|An aquarium picture of the Astatheros sp. adult male from Rio Calovebora, Panama. Photo by Don Danko.|
Editor note. Very likely the treated species is in fact Astateros rhytisma (López, 1983). The species here referred as Chuco sp. is now known as Tomocichla asfraci Allgayer, 2002 and the referred Archocentrus nanoluteus is known as Cryptoheros nanoluteus. Juan Miguel Artigas Azas, 2003.
Two years ago, at the ACA Convention in San Jose, I was fortunate enough to obtain five F1 specimens of a new Astatheros species from Panama. I obtained these fish from Patrick de Rham who, together with Jean Claude Nourissat, a prominent French cichlid enthusiast, collected the species sometime in 1994. Patrick told me that the species was from the Rio Guarumo, in the Province of Bocas de Toro, on the Atlantic slope of Panama. He indicated that this fish was like a giant alfari and that it was found conspecifically with Archocentrus nanoluteus and an undescribed Chuco species. With this brief background in mind, I took the fish back to Cleveland to keep, breed and photograph.
Recently, a fine article providing collection and other details about the fish was published in Cichlid News by Jean Claude Nourissat (Vol. 6, No. 3, pp. 8-10, July, 1997). In this article, the following information was provided:
- Occurs in the Rio Calovebora on the Atlantic slope of Panama.
- The fish is similar to Astatheros alfari, except that it lacks the spot on the side.
- Found with the Chuco species.
- Collected in 1994.
This information confirmed much of the information provided by Patrick and provided some new data.
Maintaining this species proved to be rather easy, with the five fish growing rapidly, albeit non-uniformly, to a size range of 4 - 7 inches (10 - 18 cm). Males grew noticeably larger than females, as is typical of most cichlids. The five fish were maintained with five specimens of the undescribed Chuco species that I also obtained from Patrick. The fry of both species were nice sized at about 1.5 to 2.0 inches (3.20-5.00 cm) in total length. Both types grew at about the same rate. The Astatheros were noticeably less aggressive than the Chuco, however, they managed to coexist rather well together. Initially, the 10 fish were kept in a 70 gallon aquarium so that ample room would be provided for proper growth. They were later transferred to the larger quarters of a 125 gallon (265 liter) tank, where they are still kept today, to give them additional room as they grew. The main foods given the Astatheros were Doromin and frozen krill, with occasional feedings of Spirulina flakes. Slightly alkaline water of pH 7.5 and moderate hardness was provided, with large partial water changes done every 2 to 4 weeks. The tank was decorated with a thick layer of medium white natural gravel and several pieces of tufa rock. Additionally, several clay pots were provided for potential spawning sites.
|An aquarium picture of the Astatheros sp. adult female from Rio Calovebora, Panama. Photo by Don Danko.|
As the fish matured, sexual dimorphism manifested itself in three ways. First, the males grew about 2 inches (5.00 cm) larger than the females. Second, while both sexes exhibited heavy blue spangling across the body, males sported spangles and markings across the face, while the females did not. Third, males developed elongated extensions on the unpaired fins.
In coloration, the Astatheros species have become very beautiful, as detailed above. Regarding shape, the species is similar in shape to Astatheros alfari and Astatheros rhytisma, with a steep, angular forehead. In my opinion, the species has an Aequidens look to it that is difficult to describe in words.
|An aquarium picture of a female Astatheros sp. from Rio Calovebora in Panama, taking care of the eggs. Photo by Don Danko.|
In the summer of 1997, I was finally successful in breeding the Astatheros species. A pair had laid about 100 eggs out in the open, on the exterior of a conch shell that had been left in the aquarium from when it housed Lamprologus species. I was not present during the spawning activity and, as a result, cannot comment on the methods and behaviors employed by the pair. The female took the lead in defending the spawn. As with many Neotropical male cichlids, the Astatheros male's behavior was quite skittish, leaving the site frequently. Being the first spawning, and having concerns for them being eaten by the parents or their tankmates, I removed the eggs from the 125 gallon for artificial incubation. Tank water was transferred from the spawning tank and 4 drops per gallon of methylene blue were added to the incubation tank to aid against fungal attack. A sponge filter was provided for filtration and the tank water was maintained at a temperature of about 78 degrees Fahrenheit (25.5° Celsius). An airstone was placed near the eggs to provide oxygenation and water circulation across the plaque of eggs. Fertility was excellent, with nearly all of the eggs hatching after 3 days. Free swimming occurred after about 5 more days. One observation that surprised me was that the fry exhibited a unique marbled color pattern. My expectation was that they would be pale beige without markings.
Feedings of newly hatched artemia and finely divided spirulina flakes were provided 1 to 2 times per day. To assure that the fry were provided clean water in which to grow quickly, weekly partial water changes were conducted. On this feeding and water change regimen, the fry reached 1" total length in about 8 weeks.
A concern that is often raised, when artificial hatching is concerned, is the subsequent reaction of the parents. This concern is raised relative to aggression between the pair, normally male aggression toward the female, and against other tankmates. This is a very real concern, especially with regard to inter-pair aggression. Many times the parents react in a very excited manner to the interventions of the greedy hobbyist and begin to quarrel among each other, each seemingly blaming the other for the missing eggs. This reaction, in many cases, results in one or both individuals being beaten, sometimes to the point of death! In this particular case, the Astatheros pair did not react aggressively at all to their tankmates or themselves.
About two months after this first spawning, the pair repeated the spawning process in an identical manner. As a matter of fact, the exact conch shell was selected as the spawning site. This time the eggs were eaten, presumably by the tankmates. This result is exactly the reason that I prefer to use artificial incubation techniques for the first spawning and thus saving the observation of spawn tending and fry defense for future spawns. In this manner, the likelihood of raising offspring is substantially increased.
In summary, the new Astatheros from Panama is a colorful and peaceful mesoamerican cichlid highly recommended for the aquarist looking for something new and different. Its hardiness and non-aggressive behavior make it an excellent choice for the large cichlid community tank.
|Aquarium picture of a tending female of Tomocichla asfraci from Rio Calovebora, Panama. Photo by Don Danko.|