Species Article: Lake Victoria & Area

Haplochromis sp. 35 (tomato)

by Greg Steeves

A source of frustration amongst the aquarium hobby is certainly the lack of new species and wild stock available from Lake Victoria. Not since the mid to late 90's have we seen substantial importation of native cichlids from this region. Political unrest, native restrictions, diseases and other dangers severely hamper collecting in many areas however; this inland sea supports the planets largest freshwater fishery. It is sometimes hard for the hobbyist to understand why, with so many beautiful cichlids native to the region, that an ornamental aquatic industry has not been formed here as has with Lakes Tanganyika and Malawi. In 1999, a brief window opened and a couple "new to the hobby" cichlids arrived on the scene. One of the stunning species made available was imported as Haplochromis sp. "tomato red" originating from Kome Island. The Kome Islands are an archipelago southeast of Entebbe Uganda. This Island cluster consists of a large main isle known as Kome, and a number of smaller land masses primarily to the north and west. There is also a large Island called Kome east of Mwanza Gulf in the Tanzanian waters of Lake Victoria. Although I have not been able to pin down which of the Kome Islands that Haplochromis sp. "tomato red" originates, I suspect that the collection point is probably in Ugandan waters.

In the time following importation, the common name of this fish has evolved to Haplochromis sp. "tomato" or by its numerical designation of Haplochromis sp. 35. This is a small species growing to 12cm perfectly suited for a captive aquatic environment. The dominant male is a brilliant splashing of color. The head is blue-grey with a black stripe running from the corners of the mouth, through the eye, and around the forehead. Another more slender crosses the forehead at eye level. An orange blush begins at the rear of the gill plates, and paints the body in a "U" pattern running along the abdomen and along the lateral line. The mid flank is a bright lime-green. The area below the dorsal is dark brown or a smoky-black with black blotches running into the fin. Seven vertical black bars stripe the body varying in intensity according to the mood and dominance of the fish. In the most dominant of males, these bars are barely visible. Subdominant males as well as females constantly display the evenly spaced stripes. The pectoral fins are jet-black. The caudal fin is red along the rays merging out from its base and hyaline along the outer portion. The first three fin rays of the anal are red merging to a white-blue and clear along the rear segment. Two orange ocelli are positioned between the rear fin rays. These egg spots have a clear well developed orbit. Twenty one fin rays make up the dorsal with the rear sixteen colored red. The forward most rays are grey-blue. Blue tinges of color are positioned between the dorsal rays. The cranial slope is straight or slightly convex with no obvious premaxillary hump. The lips are blue and slightly thickened. The upper and lower jaws protrude evenly. Aside from coloration, H. sp. 35 shows a close affinity to Astatotilapia. sp. 44 (thick skin) processing similar markings and body shape. One might deduce that this species is an insectivore in the wild conforming to the genera description of Astatotilapia. Presently work is being carried out on the Astatotilapia genus which will see a division of members of this distinction between lacustrine and riverine species. Haplochromis sp. 35, whether described or not, will, in all probability, adhere to the former grouping.

Like many of the Lake Victoria cichlids, Haplochromis sp. 35 is a model aquarium candidate. I recommend housing a minimum of eight individuals in a tank of at least 40 gallons. It is possible to keep multiple males together thus a colony of three males to at least five females is ideal. The fish are mildly aggressive and territorial (including the females). Squabbles and jaw locking struggles are not uncommon in a group of adults. These conflicts rarely result in any physical damage and are used to establish a pecking order. I house this species with a lot of rockwork however; the fish roam at will and do not noticeably fiercely defend a territory. The most dominant fish explore all regions of the aquarium unchallenged. Less dominant fish are chased by the stronger individuals whenever they venture near. I have housed H. sp. 35 with other mbipi as well as Aulonocara and mbuna species from Lake Malawi. This species mixes well with these other cichlid and while not especially aggressive, are certainly capable of holding their own.

Once the males begin to show the intense adult coloration they are sexually mature. Breeding activity commences with a male noticing a ripening female and his excavating a rudimentary pit. This digging is hap hazard and the degree to which a pit is dug varies between individuals. At this point, a loosely held territory is defended by the male. He dances to his prospective mate attempting to lure her into his area. She eventually succumbs to his efforts and spawns in the manner typical to the furu of Lake Victoria. Haplochromis sp. 35 is a maternal mouth brooder holding a clutch for 18 days. Brood sizes of 30+ fry are not uncommon. The fry grow rapidly on a diet of Cyclop-eeze® and crushed flake. Adult fish will greedily take all foods offered. A large water change will often trigger a spawn.

The fantastic coloration of Haplochromis sp. 35, ease of maintenance, and small adult size is an attraction to grace any cichlid collection.


Cichlids of Africa
Volume I: The Haplochromines
Cichlids of Africa; Volume I: The Haplochromines

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