Certainly the most enticing and conspicuous species from Lake Tanganyika, C. furcifer is famous for its dyanmic, neon colors, and at 8-inches, it is a sight to behold! Females on the other hand are silver-bodied and a bit more elongated than males. The species was recently divided in two, creating the species Cyathopharynx foai. I will address both of these species in this single profile page because their differences are minor and in the aquarium their husbandry requirements and behavior are identical. In fact, many aquarists still refer to both species as the furcifer.
C. furcifer and C. foai are both featherfins from Lake Tanganyika. Their only real differences are that C. furcifer occurs in the shallower habitats of the lake and has lighter colors, while C. foai is found in deeper waters, possessing dark, neon colors. Some foai are nearly all black (e.g., Ndole Bay). Despite these minor differences, they were classfied as distinct species due to the fact that the two variations are often found in a single location, with overlapping habitats. The pictures to the left and immediately below are of C. foai while those further down the page are of C. furcifer from Ruziba.
These two species occur in the intermediate zone between rocks and sandy floors, at depths ranging from 3 - 20 m (9 - 60 feet). Females school together in the rocky regions while males stay close to their nests along the sandfloor, which are fiercely defended. Perhaps just as impressive as the colors of the furcifer are the goliath-sized crater-nests constructed by sexually active males. In the lake, these nests are found in great clusters (numbering from 50 to 100), separated from one another by only a couple of meters. These nests are quite elaborate, being 2 feet in diameter. The variety from Rutunga actually builds their nests on top of horizontal slabs in the lower region of the habitat.
A friend related to me an expeience he had with his first furcifer: After a few months, the male's colors turned on and he began to build a large nest, which resembled a volcano. He appropriated all the sand in the tank to accomplish this task, leaving half the tank devoid of any sand. This friend proceeded to add another 50 lbs. of sand, which was quickly annexed, again leaving the other half of the tank bare. Again and again, this friend kept adding sand and the furcifer continued building his tower until it came to within inches of the water's surface!
Males are both boisterous and aggressive in defending their territories; therefore, these species need lots of room. The aquarium should to be at least 5 feet long, and preferrably 6 feet or longer. It's necessary that it be decorated with some large rocks so that females can get away from the male if need be. The substrate should be sand, and a darker shade is recommended to really bring out the colors of the male. The bottom area should be wide and open, with approximately 30 - 50% of the bottom being just sand. You'll find that harmony is best achieved by housing one dominant male, a sub-adult male, and five or more females. The younger male will encourage the dominant male to show off his colors more often than otherwise. Keeping several females will reduce the level of aggression any particular one will receive. If growing your furcifer up, three or four juvenile males may tolerate each other.
Even though this featherfin is boisterous, it should not be kept with other high-energy or aggressive fishes, otherwise males will lose their color and stop breeding. This fish needs to be the king of the tank in order to thrive. Tank mates should be no larger than 3-inches.
This fish readily takes to just about any type of food. Males can be kept in top condition with flake food alone, but if you want your females to spawn, they'll need something more than just flakes. Artemia, Cyclops, and Mysis are all recommended as supplementary foods that will help bring the females into breeding condition. In the wild, females feed on plankton or other fine material found floating in the water column. Males, however, feed on the algal diatoms found in the upper layer of the sand, which is scooped up and ingested almost completely. As a result, they pass copious amounts of fecal matter in a very short period of time.
Both C. furcifer and C. foai turn their colors on and off like a lamp (see video). Chased males, for example, quickly turn off their color and blend in with either females or the background. When this fish's color is on, it's hot, but getting your male to light up is no easy task. This requires patience if you've purchaased an adult. Adult featherfins in general don't handle the stress of shipment very well and require a considerable amount of time before they feel comfortable in their new settings. This can even take up to a full year - but hold on to your seat when they do light up! It's well worth the wait. Specimens that are raised in the aquarium, however, show their coloration at an early age.
Spawning occurs in typical fashion for a featherfin. The male will lead the female down to his nest by shaking. The female will deposit several eggs in the nest, with the male staying close to her side. As she turns around to pick them up, the male will pass over the nest, hovering about four inches above the eggs. As he passes, his elongated ventral fins drag over the sand. Their curious yellow tips catch the female's attention and she follows them, attempting to snatch them up (perhaps thinking they're eggs) and then scoops the eggs up in her mouth. The male fertilizes the eggs at the very moment that she picks them up.
Clutch sizes range from 15-40 eggs, and incubation lasts approximately four weeks. Brooding females should be separated from the male by removing them from the tank and placed in a nursery tank. Do this at night after she has fallen asleep, otherwise the onerous task of chasing her down with a net will be too stressful for both you and her. Brooding females should be isolated to eliminate the stress imposed by the boisterous male. This will help reduce the likelihood of her spitting or swallowing the eggs.
VIDEO: C. foai "Moliro" preparing his nest. [File Size = 2.8 MB]. Courtesy of Lee McLeod.