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A Rheophilic Suprise, Steatocranus bleheri
by Dave Hansen
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I have a fascination with riverine cichlids! In this diverse group, the members of the Steatocranus genus are among my favorites. Their charming personalities and entertaining behavior certainly make up for any short comings with regards to coloration. Perhaps it is the nearly human-like nature of these fish that captivate me. This allure of Steatocranus species has become well known and the genus is gaining popularity in the aquarium hobby.

Steatocranus currently contains nine described species and one undescribed. Uli Schliwen of Germany is currently working on a revision of the genus and I am eagerly anticipating the results of his work. Recent expeditions to Western Africa have revealed numerous unfamiliar species making this quite an exciting time for enthusiasts. The subject of this article is one species in particular, Steatocranus bleheri. This fish is not nearly as common as other members of the genus. My attempts to find information on the web, either articles or pictures, yielded very few results. Even my "go to" book, The Cichlid Fishes of Western Africa, by Anton Lamboj, contains but three short paragraphs on this particular cichlid. My hope is that this article will bring some much deserved attention to this fantastic species.

Steatocranus bleheri is found in small communal groups in the Lubumbashi River. This waterway is part of the Luapula River System located along the border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Zambia. This is a complex of rivers, shifting channels, lagoons and swamps containing some of the world's largest wetlands. The city of Lubumbashi near the river, is a hub of the southeast DRC and home to over a million people. I would love to visit this area one day as the DRC is home to many fascinating cichlids.

Steatocranus bleheri share many physical characteristics with other species of the genus most notably, a reduced swim bladder and elongated body. Steatocranus are considered a small to medium sized cichlid. Named for the well known collector Heiko Bleher, S. bleheri leans towards the smaller end of the spectrum. Males will reach a length of about 9cm (3.5 inches) while the female remains slightly smaller. After approximately one year, I could see very few obvious differences between the two sexes. In addition to the male being slightly longer, he was also somewhat more robust than the female. The males also possess more elongated dorsal and anal fins than the female. The genus is often referred to as the "Buffalo Head" cichlids due to the massive nuchal humps males can develop. You will not find that characteristic in this species. Males can develop a slight bulge, but it is very common to see no hump at all. Both sexes maintain the same dark gray coloration. Variations of body patterns are mood dependant. S. bleheri are deeper bodied than most other members of the genus. The forehead is very steep tapering off to a small mouth. The body contains two horizontal stripes that converge at the caudal peduncle. This is a trait that they share with S. mpozoensis and there is some debate in the scientific community if in fact S. bleheri is a variation of S. mpozoensis. The general consensus is leaning towards the two being distinct species. As is typical of the genus, they spend most of their time on the substrate.

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