and waiting for her to release the fry. Or artificially, taking the eggs out of females mouth. I personally prefer the natural method, but when no more breeding tanks are available, I used the artificial one. The first is simple: It only consist on keeping the female until these one release the fry, and the catch her again. We only must be careful when catching the female. This part should be done at night, with all lights off, and using a torch to confuse her with the light. When it's done at day, she becomes more stressed and has the risk that the eggs get damaged and spitted out. The artificially method also should be done at night. With very wet hands, we carefully take the fish out and place her with the head upside down inside a small container full of water from the original tank. After some seconds, all the fry (or even eggs) are spitted and the female should be placed into the tank again. Using this method, we should be very careful with oxygen levels and water quality. Half of the water should be changed every day, and a good anti-fungus should be placed in the water to prevent cotton the little fish belies. The fry is able to be feed with artemia nauplii, but vinegar eels are an other nice live food which can be grown at home. When about 3 to 4 weeks old, grindal worms are the best food we can give. The fish's growth at this age is noticed from day to day and at about 2 months they are able to eat frozen artemia. Fry flakes should be avoid, because fish doesn't like the so much. These tiny fish are attracted by the movement of live food, which is the best food we can give at this age.
Sciaenochromis fryeri is in fact one of the species for the aquarist who loves to spent hours observing his fish for their beauty and behavior. For the newbie which is thinking to set up a Cichlid tank for the first time, I believe that this species is one of those appropriate ones from which is possible to learn something that doesn't come written even in the best Aquarium related book...
Sciaenochromis fryeri 208 liters (55 gallons) breeding tank. Fish and Photo by David Felix.