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Pike Cichlids of the Lugubris Group
by Vinny Kutty
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Pikes of the lugubris group are the largest members of the genus, with tiny scales and a very smooth, salami-like appearance. They require very large tanks but are certainly the most colorful members of the genus.


Pikes belonging to the lugubris group (or the strigata -type) are the largest members of the 110 (and counting) species of Crenicichla, often reaching sizes up to 18 inches. Some females reach only a foot and Jeff Cardwell (pers. comm.) reports having observed a pair of undescribed Xingu species reaching almost 2 feet in length. There exists an undescribed species from Venezuela (C. sp. Venezuela) at the Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco that is easily two feet in length. Both Crenicichla lugubris Heckel, 1840 and C. strigata Gunther, 1862 are valid species of Crenicichla, but have simply been chosen as representatives of their group, as they exhibit the group s general traits. Their distinguishing characteristics are a high number of spines and scales along the lateral line. Their tiny scales and their elongated shape give them a Salami-like appearance.

In 1991, Ploeg included 13 species in this group based on their size (up to 300 mm SL) and a large number of scales along the side of the fish (more than 82). Other groups of Crenicichla possess fewer than 80 scales. I do not rely on scale counts for identification for practical reasons and so, coloration and collection locality is of more value.

Ploeg's 13 species:
  C. johanna Heckel, 1840
  C. jegui Ploeg, 1986
  C. ternetzi Norman, 1926
  C. vittata Heckel, 1840
  C. acutirostris Gunther, 1862
  C. tigrina Ploeg et al., 1991
  C. multispinosa Pellegrin, 1904
  C. cincta Regan, 1905
  C. lugubris Heckel, 1840
  C. adspersa Heckel, 1840
  C. lenticulata Heckel, 1840
  C. strigata Gunther, 1862
  C. marmorata Pellegrin, 1904

Kullander (1997) further elaborated on the theme in his paper where he described another lugubris-group member, namely C. rosemariae. In his paper, he split Ploeg s 13 into two groups. One with pointy snouts and the other with blunt snouts. The blunt-nosed, robust-bodied Pikes now are still in the lugubris-group, but the pointy. More slender ones are now in a new group of their own: the acutirostris group. The pointy-nosed fish generally have smaller scales. This distinction may not necessarily mean that members of either group are closely related. The Guyanan C. ternetzi and C. multispinosa may be closely related but their relationship to substantially different species such as C. jegui has yet to be clearly understood.

Kullander's acutirostris-group:
  C. jegui Ploeg, 1986
  C. ternetzi Norman, 1926
  C. vittata Heckel, 1840
  C. acutirostris Gunther, 1862
  C. tigrina Ploeg et al., 1991
  C. multispinosa Pellegrin, 1904
  C. phaiospilus Kullander 1991

Perhaps Ploeg implicitly intended this split as well, as the sequence of the list above is the same as it is in his key to the lugubris-group on page 61 of his dissertation, except for C. phaiospilus, since it was described by Kullander in 1991.

Kullander's lugubris-group:
  C. cincta Regan, 1905
  C. lugubris Heckel, 1840
  C. adspersa Heckel, 1840
  C. lenticulata Heckel, 1840
  C. strigata Gunther, 1862
  C. marmorata Pellegrin, 1904
  C. johanna Heckel, 1840
  C. rosemariae Kullander, 1997
  C. ornata, according to Ploeg (1991) is actually juvenile C. lenticulata.

Until the recent interest in the Loricariid catfish from Rio Xingu, the habitat of a few attractive Pikes, importation of large Pikes was rare. The occasional lugubris-group member that came in was immediately labeled Black Line Pikes or C. strigata. This is usually the very large, robust and rather drab fish from Venezuela. It so happens that the true C. strigata is not found in Venezuela, but over a thousand miles away in the Tocantins and Capim river systems. Unlike its Venezuelan counterpart, the true C. strigata has a clearly ocellated humeral blotch (ringed shoulder-spot) behind its gill cover (Warzel, 1991.) The humeral blotch in the Venezuelan species is often faded and almost absent. So, the hobby strigata is an undescribed species and still goes by the wrong name even today (See Page 92 of the November 1997 issue of TFH magazine).

Many of them find their way into the aquarium hobby as cute juveniles. They are often quite colorful - brownish red to bright orange, with a distinctive pattern of spots and stripes. There are numerous spots on the head and the body has a few horizontal black stripes or bands, hence their common name of Black Line Pikes. They are small when imported, schooling tightly, they show no signs of aggression. The combination of "friendly" deportment and general cuteness gets them taken home by aquarists who are usually unaware of the potential size of these fish. They are active and quickly associate humans with food; this leads to constant begging and consequent feeding. Being ravenous eaters, you often see juveniles with lumpy stomachs, after having overfed. Most of the food is put to good use as they can grow at incredible rates. Some specimens can actually reach a foot long in the first year of life.

A lot of their initial cuteness wears off after they reach a size of about 6 inches, when they begin to lose their juvenile spots-n-stripes color pattern and metamorphose into their adult brownish gray or green base color. Once their cute little pike turns "ugly and mean", a lot of uninformed aquarists become uninterested and get rid of the fish. If you don't get rid of them at this difficult-to-manage stage, they will eventually turn into something quite pretty. Most members of this group have attractive coloration once they are adults. Upon adulthood, many of them develop a humeral blotch immediately posterior to the pectoral fin and most of them also develop a caudal spot on the caudal peduncle. For additional information and exceptions, see the tables below.

While many of the adults turn into swans as they age, this group of Pikes is especially susceptible to neuromast erosion or hole-in-the-head syndrome. Many adults have this problem and it is usually a result of poor water condition. Some hobbyists have tried to maintain very low nitrogen levels in the water by conducting large water changes and employing heavy filtration, still to have their Pikes develop this non-lethal problem. Some hobbyists claim that charcoal filtration and the resulting removal of some unidentified mineral or organic compound cause it. If your water is deficient in some mineral or some organic complex, you may be able to compensate by feeding a varied diet and supplying the missing mineral through the food. A C. johanna under my care developed this problem while being fed only pellets and the situation stopped getting worse after various frozen and live foods were introduced into the diet. Of course, once the holes have spread, they seldom heal. The condition does not appear to hinder the fish from going about its usual activities. It certainly doesn t suppress the victim s appetite.

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