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Derek Doyle on his experiences with Altolamprologus Calvus

Malawi and Tanganyikan cichlids seem to have been around forever, in fact as recently as the 1980’s there were very few species available. You might see the odd Zebra, Auratus or Lombardai, all big territorial fish hammering the lard out of their unfortunate tank mates, due in no small part to the totally unsuitable conditions in which they were housed.

Needless to say there was no great demand for them. Then as more information and knowledge of their needs [hard water conditions, behaviour and feeding, most early imports were vegetarian and mouthbrooders] and also some shops such as the old Tropshop began to specialise in them and new, smaller and more placid species arrived, they gained in popularity to their present status as mainstays of the hobby.
Tanganyikan Cichlids although in many cases lacking the extreme colours of their Malawi cousins, compensate with their diversity in form and behaviour. Whereas Malawis are all mouthbrooders, Tanganyikans can be maternal mouthbrooders, biparental mouthbrooders, cave spawners, shell dwellers, sandfunnel nest builders or substrate spawners. Size and shape can vary from tiny one inch shell dwellers or three inch Julies to twelve inch Frontosa. Several species have vertical or horizontal stripes, or extremely long ventral fins with tassle-like ends.
Altolamprologus are a genus that have a particular fascination for me. There are several species, Calvus, Compressiceps, Sumba etc., and many colour forms and geographical variants. Calvus has three main colour forms, Yellow, White and Black, of these the Black from Zaire [jet black covered in multiple white dots] is the most handsome and striking. Although Altolamprologus look very fierce and predatory they are among the most timid and easy going of cichlids, they tend to ignore all other species and although carnivores they can only manage quite small prey. The following is an account of my keeping and breeding this fish over many years, based on personal experience and observation. Maybe my affection for Calvus is based on certain similarities with another long time favourite and the fish which initially lured me into fish keeping, namely the common angelfish [pterophylum scalare]. Both are medium sized, laterally compressed fish who glide gracefully through the water, and are only mildly aggressive. They are very handsome fellows with great personality and an apparent intelligence.
It was 1990 when I became hooked on Tanganyikans while visiting a Tanganyikan cichlid specialist in northern England, who had written articles about Altolamprologus Calvus “black” and Juliedochromis “gombi”, both new to the hobby at that time. His fish-house was full of fantastic healthy and rare species, several of which I had only seen in photographs, including some beautiful Black Calvus. As well as Calvus I bought Neolamprologus Leleupi “orange“, Paracyprichromis Velifer, Aulonacranus Dewindti, Xenotilapia Papilio and Neolamprologus Nigriventris. Interestingly sixteen years on, most of these impressive fish are rarely if ever seen by aquarists in Ireland. Anyway my valuable charges arrived home safely and were placed in various tanks in the fish-house where they all settled comfortably. It was soon apparent that the Calvus were easily bullied by the more aggressive characters such as Brichardi, Leleupi and the robust shell dweller Lamprologus Boulengerie, so they were promptly moved to a tank with quieter companions, Cyprichromis. Neolamprologus Brevis and Caudopunctatus.
Altolamprologus Calvus part two


All Altolamprologus species are fairly peaceful, they rarely initiate fighting, but defend themselves effectively when attacked by bending the body in an arc to expose sharp hard scales on the flank. This usually deters most attackers, who swim off to find a weaker target. Over the next few years these and other Calvus bred, with limited success, sometimes in community tanks where the fry were eaten and other times as a pair in small tanks where the male terrorised the smaller females. Once or twice I siphoned out a few fry to raise, but found them delicate and slow growing. I drifted away from Calvus to concentrate on other species, until last year I got some nice young adult specimens from a breeder in Holland. After settling them in for a few months a pair was selected, male three inches female two inches and placed in a four foot tank with a fine sand substrate, rocks slate and a few shells. Tankmates were a breeding group of Paracyprichromis Nigrapinnis, a beautiful peaceful cichlid that grows to about four inches. Everything settled well and the female Calvus chose a small shell near the front glass and spent most of the time in or near this, eventually disappearing altogether for several days. After a few days she reappeared and hovered just at the shell opening, diving back in and blocking the entrance with her body at any perceived threat from her tank mates or me. Eventually the fry began to appear within a few inches of their shell home, they were almost transparent and stayed very low and still, only rising an inch or so from the substrate to eat brine shrimp. As days passed the fry moved further from the shell and all were eaten. Next time they bred signalled by the females retreat to her home, I removed the shell with her inside and placed it in a small prepared tank with same substrate and same water temp. ph and hardness. Success at last, as the tank was at eye level the young fish could be more easily observed, staying tight to substrate and eating newly hatched brine shrimp they doubled in size and changed colour to a blotchy grey. Ten days after the fry emerged the female within her shell was returned to the main tank where she settled immediately. As the fry grew they moved from the bottom and swam in mid water, there was at least sixty and they were very appealing with their grumpy looking faces. Some guppys and cyprichromis fry were added to give them more confidence and they thrived on a diet of brine shrimp crumbled flake frozen cyclops and occasionally whiteworm. Based on the above guidelines I now find it easy to breed and raise this fantastic fish. As with most Tanganyikans they are not really a beginners fish, but with a little care with water conditions, correct feeding and the right tank mates they are fairly hardy.
Update.July 2007
I raised about 200 fry from this pair, some up to two inches. Most were sold to Fishfx (now Fintastic} and a few went to Tanganyikan specialists such as Anthony, Chris and Fran (lampeye). As Fran found out with his young occelatus, they will swallow anything that fits in their mouth. A good rule of thumb is any fish shorter than the distance between the eye and the tip of the snout will be eaten. I have some Goldhead Comp. And White Calvus now (Beauties), and intend to grow them on and then try to breed them.
Derek Doyle

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