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Lipochromis sp. "Matumbi hunter"
by Greg Steeves

Members of the genus Lipochromis have no set body structure. Recognition of this group of cichlids is characterized by thickened lips, a mouth capable of extending widely while protracting, and very small deeply embedded teeth. Usually only the crown teeth are visible to the naked eye. The inner rows are blunt with the inner jaw lining and sometimes require dissection to expose. Larger fully mature fish sport unicuspid dentition while juveniles can possess bicuspid or and mixture of the two. The exception is Lipochromis taurinus from Lakes Edward and George who, at 14cm have mostly bicuspid teeth (Greenwood, 1980). Both the upper and lower jaws are not fused and have a cartilaginous appendage connecting the two bones in the middle. This is especially predominant on the lower jaw and allows for the expansion of the mouth vertically.

Adult size ranges between 13cm and 17cm. Humphrey Greenwood (famed British ichthyologist) noted two subgenre, Lipochromis (Lipochromis) and Lipochromis (Cleptochromis). As the name implies, ‘clepto’ (kleptes – Greek) means thief and relates to the paedophageous feeding strategy that these fish employ. The type species is Lipochromis parvidens from Lake Victoria and is now considered extinct (IUCN red listed as critically endangered). A Lipochromis parvidens-like paedophage exists in the Kyoga Basin waterways but it too is very rare.

With an elongated body structure, Lipochromis sp. “Matumbi hunter” has an interesting feeding strategy. This species stalks mouth brooding female cichlids. It is not the defenseless mother that this pack hunter is after, but rather her developing larvae. This feeding strategy is employed by a number of Lipochromis species. The method of extracting fry from the buccal cavity differs between species. Lipochromis melanopterus attack the brooding female head on actually engulfing the cichlid by the snout and sucking the embryos from her mouth. There are reports that Lipochromis cf. parvidens from the Kyoga Basin may also feed in this manner. L. sp “Matumbi hunter” feeds in different manner with the same results. I have witnessed first hand an attack. The victim was Astatotilapia burtoni. A group of eight hunters had meticulously confined the female to a top corner in a 230 liter aquarium. All roads of escape had been quartered off by the circling predators. In a split second, one of the hunters, coming from beneath the A. burtoni female, rammed her buccal cavity causing her to expel many of her fully developed fry. At that instant, all the hunters swarmed the cloud of fry quickly devouring every one. The female was then allowed to escape still holding a smaller portion of her spawn. This entire event lasted less than five seconds from the ramming of the female, to the eating of her fry.

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