Species Article: Lake Victoria & Area

Neochromis omnicaeruleus Seehausen & bouton, 1998

by Greg Steeves

Neochromis omnicaeruleus Makobe I

Neochromis omnicaeruleus Makobe I

Neochromis omnicaeruleus Makobe I

Neochromis omnicaeruleus Makobe Island

Neochromis omnicaeruleus Makobe II

Neochromis omnicaeruleus Ruti Island

Neochromis omnicaeruleus Ruti Island

Two decades ago, when we were all infatuated with the haplochromines coming out of East Africa, the new choices available to the hobbyist were almost overwhelming. So many beautiful new fish were accessible that I don’t believe many gave them the attention they deserved. We didn’t know that many of these fish were a one shot deal and might never be seen again. We unfortunately lost several species because, quite frankly, the significance of their being in the hobby was not realized until they were gone. Then it was too late. Many species have lingered around although not in great number. In some cases, it is the work of a single or few hobbyists that have been responsible for keeping lines of these fishes in existence today. In other instances, a species has been commercially produced by the fish farms (primarily in Florida) and have been accessible to the hobbyist via their favorite retailer. While the second option has been the best for the survival of the species in captivity, with pressures facing the independent fish farmer, pond space is usually needed for a crop with a larger market production value. That said, there are still several farmers who seem to have a special place in their heart for several haplochromine species and have devoted space to their existence. One of the cichlids fortunate to be included in this group is a beautiful Lake Victoria species known as Haplochromis sp. 'tricolor fulu'.

In my experience, this fish grows to 12cm with the male always a little larger than the female. The male is a dark blue coloration with 7-9 vertical bars lining the flanks. The rounded forehead is similar to what we seen in Neochromis species such as N. nigricans. The mouth is structured a little differently but with Seehausen’s description of Neochromis in 1998, included were several species that did not contain the 'Tropheus- like' mouth structure. The pelvic fins have the salmoniod characteristic of being bright red with black border on the first extended rays. The anal fin is red at the beginning fading to light blue and then to hyaline. A small number of orange ocelli dot the posterior portion. A red tinge can be found on the caudal fin. The dorsal fin is colored a beautiful cyan with red edging. Female 'tricolor fulu' are marbled orange-blotched. No two fish are colored exactly the same so it is possible to have some aesthetically pleasing individuals and, due to patterning, some that are not visually outstanding.

With the largest work regarding species description since the Greenwood glory days, Seehausen opened many eyes in 1998. Adhering to the depiction of Neochromis omnicaeruleus, it was clear that our 'tricolor fulu' had a name. While it is assumed that this variant originated in the south portion of Lake Victoria, I have never been able to ascertain its exact collection location. The variant originating from Ruti Island does show much similarity to the 'tricolor fulu'.

In the time since the emergence of Neochromis omnicaeruelues 'tricolor fulu' to the hobby, we have been fortunate to have had several other location variants of this species enter the cichlid scene. A massive hobbyist initiated shipment from German aquarists introduced two location of N. omnicaeruleus, Makobe Island and Ruti Island. As stated earlier, the 'tricolor fulu' closely resembles the Ruti Island variation. The N. omnicaeruleus from Makobe Island on the other hand, is quite distinct. The male is has a light blue base coloration with the black vertical barring previously described. The caudal fin blue with red dotting between the fin rays. There is a red trim to this appendage as well. The dorsal fin as a dark base but the primary color is blue. Red trim and spotting is also found on the dorsal, particularly towards the posterior portion. The anal fin is blue with small egg spots. The striking pelvic fins are jet-black and contrast beautifully with the body coloration. The female N. omnicaeruleus is piebald. Her entire body and finnage is marbled with black and white patches. This is one of the more visually appealing female cichlids of Lake Victoria. Interestingly and a rare find, occasionally a piebald male will be produced. These fish are extremely attractive with the piebald coloration prominent with red and cyan highlights not seen in females.

Recently, two wild caught commercial shipments from Lake Victoria were made. Amongst the fish brought in were some adult Neochromis omnicaeruleus from Makobe Island. This population has the bright blue male however the females are all orange blotched. Working with this group has yielded many fry which have all turned out to have the orange blotched females and blue males. No piebald males have been thrown from these fish. All females have been orange blotched. This is a contrast to the Makobe Island population established in Germany and sent to the US earlier. A second commercial export included additional Neochromis omnicaeruleus again from Makobe Island. This group included exclusively males and females that were polychromatic. Interestingly, as the fry from these fish have colored, the traditional blue Makobe male has developed. I am yet to see a piebald male emerge from the fry thrown by their piebald parents. As Makobe Island in Lake Victoria is a fairly large piece of land, it can be surmised that there are multiple and distinct populations of Neochromis omnicaeruleus here. This phenomenon has been seen in other species of fulu at Makobe Island including the gorgeous Pundamilia nyererei. It is known that N. omnicaeruleus has a wide distribution in Speke and Mwanza Gulfs. Time will certainly yield additional treasures from this assemblage.

In discussions with European hobbyists, they have noted that, on several occasions, the Neochromis omnicaeruleus they maintain will throw both piebald and orange blotched fry. I have not witnessed this and regular correspondence on the matter with American hobbyists in my circle relates that they have not experienced this either. Thus far, my OB females have thrown OB fry that have only been female. The males are blue. I have not gotten and OB males from these fish. The piebald females have produced only piebald female fry with blue and the rare piebald males. The piebald Makobe Island males have only produced piebald females and blue males. Perhaps I have not produced and raised the number of fry needed to see all the circumstances witnessed in Europe or, possibly, the new line we are in procession of will breed and produce fry in the matter mentioned.

To maintain Neochromis omnicaeruleus in captivity, one should employ the largest aquarium available. I would not recommend a size of less than 230 liters. In a tank of this size it is possible to set up large rock pilings that these fish seem to enjoy. I don’t believe substrate is very important but I would advise to go with sand rather than gravel. The reason behind this is that many Lake Victoria haplochromines will tumble their eggs with small pebbles. I feel that while spawning the female is so frantic to pick her eggs up that she also grabs these small rocks that she might mistake for eggs. In the process of tumbling, a small bit of gravel can tear the fertile eggs apart. Even though this species is most a herbivore, I have several colonies housed with live plants. These plants are generally very hardy species including Aponogeton, Anubias and Cryptocoryne. I have housed other haplochromine species with groups of N. omnicaeruleus. Mbipia lutea, Paralabidochromis sp. “fire” and even the Malawian species Pseudotropheus saulosi have been tank mates without any problems. As is my preference in most of my aquaria, Synodontis species inhabit my tanks and are of little consequence to the N. omnicaeruleus. So long as your pH is kept on the high side of neutral, water conditions seem inconsequential. I have very hard mineral laden water and this seems just fine for all East African species I have kept. If you have any experience keeping the Tropheus species from Lake Tanganyika or the mbuna species from Lake Malawi, your familiarity should translate easily to N. omnicaeruleus husbandry.

Although breeding is frequent, I have had more successful and higher numbers of fry from the wild caught OB from Makobe Island. This might be an environmental peculiarity rather than a trait true to the variant. Regardless, if I am able to secure a spawn over 10 fry from the piebald fish, I am fortunate while the OB fish regularly have in excess of 30 fry.

All in all, Neochromis omnicaeruleus is an incredible fish to keep in the aquarium. It is also a species in need of our assistance. Although populations in the wild appear to be stable, the entire Lake Victoria ecosystem is considered stressed. Thus, N. omnicaeruleus is included on the C.A.R.E.S. priority listing as vulnerable.


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

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