A cichlid unknown

Unidentified juvenile cichlid. Telmatochromis temporalis maybe? Photo by author.

One night long ago when feeding one of my tanks, I noticed a very small (~ 1″), solid black colored cichlid venture out from a little crevice and grab a morsel? I stood there watching in utter amazement. Why? There shouldn’t have been any juvenile cichlids or even fry in that tank. It contained no breeding pairs of species…at least I thought.  The tank was a 75g community Tanganyikan tank containing leleupis, a male and female Neolamprologus tretocephalus, a lone female Julidichromis marlieri, a lone Eretmodus cyanostictus, two small plecos, some dithers, and three adult Altolamprologus calvus (2x male, 1 female)

Could it have been a hybrid? Maybe, but unlikely given the occupants. There were only two cichlid species in the tank that were at least 50% black in color – the calvus and the lone marlieri. Even though the lone female marlieri had a mate at one time, he passed several months prior to this photo. Is it possible the juvenile was from her last brood and it managed to hide for so long? I thought about that but dismissed it. Not long after the male had passed, I took some their remaining offspring to my LFS. And most of them were larger at that time than the juvenile is now. Julies grow quickly, plus as you can see in the photo above, it contained no striping on the body (only a little on caudal and dorsal fins).  If it was a marlieri, it was large enough by that stage to be displaying typical marlieri patterns, which it clearly isn’t nor does it have the Julie body shape.

Also several months prior, I had a breeding pair of Telmatochromis temporalis in that tank. The female produced numerous broods there. In fact, she was so productive, I separated and re-homed both the adults in other tanks. I’ve seen plenty temporalis fry and juveniles but it just didn’t look like them. I think the adults had been out of that tank way too long for there to be a lone juvenile holdout. Plus, I’m almost certain it would have been much larger by than the little fella in the photo. I guess it’s possible I missed it.

So what was it? Frankly, I have no idea. I took six photos and enlarged them but still can’t tell. The photo at the top of this post was the best of them. In that shot, the juvenile is hovering just above a river rock (covered in algae), which was only about 1″ thick. The large white object in the background was a piece of 3″ PVC. Sadly, you can see how badly scratched the bottom of the tank glass was (and is) from the small scratch lines with algae in them.

It has to be a calvus, a marlieri, or a temporalis? Calvus are very slow growers and don’t reach breeding age for quite awhile. Though mine were over three years old at that time, I purchased them as small juveniles (~1.75″). The two males were nearly 6″, and the female was a bit smaller. The juvenile was small but would have to be at least several months old by the time of the photo. There were no other adult fish in the tank that were black. The color pattern on the tail resembles both calvus and marlieri, but it’s large enough in that photo to 1) be displaying body patterns of something and 2) if a calvus, I should already seen the distinct head shape. It was neither a calvus nor a marlieri julie. 

I had never seen any fry from the calvus or even any eggs. If there were fry, they never made it past fry stage. The tank was loaded with ceramic caves of different sizes, along with some holey rock, some river rock, some large PVC connectors, and plastic plants. These occupied much of the footprint, and the caves were evenly stacked.

Twice a month I removed 1/2 of the tank’s contents (all caves, rocks, PVC, and plants) in order to thoroughly vacuum the sand though I vacuumed the perimeter weekly with water changes. I alternated removing left and right side contents. When I removed the caves, I checked inside them pretty closely to ensure they contained no fish. So I have no idea how I would have never seen any eggs. I never even witnessed any of the adult calvus “protecting” a particular area of the tank. In fact, I never witnessed them being belligerent with any other fish, only each other.

There may well have ben more than that one offspring in the tank, but given its age, the number of times I removed tank contents, and the fact I only ever saw that one, I think it was a lone survivor. There were only two tank occupants large enough to eat it – the calvus and the male tret.

The final conclusion –  no idea. I don’t remember whether it disappeared or grew into an adult. This was a couple of years ago, and I completely forgot what it turned out to be. I think it ended up being a temporalis. 

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