Species Article: Lake Victoria & Area

Lipochromis sp. 'Mwanza' - Caught in the Act

by Greg Steeves

Lipochromis sp. 'Mwanza'

Lipochromis sp. 'Mwanza'

Lipochromis sp. 'Mwanza'

I’ve been very fortunate to not only keep some beautiful and unusual cichlids but to witness some incredible behaviors as well. I was able to witness Lipochromis sp. 'Matumbi hunter' display their unique natural method of feeding by pack hunting, isolating a brooding female Astatotilapia burtoni, then ramming her buccal cavity. This caused her to expel a number of larvae. The pack then quickly swooped in for a quick snack. At that time, no one in my circle of colleagues had witnessed this firsthand. Several years later while checking the species in my fish room, I noticed something strange with the dominant male of my Neochromis greenwoodi colony. You can imagine my surprise when he spat out a cloud of well developed fry. I was able to capture this on video and fully document it in Cichlid News Magazine April 2013. Recently, another big moment occurred.

Several years ago, Laif Demason of Old World Exotic Fish arranged a shipment of wild caught Lake Victoria haplochromines. This was a big deal to those of us that dealt with these fish in our hobby. It had been over a decade since a commercial shipment of wild caught fish from Lake Victoria took place. This fish originated from the Mwanza Gulf region in Tanzania. Most fish were taken on hook and bait but arrived in good condition considering the ordeal they must have been through to make it to the US. Some fish, such as Pundamilia nyererei and Pundamilia pundamilia were easily identifiable, however others, not so much. Through several avenues, my buddy Dave Schumacher of Dave’s Rare Aquarium Fish ended up with a good portion of these fish (both the known and unknown species). I was fortunate enough to be asked to help sort everything out. After much deliberation, there remained a dozen or so adult fish that could not be clearly labeled. In typical Dave fashion, he refused to sell the unknown haplochromines and told me to take them for my own enjoyment. Most hardcore hobbyists have that one tank that is for fish that don’t play well with others, half of a pair whose mate might have died, or just other fish that don’t have a place elsewhere. I have a 150 gallon aquarium set up for this purpose. My “rogue” tank contains a dozen adult Lake Victoria cichlids, a beautiful pair of Malawian Protomeleus, and a couple large Synodontis catfish. Surprisingly, this aquarium is quite attractive and seems to have achieved some sort of cichlid zen. There is a trio of Enterochromis sp. 'blue obliquidens' in this aquarium that spawn regularly but the females never hold very long. Over the last couple years, I have been able to tentatively assign a genus to some of these wild caught rogues (or at least my best guess) with a couple Neochromis species, possibly a Harpagochromis species, a couple generalized haplochromines and a lone fish that I thought was likely some sort of paedophage. The reason for this identification was largely based on my experiences with Lipochromis parvidens. This fish has a similar weak jaw and a single row of blunt teeth that aren’t exposed very much at all in the jaw. My recognition of this fish being part of the Lipochromis genus of paedophages was spot on.

Paedophage literally translated means 'child eater', and refers to the macabre feeding strategy employed by these fish. One such method, as witnessed by myself in Lipochromis sp. 'Matumbi hunter' is to bump the fry out of the buccal cavity. The other method is thought to be 'snout engulfing'. It is suspected that a paedophage using this method will hit a brooding female head on, putting its mouth over the female’s snout and sucking the fry or eggs out. I find this all fascinating and have spoken with Dr. Paul Loiselle, who had more concrete information on this feeding strategy than any literature I was able to find. He had relayed to me that he had housed Oreochromis esculentus with Lipochromis melanopterus. O. esculentus spawned frequently, but even though notoriously brooding to term, the holding female would, soon after spawning, lose her brood. Of course the L. melanopterus was the obvious culprit, but as with other such experiments, the actual act of fry extraction was never witnessed. Dr. Loiselle believed that the feeding probably took place in the evening or even at night. As far as I know, the snout engulfing extraction method of feeding had never been witnessed or photographed. That changed this evening.

While making my rounds in the fish room, I noticed that the Enterochromis sp. 'blue obliquidens' had spawned once again, which was a frequent occurrence but successful brooding of the eggs was rare. I should have thought about this earlier because a decade ago I kept this haplochromine and found it very easy to spawn. The females were dependable brooders and the fry hardy. They had either just spawned or were in the process of it so the male was in fantastic coloration. I wanted to take some photographs of the male while in full dress. While snapping pictures, the Lipochromis species met the brooding female 'blue obliquidens' head on, quickly opened its mouth, covered the female’s snout and just as quickly broke his grasp and chomped greedily. I was very lucky to catch this photo just as the Lipochromis was about to feed. It was an incredible bit of luck to be able to witness it, let alone capture an image of it. Later when I fed the aquarium, both of the fish involved fed leading me to believe that the 'blue obliquidens' female was no longer holding any eggs at all. As far as I know, this is the first definitive proof of this feeding method, and I consider myself very lucky to have been in the right place at the right time.

Until the paedophage is positively identified, I will refer to it as Lipochromis sp. 'Mwanza'.


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

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