Sulphur-Crested Lithobate: Otopharynx lithobates
The Sulphur Crested Lithobate, Otopharynx lithobates, is a mouth brooding cichlid native to Lake Malawi. It has been found at Mumbo, Thumbi West and East, Zimbabwe Rock, Chinyamwezi, and along the coast between the tip of Domwe Island and Monkey Bay. The name “lithobates” means rock-dweller, and this is an aptly chosen name since Otopharynx lithobates spends its life in caves and crevices in the rocky parts of Lake Malawi. Otopharynx lithobates feed on the droppings of chiefly herbivorous fish and will continuously search the substrate for tasty morsels. It is often found in the presence of big catfish species, since they produce plenty of nutritious droppings.
Harvesting wild specimens for the aquarium trade is not a good idea, since Otopharynx lithobates it is listed as “Vulnerable” in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It would therefore be desirable if more aquarists took the time to breed this charming fish in captivity.
Description and sexing the Sulphur-Crested Lithobate
The male Otopharynx lithobates can grow bigger than 16 cm in length while the female tends to be somewhat smaller. Juvenile fish is really difficult to sex, and even when fully matured, the difference between a male and a female Otopharynx lithobates is much smaller than in most other Malawi cichlids. There are however several notable difference, including the spotting. If you look at the fish, you will see three dark spots on the flank. One is located near the tail base, one right under the shoulder, and one roughly midway between the other two. If the spots are very prominent, you are probably looking at an adult female or a juvenile fish. If the spots are nearly invisible, then you are looking at an adult male. A male Otopharynx lithobates can however start to display these spots again if stressed.
The male Otopharynx lithobates exhibit a stylish dark blue coloration and a bright yellow blaze that proceeds from the tip of the nose to the end of the tail fin. Yellow is also present on the bottom tip of the tail fin, while the anal fin is of an orange shade. If you look closely at the anal fin, you can see the egg spots.
If you keep more than one male Otopharynx lithobates in the aquarium, they will usually establish a rank system where one male is dominant and the other males submissive. The dominant male will display strong colors, while the submissive ones will show their compliance by damping their colors to a drab brown shade. They can look almost like females. The dominant male can also be recognized on his elongated trailing dorsal and anal fins. It is only the dominant male that breeds with the females in the aquarium.
Housing Otopharynx lithobates
Otopharynx lithobates can exceed 16 cm in length and produce quite a lot of waste, and housing them in a small aquarium is not recommended. Four a few specimens, a 120 cm aquarium is advisable. The water should be hard and alkaline, just like Lake Malawi. A carbonate hardiness around 250 ppm and a pH-value around 8 has proven successful in the past. The water temperature should be in the 24 – 27°C range. Unlike many other cichlids, Otopharynx lithobates are not really fond of digging, and you can therefore use undergravel filters as well as having live plants planted in the substrate if you want to. Otopharynx lithobates is not a meek fish, but it is not overly aggressive either.
Picture added by AC Tropical fish. Copyright www.jjphoto.dk
During courting, the male will pick a flat rock or similar to be used as spawning site. You should therefore include a flat rock in the aquarium set up if you want them to breed. This behavior distinguishes Otopharynx lithobates from most other commonly kept Malawi cichlids, since building a concave gravel pit and depositing the eggs inside is much more common.
The male Otopharynx lithobates will display intense coloration and vigorously wiggle his body back and fort in order to impress the female. During the actual spawning, the two fishes will circle each other and the female will release the eggs at the spawning site. The male fertilize them as the female picks them up using her mouth. Otopharynx lithobates is a maternal mouth brooder and the female will brood for roughly three weeks. It is not uncommon for a female to spit the eggs prematurely, especially during her first few spawnings. There are also huge individual variations where some females are great mothers while others never really seem to get it right.
Raising Sulphur-Crested Lithobate fry
If the fry is released in an aquarium with adult fish they might become food, and many breeders will therefore force the brooding female to spit out the larvae into a separate aquarium. If you want to do this, you should wait as long as possible, since fry that is taken from their mother too early have slim chances of surviving.
To get her to spit her fry, gently capture her using a net (without stressing her more than necessary since this can cause her to spit the fry before you have a chance to move her). Place her in a bucker or another aquarium that has been filled with water from her normal aquarium to avoid chock. Keep her inside the net and grasp her softly, while using your index finger to tenderly open up her mouth. When she has released her fry, carefully place her back in her normal aquarium.
If you have waited long enough before forcing her to spit, the fry will be around 4 mm of length and ready to eat small daphnia and crushed flake food. They may even be large enough to show the distinctive Lithobates spotting. Feed your fry several small servings each day rather than 1-2 big ones. As they grow bigger, you can start giving them bigger daphnia.
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