In recent years, the African interior has opened up to the cichlid hobbyist and we have been most fortunate to have a myriad of amazingly beautiful animals make their way to our tanks. From the Congo River system in West Africa come the "goby type" cichlid Orthochromis stormsi. In its native range, Orthochromis stormsi inhabits slow moving waters and is common in the shallows near to shore (Fermon per comm). A small swim bladder hampers the efforts of this species to remain buoyant for extended periods. Darting about along the substrate is the preferred method of motion. These sometimes humorous movements only add to the allure of maintaining Orthochromis stormsi for the aquarist.
There is not a great deal of information in regards to the feeding habits of Orthochromis stormsi in the wild. Consensus leans towards a herbivorous diet of algae and the food associated therein (Lamboj, 2004). In the aquarium, a spirulina based flake with a low protein percentage (below 10%) will suffice nicely. This cichlid is particularly susceptible to bloat and disease if these nutritional needs coupled with pristine water quality are not met.
Orthochromis stormsi is a moderately sized cichlid with males growing to 12cm in length. Females remain slightly smaller at 10.5cm. The body coloration varies from olive-green to a lightly tan-brown. Dissecting the flank laterally is a solid black bar that runs from the base of the caudal peduncle to the gill plate. At this point, the horizontal line thins along the cheek and ends at the eye. Merging at the eye is another black line that streaks to the upper corner of the mouth, around the lips and ending on the lower jaw. There are 8-9 faint vertical bars spaced the length of the torso. A faint bar follows the lateral line across the upper portion of the body. The belly is lighter in color becoming white along the bottom of the fish. Males have a golden-yellow hue behind the gill plate towards the belly. The forehead region is a dark purple coloration. There is a bright red spot at the bottom of the eye orbit. The lips are thickened. Fins are mostly translucent. The dorsal fin has a black tip to each fin ray with a dark spotting running its length. The anal fin contains no ocelli.
In the aquarium Orthochromis stormsi is a rather robust seemingly aggressive cichlid with its own kind. Most squabbles are territorial in nature and usually enacts nothing more than a series of bluffs between similarly sized males. Rarely is there any serious physical contact between conspecifics. The most serious fight I have witnessed was jaw locking between two similar sized males. This was only after the two had tried to settle their differences by jetting advances on one another with fins erect. It seems when one has found a spot he is happy with, all the other Orthochromis stormsi suddenly want this area as well. This behavior alone should entice most aquarists towards this species. They have provided me with hours of entertainment watching an individual claim a rock or pit he has excavated.
In order to maintain Orthochromis stormsi in a comfortable environment, an aquarium of at least 55 gallons should be used. This will nicely house a small group of six young fish. As the fish grows it may become necessary to move the colony to larger quarters or to reduce the individuals to a mated pair. There is much individual variation with regards to behavior when dealing with this species so sensible observation on the part of the aquarist (as with most other cichlids) is needed as the fish reaches adulthood. Tank décor can consist of a small grain gravel or sand. Rockwork will allow for territorial possession. Additionally, plantings of the various Anubias species will enhance the comfort level of Orthochromis stormsi. Power filtration coupled with regular weekly 25% water changes maintains quality at an acceptable level. A temperate 24-28°C is a suitable temperature for this species. Our group is housed with a group of the Lake Victorian cichlid Paralabidochromis sp. "rock krib" and the charming little catfish Synodontis tourei. These three species, although not geographically accurate as fish that might be encountered in the wild, work very well together and create a diverse display. Our water has a pH of 8.0. This is substantially higher that of the Congo River which has had readings below 5.0. No apparent adverse effects are known from hard water maintenance.
Male Orthochromis stormsi will eventually excavate a pit near the base of a rock or plant. This activity is associated with reproduction. Once a pit is dug to the satisfaction of the male, the attempt to entice a gravid female into spawning commences. The male will dart out (never too far from his pit) and "shimmy" to his female. Ultimately she will hop over to his excavation to see his handy work. If the site suits her approval she will succumb to his advances and engage him in the act of spawning. The act of reproduction is typical of Haplochromines involving the two fish circling one another. The female drops as egg or two and quickly turns around to retrieve them. As the male releases milt, the female ingests it fertilizing her eggs. On occasion the male has been seen incubating eggs as well (Staeck, 1989). It has not been observed or known for a male to hold eggs to term. Gestation takes about 20 days with further parental care by the female for another week. Brood sizes are generally small (in my experience) in the range of 8-15 fry. Perhaps my hard water has some bearing on the number of eggs that become fertilized and eventually hatch.
If you are willing to put a little effort in husbandry, Orthochromis stormsi is certain to be a pleaser. While not especially brightly colored, their amusing antics more than make up for any shortcomings in dress. Whether adding to an existing community tank, or kept as a species only display, Orthochromis stormsi is a welcome addition to any cichlid hobbyist's collection.
-Lamboj, A. 2004. "The Cichlid Fishes of Western Africa." Bergit Schmettkamp Verlag, Bornheim.
-Staeck, W. & H. Linke. 1994. "African Cichlids I: Cichlid from West Africa." Tetra Press, Melle.
Originally published in The Lateral Line, the official
publication of the Hill
Country Cichlid Club.