Astatotilapia nubila was first described by Boulenger in 1906. It’s a small haplochromine cichlid which Lake Victoria in East Africa origin. It is one of very few cichlids that are also found outside of Lake Victoria, in Lakes Nabugabo and Kyoga and the rivers of the Victoria basin to be specific, and thus it is not facing extinction by the Nile Perch.
A. nubila is a generalized haplochromine species which shows little in the way of specializations that are often seen in other African cichlids. This species has no specialized teeth, jaws, finnage, or habits, just an incredible hardiness, resilience, and a thoroughly vile temperament. Its main claim to fame is the breeding colors of the male. His breeding dress is velvety jet black across his entire body with brilliant crimson red in his anal and caudal fins. He is a striking sight to see, and the only fish in Lake Victoria with this color pattern. The female is a drab greenish-gray and grows to about 3 ½ inches while the male grows to almost 5 inches.
A reverse trio of A. nubila was purchased at auction and placed in an established tank with a colony of Pseudotropheus. It was expected that the Pseudotropheus would be tough enough to handle the aggressive tendencies of the new fish while providing enough targets to diffuse the damage. Filtration was handled by a combination of sponge, corner, and power filters. The tank held 55 gallons of hard water at 78 degrees Fahrenheit, a crushed coral substrate, and piled rocks and PVC pipes for hiding places.
This was not particularly successful. The next morning the subdominant male was dead and the female was beaten half to death. She was removed to a hospital tank and recovered at a remarkable rate.
Next, she was returned to the 55 gallon tank and placed behind a divider on one end of the tank. The two fish could see each other, but not reach each other, or so it was thought. Within minutes the male had jumped over the divider and started to harass the female. The water level in the tank was dropped six inches in an effort to discourage jumping and it worked for about a day. Eventually, the male managed to dig under the divider and push it aside enough to get through. As a result, the female was again removed to a hospital tank to recover. The resilience of this species was hard to believe.
Finally, the male was placed in a 10 gallon tank side by side with the hospital tank. Heavy cover glasses on both tanks discouraged jumping. This time the two fish could see each other in complete safety. A side benefit of this set-up is that the male is usually in full breeding colors, and he continues with the usual breeding displays and behaviors. After several months, the female fully recovered from her injuries and her body filled with eggs. Now, she spent her time at the glass trying to get to the male. Both tanks were then given a fifty percent water change with slightly cooler water. The female was then moved to the male’s tank and spawning occurred almost immediately. The female was removed the next morning to brood the eggs in peace.
Four weeks later, nearly 50 fry were released. They were small by African mouthbrooder standards – only about 3/16″ at release, but they grew rapidly on a diet of baby brine shrimp and crushed flakes. The fry required no special care and losses were virtually nil; it seems the species’ hardiness is also present in the fry. Thus, Astatotilapia nubila can be seen as a fish that would be of interest to more experienced fishkeepers. Its aggressive temperament and the required protection for the female make it too much trouble for the average aquarist.
By Kenneth Balog
From Wet Pet Gazette, Norwalk Aquarium Society