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A Coveted Central African Holy Grail Revealed - Congochromis sabinae Lamboj 2005
by Randall Kohn

Reprinted with the permission of Cichlid News magazine, vol. 15(3) July 2006, and the author.

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Male Nanochromis sabinae in spawning coloration

Following P.H. Greenwood (1987), the genus Congochromis Pellegrin 1904 can be divided into two species-groups. The first of these groups consists of the species C. dimidiatus, C. squamiceps, and now the newly described C. sabinae. This group is characterized by having the last 3-5 poured upper lateral line scales contiguous with the dorsal fin base, a completely scaled belly and nape, a partially scaled chest and cheek, and by the possession of a reduced, comma-shaped predorsal (supraneural) bone. The second group consists of the species Nanochromis nudiceps, N. consortus, N. minor, N. parilus, N. splendens, and N. transvestitus. This second group is characterized by having the posterior half (or slightly more) of the upper lateral line contiguous with the dorsal fin base, a naked nape, cheek and belly, and by the lack of a predorsal (supraneural) bone (Greenwood, 1987; Lamboj, 2004 & 2005).

Congochromis sabinae possesses all of the characters of Greenwood's first group, but differs from both C. dimidiatus and C. squamiceps, in part, by the possession of a shorter head length, greater head depth, greater preorbital length (resulting in a more robust and rounded forehead and snout profile), shorter caudal peduncle, higher number of gill rakers on the first arch, and by coloration patterns. Female C. sabinae exhibit a small patch of silvery scales around the genital papilla (see photo), as compared to a lack thereof on female C. dimidiatus, and to a broad band of silvery scales extending from the genital region to the mid-body on female C. squamiceps. Additionally, the midlateral stripe on C. sabinae does not extend onto the caudal fin, as it does in both of the other species.

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Female Congochromis sabinae in spawning coloration

The distribution of newly described Congochromis sabinae, known in the hobby as N. sp. "Genema" and N. sp. "Makoua," extends from northeast Gabon (Ogowe River system), east to central Congo (Brazzaville), and the northern Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo River system), around Genema and Bamanya. The type locality is the diminutive Loubi River, a tributary of the Likoula River (Congo River system), located southwest of Makoua, Congo (Brazzaville), in a forested region. At the type locality, the water is dark reddish-brown, only moderately warm, very soft, and acidic (conductivity: 40 µS/cm at 24-25°C, pH: 4.0). Dr. Lamboj notes that unlike Greenwood's more rheophilic group II species, which generally tend toward water of moderate current, the group I or dimidiatus-group species seem to prefer calmer conditions.

All known Congochromis species are monogamous, bi-parental cave spawners. Females generally tend the eggs and larvae, while males guard the surrounding territory. Both parents, however, protect the fry. Although inducing Congochromis species to spawn in aquaria is not very difficult, intraspecific aggression levels can run high, especially male on female aggression. For this reason, utilizing richly decorated, larger aquaria for these two to three-inch species that offer numerous hiding places is recommended. Frequent partial water changes and a diet containing plant material are also recommended for successful husbandry and keeping.

Since its disappearance from the hobby some time in the 1970's, Brichard's legendary "Congochromis dimidiatus" has been a hot topic of discussion in some cichlid circles. Fueled by the intensely red photos published in Linke & Staeck's books and the erroneous designation of C. dimidiatus, this much-coveted form became somewhat of a holy grail among western African cichlid enthusiasts. Dr. Lamboj has aptly named this beautiful dwarf cichlid after a beautiful young lady, his daughter, Sabina Lamboj.

The author wishes to acknowledge our Mary Bailey and Steve White for their gracious contributions to this article.
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Greenwood, P.H. 1987. The genera of pelmatochromine fishes (Teleostei, Cichlidae). A phylogenetic review. Bull. Br. Nat. Hist. (Zool.) 53(3): 139-203.

Lamboj, A. 2004. The Cichlid Fishes of Western Africa. Birgit Schmettkamp Verlag, Bornheim, Germany. 255 pp.

Lamboj, A. 2005. Nanochromis sabinae, a new cichlid species (Teleostei, Cichlidae) from the Upper Congo River area and Northeast Gabon. Zootaxa 827: 1-11.

Linke, H. & W. Staeck. 2002. Africanische Cichliden I-Buntbarsche aus Westafrika. Tetra Verlag GmbH, Bissendorf, Germany. 232 pp.

Linke, H. & W. Staeck. 1994. African Cichlids I-Cichlids from West Africa. Tetra Press, Melle, Germany. 200 pp.
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