Aplocheilus kirchmayeri: The Dwarf Panchax of Goa
Author: Tony Pinto
Our international adventurer collected one of Goa's tiny shimmering aquatic treasures, Aplocheilus kirchmayeri, in the waterways of India’s west coast, bringing his aquatic gems home to breed and raise successive generations—and learning more about them every step of the way.
Small Fish, Great Joy
They say that great things come in little packages. I’ve always been a fan of the dwarf panchax Aplocheilus blockii group from southern India and Sri Lanka, but encounters with these little Asian jewels are few and far between in the aquarium hobby. They do not appear to be imported on a regular basis, nor are they bred commercially, unlike their larger relative, the golden wonder killie A. lineatus. According to accounts in published aquarium literature, these dwarf panchaxes are quite easy to maintain and breed, but if you decide to look for a pair or a trio, you’ll find very few killifish hobbyists keeping them. However, they could be considered the perfect occupants for small 5-gallon planted aquariums because they have beautiful colors and are relatively peaceful. In my opinion, a small group of them makes as flashy a display as some of the more sought-after tetras, danios, or rasboras.
A. kirchmayeri is a member of the A. blockii group and named after the aquarist J. Kirchmayer, the original collector. Recently, it has been considered by some killifish authorities to be no more than a subspecies of A. blockii, which it closely resembles. It was described in 1986 by the ichthyologists Berkenkamp and Etzel, from specimens collected in the Margao area of Goa. Goa is a small Indian state located on the west coast of India. Collection of this species has been few and far between, since the fish does not appear to be collected commercially.
A. blockii is also only offered occasionally in the aquarium trade in Europe, with most of the imported fish coming from Kerala in southern India. The situation is similar with the related A. parvus from Sri Lanka, with few recent importations or collections. To the best of my knowledge, there have been no recent studies or papers to clarify the status of this group of fish.
Finding the Needle in a Haystack
My search for A. kirchmayeri began in late 2002. After several unsuccessful attempts to obtain this fish, I came to the conclusion that they were as scarce as gold dust. Very few pairs showed up at killifish shows and conventions, and there were no breeders I knew of (at least in the United States) maintaining them over the long term. I decided that the only way to obtain some would be to collect the fish myself, and this would also allow me to learn more about their habitats and increase my collecting experience.
So, in the early summer of 2003, I began making plans to visit Goa in October (for more on Tony’s collecting trip to Goa, see “Fish Collecting in India,” TFH September 2004). Goa, a former Portugese colony on the west coast of India, is considered a paradise that draws large numbers of tourists, both local and foreign. It has unspoiled beaches, busy markets, and beautiful churches and temples. My grandparents were from Goa, and I consoled myself with the thought that in the event I might not be able to find my fish, I would still be able to sample the local cuisine and enjoy the culture.
Looking for Hope
I found myself on the plane to Goa via Mumbai in the early morning hours of October 11, 2003. I was fortunate to find a small hotel in Candolim quickly, and I booked a tourist trip for the next day. Throughout the tour, it became evident that there were lots of tourist development projects everywhere, and that it might be a challenge to find the fish or even the quiet streams where they are said to occur. When the tour passed through the Margao area, my heart sank—it looked like the place was almost completely developed, and it would be unlikely that I would find A. kirchmayeri in the area.
At the end of the tour, however, I found several A. lineatus boldly swimming in the open at Colva Beach, and that gave me a little hope that I just might find the little dwarf panchax in Goa. During my trip back to the hotel that evening, I visited a taxi stand near the hotel. The young driver, Rupesh, told me that he knew of a place where I could go fishing. I had not brought any of my killifish reference books with me, so I drew a picture of the fish. He immediately recognized it as having a light-colored spot on the head and said he knew a place where I could find it. Based on faith alone, I chartered his taxi for the following morning in search of A. kirchmayeri.
I rushed off from the hotel with my dipnet and collecting bottles at 8 a.m. to meet Rupesh at the taxi stand. It was hot and humid, but the air conditioning provided some relief. We traveled about 25 miles and came to a temple, beside which was a manmade public bath that measured about 15 by 15 feet. It appeared to be 7 to 8 feet deep, with three rows of slippery steps around the perimeter leading down to the water.
What struck me immediately was the large number of fish in this “temporary” habitat, which contained no moving water. There were large and small Aplocheilus killies, as well as lots of silver rasboras, large danios, rosy barbs, and small catfish at the bottom. The nooks and crannies in the walls harbored a small colorful anabantoid, the spiketail paradisefish Pseudosphromenus cupanus, which displayed a deep red color.
But how did these fish come to be in this place? There was no visible water inlet to the bath. Apparently they were trapped when a nearby stream overflowed during the rainy season. The presence of many flying insects left little doubt in my mind that the fish were well fed. My dipnet proved to be very useful because, in a short time, Rupesh and I managed to collect all the Aplocheilus at the surface of the water without much difficulty and transferred them successfully to the collecting bottles. A closer inspection showed that we had collected two species—the larger fish were A. lineatus, and the smaller ones were undeniably A. kirchmayeri. What a success—ten colorful A. lineatus and seven A. kirchmayeri in excellent condition!
I attempted to collect some spiketail paradisefish, which presented a major challenge because the fish were quick and swam into the almost inaccessible nooks and crannies in the bath’s walls. I finally caught one after a half hour of intense effort. Since I wasn’t interested in fishing for anything other than the killies and anabantoid fish, I decided to visit the nearby stream, which was the source of these fish.
Walking barefoot into this fast-flowing stream, I felt the schools of danios and rasboras nibbling at my feet as I searched for more killies and spiketail paradisefish. I found only a few A. lineatus that were concentrated at the sides of the stream, since they disliked the strong current in the middle and were intent on avoiding it. There were no spiketail paradisefish or A. kirchmayeri to be found in this area, but the fishing trip was certainly not a total failure. When measured, the stream’s parameters were as follows: temperature 30°C (86°F), pH 7, and hardness 8 GH.
I decided that we should check other places for killifishes, so we left the temple and drove past a few slow-flowing streams and sampled them. There wasn’t much success here, as all we were collecting were danios and rosy barbs. We finally went along the road leading to my hotel, because Rupesh mentioned that there was a large swampy area on the way.
We arrived at this area near noontime and started looking for fish. I spotted some small puddles and almost immediately collected a number of small A. kirchmayeri juveniles. There were hundreds of them swimming around in the shallow waters at the edges of the swamp. Also collected were some juvenile A. lineatus and more spiketail paradisefish, which were in the overgrown areas surrounding the swamp.
The water here was tidal in that it flowed into the sea and was no doubt influenced by the action of the tides. So I suspect that, in nature, both A. kirchmayeri and A. lineatus can also live in brackish water if the need arises. The water parameters here were similar to the previous collection site, but the temperature was a little higher 32°C (90°F), and hardness was 9 GH. Overall, it turned out to be a successful collecting trip for A. kirchmayeri. (As luck would have it, I also found another blockii-type fish on this trip about 60 miles south from Bangalore with the Indian aquarists Madan Subramaniam and Adip Raj—this fish resembles the Sri Lankan species A. dayi in coloration.)
The Difficult Journey Home
As traveling fish tourists know, collecting wild fish is one thing, and bringing them back home safely and breeding them is a totally different adventure. It was almost another week before I left India and arrived home. During this time I had a few losses, even though I carried out daily water changes and separated the larger fishes from the smaller ones to prevent aggression in the small collection bottles (I had noticed a few nipped fins). I arrived back home with four healthy trios and hoped that I would have some success with them. As I discovered, they acclimated to my tap water, which was soft, and had no problems. I added half a teaspoon of salt to every 5 gallons of their water to help keep them free from disease.
Physical Attributes of A. kirchmayeri
The adult male A. kirchmayeri is a study in color. It features brassy green scales that provide a brilliant contrast on its silvery body, red lips, and three or four rows of bright red spots on the sides, making it a very eye-catching fish. The unpaired fins are a yellow-green color with lots of red spots, and in common with other members of the A. blockii group, there is a black blotch at the base of the dorsal fin. The adult males can reach 1½ inches. In comparison, the females are a drab olive brown with few—if any—of the sparkling green scales on the body. If well fed, they rapidly fill up with eggs, particularly when fed live foods.
Aquarium Care and Feeding
A 5- to 10-gallon aquarium is adequate for maintaining a trio (one male and two females) or quartet of this species if the intention of the aquarist is to propagate them. A varied diet of small foods like newly hatched brine shrimp, frozen bloodworms, daphnia, and chopped blackworms can be provided, but they are surface feeders that prefer to go for small insects like wingless fruit flies (small pellets are a good substitute for such live insects).
As I collected this species in somewhat brackish water, I added half a teapsoon of salt per 5 gallons of water. If more than one male is kept in a tank, they will display to one another and a loose hierarchy can be observed in the tank. In these situations, the dominant male chases and even occasionally nips the fins of the other males, but I have not seen the sort of aggression that I’ve seen with the larger Aplocheilus species that I have maintained (A. lineatus and A. panchax), where the dominant male will harass and eventually kill any other males in the tank if there is inadequate cover.
Breeding and Development
As with other non-annual toothcarps in the aquarium, the small eggs are deposited in either floating mops (made by the aquarist) or Java moss. The eggs are small, clear, and round, and they are found in the upper regions of the mops or the Java moss. They are around 1 mm in diameter and develop continously in water. Depending on the storage temperature, they hatch in 10 to 15 days.
Due to the rapid development rate, I have found it impossible to send eggs in peat to friends during the summer because the eggs would invariably hatch in transit. I have since found a safer method of shipping, which consists of putting them in a little water in a breathable bag. This has worked very well for me—I’ve even started using this technique for other non-annual Aphyosemion species that I raise.
The newly hatched fry are approximately 1 mm in size and can immediately take infusoria and paramecium. Growth is slow, with the young fish only being sexable at 2 to 3 months after their characteristic yellow band in the anal fin of the males can be detected (the anal fins of the females remain clear). They reach adult size between 5 and 6 months, and by this time they are spawning and I am already collecting eggs.
I had an interesting experience while raising the fry. I found that fry raised below 24°C (75°F) typically develop into females, but at 26°C (78°F), I get almost equal numbers of males and females, and at 27°C (80°F), I get more males than females. It has been interesting to see this happen through two successive generations in my fishroom. I’ve also experimented with keeping this species in small planted tubs (my version of a mini water garden) outdoors during the warm summer months, and found that the fish developed better colors and helped keep the local mosquito population down. In 2005 I obtained lots of fry in such setups, and these grew rapidly with the parents until I scooped them up and grew them out separately.
This is a beautiful species that surely deserves to be more popular among killifish hobbyists. It is colorful and quite easy to spawn, although raising the tiny fry for the first couple of weeks does present a challenge. But if you are able to produce infusoria in a reasonable quantity, it is not impossible to raise these fish. I’m hopeful that hobbyists reading this article might be inspired to go out in search of these small Asian jewels!
Scheel, Jorgen. 1990. Atlas of Killifishes of the Old World. T.F.H. Publications. Neptune City, NJ. 448 pp. D
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