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Benitochromis nigrodorsalis
by Diane Tennison
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The first time I saw this incredibly beautiful fish, it was in a photograph taken by Dave Hansen. I had not kept any West African species but this fish started my desire to do so. I did some research and quickly found that I was not prepared to keep this fish - so began my not so patient wait... After some furniture re-arranging (who needs a couch anyway...), I made room and purchased a 40 breeder. I aquascaped with a large piece of driftwood, 2 rocks (1 on each end) and HEAVY planting. Since I am a little skeptical about my thumb color... I used plastic plants. This was the first tank that I had set up like this as all of my other tanks (up to 16 now!) house Malawi or Tanganyikan fish - so there are few to no plants in them. The tank is filtered with an Emperor 400 HOB filter. I actually placed the filter to one side for best results. Originally I had it in the middle and I think that the first spawn was sucked up when the parents released in the back of the tank for privacy... I was pretty proud of my handy work and hoped the fish would like it.

I picked up 6 individuals from Dave's Rare Aquarium Fish and my adventure began. A pair quickly presented itself and seemed to be in the process of bonding. Of the remaining fish, 2 began to color (appear to be females) and the other 2 remain, to this day, in juvenile coloration. This dwarf riverine cichlid from Cameroon, West Africa is very difficult to sex. In my experience, the differences are very subtle. The female actually has more coloration than the male. The gill plates are a blue-green iridescent color, the tail has some yellow in it, the pectoral fins have red in them and the dorsal fin has a very black line along the base with a silvery iridescent outer edge. When the female is becoming gravid, her pelvic area becomes very pink. The male does not have the silvery iridescent outer edge to the dorsal fin and his dorsal fin is a little longer and more pointed. He also has some small silvery spots in his anal fin.

I have not been able to observe an actual spawning process with this pair, but the warning signs are obvious. The Benitochromis, as a pair bonding species, is very aggressive to others in the tank. The bonded pair swim in all areas of the tank on a regular basis. The other members of the group spend their lives down on one end in an area (from top to bottom) that is no larger than a few inches. I was advised to keep the entire group together until the pair had gone through several spawns. Having the "competition" in the tank helps to strengthen the pair bond. For the most part there is no nipping - just aggressive chasing, so I have left the entire group in tact. When the pair is getting ready to spawn, the female will begin to turn pink in the belly. When this happens, the remainder of the group is pretty much pinned into the corners by both of the pair. The group is NOT allowed to leave their positions, unless it is feeding time. I have observed that the pair show little interest in the group when I drop some flakes in.

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