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The Barombi Mbo Sponge Eater - Pungu maclareni
by Troy Veltrop

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Another quite amusing behavioral trait is their propensity to do 'headstands' while feeding. Reports from friends to whom I have sent fry, as well as observations in my own fishroom, have noted this behavior in both adults and juveniles. It is quite a sight to see a large school of P. maclareni standing on their heads, perfectly perpendicular, methodically picking through the substrate or tearing algae from a rock surface.

Although I keep my colony of 11 in a 470-liter ( 1 2 5 - g a l l o n ) aquarium, mainly due to the five M. myaka, I venture to guess one could house a decent sized colony in as small as a 150-liter (40-gallon) aquarium. Only during spawning have I ever witnessed any aggression and it is usually in the form of tail bashing, mild chasing, and gill flaring. The tail bashing behavior is
quite entertaining to watch and can be observed in both males and females. Two fish, usually of the same sex, will display to each other with their heads aligned with the other's tail. Then they proceed to smack each other with their tails while swimming in circles, gills flaring. Never have I witnessed any damage done, not even so much as a torn or nipped fin, and they are almost oblivious to any other fish in the tank.

Eye Iris Fish Snout Wood

The first photo of P. maclareni I saw was taken by Dave Hansen. It was a great closeup shot of the pungu's amazing set of teeth. However, this appearance is in stark contrast to its demeanor. Judging by those teeth, you might think P. maclareni to be a fierce carnivore but instead it uses these teeth and strong jaw muscles for a much more specialized purpose: dining on the freshwater sponges that are also endemic to the lake. While it will also use them to tear into sunken wood looking for insect larvae, this must make up a small part of the diet, for if you feed it large quantities of animal protein, it will quickly succumb to problems of the intestinal tract. This is why it is recommended to provide P. maclareni with a herbivorous diet that includes a sprinkling of insect larvae and crustaceans as the occasional treat.


The aquarium that houses my P. maclareni has a sand and pea gravel mixture for substrate, and piles of rock and a few pieces of driftwood make up the decor. The pH of the water is about 8.2 and the KH and GH are around 250 ppm (mg/L). I don't mess with my water; it comes from the well this way. Tank maintenance is simple and quick. Once a week I do a 50 to 70 percent water change, vacuum the gravel, and clean the front glass. Filtration is accomplished with two hang-on filters that I also clean during the water change. I rinse the bio media in some of the tank water that I have drained into a bucket and squeeze out the sponge. Unless there is an impeller blockage or one of the intake tubes is plugged up, I do not clean the filter any further except to wipe down the outside housing.

Fish Underwater Fin Marine biology Water

Breeding of the Pungu

When I first decided to get a colony of P. maclareni, I was under the impression that they had never been bred in the aquarium and I set out to be the first. Unbeknownst to me, Dr. Paul Loiselle had already accomplished this feat ten years earlier in 1999. When I finally stumbled across the account of his trials, I was at least relieved to know that he had experienced some of the same issues I was facing. They just flat refused to breed, and when they finally did they would never carry to full term. It was by sheer accident that I found the key to the successful breeding of P. maclareni: 86º F + temperatures!

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