by TFH Magazine on December 16, 2009 at 2:03 pm
By Ted Judy
Waiting for fish to spawn and fry to grow is like watching water boil. It seems to take forever. This week things are a little slow in the fish room. The next group of livebearers should be giving birth soon, two more rainbow fish species’ fry are surviving this month (knock on wood) and there are five pairs of characins/cyprinids set up to get some eggs from. And the waiting is finally over for one of my long-term projects: Steatocranus gibbiceps.
S. gibbiceps is one of the buffalo head cichlids from the Congo River. This is an uncommon import that I purchased almost six months ago and have been waiting for a spawn ever since. The fish are relatively shy, so waiting for a spawn has been a bit like watching paint dry. All I really do is feed daily, water change weekly and use a flashlight to check on the fish (and to see if there are eggs in the caves) a couple times each week. Now that the female is raising a brood they are easier to see, and I have to ask myself, ‘Why do I have this fish?’. S. gibbiceps is a smaller version on the standard buffalo head, S. casuarius. The most noticeable difference between the two species, when the fish are young adults, is that the S. casuarius have scales with light edges and dark centers, and S. gibbiceps have scales with dark edges and light centers. Wow! Eye popping… All that color and shy to boot!
Looking around the fish room I can find several other fish that are not going to win many beauty contests. There are the Poecilia butleri from an obscure river in Mexico. These mollies are a lovely shade of light gray overlaid on a base of pale white. The males have a little yellow… very little yellow. I was gifted some cute little Xiphophurus andersi, one of the true swordtail platies, that is very rare in nature. Gravid females look like a robust female feeder guppy. Males have a little curved spike of a tail, but no color to speak off. Not that you can easily tell, since all they do is hide.
I just picked up two more species of Steatocranus: S. irvinei and S. glaber. They are still fry and I will probably have them for a year or more before they even consider the opposite sex attractive in a grade school I-slap-you-because-I-like-you kind of way. The S. irvinei has the reputation of being very, very mean, which is a great compliment to its flat-gray color and potential to grow over a foot in length.
Here’s a beauty! Xenotoca melanosoma… I am told that when the males of this endangered goodeid livebearer really color up they look like the bluing on a gun barrel. Apparently the females do not care, because they keep pumping out the babies and the males never seem to have to color up at all.
Why do I have all these fish that are chromatically challenged? Each species is either a challenge to breed or rare. The challenge to breed category needs no explanation. I like a challenge. Rare is important. In many cases the species is threatened or endangered in the wild. Sometimes wild populations are just fine, but they are protected and what we have in the hobby is all we will ever have. Regardless, it is important to keep, breed and distribute rare fish. Even though S. gibbiceps is not the most beautiful fish in the Congo River, it deserves a chance to be established in the hobby. For some species, like the Mexican goodeid livebearers, a chance to stay established in the hobby may be the only chance they have to remain in the world. So make a little space for the brown, mean and rare (they are not usually very expensive… unless I want them).