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Exochromis anagenys
by Sam Miller

I went down to my fish room a little before kickoff time. I saw an Exochromis anagenys male displaying to no one in particular. I figured this might be better than any action on the playing field, so I sat down to watch. I was right! Shortly thereafter, the largest female in the tank came to join him.

Subadult maleI have eight 6–7" Exochromis consisting of three males and five females, five 4—6" Protomelas insignus, and eight 4—6" Fossochromis in a bare bottom 180-gallon tank. I also have four adult Synodontis multipunctatus cats. Filtration is an Eheim 2228 professional canister filter, two bio-wheel 60's powered by a Hagan 802 with quick-filter attachment, and a Hydro V sponge filter with a powerhead. The fish are fed twice daily, primarily large floating trout chow pellets. I also give them HBH African Attack sinking pellets, HBH Soft and Moist with krill, freeze-dried plankton, and frozen mysis shrimp. They seem to eat just about anything.

The male and female Exochromis were both around 7" long. Eventually, they'll get to be around 14". Just by looking at the shape of their body and mouths you can immediately tell these are open-water predators who feed primarily on other fishes in the wild. They come from Lake Malawi. There are no other species of Exochromis nor are there different geographical varieties. They have lake-wide distribution.

The female was slightly larger and more rounded in the belly. She had a beautiful golden sheen with three black spots spread through the horizontal center of her body. Her dorsal fin was rounded at the back. The ventrals do not have any egg spots. The male was blue, similar to the color of an ahli (fryeri) with the color being most intense on his head. There were no black spots on his body although they can come and go. One of the other males — the largest — doesn't usually show the spots, while the smallest male usually has them. The males also have a flare to the back of their dorsal fin and 8–10 egg spots on their ventral. The only difference between the spawning and normal coloration was on the male. His ventral and pectoral fins turned solid black except for the white egg spots and there was a black line outlining the bottom of his tail similar to a Pseudotropheus daktari. There was not any difference in the intensity of the gold or blue coloration for spawning which was rather surprising.

The male and female began quivering and shimmying. They adopted the standard T-formation for breeding. The female spent most of the time nipping at the male's egg spots. The black coloration made the eggs spots stand out. The multipunctatus cats (multis) came around and were trying to eat the egg spots. The multis are cuckoo spawners and will try to eat the cichlid eggs as they are expelled and spawn at the same time. Frequently, the female mouthbrooding cichlid will pick up the catfish eggs along with or instead of her eggs but that's another article.

Although the male had staked out a mild claim to the side of the tank, he barely protected it. Other fish were able to come and go generally unmolested. The catfish aggressively tried to eat the egg spots on the male. From time to time, the male exo would get tired of this harassment and drive them off — only temporarily, of course. The multis returned quickly. I fed the multis sinking pellets on the other side of the tank to lure them away but they preferred the spawning activity and hoped-for eggs to the pellets on the other side.

For the first half hour or so no eggs were expelled. Then, out came one egg, which the female managed to scoop up just in front of the gaping mouth of a multi. I cheered louder than for any touchdown. There was a lot of quivering and shimmying and egg spot nipping but not a lot of egg laying. I watched them for about 75 minutes during which time I saw about five single eggs laid, a group of three eggs laid, and a group of about eight eggs laid. Of those, the cats managed to eat one of the single eggs and the group of three eggs. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your viewpoint), the multis did not scatter any eggs that I saw.

During spawning, the largest male exo came over to the spawning site, which was the bare bottom glass next to a double flowerpot cave at one side of the tank. This male was larger by roughly 1/2" than the spawning male and had the identical coloration except he lacked the black coloration on his fins and the outlining on the bottom of his tail. He made a feeble attempt to horn in on the activities but was quickly chased away. Even during the spawning, I have seen little aggressive behavior from the exos. They are not territorial which is to be expected, as they are an open-water fish, nor do they bother each other or any other fish in the tank.

The spawning continued for about two hours. I went upstairs towards the end to watch a little of the game and have some dinner.

There was little swelling of the buccal cavity on the female to indicate she was holding eggs. I have no idea how many eggs were laid. Their spawns are supposed to number 50–150 but I only saw a fraction of that laid. Unfortunately, after a couple of days, even that small swelling was gone. She apparently ate them. If at first you don't succeed…

The Exochromis is a terrific looking fish and would be a great addition to any large aquarium. □


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