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Issue: March 2015

It’s Electric: Sciaenochromis fryeri in the Home Aquarium (Full Article)

Author: Seth Gibson


Photographer: Andrzej Zabawski
Sciaenochromis fryeri is a popular, medium-sized African cichlid that hails from Lake Malawi. S. fryeri has many common names, including electric blue hap, electric blue ahli, and iceberg hap. The number of common names is due to subtle color variations from different collection locations in Lake Malawi as well as to confusion with the closely related species S. ahli.

Electric Blue

Sexual dimorphism is evident in S. fryeri, as males and females differ in both size and coloration. Males grow to a maximum length of 7 to 8 inches (17 to 20 cm), and females typically attain a length of 5 to 6 inches (12 to 15 cm). Male S. fryeri rank among the most brightly and intensely colored freshwater fishes; those colors are the basis for the “electric blue” moniker.

Male S. fryeri sport an incredibly intense metallic blue body and yellow or orange eyes. Males also have varying degrees of bright red or orange accents on some or all of their fins. Many males also exhibit a bright white stripe along the spine that may extend down the forehead and between the eyes.

Females are much drabber; they have a gray body with a slight blue metallic sheen and dark gray vertical stripes. Females' fins and tail typically have subtle yellow and pale blue accents. Juvenile S. fryeri are all gray in coloration, and males usually start to show a significant increase in blue coloration at around 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7.5 cm) in length.

Housing Requirements

S. fryeri should be maintained in an aquarium of at least 75 gallons (284 liters), with a larger aquarium being better. Aquarium length and width are particularly important, as S. fryeri are powerful swimmers. They are typically found in and around rock mounds in the wild, which are easily replicated in an aquarium.

Large rock piles make for a natural and visually appealing environment. Various synthetic rocks made for the aquarium trade are quite realistic. Many of these synthetic rocks have a hole or entry way that basically makes each rock its own cave, providing more space and refuge for aquarium inhabitants.

At a minimum, an aquarium for S. fryeri should be 4 feet (125 cm) in length and 18 inches(50 cm) wide, which is a standard dimension for a 75-gallon (284 liters) tank. A standard 125-gallon aquarium of 6 feet (2 m) in length and 18 inches (50 cm) wide is an ideal choice. Appropriate water parameters for S. fryeri include a pH range of 7.8 to 8.6 and temperature range of 75° to 82°F (23° to 28°C).

S. fryeri does best in an aquarium that receives large water changes on a regular basis and has strong filtration. S. fryeri individuals are dedicated carnivores in the wild; they prey upon small fishes and the fry of other fishes inhabiting the rock mounds they call home. Luckily, they are not picky eaters and readily accept pellets and flakes. As an occasional treat, I offer my group of S. fryeri brine shrimp, frozen krill, and small pieces of fish filet.

Temperament and Tankmates

By cichlid standards the electric blue hap generally falls somewhere in the middle of the aggression spectrum; individuals are neither pushovers nor belligerents when maintained with appropriate tankmates. The list of possible tankmates is vast, but other Malawi cichlids that are similar in size and temperament are appropriate choices. Various Synodontis spp. and Loricariidae that tolerate a higher pH also make for appropriate tankmates. If you have a particular species in mind that you would like to house with S. fryeri, make sure to do some research on their potential compatibility. Electric blue haps are piscivores, so do not purchase fish significantly smaller than they are. They may end up as an expensive meal!

At the same time, avoid hyper-aggressive species and species that get much larger, as they could potentially bully S. fryeri. Male S. fryeri look best when they are the dominant fish of the aquarium, and this is easy to achieve in a species-only setup.

In order to disperse aggression and breeding stress, one male should be housed with a minimum of four females, with eight or more females being ideal. For the most part, multiple male S. fryeri will be difficult to house together, unless you have a particularly large aquarium with multiple large territories. The dominant male will most likely be hyper-aggressive towards the subdominant male(s) in an effort to claim territory and breeding rights.

Sciaenochromis fryeri Reproduction

Breeding S. fryeri is not difficult, as long as a harem consisting of one male and multiple females is maintained under good conditions. Spawning tends to occur when the water temperature is between 77 and 82°F (24 and 28°C).

When spawning, male coloration will intensify. The males will extend their fins and move the body back and forth, attempting to entice females to a sloping rock or cleared area. This elaborate display, which many refer to as “dancing,” is truly a unique experience to witness.

Fortunately, the unique aspects do not end there, as the female will lay individual eggs on the sloping rock or clearing, and the male will catch the egg with his anal fin. The male releases his milt on each egg, and the female then picks the egg up in her mouth.

In total, there will be 30 to 70 eggs picked up by the female. The female will spit out free-swimming fry in roughly three weeks. During this period she does not eat.

It is quite easy to spot a female that is carrying eggs, as her throat area is often extended outward. Although female S. fryeri may be lacking in the color department, they more than make up for it by readily demonstrating their intriguing reproduction behaviors and adaptations in the constraints of an aquarium.

Fascinating Fish

In summary, S. fryeri is a medium-sized African cichlid of moderate aggression that is an excellent candidate for aquariums of 75 gallons (284 liters) and larger. S. fryeri individuals are commonly available in the hobby, and their natural environment is not difficult to replicate in captivity.

Furthermore, S. fryeri is a rewarding species to maintain, as males exhibit superb coloration and females do not hesitate to engage in their fascinating reproduction behaviors in captivity. If you are considering taking the plunge into the wonderful world of African cichlids, look no further than S. fryeri, as it will not disappoint.  

 

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