General Article: Lake Victoria & Area

No, You Do NOT Have a Haplochromis Obliquidens

by Greg Steeves

How many times have you been looking through a fish store, searching information online, or talking with someone concerning the beautiful Victorian cichlid Haplochromis obliquidens? Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but that fish you see in the store is not an obliquidens. That fish you see listed from some fish wholesaler is not an obliquidens. The person you are talking with that has bred hundreds of Haplochromis obliquidens, does not even possess this fish.

Before we get all huffy about this, let's take a deep breath and let me try to explain how this naming error might have happened. The genus Haplochromis was generically given to all the brightly colored fish found in and around Lake Victoria. In the 1980's and 90's, when the lake was really being examined for fish fauna in depth for the first time, hundreds of new animals in every color of the rainbow were found. These small fish were given the name "mbipi" or "furu" by the native people living along the shore. Most of these fish had never been seen by anyone outside this region. There was much work to do (and still is) classifying these fish. It is possible that one of the first fish looked at in depth was Haplochromis obliquidens. Hence, any fish being exported from the lake destined for hobbyist tanks, with a color pattern vaguely resembling the obliquidens, was given its name. I have seen Haplochromis sp. "Thick Skins" or H. sp. "44" and Astatotilapia latifasciata most commonly misrepresented as Haplochromis obliquidens. There are others as well, in fact I've been to shops where any unknown Victorian cichlid instantly became an obliquidens.

We can hardly blame ourselves for thinking this is the fish we had if this is what we were told it was when we bought it. We can't blame the store owner for selling obliquidens if this is what he or she purchased from the wholesaler. We can't blame the breeder for producing the fish if he or she was under the impression that this is what it was when they acquired their stock. The exporter of the wild fish had no true name to call this fish so labelled it as one of the few "known" from the region. So there you have it.

Paul V. Loiselle wrote in Aquarium Fish Magazine that Haplochromis obliquidens was a specialized algae grazer and had never been exported from Lake Victoria. Since his reference to this fish was made in the early 90's, it appears that the true Haplochromis obliquidens has gone extinct. This is a great tragedy that has also been the fate of hundreds of other beautiful haplochromines from the region. Gone forever! It may well be that there is a preserved specimen in a bottle of formaldehyde somewhere, but you most certainly do not have this fish in your tank. This sad fate of a beautiful little fish is also sadly concurred by other experts.

We, as hobbyists, must do everything we can to ensure species from the Lake Victorian region are not interbred with others. This is tougher than is sounds due to the fact that some species are colored similarly and hard to tell apart sometimes. Most victorian rock cichlids will interbreed and produce fertile young. Let's do everything we can to identify our fish and keep the species going. There is a lot of work that has been done with nomenclature here and a lot more to come. Mbipi are exciting beautiful fish perfectly suited for the aquarium. Let's do our best to learn all we can about them and start with the recognition that sadly, we do not have obliquidens.

Reference:

Dr. Paul V. Loiselle, Aquarium Fish Magazine, March 1998, p. 6, Cichlid Forum

 



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