Many aquatic hobbyists pursue rare fish. Scarcity in the hobby however, does not necessarily translate into a species being difficult or interesting to maintain. I am fortunate to possess a group of the uncommon and fascinating cichlid Iranocichla hormuzensis. The first challenge is undoubtedly locating this fish. Once you have found I. hormuzensis, breeding can be a daunting chore. I will explain the obstacles I have encountered during this article.
Iranocichla hormuzensis is the only cichlid found in Iran and is the lone member of the genus (monotypical). It is a maternal mouthbrooder with an extremely limited range along the southern coast of Iran being restricted to rivers draining into the Strait of Hormuz. The word "river" can be misleading as I have seen pictures of this species being collected in ankle deep water flowing at a snail's pace. Every waterway seems to be slightly different, ranging in width from 1-50 meters. Often the streams will experience diminished flow rates and will settle into pools. Some years the pools may have fish and others they do not. The parameters of the water of its habitat vary wildly in regards to both salinity and temperature. This is a large portion of the challenge in keeping these animals. Normally when I learn a fish comes from a system of fluctuating measurements, I associate it with a species that is easy to keep and a little bit more tolerant of the water when what we put into their tanks isn't perfect. The challenge is not in the daily maintenance of I. hormuzensis, but in matching those conditions when trying to induce spawning. These waterways have not been studied as extensively as most leaving many gaps in regards to addressing their water quality needs. A large portion of the terrain in close proximity to these rivers, consist of salt domes. This can cause to the water to be highly saline. Consequently, any influx of freshwater into the system will cause the salinity level to fluctuate. These are mostly small bodies of water and I would consider the conditions to be anything but stable. In addition, the water found in several oasis where this fish is found, consists of pure fresh water.
If challenging water conditions were not enough, the area is exposed to extreme temperature changes. Winter temperatures range from 12-30 C while in summer this environment can swell up to 44+ C. Unlike many of the waterways associated with other cichlids, there is very little vegetation along the banks to provide any shade. This combined with the reduced water levels in the summer make for tough living.
I have had discussions concerning the state of the fish in its native waterways with several people, including several prominent ichthyologists. Some think the fish is in serious peril because farmers are using the water for irrigation and industrialization of the region. The other camp maintains that the fish is not at any greater risk than they previously faced based on limited distribution and tough environmental conditions. The thought process is that the region is so undesirable and desolate that it has escaped the industrialization found elsewhere. Without treatment, the water is too salty to be used for farming. I have not heard much middle ground and the opinions seem to be far apart.
This is an absolutely stunning fish when it matures. I. hormuzensis is relatively small at a maximum length of about 4". While somewhat undersized, it processes a very stout body. Juveniles are slightly elongated and one can clearly see the convex shape of the head developing early on. At this point, any hints of future coloration are non existent. The young maintain a silver-green coloration with no pigmentation in the fins. The body exhibits 7-11 vertical bars that become less obvious as the fish matures. The dorsal fin contains an easily recognizable tilapia spot. In the description of the species, it is stated that males can be differentiated from females by a greater head length, larger pelvic fins, and greater interorbital width, but frankly I was unable to accurately sex these fish until they began to display certain behavior and color changes. When looking closely, you begin to notice white spots on the silver fish. Slowly the male begins to exhibit darkening shades of gray until it appears as a light black. When in breeding dress, the male is intensely black with white and turquoise iridescent spots scattered throughout the body and caudal fin. There are no spots on either the anal or pelvic fins. The dorsal contains some spots, and has white banding that occurs in the otherwise black fin. The speckling on the body begins behind the gill plate while the cranial region is black. If you look at other images and read through the limited material available, you will find that males also appear with a black body and a brick-red lower side along with the bottom portion of the jaw. The species description mentions both of these variants without further elaboration on potential reasons for the differences. It could be diet, water condition, or locale variants, but all of this is simply speculation on my part. Hopefully as additional taxonomic work is done with this cichlid we can fill some of the gaps in our knowledge. The females maintain the silver coloration and vertical barring. I have seen them darken up a little bit, but it is just very light gray without all the spotting. Unlike the males, the tilapia spot is easily seen in the females. The differentiation in hues of the females to a strutting male makes for a stunning display.
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