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Kribs and Cousins

Kribs and Cousins

There are some fish that you are so used to seeing around that they just become part of the wallpaper; when you're shopping round the aquariums for a new project to try you just pass over them on the 'familiarity breeds contempt' principle. One of these fish is the Krib, Pelvicachromis pulcher. This has been a popular aquarium fish for a long term, and it fully deserves its popularity, being one of the most beautiful and interesting fish that you can keep in an average sized tank without a degree in ichthyology and water chemistry. Unfortunately it's very popularity and ease of keeping may have led to a large number of specimens now being nothing much to write home about. Many kribs now available in the shops really don't live up to their scientific species name of 'pulcher', which means beautiful. This may be due to innumerable little kribs having been tank bred for generation after generation and the stock slowly becoming less spectacular. This is a generalisation though, and it is well worth keeping an eye on the krib tank in your local store so that you'll spot them when some nice ones come in.

Most people discover kribs fairly early on in their pursuit of the aquarium hobby, because they are so easy to keep. When I started I looked at the kribs, decided they were rather mundane and unexciting looking, and passed on by. Thereafter they became part of 'wallpaper syndrome', and it was only a few years ago that I had another look and realised why they are named as they are, and also commonly known as the 'Rainbow Krib'. This revelation came when I found a tank of wild-caught kribs. Where previous specimens had been about three inches long, and basically white fish with a black stripe, these were truly spectacular. The males were slightly over four inches long, with trailing red-edged fins, vivid contrasting black horizontal bar along the flanks and back, scarlet belly and iridescent blue highlights. Their bright eyes were golden. Although slightly smaller than their husbands, the females, unusually, are even nicer, with dark purple bellies and gold-edged ocelli (eye-spots) in the dorsal and caudal fins. Unfortunately this particular shop was on where I rarely buy anything living, as hygiene seems not to be what it could be and the store staff see no problem with pursuing a fish ham-fistedly until it is simply too exhausted to swim away any more. Unsurprisingly, livestock from this source tends to shuffle off its mortal coil within days if not hours. However, I couldn't resist the kribs, and took a pair home with some trepidation. From such a dodgy source, and wildcaught to boot, I fully expected them to manifest some strange disease as soon as I turned my back. Suffice it to say that the hardy kribs never showed even a moment off-colour, then or later. When they moved into the main tank a month later, they quickly set up an area to call their own, but were tolerant of all their tankmates. They were usually to be found in that area, but didn't have a problem with other fish 'visiting'. Since they were quite obviously a healthy pair, I thought that a happy event was a forgone conclusion. Unfortunately they turned out to be quite picky about their spawning cave, and inspected and rejected about twenty offerings, ranging from prefab 'rock caves' to plantpots, slabs of slate at an angle, undersurfaces of bogwood, and many more before finally settling on an ashtray which they cleaned scrupulously. After the 'spring cleaning' there was a long period during which nothing happened. Then the fish seemed to be a little less active than usual, and sticking a little closer to home. Within a few days they had become
considerably more aggressive, defending there area of the tank against all comers. A particular piece of bogwood appeared to be the marker, and any fish who ventured 'over the barricade' was smartly turned back. At this point I realised they must be spawning, but it took a few days before they were taken on their first outing. Up until then one or other of the fish had stayed in the spawning cave, but one morning both fish were out and feeding. Close examination showed a cloud of tiny little fry. These tended to stick together, but if one got a bit adventurous one of the parents would grab him in their mouths and spit the offender back into the group. Each evening they were carefully gathered up by their parents and shepherded back into the spawning cave for safe-keeping overnight. The fry were fed at this point with liquid fry food, delivered straight into the fry group with a turkey baster, and also spending a lot of their time grazing microorganisms. They soon grew, and as they grew became more and more difficult to control. The parents would go haring off after one adventurer, and as soon as they turned their backs another would wander off. In spite of the parents best efforts, the group was considerably diminished during this period, leaving a core group of around ten little fish, by now just over half an inch long and too big to fit into tetra mouths. At this point the parents started another family. The previous brood remained hanging around and were not chased away; they didn't help with fry care but they didn't eat them either. The turning point came when the first group were old enough to start to show their sexes; at this point there father decided enough was enough and all the first group had to leave the area. This wasn't a great hardship, as the little fish were by now showing the same beautiful colours as their parents, and proved popular with friends and fish shops alike. This breeding continued more or less continuously for several years, except when I decided they needed a break and took their cave away for a while. Sadly the female died unexpectedly, in her cave, and the male followed a few weeks later.

Although Pelvicachromis are generally quite tolerant on pH range, a side effect of the water in which you keep them is that the fry are sex-determined by the pH of the water. Each of the species has a different point at which the numbers start to shift from female to male. Pelvicachromis pulcher is reported as having a fifty fifty sex ration at 7.2, but mine is 7.5 and they were evenly distributed. Other species in the genus are more particular, and that is why some of the other species are rarer as tank-bred specimens - its not that they won't spawn, but if all your spawn are the same sex then an ongoing breeding program is rather stuck.

If you are already convinced how terrific kribs are, then maybe you might like to consider one of their cousins. The krib usually seen is Pelvicachromis pulcher, but there are (currently) seven fish in the Pelvicachromis genus. Most of these don't show up in the shops much, but if you keep a careful eye out you might be lucky. Another good source is from fish associations and societies, where you may find private breeders who have first or second generation spawns from fish collected privately. Fish society auctions can also throw up treasures from time to time.

One of those I found in this way was Pelvicachromis taeniatus. These look pretty much like kribs, except viewed through rose-coloured spectacles. The whole colour pattern is shifted a couple of steps into the red. Mine were auctioned off as inch long juveniles, looking rather worried and stressed in a very small plastic bag, and didn't look as nice as they could have done. If I hadn't recognised the genus and thought I'd give another species a try, I probably would have passed them by. That would have been a shame as I got two unusual and very pretty fish (who did turn out to be a pair) for under £1. You don't get much more of a bargain than that, so these events are always worth the effort. Pelvicachromis taeniatus is as tolerant as the more usual Krib. It's happy in a pH between 6 and 8, with a dH of 5 to 12 (the pulcher species is happy with dH 5 to 19, so these are slightly fussier). Temperatures required are 22C to 25C - a fairly standard temperature for most tropical tanks. In behaviour they are very similar to the ordinary Kribs, although marginally smaller at just over 3 inches.

Pelvicachromis signatus is a rather more aggressive fish. The male is silvery with a dorsal fin edged with black and red, while the female has a pink belly and orange upper half, with a black blotch in the caudal fin. Both have vertical black bars which fade or become more prominent depending on mood. These are grouped with Pelvicachromis humilis, which also shows the black barring pattern. While both signatus and humilis have eight bars, the rather more placid Pelvicachromis rubriolatus has only seven. It is also larger, edging over the four inch mark. The male has very red lips, giving it its scientific name of rubriolatus, but other than this neither sex is particularly distinguished.

Pelvicachromis subocellatus is another beautiful little fish, at just over three inches. In water chemistry and temperature requirements it is the same as the ordinary krib and is very tolerant. It is, however, considerably shyer and unlikely to fit happily into a community - these would be much happier in a quiet tank of their own. Contentment can breed complacency though, and a few very small tank mates such as quiet tetras can actually encourage them to be a little more territorial and get in the family-raising mood. In colour they can be quite variable, with some specimens photographed being almost blue, or some quite plain with vertical barring. In general the male tends to the blue-purple side of the spectrum, while the female has a yellow head and pinkish body when spawning. The vividness of these colours depends on their mood, whether or not they are spawning, and the individual fish.

The final species is Pelvicachromis roloffi, which I have never actually seen in shops. Although people who have kept them report little difficulty in spawning them, above a pH of around 6.2 the fry are all males, which is probably impeding spawning programs for amateur hobbyists. They have a white edge to the dorsal fin and tail fins, with small red markings around the eyes and the typical black side bar. The female's pelvic fins are black while spawning. Although pretty, they are rather subtle compared to the ordinary kribs or Pelvicachromis taeniatus.

Kribs have been in the hobby for a long time, and richly deserve to remain in it for a long time more. I cannot recommend kribs highly enough as interesting and endearing, and if you find some good fish that haven't had all the colour bred out of them then they are without equal in the beauty stakes as well. Add to that a fish that's peaceful (for a cichlid) and hardy and you have a fish that's well worth keeping. If you've always walked straight past the kribs before now, go and have another look at them! If you are already converted to krib-keeping, then keep an eye out to see if you can expand your hobby a bit with one of the other interesting species.

This article has been kindly provided by Kathy Jinkings and cannot be reproduced without her permission.

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