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Xystichromis sp. "Kyoga flameback"
by Greg Steeves

The Kyoga Basin in Uganda is a large portion of the Victorian Nile drainage system. Situated North of Lake Victoria, Lake Kyoga is the main body of water with many surrounding shallow bays and isolated finger-lakes. Lake Nawampassa is situated in the south east portion of this region and is separated from the main Kyoga waters by a thin strip of swamp. Lake Nawampassa is home not only to species found throughout the Kyoga Basin, but also to several endemics. Due to environmental fragility, all species from this region are considered threatened. Most of the cichlid lineages found in Lake Victoria have representatives in the Kyoga region and into Nawampassa.

For the hobbyist, the furu from Kyoga are sought after due to their small size, adaptability to captive life and coloration (they are among the most colorful cichlids on the planet). These fish are not regularly seen at your local store so it may take some effort and digging to locate them. One such species is the vibrant Xystichromis sp. "Kyoga flameback".

This species was first discovered in Lake Nawampassa by Julian Whitehead (in all probability) and later located by Les Kaufman, who gave this species the cheironym "Kyoga flameback". This may be a misnomer as it is uncertain if the Kyoga Flameback is actually found in Kyoga proper. X. sp. "Kyoga flameback' is not to be confused with Xystichromis sp. "flameback" that was discovered at Kisumu Kenya in 1989 by Dr. Kaufman. The latter species has a wide distribution within Lake Victoria and sports differing body markings. The Victorian flameback is a smaller species and a generalized feeder as is its Nawampassian cousin. To add to the confusion level, X. sp. "Kyoga flameback" is known by the trade name Haplochromis sp. "all red" Nawampassa. This cichlid is sometimes confused with Haplochromis sp. "all red" from Lake Edward. I feel that to avoid unnecessary misidentifications, one should refer to the fish as X. sp. "Kyoga flameback" (the original field name) and drop the other monikers.

Xystichromis sp. "Kyoga flameback" has an elongated, laterally compressed "haplochromine" body shape. The cranial profile is straight or slightly convex with large eyes and a medium sized mouth. There is a broken and thickened mid lateral black bar running the length of the body from the caudal peduncle to the gill plate. In regards to male coloration, the top portion of the body, including the head is scarlet red. The lips and lower portion of the head is blue. The bottom portions of the flanks are lime-green and yellow. The dorsal fin is red foremost fading to blue at the rear while the caudal fin has blue streaks at the base flowing to completely red at the extremities. The anal fin is white-blue becoming red at the outer portion. The pelvic fins are jet-black. There is a straight black bar beginning at the corner of the lips and continuing through the eye. Female coloration is an unassuming tan-brown with the same markings found on the males. The lower jaw protrudes slightly beyond the upper. Bicuspid dentition is found in all but large adult males who show some unicuspid teeth in the outer rows. Wild populations are opportunistic insectivores who diet also consists of plant matter. Both sexes have an adult size of 12cm. These aspects are all consistent with the genus Xystichromis. Further research may result in a different or completely new designation, but for the time being, this seems to be the best fit.

Xystichromis sp. "Kyoga flameback", is for the most part, a peaceful aquarium resident. Males will become aggressive among each other with the onset of spawning but in general remains rather placid. Despite its size (comparatively speaking) the Kyoga flameback can be easily bullied by other species so care and observation is crucial when choosing tank mates. I have been able to maintain the oral shellers with X. sp. "Kyoga flameback" devoid of incident. These species include Ptyochromis sp. "salmon", Platytaeniodus sp. "redtail sheller", and Haplochromis sp. "Kenya gold". I have tried working Pundamilia pundamilia and Pundamilia sp. "blue bar" in the mix but I believe these to be a little too boisterous and the X. sp "Kyoga flameback" failed to fully color.

To successfully maintain X. sp "Kyoga flameback", one should house a colony in a tank of no less that 40 gallons, preferably larger. A sand or small grain gravel substrate is favored as this cichlid enjoys "scooping" at the bottom while sifting for food. This vertical "head plunging" is a constant leisure activity. I employ some rockwork into all my tanks but this is for pure aesthetics as X. sp "Kyoga flameback", when content with its environment, prefers open areas. As with all responsible aquatic husbandries, adequate filtration and frequent water changes are required to keep this fish, as well as all others, in prime condition. Feeding should consist of a high quality flake containing both protein and vegetable matter although a diet of spirulina flake with frozen or live brine shrimp, daphnia, or the like, is also suitable.

At 6cm, males will begin to display the red coloration for which they are known. This usually occurs at seven months of age. Male coloration indicates sexual maturity so the first attempt at spawning takes place soon there after. The act of spawning is typical of the haplochromines from the region. The males color intensifies while claiming and defending a small territory. This region is concentrated around some object (usually a rock). The male will dart at the ripe female and dance tilted to one side displaying his fully extended fins. She will eventually enter his territory and the two will begin circling each other. The male tilts so that his anal fin is laying on the substrate. The ocelli resemble the female's eggs in both color and size. As she nips at the egg spots, the male releases milt. She drops a small number of eggs and quickly turns to pick them up into her mouth. This process continues until she has fully expelled. She then leaves the spawning area to find a quiet area in which to brood her clutch. After 18 days (gestation period is dependant on water temperature) the larvae have fully absorbed their egg sac and the female releases her fry for a short spurt, to forage. Over the next two weeks the female releases her brood more often scooping them back into her buccal cavity when she feels they are in danger. The young will eventually be left to fend for themselves. Brood sizes are large and can number in excess of 50. To ensure survival, we raise the fry in a separate tank where they grow quickly on a diet of finely crushed flake and Cyclop-eezeŽ.

Xystichromis sp. "Kyoga flameback" is rarely seen commercially in the aquarium hobby. If one is interested in obtaining a group to work with, I would suggest seeking a private breeder of commendable reputation. It may well take a lot of searching but the end result will be well worth the effort. These fish are a stand out in any aquarium they inhabit. Maintaining the Kyoga flameback will not only be a pleasure for you the aquarist, but also to the cichlid world in general as you would be helping to ensure the survival of a beautiful creature from a threatened ecosystem.

Originally published in The Lateral Line, the official publication of the Hill Country Cichlid Club.

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