I should begin by saying that this fish has been called by several names, including Haplochromis sp.44, Haplochromis sp. "Thick Skin," Haplochromis obliquidens, and Astatotilapia sp. "Red Tail." Haplochromis obliquidens is positively incorrect. Of the others, I am not sure which is most correct, but have chosen to refer to them as Haplochromis sp. 44 "Red Tail."
Haplochromis sp. 44 “Red Tail” is found on the north and east coastlines of Lake Victoria and inhabits the shallow water near the shore. They are aggressive fish and should be kept in aquariums no smaller than 75-gallons. “Red Tails” are extremely colorful, hardy, and prolific spawners, which has made them the most popular Victorian cichlid in the hobby, at least in North America.
"Red Tails" display a whole spectrum of colors, unrivaled by any other species, but what’s most interesting to me about these colors is that they are continually changing. This is very difficult to explain, but I will try my best. As cichlids mature, their colors slowly come develop and grow more intense. In my experience with raising and breeding “Red Tails”, I’ve discovered that males will color up at a very young age: less than 1-inch. But this color is continually changing. (Note: I’ve kept this fish for several generations and consistently fed them all the same flake food.) What I’ve noticed is that their color is very mood-dependent. Secondly, the intensity of their various colors seem to change as they mature, with the blue and black being more intense for the first couple of years and the red and oranges being more dominant later in life. Their color is far from static, but always present.
In my opinion, female “Red Tails” are quite attractive for Victorians, which are usually gray and dull. Instead, “Red Tail” females have a faint golden body color with red trim on their unpaired fins. Stripes may even become visible when females are spawning or defending a territory.
Males love to flash their color, particularly to each other. I’ve found that “Red Tails” look their best when at least two males are present. Males are very jealous and a second male serves to keep dominant males showing their best color. Spawning certainly occurs more frequently when two or more males are present, even though these other males may be prevented from spawning with the females.
“Red Tails” definitely abide by a hierarchy. For example, when I first began keeping this fish, I had 2 males and 2 females in the same tank. One male was obviously dominant and kept the second from displaying his best color; however, the subdominant male would periodically color up and make an attempt to spawn with one of the two females. This was always cut short, as the two males would square off in a T-position before proceeding to mouth-to-mouth combat. The result was that the dominant male spawned with both females about 8 times in the first 6 months, all of which I was lucky enough to witness, while the subdominant male remained a bachelor.
As I was saying, this fish abides by a hierarchy. Males and females both form a chain of command, with dominant males and dominant females being more colorful and usually larger in size. Adult males can grow up to a healthy 5-inches. Females on the other hand, usually max out at 3-inches, creating a size disparity in the sexes. Because they are prolific spawners and males are quite aggressive, it’s important to keep multiple females for each male. A ratio of 1 male to 2 or 3 females is recommended. Also, it’s a good idea to keep females separated from males for a week or more after releasing fry in order to give them time to recuperate and pick up some lost weight. If females are not cared for, they will spawn and spawn until they eventually wither away.
“Red Tails” are polygamous mouthbrooders. Males are very jealous of their females and will mercilessly persecute any rival suitors; therefore, plenty of rockwork should be provided for subdominant males and females. They will need caves and other hiding places. On an interesting note, initially I kept those 2:2 “Red Tails” with 2:2 Pundamilia nyererei. The “Red Tail” alpha male never made an attempt to spawn with the nyererei females, but, he wouldn’t ever allow the nyererei males to spawn with them either! Anytime a male and female begin their dance, he would fly across the tank and wedge himself in between them.
As soon as you notice males squaring off and sparring, which they do quite frequently, you’ll know that fry will shortly follow. This fish spawns at a surprisingly early age. I have found females in my fry tanks that were holding at 1-inch in total length. Males in these tanks were of similar size and only just starting to show color. Spawning takes place in typical fashion with one exception. Males lay on their sides as the female nips his genitalia, causing the release of sperm. Spawning usually takes place in a cave, on top of a rock or other flat surface, or in a gravel-cleared crater prepared and then defended by the male. Just prior to spawning, males will attempt to display their “fitness” by making jerky, flamboyant flashing maneuvers and by vigorously defending their territory. Any fish that comes to close to the spawning pair are chased away, conspecific or not.
Haplochromis sp. 44 “Red Tail” is a micro-predator, consuming aquatic insect larvae in the wild. A good Spirulina-containing flake food is recommended, but may be supplemented with live or frozen daphnia and mysis.
“Red Tails” are an excellent fish, prized for their color and interesting social behavior. I highly recommend them as they are sure to be a rewarding fish for novices and advanced hobbyists.