How Low Can You Congo?

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If I say “African cichlid”, you probably associate “Malawi” or “Tanganyika”, but let’s not forget about another tropical hotbed for biodiversity on this massive continent: the one-and-only Congo Basin. Stretching 1.5 million square miles from the East African Rift to the Atlantic Ocean, this region touts the largest stand of undisturbed tropical rainforest on Earth. Along with year-round warm temperatures and heavy annual rainfall, The Congo is ripe with habitat for nearly 700 described tropical fish, most of which are not found anywhere else in the world. A few of our favorites include Pelvicachromis subocellatus “Moanda”, Hemichromis sp. “Moanda”, and Nanochromis teugelsi.

A “salty” dwarf cichlid from slow-moving streams in coastal regions of West Africa, P. subocellatus “Moanda” is found in both fresh and brackish environments. Reaching just over 3 inches in length, “Moanda” males have dark “ocellated” markings on their neutral-colored bodies, and exhibit bright blue patterned fins. Females are slightly smaller in stature and have dark bodies with bright pink bellies, yellow faces with dark stripes, and blue dorsal fins. Timid by nature, these “Kribs” are happiest in tanks equipped with lots of cover like PVC pipe, rock piles, clay pots, tall and floating plants, and driftwood. Tank substrate should be smooth, fine gravel or sand, as these dwarf cichlids excavate pits when spawning. Breeding pairs may be somewhat territorial, and can be kept as single pairs alongside small characins, Barbs, Danios, Gouramis, and Corydoras. Natural diets consist mainly of small invertebrates, and they should be fed regular live and frozen meals alongside high-quality dried products. Waters should be maintained with temperatures of 72 to 79°F, pH between 5.5 and 7.5, and hardness of 90 to 356 ppm.

Found along the Atlantic coast of the West African Congo Basin, H. sp. “Moanda” is an undescribed Jewel Cichlid popular in the aquarium trade for its bright red coloration. This cichlid reaches a maximum of 4 inches and has 2 dark spots along their cherry red sides, golden cheeks and underbellies, and shimmering blue scales. More peaceful than other Hemichromis, they can be kept in large tanks with lots of swimming space in loose single-species aggregations. As pair-bonding cave-spawners, they require lots of cover and cave-like hideouts that may be defended as individual territories, and females may spawn as often as every 2-3 weeks. Mildly territorial and defensive, this species is not suitable for most community aquaria, though they may be kept alongside Alestiid tetras, and large catfish like Synodontis of Loricariids. Carnivorous by nature, they should be mostly meaty foods, like live small invertebrates or high-quality flake food, with a very small portion of vegetal matter like spirulina or algae flake. Sensitive to degradation in water quality, they should receive biweekly 50% water changes, and waters should be well-oxygenated with a temperature between 73 and 79°F, pH of 5.5 to 7.0, and hardness under 90 ppm.

Endemic to the middle regions of the Congo Basin, N. teugelsi is a small, lovely, and rare cichlid in the aquarium hobby. Reaching just 2 inches, they have thin bodies with opalescent blue, purple, and green coloration, a red stripe at the top of their caudal fin, and red eyes. Another Congo-dweller that appreciates cover, tanks should be well furnished with decor up to the aquarist’s taste. This species is known to dig, and requires sandy substrate and potted or well-secured plants. They also do best with peat filtration. Somewhat aggressive and territorial toward conspecifics, they should be kept as single pairs, and can do well alongside Alestiid tetras, and sometimes, other dwarf cichlids. Generally carnivorous, the bulk of their diets should consist of live and frozen invertebrates, though they are not picky and will accept high-quality dried granules and flakes. Waters are best kept with temperatures of 72 to 77°F, ph around neutral, and hardness under 142 ppm.
While the Congo isn’t necessarily known for its cichlids, the river was a point of origin for 7 of the 10 Tanganyikan cichlid families. The sheer range of the basin’s ecology has led to numerous unique species that should never be swept downstream, and in our opinion, make great crowning jewels of thoughtfully orchestrated aquascapes.