Paratilapia sp. East Coast small spot (Bleeker 1868)

Paratilapia typus (Bleeker 1880)

An article by Francesco Zezza and George J. Reclos

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

Location: East Coast, Madagascar

Collected and donated by Jean Claude Nourrisat (France). The fry was delivered to us in Faenza, on September 20th and were carried to Rome on September 22nd  and arrived in Athens on September 23rd

Since Jean Claude Nourissat was very busy with his new book (the first ever book on Madagascan cichlids) we asked his close friend and travel mate Dr. Patrick de Rham to send us a brief note on those fishes. Our very special thanks to both of them for their help and donation.

" I don't know if I told you that the parents of your P. polleni come from Andapa in the Northeast of Madagascar. They were given to me in November 1997 by Mr Tam Yok, the leading local businessman, contractor and owner (his family, I mean) of Andapa's only hotel, "Vatosoa" (Crystal). Of course the Tam Yok family is of Chinese origin. We met the Tam Yok family in 1993, when we, Jean-Claude and I, first visited Andapa that year in October. We stayed at hotel Vatosoa and as it was the grandmother's birthday, were invited with the family for the evening celebration! Tam Yok and his Malagasy brother in law, Roger, an excellent fisherman, were of great help to us and we collected some very interesting fishes the Andapa area, including what has recently been described as Rheocles vatosoa, Bedotiidae, a beautiful Madagascan Rainbowfish. Jean-Claude also took back some local P. polleni, but unfortunately lost the strain afterwards. Four years later, in November 1997, after Jean-Claude had returned to France (we had previously during 3 weeks collected in the Northwest of Madagascar, finding what was to become Paretroplus maromandia), I eventually returned (by plane) with our Madagascan collaborator, Jean A., to Andapa. This time again, Tam Yok, who had become the chief of the family, was of great help to me. After our first visit, he had become interested in native fish and had built two ponds to breed the local population of P. polleni, which is probably extinct in nature by now. After keeping in Lausanne for 8 months the young 2-3 cm long fish Tam Yok gave me (rather emaciated, about 50 % of the +30 fish I received died), I gave most of the survivors to Jean-Claude. They reproduce very well in his outside ponds in summer in Southern France. I have kept only one pair. They are still doing fine and probably have spawned a couple of times, but I have never seen any eggs or fry. The eggs seem to be eaten by the parents immediately. If in Italy or in Greece, you can find some outside pond to put your P. polleni in summer, I am quite confident you should have no problem in breeding your fish and obtaining, many, many, young. The same Andapa P. polleni are also being bred in Spain. "

This being said we understood that the responsibility is bigger with this particular species. In order to make sure that we would give them maximum survival chances (something which has worked very well for us in the past when either of us had a misfortune) the fish were divided in two parts, the larger part remaining in Italy while the smaller one (having to undergo one more trip, thus at greater risk) was carried to Athens. Raising them was done in parallel under different conditions, tank sizes, feeding habits and maintenance schemes. Thus, we will give you all the details in parallel. In case we both succeed in raising them to adulthood then you will have two complete methods to choose from. Unfortunately, the age of this fry can’t be determined with accuracy. Because of that, we will start the clock at the time we received them and placed them in our tanks.

Some words about the rather confusing taxonomy data on this species. It should be noted that the "small spot" variety is the type species Paratilapia polleni (Bleeker, 1868), while the large spot variety is assigned to Paratilapia bleekeri (Sauvage, 1891). A third species from the extreme southwest of Madagascar will be shortly described by Stiassny and Schlosser. However, according to Loiselle and Stiassny (1994) it is doubtful whether we can speak of two (or even three) species because the spot size varies greatly between individuals while Uwe Werner (2003) reports that individuals with both large and small spots van occur within a single brood. Burnel (1994) prefers to speak of Paratilapia polleni bleekeri when referring to the large spot variety thus treating them as a subspecies.

However, it seems things are not that simple. When I was in France I met with both Jean-Claude Nourissat and Patrick de Rham and asked the latter some further information about the taxonomy of those particular fishes. As always, Patrick replied with a wealth of information which really shed new light on this issue.

" The small-spotted Paratilapia sp. from the East coast, are certainly a species distinct from P. polleni (the only Paratilapia species formally valid today). In this very moment, Paul Loiselle is checking north of Tamatave if they could correspond to Paracara typus, another species described by Bleeker (how could he put it in a different genus?!!!) some years after P. polleni and said to come from the northern part of the East coast. If this can be reasonably proven, then the small-spotted Paratilapia from the East coast shall be probably re-described and given the name Paratilapia typus (Bleeker 1880)."

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. 

Further information will be available in MCH of course, while raising those 40+ Paratilapia polleni from the east coast but further reading is also available - please check the following sources:

1. LES CICHLIDÉS ENDÉMIQUES DE MADAGASCAR” by Patrick de Rham & Jean-Claude Nourissat, more than 200 pages in a large format, hardcover, available in French only (for the moment). The English version is expected in December 2004. The book is published by the Association France Cichlid (AFC) and is available only through the AFC. It will not be sold in bookshops. The price for France non-residents is € 35, which includes mailing costs. As to ordering the simplest way for persons residing outside of France (ONLY) is to send an e-mail to Roland Staub, AFC Treasurer, giving the number of copies ordered (if more than 1), the full names and postal address of the person to whom the book(s) should be sent to, and allowing AFC to charge a Visa or Master Card/Eurocard for the price of the book(s), and giving the usual information on the credit card.

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.

2. Uwe Werner (translated by Mary Bailey): "Paratilapia - Fabulously beautiful cichlids from Madagascar", in Cichlid News ( www.cichlidnews.com ), 12(1), p. 29-33, 2003. The original article appeared in "Cichlidae" the journal of the Dutch Cichlid Association. This article contains useful information about breeding this beautiful "Jurrasic Park" cichlid.

For additional (personal) information on spawning this remarkable cichlid, you may also take into account our notes.

Starting day in Rome : September 22nd, 2002

Number of individuals: 22 (small spot variety). Aged about 3 months at time of receipt.

Size (initial) :              9-11 mm

Tank size:                   75 liters

Feeding:                     flakes, spirulina algae (pure), tiny particles (what a painful job it is to get those foods to a suitable size!) of squid, live black mosquito larvae. Fed once/twice a day.

Temperature:             24° C (will be raised to 26). At 24° C growth rate – despite they eat
eagerly – is LOW! From a theoretical point of view I’m “against” forcing their metabolism (water temp will rise to EXTREME values during next summer and I am afraid that a
prolonged “high temperature period” could stress them in some way!

Water changes:         25% every 7/10 days. NO additives of ANY kind.

Filtration:                    Internal filters (3 sections) with a pump flow of 550 lt/hr. Filter media: synthetic wool and ceramics.

Lighting:                     one 18 watt lamp (which stays on for about 10 hours / day) plus indirect light for 7 more hours.

Comments, Observations: Almost the same – there are no casualties here, too, at least for the time being!

13/10/02 The water temp has been raised – in two steps – from 24° C to 26°. Waiting to check possible changes in growth rate …

15.10.02 Although it is very difficult to count them accurately – two or three of them seem to be gone, to my sorrow. Possibly 19-20 specimens remaining in my tank.

31.10.02 As time passes by they seem to feed more eagerly, regardless of the kind of supplied food (although they are a bit more picky about its size). They DO like live black mosquito larvae while the growth rate seems to be different (between the specimens of my group, at least) with very few individuals (two/three) remaining consistently smaller than the rest of  the group. A friend of mine (involved in aquacultures) calls the larger fish of the group "heads" (of the group) while the smaller ones are called "tails" and he claims that those two categories exist in each and every group of fry - no matter how much you feed them. To me this makes sense! Finally, in the dark (lights off, i.e. early in the morning) colors seem to be much brighter ... when the lights go on a bit of the black and some spots seem to vanish. Sized approximately 25 mm right now.

As we are about to close the November issue of MCH, Francesco is getting ready to split the P.polleni fry in two tanks (75 liters each).

Continued in next page

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