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'Haplochromis' cyaneus
by Greg Steeves
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Makobe Island in the Speke Gulf of Lake Victoria is home to a diverse haplochromine assemblage. Some of the areas most famous residences are Pundamilia nyererei, Neochromis omnicaeruleus, Paralabidochromis chilotes, and Mbipia lutea. This species rich area is home to at least 27 haplochromines and two tilapinies; Oreochromis niloticus and Oreochromis leucostictus (Seehausen & Bouton, 1998), both non-native introductions. It is in this rocky shallow water ecosystem that the beautiful furu (Swahili word meaning small colorful fish) 'Haplochromis' cyaneus is found.

The coloration of breeding males is bright blue and this is where 'Haplochromis' cyaneus derives its name. The Greek word for the color blue is "kyaneos" and, with an English modification "cyan", a common adjective for a particular shade of blue, we arrive at the moniker.

Taxonomy within the Lake Victoria cichlid assemblage is a complex struggle. Not only are many of the species closely related, sharing characteristics that can make differentiation difficult, the fish themselves are capable of undergoing rapid morphological and coloration changes (Greenwood, 1982) while adapting to environmental or other stressors that we are not yet fully capable of understanding (Kaufman 2008). Realizing that these animals are part of an explosive radiation populating a very young lake, it is no wonder a common adjective to describe these furu is "plastic". British ichthyologist P. H. Greenwood spent the last half of the 20th century attempting to classify haplochromines based on similarities and differences within the species flocks. His works form the basis from which most modern taxonomic descriptions are made. The group of haplochromine cichlids known as "rockpickers" has been recognized for sometime. Seehausen and others placed descriptive names, usually based on color, to differentiate the closely related species. When initially presented with these field names, the fish of the rockpicker assemblage were placed in the genus Paralabidochromis incertae sedis: the closest fit. Distinctions included both the placement and structure teeth in the jaw, thickened lips, and the cross hatching of bars marking the flanks.

Seehausen concluded that the rockpickers were an intermediate species sharing traits of several overlapping genus’ mainly Paralabidochromis and Psammochromis. Psammochromis markers include the absence of scales on the pectoral fins, and distinctive scale “granulation”. It has been realized for sometime that these two groupings of cichlids are in need of major revisions. A strong case can be made for the splitting of Paralabidochromis into at least four distinct genus’s while there are at least two distinct groups of fish sharing the Psammochromis designation. Rather than add to substantial confusion, Seehausen chose to describe the individual species but not the genus. He assigns the former rockpickers to 'Haplochromis'. This designation is not meant to be included in Franz Hilgendorf’s 1888 formation of the genus Haplochromis, but rather in the generic sense of all furu being referred to as haplochromines in much the same way that we refer to the Malawian aufwuchs grazers as mbuna. While this might be seen as confusing, until the restructuring of the Psammochromis-Paralabidochromis superflock is undertaken, Seehausen’s methodology of not wanting to add to any further confusion is quite understandable. For this reason we reference the rockpickers, and other haplochromines lacking a distinctive genus, by 'Haplochromis' rather than Haplochromis followed by the described name. Using this system, Seehausen and company described two rockpickers. 'Haplochromis' cyaneus (blue rockpicker) and 'Haplochromis' flavus (yellow rockpicker) with an additional nine known species which adhere to this lineage.

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