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Harpagochromis sp. "golden duck"
by Greg Steeves

Organism Fin Fish Adaptation Marine biology

The genus Harpagochromis was erected in 1896 by G. J. Pfeffer. The Harpagochromis name is rooted in Greek. "Harpage" means robber while "chromis" denotes color. The basic cues which differentiate Harpagochromis from other cichlids of haplochromine lineage include body shape, dentition, and feeding strategies.

The Harpagochromis contains a number of species and all are piscivores. Many Harpagochromis species are now listed as extinct in their native waters while captive Harpagochromis stocks are not at all abundant. Members of the Harpagochromis group can be found in Lake Victoria, Lake Edward, Lake George, The Victorian Nile, Lake Kyoga and Lake Nawampassa.

Harpagochromis are deep bodied cichlids. They can attain a length of 20cm which is substantially larger than most other haplochrominis from the Victorian basin. A deceptively large mouth is angled upward. The lower jaw extends past the upper. The outer teeth are bicuspid and sometimes unicuspid in larger members of the genus. Between one and five inner rows of unicuspid and/or tricuspid teeth line both jaws.

Harpagochromis sp. "golden duck" is native to Lake Nawampassa, Uganda. It was first introduced to the aquarium hobby by a Laif DeMason of Old World Exotic Fish. Harpagochromis sp. "golden duck" is one of the smaller members of the genus attaining a length of 15cm. Female and immature or subdominant males display a creamy-colored underbelly that joins the mid-lateral horizontal black band and runs the length of the body from the caudal peduncle to the gill plate. Another black horizontal line runs along the upper lateral line. Base coloration of the body is a dull gold color. Dominant male coloration is completely jet black. Varying stages of coloration exist from the subdominant to the dominant bloom. Two or three bright orange ocelli spot the anal fin. The anal, dorsal and caudal fins range from translucent to jet black, varying with body coloration.

Harpagochromis sp. "golden duck" is deceptively peaceful in a community tank. It can safely be housed with docile cichlids of similar size. It will however, as a piscivore, engulf any fish it can fit into its large mouth. Catfish of the Synodontis genus make suitable tank mates. Harpagochromis sp. "golden duck" is a substrate spawner employing the common haplochromine method of the female circling the male, dropping eggs, and quickly turning to pick them up. In between the females' turns, she nuzzles at the outspread anal fin presumably thinking that the ocelli are her own eggs. The male releases his milt fertilizing the eggs. Spawning occurs on the substrate with no effort going into creating a bower or nest.

Holding females are not harassed by the other members of my Harpagochromis sp. "golden duck" colony. My tanks hover between 75F and 85F generally, and I stripped the holding female 17 days post spawning. At this time the fry had completely absorbed their yolk sac and were free swimming. I found the fry to be very hardy in the twenty gallon tank they were placed in. This tank is filtered with a Dirt Magnet® sponge filter. My first spawn of Harpagochromis sp. "golden duck" yielded 23 hardy fry.

I feed my Harpagochromis sp. "golden duck" colony basic commercial staple flake as their main source of nutrition. Supplementary feedings of live Gambusia and frozen adult brine shrimp are heartily taken as well. The fry are being raised on a diet of crushed flake and powdered Cyclop-eeze®. Harpagochromis sp. "golden duck" fry grow quickly reaching 2cm in 60 days.

Tank décor consists of native rocks fashioned into caves sitting on a larger grain sized sand substrate. I feel that Harpagochromis sp. "golden duck" males do not stake out much of a territory and the rockwork is for the benefit of the other tank inhabitants (Synodontis flavitaeniatus and Haplochromis sp. "red back scraper). It's been my experience when dealing with piscivores from the region, specifically Pyxichromis orthostoma, a gravel substrate can cause problems with females holding fry. Females will sometimes pick up a small rock or two with her eggs and in the course of tumbling destroys the embryos, hence the choice of a finer substrate. My colony of ten Harpagochromis sp. "golden duck", containing three males and seven females, are housed in a 55 gallon tank. The tank is filtered by a Hagen® 300 power filter and a small "hang on the back" canister filter.

Harpagochromis sp. "golden duck" is not a fish for your community setup of tetras. Dominant males are attractive, but for the most part they are not superficially colorful fish. If however, you are interested in trying a species seldom seen in the hobby, or perhaps concerned with species survival and propagating threatened cichlids, you may discover that dedicating a tank to rearing Harpagochromis sp. "golden duck" most rewarding.


-Greenwood, P.H. 1981. "The Haplochromine Fishes of the East African Lakes". p 726-730.

-Seehausen, Ole. 1996. "Lake Victoria Rock Cichlids". p 207-214.


- extinctf/extinctFL.htm

-Kaufman, Les. 2005, personal electronic correspondence.

Originally published in The Lateral Line, the official publication of the Hill Country Cichlid Club.
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