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Petrochromis sp. "Red - Bulu Point"
by Greg Pierson (aka Greggo)

Show male specimen of Petrochromis sp. Almost 2 years ago a lone male specimen of Petrochromis sp. "Red - Bulu Point", from Lake Tanganyika, arrived uncere-moniously in a shipment from African Diving Ltd to an importer in Houston, Texas. The 7 inch fish appeared to be D.O.A. and was placed in a corner with disappointment. Later, while unpacking the rest of the shipment, someone noticed a slight movement from the fish. It was still alive! It was immediately given its own tank to recuperate in and was gradually nursed back to health over several months. In time this lone male "Red" blossomed into a stunning show specimen that has mesmerized visitors to the store. Currently, this male has grown to 10 inches and is becoming better with age. Rumor has it that the store's owner has received and refused many offers for this show fish. Some offers have reportedly exceeded $600!!!

Not long afterward, African Diving Ltd updated their website with stunning photos of this species and created an international demand for them. Surfing through page after page of theses photos left one in awe of this rare jewel from Lake Tanganyika. Soon a small number of "Reds" were exported and subsequently African Diving closed their fish collecting operation leaving no foreseeable collection activity for them in the near future.

Not much is known about this species in the wild or in the aquarium. According to an email I received from African Diving they are a deep water species that is seldom seen in the lake. Many days while they were attempting to collect this species, they did not capture a single individual. I also learned that males can reach an excess of ten inches and range in color from neon orange to red with their face covered by a black mask. In the aquarium, subordinate males can have a more subdued dress. Females are brown, have a dull orange chest and cheeks, and a dark brown mask. Juvenile fish are silver/brown with a vertically barred pattern and begin to gradually transform to an adult color pattern at 4 to 5 inches.

Three females and a subordinate male (center).  Photo by Greg Pierson

When I had an opportunity to purchase a colony of "Reds", I was highly reluctant. I had heard the horror stories of the Petrochromis genus and did not want to spend a large sum of money for fish that would kill each other in a matter of days. I had over 15 years of experience in keeping Tropheus and had a limited amount of success in keeping Petrochromis trewavasae. Feeling confident in a moment of abandon, I decided to purchase 6 pairs. I nervously placed them in a 6 foot long 135 gallon tank that is heavily loaded with Texas Holey Rock, and began watching for the first sign of an impending disaster.

To my surprise the aggression level was much lower than I had anticipated. In fact, the aggression level was lower than I have experienced with Tropheus. Is it the nature of "Reds" to be less aggressive or did I luckily hit upon the right stocking level? I have since added a small number of other Petrochromis species to the tank (P. ephippium and P. trewavasae) which has helped to reduce aggression even more.

Three females and a subordinate male (center).  Photo by Greg Pierson

Another surprise that the "Reds" had up their sleeve was their enormous appetite. These fish can eat and eat and eat. Imagine the voracious appetite of a Tropheus multiplied by ten! I feed them heavily two or three times a day with high quality flakes, spirulina pellets, and shrimp mix. Feeding the "Reds" usually requires toweling off afterwards due to the enthusiastic, splashing feeding frenzy of the group. Of course, the heavy feedings also result in a large quantity of waste produced by the fish. I use an oversized wet/dry filtration system and do bi-weekly water changes. A sand substrate helps make it easier to siphon off waste from the tank bottom.

With the heavy feedings I have been giving the group, it did not take long for females to come into breeding condition. As the egg tube of a female began to extend, the dominant male in the tank became increasingly excited and active. The male would chase away all other fish from his side of the tank, flutter in front of the ripe female, and lead her back to the spawning area. Spawning occurred in a manner similar to Tropheus with eggs that are larger than a frontosa's eggs. So far my females have not been good at holding their eggs to full term, but they are still young and should learn to be better mothers with time. The incubation period is about 4 weeks with the fry being inch when the egg yolk is fully absorbed. The few successful broods I have had range in size from 4 to 31 fry. The fry have the same enormous appetite of the adults and soon revealed another surprise about them. They have an astonishing growth rate. By six months old they are 3 inches long! In my years of fish keeping I have not kept a fish with this growth rate.

Fry at one inch in length.  Photo by Greg Pierson Tank mates that are suitable for "Reds" are other Petrochromis species, some Tanganyikan Synodontis species, and plecos. However, I would not recommend Synodontis multi-punctatus as it is an egg thief. That would be quite an expensive egg to be eaten by a catfish. Due to the enormous appetite of the "Reds" I do not believe Tropheus would be a good tank mate for them. In order to satisfy the appetite of the "Reds" the Tropheus would undoubtedly over eat and develop bloat. □


Text and Photos Greg Pierson
 

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