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Steatocranus casuarius
by Richard O'Brien

Steatocranus casuariusSteatocranus, commonly known as the blockhead or buffalo cichlid, comes from the Congo River Basin, where they make their home in fast flowing streams. This is how the fish developed its unusual swimming style, because of the fast water current, it has an under-developed swim bladder and swims in a ‘jerky’ movement, much like a goby. The name Steatocranus casuarius refers to the large lump on the males head, the translation of its name says fat-skull-helmet (steato-cranium-cassida). This small to medium-sized cichlid was first described by Max Poll in 1935.

I first purchased these “small giants” in September 1998, I bought 3 medium-sized juveniles, one male and two females in the hope to get a compatible pair, they measured 4cm (1.7”) for females and 7cm (3”) for the male. The male had already started to grow the fatty lump on his head. In the first few weeks one of the females got very bashed up and I removed her to give her a break, after putting her back in and watching her get beaten up again I decided to get rid of her, I donated the female to my friend in exchange for some live bloodworms, which I fed to the other 2, which has formed together as a pair. The tank was 3’ X 18” X 14” and water parameters where all fairly basic, pH was 7.9 which I had read wasn’t right for blockheads but they are very tolerant of pH, just make sure you avoid extremes. The substrate was aragonite sand, which acts as a buffer for the pH and other water parameters. Also in the tank where some young yellow labs which I had put in because I had no spare tanks to raise them in, they ranged from 1.5-2” and weren’t harmed at all for the time that they where in the tank. I kept this setup with the blockheads, being fed on omnivore flakes and the occasional frozen or live bloodworms, for about 6 months before any spawning behaviour showed.

It was now just coming into April 2000 and the pair had each grown about 5cm, when I noticed a sudden increase in the digging behaviours of the pair, they started to dig large pits and pull all the sand out from under the rocks, then I noticed in a tunnel hole that was in one of the rocks, the female had laid about 60, enormous, orange/yellow eggs which measured about 3mm in diameter and were pear shaped. They all stuck to the roof and sides of the tunnel, which measured about 1.3” at the opening and most of the way down. I noticed the female had quite a large ovipositor which she would have needed to stick the eggs to the roof of the cave. At 79 degrees, the eggs hatched within 4 days, and the little wrigglers became free swimming about 5 days after that. At first the fry would only stick their heads out of the cave when their parents where around, but after a week they would venture out with their parents and follow them around the cave looking for food, once the young started to come out of the cave I fed them baby brine shrimp and crushed flake food, as the fry were quite large, about 7mm long, and looking like most mouthbrooder fry, but they stayed very close to the cave so I had to used a dropper to put the food at the entrance of the cave, the parents did not like this and I got my hand nipped by the female a few times. The fry grew quickly and measured about 1.5cm within a month, the parents still guarded the fry, just without the same vigour they used to when the fry didn’t have the camouflage colours of the parents, which is an olive/green color that covers the body. It is quite a sight to see when the parents are swimming around with 40 identical miniatures of themselves, all swimming in the same jerky movement that their parents do. They mature at about 8cm (2.3”) for males and 4.5-5cm (2”) for females, and they pair for life, it is very rare for a partner to pair up again after an old mate has died.

These cichlids have massive character and can grow on people to be quite a pet, as they did on me, I was offered good prices for my pair but I became quite attached to them. The final size of these guys is about 15 cm (6”) for males and 10cm (4”) for females, basically double the size that they start breeding at. The fatty lump on the males head grows with age and health; also it can get larger around spawning time. They are excellent parents and a great community fish, I have had the pair raise fry in a Malawi community tank without many problems, even though the end result wasn’t as many fry but they still looked after the fry until the day they spawned again.

Please send any questions to me and I will reply as soon as I can. □

 

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