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Sciaenochromis fryeri
by Marc Elieson and Brett Harrington

Sciaenochromis fryeri maleSciaenochromis fryeri is commonly called "the Electric Blue Hap" and sometimes just "Electric Blue." Often it is traded, or has been traded in the hobby using old scientific names applied to it, which were proven to be incorrect; Haplochromis jacksoni, Haplochromis cf. ahli, Haplochromis ahli, and Cyrtocara ahli.

S. fryeri is best known for its stunning, electric blue color in the males. The females however are a generic brownish-grey to silver depending on their collection point. This blue color changes in intensity depending upon the male's mood (i.e., if another male or female is nearby). During spawning, or displaying to other fish, they will display dark vertical barring (see photo above).

There are many morphs of S. fryeri throughout Lake Malawi, but all have the same electric blue color. Typically, males of the southern populations display a white blaze that northern populations lack. Differences also arise in the coloring of their dorsal, anal, and caudal fins, and there is some body depth variation as well. The most common collection points for these white blaze specimens is Maleri Island. The Likoma Island variants lack the full white blaze, but extra large specimens can display the blaze. The Likoma Island variants also tend to have a very reddish anal fin.

Also interesting to note is that there tends to be a size difference in S. fryeri specimens. Most wildcaughts reach modest sizes of 12-14 cm, as is typical of the Maleri Island and Cape Maclear locations. The largest wildcaught on record comes from Likoma Island, and had a total length of just over 20 cm. In the aquarium, all variants can grow to 20 cm in length. The females of this species, like most African Cichlid species, tend to be slightly smaller than the males.

S. fryeri is rare within Lake Malawi, although it does has a lake-wide distribution. It inhabits mostly the rocky areas of the lake and in the intermediate zone at depths between 10 and 40 m. When first collected for exportation, only about 5 females per year could be found. Eventually it was found that most of the females could be found hunting the Utaka juveniles.

Sciaenochromis fryeri femaleThis Haplochromine is relatively easy to breed and usually produces broods of up to 60 or 70 fry! It is a polygamous mouthbrooder. In the wild, males construct large, conical or volcano-like structures out of the sediment and then tries to entice a female to enter into this structure to spawn with him. Although this behavior is rarely demonstrated in captivity, a rock-laden setup works best so as to keep these fish from becoming too territorial.

Males first build up an area of sediment around a rock and then try to encourage a female to enter this area to mate with him. When a female has been induced, she will drop her eggs on the rock. The current in the water causes the egg to roll toward the male, who catches the egg with his anal fin, at which point it is fertilized. The female now picks up the egg(s) and the cycle is repeated 60 to 70 more times, which usually lasts 20 to 30 minutes if they are uninterrupted. Incubation lasts anywhere from 21 to 28 days.

In nature, S. fryeri are piscovores, often specializing in hunting Utaka or mbuna juveniles. In the aquarium, where we tend to feed our fish more frequently than they would feed in the wild, it is important not to over do it with their protein consumption. The European Shrimp Mix is one choice for food, though certainly they will readily eat mysis shrimp, brine shrimp, krill, High Quality Flake, High Quality Pellets.

Sciaenochromis fryeri femaleLike many fish, we have found that there is a great deal of variance in the level of aggression found in Male Scieanochromis fryeri. This fish looks best when it is in a dominant position in the tanks chain of command. When dominant, it's behaviour can range from fairly aggressive, to downright nasty. We have found that even with the most aggressive of specimens, that their aggression starts to reduce as the fish gets older, once they reach over 15cm (6") in length. Keeping these fish in a 4ft aquarium can be accomplished, but this would be an absolute minimum, and with some males would not be a successful venture. We tend to keep them in 6ft aquariums, and have had greater success with this.

Another byproduct of the male's aggression is reduced spawn life of females in certain circumstances. In smaller tanks, and with few females (1-3), the male's attention can be so constant and harassing that we've often found that females spawning life is reduced to 12-18 months. Once changing to larger tanks, and an increased number of females, the problem has gone away.

Not only can a male fryeri be harassing to their females, but many just can't seem to stop there. Certainly they are a playboy of Lake Malawi, and they seem to take a liking to other species females, with a particular fondness to Aulonocara's. It isn't an unusual story to hear that a male fryeri has eliminated his "rival" in an Aulonocara male, in order to spawn with the Aulonocara females. Take care with what you mix this fish with, and do be careful with other species fry in this tank, as we do like to discourage hybridization of this type.

 

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