Although I have had the opportunity to work with
many amazing haplochromine cichlids, there are
some that I have all but given up on ever maintaining.
For many of these fish, their very existence is
questionable due to environmental stressors. Others
are just tough to come by never having been introduced
into the aquatic hobby. Years ago when I
learned of Astatotilapia flaviijosephi, I had placed
this cichlid at the top of my want list. I really had
little idea of what it looked like, its temperament or
anything else about it. What I was intrigued by was
the lack of information available. (Scientific journals
dealing with distribution, but little that would
be of interest to the aquarist) and the fact that it is
the only haplochromine cichlid whose natural range
is not in the continent of Africa.
Recent populations of Astatotilapia flaviijosephi
have been confirmed in Syria and Israel, however
earlier widespread habitats were found throughout
the Jordan River system (Werner and Mokady
2004). The question persists; how did this fish become
established in the Middle East?
There are six endemic cichlids species in Israel.
All are genetically linked to African ancestry. The
first migration is thought to have brought the descendants
of Astatotilapia flaviijosephi, Tristramella
sacra and Tristramella simonis. These fish
migrated over The Levant, a bridge between three
continents connecting the African and Eurasian
plates (Tchernov, 1988; Por, 1989; Goren & Ortal,
1999). This connected Africa and Arabia during the
Miocene era. A more recent migration derived from
the Nile and sub-Sarahan Africa is Oreochromis
aureus, Sarotherodon galileus, and Tilapia zilli
(Tchernov, 1988, Por, 1989, Goren & Ortal, 1999).
No evidence of haplochromine cichlids emerging
from the Nile to the Israeli River System after separation
of the Levant has presented itself. So in summary,
Astatotilapia flaviijosephi emerged from North
African ancestry approximately three million years
ago, traveling to Israel along freshwater estuaries
crossing the Levant, a land bridge that no longer exists.
Tectonic movement has today isolated the two regions.
As the lone representative of a large assemblage of
haplochromine cichlids outside of Africa, it comes as
no surprise that the closest relative of Astatotilapia
flaviijosephi, is the northern most African species
Astatotilapia desfontainii (Loiselle and Kaufman
pers comm.) In terms of husbandry and captive
maintenance, I have based my care of A. flaviijosephi
on my successes with A. desfontainii.
Fully adult males reach a size of 13cm while the females
stay slightly smaller. A unique feature of this
species is that pharyngeal dentition differs between
the sexes. "The median teeth are molariform in
males, slender and blade-like in females and juveniles"
- Paul Loiselle. It is generally found in shallow
waters among vegetated growth. Males feed
mainly on snails whilst females and juveniles feed
mostly on small insets and larvae (Krupp and
Schneider, 1989). There exist a small number of isolated
populations which could be considered subspecies.
These groups are all restricted to the Jordan
River System with recorded populations in Israel and
Syria at the waters surrounding Lake Kinneret (Sea
of Galilee), The Baisan Valley, and Lake Muzairib
and Lake Tiberias. Interestingly, both riverine and
lacustrine populations of A. flaviijosephi exist.
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