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African Rarities and Oddballs at Sims Tropical Fish

15 January 2021

Outside of the Rift Valley cichlids, African freshwater fish are still relatively uncommon in the trade, especially when compared with their counterparts from Southeast Asia and South America. That’s a shame, because many of these fish are interesting and rewarding choices for the more experienced fishkeeper. It is true that some species are big, and demand suitably spacious quarters, but others are much more moderate in size and can be kept without too much trouble, even in a relatively small tank.

In this article we’re going to survey some of the species currently available at Sims Tropical Fish. They’re located at Victoria Business Centre, Victoria Road, Burgess Hill, West Sussex, but if that isn’t convenient for where you are, they also sell their fish online. For more on this, click on the link at the end of each species entry to visit their website.

Goliath Tiger Fish, Hydrocynus goliath

While Hydrocynus have been kept successfully in captivity in public aquaria, the species is not often kept in home aquaria because of its size. With that said, it seems to adapt reasonably well to life in captivity if given the right general conditions. They are jumpy fish that will leap out of the water when alarmed and are also prone to damaging themselves if they are kept in cramped conditions, so obviously, a lot of space is essential (tens of thousands of litres is surely needed for fully grown adults). On the other hand, it handles a broad water chemistry range provided extremes are avoided. Like most other big, active fish it needs robust filtration and plenty of oxygen. Juvenile specimens readily take things like river shrimps and earthworms but can be weaned onto non-living foods such as tilapia fillet without too much trouble. Given their size and highly predatory nature, they cannot be kept with other types of fish, with even armoured catfish likely to be harassed if not killed outright. Juveniles are gregarious in the wild but become solitary (even cannibalistic) as they mature; but realistically, under captive conditions the species is usually kept alone.

To order these fish from Sims Tropical Fish, click HERE.

Elongate Tiger Fish, Hydrocynus forskahlii

Besides the famous Goliath Tiger Fish, there are in fact several other Hydrocynus species recognised, although their taxonomy remains uncertain pending further analysis. The Elongate Tiger Fish, Hydrocynus forskahlii, is similar in most regards to the Goliath Tiger Fish, albeit much smaller. Adult specimens in the wild reach up to around 30 cm in length, which makes them very much more suitable for the home aquarium.

While certainly not easy fish, and still requiring a spacious aquarium, these fish would be viable in tanks upwards of 750 litres, well within the range of normal tank sizes. In other ways the species is similar to the Goliath as described above. Certainly, it is adaptable in terms of water chemistry, needs good water quality and plenty of oxygen, and while fairly gregarious (if feisty) when young, becomes intolerant of its own kind as it matures. Despite its moderate size, the species is not really suitable for mixed species set-ups.

To order these fish from Sims Tropical Fish, click HERE.

Tarpon, Megalops atlanticus

One of the most famous and beautiful game fish in the world, the Tarpon is a very large fish with big silver scales and a huge mouth. While they seem to spawn at sea, adults are rarely found far from the coast, and juveniles can be found many miles up rivers. Adult specimens of over 2.5 m in length have been recorded, though around 150 cm is more common. It should go without saying that adult fish are difficult to maintain in a home aquarium, needing a tank measuring several tens of thousands of litres in size.

With that said, the species is famously adaptable in terms of environmental conditions. Adults can swim freely between freshwater and the sea, and even have some tolerance of hypersaline conditions. Unlike most other marine fish, they can use their swim bladder as a sort of lung, gulping air when exposed to stagnant water conditions. Although wild fish are predators by inclination, they are not picky about what they consume, with everything from insects to small fish being taken. Needless to say, they’re adaptable feeders that will take all the usual frozen and fresh foods.

To order these fish from Sims Tropical Fish, click HERE.

Nile Perch, Lates niloticus

This big, deep-bodied predator is probably most famous among aquarists as being the reason so many Lake Victoria cichlids are critically endangered. Being a good food fish, it was introduced into the lake to create a more valuable fishery than the one that existed there before. While that certainly happened, almost all of the native cichlids were eaten by the Nile Perch, all but collapsing the natural ecosystem. In any case, the Nile Perch has elsewhere been farmed commercially as a food fish, and occasionally specimens turn up in the aquarium trade.

As with so many food fish species, the large size and rapid growth of this species make it a questionable choice for home hobbyists. Under good conditions, they can reach over 50 cm within the first year. Growth rate slows down decreases a bit thereafter, but aquarists can still expect a good 10 cm or so for the next 10-12 years. Adults commonly measure around 1.5-2 m in length, and given their size and tremendous power, these are the top predators wherever they live, with few if any natural enemies; they are, however, cannibalistic towards smaller individuals of their own kind. Aquarium specimens have proven to be relatively benign towards anything too big to be swallowed, but given their large size, the list of such potential tankmates is rather short!

To order these fish from Sims Tropical Fish, click HERE.

Aba Aba, Gymnarchus niloticus

One of the biggest of all the knifefish, Aba Aba is unusual in that the long, undulating fin used for propulsion is the dorsal fin rather than the anal fin. Like many other knifefish, it naturally inhabits sluggish waters thick with vegetation where it hunts for insects, worms, crustaceans and small fish. Like its close relatives, the Elephantnoses (family Mormyridae) the Aba Aba uses a weak electric field to detect obstacles and locate prey. In fact, their eyes are almost vestigial, and the species is perfectly happy in a tank without any sort of ambient lighting. The species builds large nests (over 1 m in diameter) in which the eggs are laid, with at least one of the parents, probably the male, defending the nest until the fry are free swimming.

Although the biggest specimens known are over 150 cm long, this is unusual in aquaria, where adult lengths of around 100-120 cm are more typical. Nonetheless, an aquarium measuring several thousand litres would surely be needed for long-term care. Juveniles can sometimes be kept in groups, but they are snappy and tend to bite at one another, so are best reared on their own. Above 30 cm and they will attack conspecifics on sight. They are also intolerant of dissimilar fish and should not be kept in mixed species set-ups. Aba Aba have been reported destroying glass heaters, so an external heater is strongly recommended. They are not fussy with regard to water chemistry but dislike extremes, with slightly hard water with a neutral pH being optimal. In the right tank, Aba Aba have proven to be intelligent fish and very rewarding pets, but their size does mean they are only suitable for the more advanced fishkeepers.

To order these fish from Sims Tropical Fish, click HERE.

Senegal Bichir, Polypterus senegalus

Well regarded as one of the best oddballs for the less experienced fishkeeper, this small bichir species is peaceful and generally easy to keep once its basic requirements are understood. With a maximum length of around 30-35 cm, a tank size of 200 litres or more is recommended. In a bigger aquarium it can be kept in groups or with tankmates too large to be viewed as food. Being slow moving, it’s a sitting target for nippy or territorial fish, but medium sized characins such as Congo Tetras would make good tankmates, as would surface feeding predators like Ctenopoma acutirostre if you were going for an African theme.

Basic care is unproblematic. While predatory, this bichir is one of those species that feeds primarily off the bottom on insects and crustaceans, so takes all the usual frozen foods without complaint. Water chemistry is not a major issue given the very wide range of the species in the wild, though extremes should be avoided. It is, however, a jumpy species, so the tank needs a secure lid otherwise it is likely to be found dead on the floor.
The wild type of this fish is basically grey with an off-white belly, but an albino form is also available.

To order these fish from Sims Tropical Fish, click HERE.

Polypterus delhezi

While similar to the Senegal Bichir in terms of care, this species is less commonly seen in aquarium shops. It is noted for its beautiful colours: speckled grey with white-edged black bands across its back and flanks. It also has a longer snout reflecting its more piscivorous habits. Oddly enough, its colouration seems to vary with diet, so providing a good variety including some crustaceans (which contain useful carotenes) is probably important. In other regards this species is easy going and very hardy and makes a good aquarium fish.

To order these fish from Sims Tropical Fish, click HERE.

Red Bichir, Polypterus endlicheri

Compared with the preceding species, the Red Bichir is a very much larger and more powerful. They have a distinctly longer lower jaw, as is typical for the piscivorous bichirs (the insect-eating species, like Polypterus senegalus, have a longer upper jaw, so the mouth points downwards). Basic colouration is pinkish brown with dark grey saddle-like markings. Unlike the cylindrical, almost eel-like shape of the smaller bichirs, this species is very muscular in appearance, especially around the pectoral girdle. The many dorsal fins along the back are also particularly large and flag-like.

Maximum length varies depending on the subspecies, but juveniles will reach at around 40 cm within two years, and when fully grown some may be almost a metre in length. While around 60-70 cm is more typical, that will still demand a tank measuring several thousand litres in size. Being such a big and powerful fish, it is prone to damaging itself when kept in confined conditions. In other regards it is undemanding and will eat chunky fresh and frozen foods such as lancefish and prawns, though as ever with predatory fish, it is important to mostly use foods with a low thiaminase content.

To order these fish from Sims Tropical Fish, click HERE.

Wide Headed Catfish, Clarotes laticeps

While this species is often seen in books about catfish, this species is not widely imported, making its appearance in the trade noteworthy. With a maximum length of up to 80 cm, it is a big catfish on par with some of the bigger South American predatory catfish, and in terms of basic care, rather resembles them. In other words, a spacious tank around 750-1000 litres in size, with robust filtration offering plenty of water current and oxygen. Water chemistry isn’t critical provided extremes are avoided.

As its name suggests, this silvery-green fish has a very broad head: all the better for swallowing its prey! While not aggressive as such, any tankmates need to be too big to be viewed as prey. This could be things like the larger thorny catfish, Peacock Bass (Cichlia spp.), freshwater stingrays, etc. Feeding is not a major problem as these catfish will consume all the usual foods including sinking pellets.

To order these fish from Sims Tropical Fish, click HERE.

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This article has been written by Neale Monks, exclusively for Tropical Fish Finder. It is the property of Tropical Fish Finder and may not be reproduced without permission.