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Astatotilapia flaviijosephi
The only Non-African Haplochromine
by Greg Steeves
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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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