The Genus Pelvicachromis Part II: Wild Kribs

Last month, I discussed the care and feeding of the ubiquitous krib (Pelvicachromis pulcher), a delightful fish and probably the most popular cichlid after the angelfish. However, the genus Pelvicachromis also contains many other species. Some of these fish are even more colorful than the common krib. And all are just as interesting. Some of them appear in dealers price lists under their correct name, but just as often, they appear under the name “wild krib” or under some dealer-specific trade name. So whenever you see “wild kribs” offered for sale, sometimes as “Nigerian kribensis” or “jumbo-red kribensis”, look carefully, with reference book in hand, and you may find yourself a bargain. The only reference book to have when viewing wild kribs is the CAS library book African Cichlids I: Cichlids of West Africa, by Linke and Staeck. Photographs of all described species of Pelvicachromis are in this book.

Remember, however, that wild kribs, almost without exception, come from soft, acidic rainforest streams. They may be slow to acclimatize to local conditions. Although Calgary tap water is not that hard, it is quite alkaline. CO2 injection, peat, and/or RO water to lower the pH to 6.5 or so may be a good idea. Most fish will however adapt to local conditions without trouble. But as discussed in Part 1, the sex ratio of Pelvicachromis fry is pH dependent, so breeding of wild kribs is best done in slightly acidic water.

Breeding and husbandry of the wild kribs is much the same as for the commercially raised P. pulcher described last month. Keep them in pairs, use a sand bottom, provide plants, lots of krib-sized caves, and some company in the form of a non-obtrusive schooling species. Use only a very large tank for multiple pairs. Feeding should be of a varied diet with the emphasis on small crustaceans and insect larvae, if possible.

The various species of the genus Pelvicachromis can be found in the coastal tropics of West Africa, ranging from Sierra Leone in the west, east to Cameroon, where the African coastline makes a right angle turn, south toward the Congo. In the Congo River basin itself the genus Pelvicachromis is replaced by the genus Nanochromis. Unfortunately many of the countries in the Pelvicachromis’ span are systemically corrupt or politically ill at ease, and civil wars or guerilla actions are currently underway in Sierra Leone and Liberia. All are very poor. Fish collecting within their borders is therefore problematic. The easternmost country of Cameroon is however blessed with political stability, and Nigeria has also recently seen a return to a democratic government, and so it is from these two countries that most wild kribs are likely to be shipped, now and in the near future.

The greatest problem in supplying wild Pelvicachromis to local stores is however not at their source, but at their destination. Wild kribs simply don’t sell well. They must compete with the commercially bred Pelvicachromis pulcher, which, after all, they resemble. As the wild specimens must be sold for $15 to $50 each to be profitable, only the most devoted aficionado would select them over the P. pulcher being offered in the next tank for $3.99. As such, only aquarium specialty stores that supply the unusual, such as Riverfront, DAD’s, or Gold, would carry them, and then only occasionally.

Pelvicachromis sacromontis

Sometimes seen in local stores is Pelvicachromis sacromontis, the scarlet krib. This fish is listed as Pelvicachromis sp. aff. pulcher in African Cichlids I: Cichlids of West Africa, by Linke and Staeck. This designation means that the fish is undescribed, but is clearly a Pelvicachromis species similar to P. pulcher. Since the publication of the African Cichlids I: Cichlids of West Africa, this fish has been properly described under the name Pelvicachromis sacromontis.

The ranges of the P. pulcher and P. sacromontis apparently do not overlap. P. sacromontis has a more easterly range than P. pulcher, being found just east of the Niger River delta in Nigeria, unlike P. pulcher, which is found to the west of the delta.

As a juvenile, this fish is very difficult to distinguish from P. pulcher. The first distinguishing characteristic to be seen is an iridescent turquoise blue patch on the cheeks and gill covers of P. sacromontis. They maintain this color even while stressed, so this may be the only way to tell them apart in a dealer’s tank. Female P. sacromontis also have dorsal fins that are uniformly dark, as they lack the gold border of the P. pulcher female dorsal. And when fully colored up and in breeding condition, the two species are easily told apart. Female P. sacromontis have bright red, not wine-colored, bellies giving them their common name of “scarlet krib”. And in breeding colors they have two quite dark longitudinal bands running down the lengths of their sides. These become considerably lighter (almost tan) when the fish is guarding young.

P. sacromontis is also unusual in that the males are just as colorful as the females. Some male populations of P. sacromontis also have red bellies, and in these the red extends from the belly into the lower half of the face, making for a very nice fish. Other populations have yellow bellies. The red form of P. sacromontis must be considered one of the most beautiful of all Pelvicachromis.

Riverfront Aquariums occasionally gets this fish in, but you’ll have to ask when the next shipment is likely to arrive. The last time I was in Riverfront there was only one lone male still available for sale. He was a leftover from their last shipment some months previously, and was left unsold because he had lost an eye. I have never seen this fish in any other store, but Pisces, Gold, Franco’s, or DAD’s Fishroom (Edmonton) might get it for you.

Pelvicachromis taeniatus

Pelvicachromis taeniatus is the most commonly seen “wild krib” in local stores. It has a relatively large range from coastal Nigeria, then south and east throughout coastal Cameroon and into Equatorial Guinea.

Pelvicachromis taeniatus is a slimmer fish than the other Pelvicachromis species. It is also has the smallest adult male size, but the females are about the same size as P. pulcher females.

A considerable number of local color morphs exist, with a very wide range of colors. African Cichlids I: Cichlids of West Africa, by Linke and Staeck lists twelve color morphs, and provides the type localities of each. It is extremely important to keep each type separate in the aquarium. Any tank-crosses between the various forms should be treated as hybrids and discarded.

The recognized color morphs are each given a name based on their range (usually after the village closest to where they are found) or their predominant color. In order of location, from north and west to south and east, the morphs are:

  1. Nigeria-Yellow
  2. Nigeria-Red
  3. Nigeria-Green
  4. Moliwe
  5. Muyuka
  6. Wouri
  7. Dehane
  8. Lokoundje
  9. Kienke
  10. Nange
  11. Lobe
  12. Lobe-Red

The three Nigerian P. taeniatus morphs are named after the color on the gill plates of the males: yellow, red, or green. Note that the overall body color of the male fish or the color of the female fish is not necessarily the same as the plate color.

The Nigeria-Yellow morph is found along the coast of Nigeria west of the Niger River delta, while the Nigeria-Green and Nigeria-Red forms apparently come from the delta itself. The red form is apparently very localized, and the collectors are keeping their location a secret.

None of the Nigerian forms are particularly attractive. The Nigeria-Yellow females lack the “belly-color” of most Pelvicachromis females, and the coloring of the Nigeria-Yellow males is best described as “subtle”. The Nigeria-Green females are much nicer, with pink bellies, but the males are spectacularly unspectacular, despite the green iridescence on their gill covers. The Nigeria-Red form is an improvement again, with nicely flushed bellies, but even they, when compared to some of the morphs from Cameroon, are not very colorful either.

The “Moliwe” form, from north-western Cameroon, is a much nicer fish. The males have yellow cheeks and bellies, with red on their anal and caudal fins. The females have lovely purple bellies, black pelvic fins, and several dark spots on their tales and the rear of their dorsal fins.

The “Muyuka” form is also from north-western Cameroon. The males and females of this form are however much more similarly colored than the Moliwe form: both being and an overall orange-tan color. The females have only a single dark spot on their tails and neither sex has dark dorsal fin spots. The tail and anal fins of the males are red with blue bands, and the females have rosy purple bellies.

The “Wouri” females, known from a single location in western Cameroon, are the loveliest of the Pelvicachromis. They have a gold iridescent blotch on their dorsal surfaces, and this gold color is also “reflected” in their dorsal fins. They have raspberry red bellies, yellow gill covers, and dark bodies. But the males, alas, are an extremely drab olive gray-brown.

The “Dehane” form is found in small tributaries of the lower Nyong River of south-western Cameroon. This is one of the nicer forms. The males have red on their gill covers, yellow bellies and considerable red in their anterior dorsal fins, anal fins, and caudal fins. The tail also has several large back oval spots, rimmed with gold. The females’ fins are spotless, but the females have pleasant blue bellies with a purplish tinge.

Similar to the Dehane form is another form from the Nyong River, called “Lokoundje”. The females of this form have an iridescent metallic white blotch on their sides that is lacking in other forms. The males are similar to the Dehane males but the black spots on their tails are smaller and rounder.

Further south is the Kienke River, which enters the Atlantic Ocean at the town of Kribi. Here is found another form, the “Kienke”. The males have yellow bellies and gill covers, red anal fins, and a red and gold border to the dorsal. The females have blueberry bellies, yellow gill covers, and a single dark spot on a yellow dorsal fin. This is the fish that was originally given the species name kribensis, and so is the source of all the subsequent nomenclatureal confusion.

Found in southernmost Cameroon (near the border with Equatorial Guinea) is the “Lobe” form, with its intensely yellow males. And between the Kienke River and Lobe is the “Nange” form, which is intermediate between the Lobe and Kienke in coloration. The yellow Lobe males are the most distinctive of all the Pelvicachromis taeniatus, with their yellow color covering their entire bodies. If present at all, the yellow color would be confined to the belly and gill covers in other populations. Some muted red is seen in the anal and caudal fins. The females have lovely slate-blue bellies. A very nice fish.

Also listed is the “Lobe-Red”. The males of this fish are a greyish-brown with red on the tail, anal fin, dorsal fin, and gill covers. Linke and Staeck question whether this fish is a naturally occurring form or the result of hybridization, possibly with Pelvicachromis taeniatus “Dehane”.

All of the Pelvicachromis taeniatus I have seen for sale locally were “Nigeria-Yellow”, and so were among the least attractive of the various color morphs. Hopefully we’ll see some of the more colorful Cameroon forms someday soon.

Pelvicachromis subocellatus

Pelvicachromis subocellatus has a higher body than most other Pelvicachromis, being almost the same shape as an Apistogramma.

They are found to the south of the range of Pelvicachromis taeniatus; south through Gabon and Cabinda, as far down as the mouth of the Congo River.

I have never seen this fish for sale locally, which is a shame because is one of the more attractive Pelvicachromis.

The males have yellow bellies and raspberry-red anal fins, and are attractive enough. But when breeding the females are something special. They have white dorsal fins, raspberry-red bellies bordered with two broad stripes of blackberry-blue.

Pelvicachromis roloffi

Pelvicachromis roloffi is closely related to subocellatus, but it has a much more westerly distribution: Sierra Leone, Liberia, and northeastern Guinea. The males are plain fish, with whitish bellies, tan dorsal surfaces, and a dark longitudinal stripe down the side. The females are much more attractive, with violet bellies, black ventral fins, and small black spots edged with gold on the base of the dorsal fin. I have never seen this fish in local stores.

Pelvicachromis humilus

Pelvicachromis humilus is a much more elongated, almost pike-like, cichlid with a long snout. It is the largest of the Pelvicachromis, typically about 10cm in length.

Pelvicachromis humilus is from the extreme western end of the Pelvicachromis span: Sierra Leone and Liberia.

There are several color varieties, with the most commonly seen being “Kasawe” from Sierra Leone. The males of this form have a yellow belly splotch, and the females have pink bellies and bright light green iridescence over the gills and behind the pectoral fins.

Another form is from eastern Guinea, to the north of Liberia. It has blue on the face, a light orange-red color in the belly, and black spots on the dorsal and caudal fins.

A south-eastern form, called “Liberia-Red”, is found in Liberia. The males possess red fins and lack the yellow blotch of the Kasawe males. The females lack the pink of the Kaswae females, but in its place they have a solid brick red. They also lack the light green iridescence. They have some blue on the gills and tail fin, and a black border on the dorsal fin. A nice fish.

Pelvicachromis humilus are expensive. A price tag for Pelvicachromis humilus “Liberia-Red” was stuck to one of Riverfront’s tanks the last time I was in (although there wasn’t any of the fish left). The price tag read $49.95 each. And DAD’s Fishroom (Edmonton) has listed a “Bande River Purple” morph that I am not familiar with for $69.99 a pair.?