Paratilapia sp. "Andapa"

The photos here show three juvenile Paratilapia polleni large spot. The fishes are sized about 5 cm at this time and they are kept in 100 liter tanks in groups of 5 fishes with large bogwood and stones forming as many hiding spots as possible. Pieces of Ceratophyllum demersum will be added in the near future. When they grow a bit more they will be transferred to more 100 liter tanks in an effort to create as many pairs as possible.


A Paratilapia polleni large spot in my tank. In contrast to their small spot relatives this species has shown a rapid growth. This particular fish has grown from 5 cm (October 2003) to 12 cm (February 2004). Click on the image for a larger picture

Click on the images for the high resolution pictures. Photos by G.J.Reclos/MCH

Common names : Marakely (“black fish” by Malagasians); Black Diamond cichlid (rest of the world)

Location: Andapa, Madagascar

Variety: Very Large spot Paratilapia sp. "Andapa"

Sometimes just looking at a particular fish may create the feeling that this is a species you must have in your tanks. Although I really don't know if the primary reason for switching from Malawi to Madagascan cichlids was their rarity in the hobby, their near extinction status in the wild or the difficulty to spawn them, I don't have any problem to answer this question when it comes to the species of the Paratilapia genus. I first saw these fishes in the Genova PublicAquarium  and I was really impressed by them. I don't really remember if they were the large or the small spot but what I do remember is the sparkles of color on them. This species along with Paratilapia polleni East Coast small spot are perhaps the most colorful black fishes on earth. Black diamonds they are named and I can hardly find any name to suit them better. Indeed, you can see the light reflected on their spots against their black velvet basic coloration, changing colors as the fish move around. Paratilapia sp. Andapa is the largest of the two species and a male may reach a massive 30 cm in the aquarium while the females stay considerably smaller at 20-21 cm. As its coloration imply, it is basically a dawn / dusk hunter although this is disputed by some authors. What is not disputed is its aggression against its conspecifics, which practically makes it impossible to keep more than an adult pair in small tanks (less then 400 liters) while even in much larger tanks hiding places and a clever aquascape is always beneficial. This should include natural material resembling what the fish would likely meet in its natural habitat and includes sand, some rocks, a lot of bogwood and plants to create natural "dividers" in the tank. The fish will largely ignore all other fishes in the tank - except when spawning. Will eat almost anything but food has to be of adequate size. Mysis shrimp, shrimp, fish flesh and mussels are eagerly taken as well as earth worms (especially live earthworms). While small they will even take mosquito larvae and Artemia nauplii. They are not fast growers (especially during their 3-4 months of life) but if massive regular water changes are performed coupled with multiple feedings per day they gain size quite fast. I change 30% of their water twice per week while I feed them four times daily with a variety of foods. Since we have some experience from spawning Paratilapia polleni (even though we got no fry) we will follow the same path once a pair is formed. At their current size the only difference with the P.polleni "small spot" seems to be the number of spots and not the size but I guess that as they grow up the difference will be more evident. More photos and information will be added in the future as those beauties grow up. 

When I looked closer to the tanks of Jean-Claude Nourissat, I noticed that he named them Paratilapia polleni "gros pois" (large spots). I was under the impression that the large spot Paratilapia was named Paratilapia bleekeri therefore I contacted (whom else?) Patrick  de Rham for clarification. Following his answer, it seems there is still a lot to be learned by me.

Your large spotted F1 Paratilapia come originally (their parents) from the Northeast of Madagascar, more specifically from the Andapa “cuvette” a somewhat closed basin, as the Lokoho River that drains the area goes through a stretch of forbidding rapids and falls below the small town of Andapa, this isolating the fish living above, or rather preventing many fish species living in the lower course of the river, such as Paretroplus cf. polyactis, to reach the cuvette area. It is therefore possible that the Andapa Paratilapia population is somewhat distinct from other large spotted Paratilapia populations of the North of Madagascar. However for the time being, I think we all agree (that is essentially Paul Loiselle and me!) that all the large-spotted populations of North Madagascar belong to Paratilapia polleni Bleeker 1868. As for Paratilapia bleekeri Sauvage 1882, it is a species that was described by Sauvage in 1882, 12 years after Bleeker described P. polleni. Sauvage collected his fish near the then Royal city of Antananarivo, now the capital of Madagascar, in the central highlands. This population now seems to be extinct, but we know from Noro R, a Malagasy ichthyologist that last saw them in the 1980’s that they had large spots. (Previously P. bleekeri, had been put back into synonymy with P. polleni by Pellegrin.). For lack of recently collected material it is difficult to say if the large spotted populations of Paratilapia from the North (P. polleni) and from the  Centre belong to the same species or are distinct and therefore we cannot definitely state on the validity of P. bleekeri. But to come back to your fish, as they come from the North they are definitely P. polleni, at least as long as someone does not demonstrate that the Andapa population is distinct and correspond to still another, un-described species.

 It is evident that the Paratilapia polleni small spot and the large spot variety should never be placed in the same tank since hybridization is most likely to occur. Since all Madagascan species are seriously threatened or already extinct in the wild, it is of paramount importance to keep those species "pure" and invest in one additional large tank. The cost is definitely not negligible but our feeling is that if a new tank can't be built, serious hobbyists should refrain from keeping both species. Thus the small spot variety is kept in my 1300 liter tank while a second (1000 liter) tank will be built to house the latter (which is now housed in 100 l tanks / 5 individuals per tank). Lack of room is also the reason Francesco (who loves the large spot variety) refrained from acquiring them since he already had the small spot variety. 

For detailed information on spawning this species, you can see the relevant article.

Those fishes were donated by Jean-Claude Nourissat - to whom special thanks - during our visit to the 2003 AFC Meeting in Vichy (October 5, 2003). Many thanks are also due to Patrick de Rham for his precious help.

It should be noted that according to a recent DNA analysis performed , the "Paratilapia polleni Large spot" collected by Jean-Claude Nourissat and Patrick de Rham in Andapa is a distinct yet undescribed species. Therefore, until this species gets a new formal name of its own, we will call it "Paratilapia sp. Andapa". The initial posting made by Patrick de Rham reads as follows:

A few days ago (02.08.04), I received a message from Paul Loiselle in which he informs me that the sequencing of DNA samples by John Sparks of P. polleni from the NW Ifasy River (the larger Ifasy drainage is adjacent to that of the smaller Ambazoana River, type locality of Paratilapia polleni Bleeker 1868) and a descendant (brought by me to Cincinnati, last year) of the very large spotted NE Andapa Paratilapia ( initially brought back by me from Andapa in 1997, among others, George Reclos, Manuel Zapater and José Luis Blanco, also have this strain) has given a surprising result: genetically these two populations appear to be quite different, the Andapa Paratilapia being more closely related to the small spotted Paratilapia found further to the south on the East Coast. This is further confirmed by the lack of any sexual interest between the Ifasy male and Andapa female.


Therefore, our (Nourissat and I) first impression dating back to 1963 that the Andapa Paratilapia was different from all other Paratilapia seen by us was likely correct. If I later changed my mind, it is largely because all the other Paratilapia we subsequently collected on the East Coast, Southern Highlands (Mananantanana drainage), Southwest (7 Lakes, Onilahy drainage) and Ikopa-Betsiboka drainage (lower NW) were small spotted. Therefore I concluded, tentatively, but wrongly all the same that all the large spotted Paratilapia of the northern quarter of the island belonged to P. polleni.

Now it appears that the Andapa Paratilapia is a distinct, undescribed, species, at least I understand it in this way, as even if it is closely related, I cannot imagine that it is conspecific with the very different looking small spotted East coast Paratilapia.


The only thing that troubles me a little is that this new data has been obtained from only two individuals. I hope I can be of some help in this matter, as I still have one live original 1997 Andapa male specimen (his female unfortunately died two weeks ago) and maintain 2 other Paratilapia strains, including 2 specimens collected last year by Nourissat near Vatomandry, East Coast.


How many Marakely? That is (more than ever) the question! 

Jean-Claude Nourissat & Patrick de Rham. "Les Cichlides endemiques de Magascar", Editions AFC, 2003 (in French).

Dr. P.V.Loiselle, in "The Cichlid Aquarium", Tetra Press, 1994, pp. 187-201

Dr. Ad Konings, in "Enjoying Cichlids", Cichlid Press, 1993, pp. 154-158

Uwe Werner (translated by Mary Bailey) "Paratilapia - Fabulously beautiful cichlids from Madagascar", Cichlid News, Jan 2003 issue.

S. Guinane. "Spot" the difference Paratilapia polleni and Paratilapia bleekeri. Cichlid News, 1998.

The book entitled "The Endemic Cichlids of Madagascar" by Patrick de Rham and Jean - Claude Nourissat is now available in English. Click here to find out how to order and here to read the back cover page of the English edition.

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