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The Barombi Mbo Sponge Eater
Pungu maclareni
by Troy Veltrop
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I would never have guessed to increase the temperature in the tank that high, but as luck would have it, spring had rolled around and I had not yet properly adjusted the heaters in my fishroom. I heat the room and not the individual tanks. Temperatures in the room soared to 100 F and all my tanks shot up to just over 86 F. On April 14 of 2010 I looked into the tank and saw several adult P. maclareni trying to get at something hiding under a piece of driftwood. They were fry! There weren't many left since it seems that. maclareni is an opportunistic feeder and will dine on its young if given the chance. That day I managed to save eight tiny fry, each about 9 mm (0.35 in) in length. From that day forward the P. maclareni would not stop spawning and about a month later I had two more fish ready to release. This time, two pairs had spawned and I had one male and one female holding. I know they were two separate pairs as I watched the preludes to their spawning a few weeks prior. I was unable to photograph the events because they become incredibly skittish during this time and would abandon the spawning ritual as soon as they saw me approach the tank with my camera. Once again, both of them spit in the tank. The male had spit sometime earlier that day while I was absent and the fry were hiding under a piece of driftwood. As I was trying to catch the still holding female, she made a couple of laps around the tank, and I swear, looked right at me and spit a cloud of little ones in my face. Fending off the other fish in the tank the best I could while trying to net out the little ones, I successfully retrieved about 60 fry. Then again, about a month later, another 30 were added to the grow-out tank, this batch from the exact same pair that provided me with the first eight and half of the spawn a month prior. To this day, both pairs still spawn with their chosen mate, a behavior which supports Dr. Loiselle's hypothesis that P. maclareni mate monogamously.

I have made another observation which supports a hypothesis of Dr. Loiselle's. In January of 2003, Cichlid News magazine published an article by Dr. Loiselle entitled, 'The Aquarium Husbandry of the Pungu, Pungu maclareni.' In his article he mentions how the other wild caught Barombi Mbo cichlids he had as tankmates of the P. maclareni would almost totally ignore the pungu except when they (the other species) began to spawn. Then they would chase the P. maclareni away with great enthusiasm. He noted how this aggression towards P. maclareni would reach its peak just moments before the other species actually spawned. He speculated that P. maclareni might exhibit some egg robbing behavior that we did not know about.

One night, while doing water changes, I noticed what looked like a feeding frenzy in the corner of the Barombi Mbo tank. As I crept ever nearer to the corner of the 125- gallon they call home, I noticed what appeared to be two P. maclareni attempting to spawn. Indeed, the female, buccal cavity partially bulging with eggs, was circling with a male doing the 'fish dance.' Above and all around them were the other nine P. maclareni in a complete frenzy. They were pushing, shoving, and chasing, all of them trying to get at the eggs that the female was laying. Those of us who have kept P. maclareni know how peaceful they are so this behavior was reminiscent of a barroom brawl. They swam hurriedly around the spawning area, picking up any gravel or sand particles that were egg-sized, and raced off with them, only to spit mid tank and race back to the spawning site to repeat the process.

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