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Not many fish can show such noticeable behaviour, personality and interest in their surroundings whilst also being colourful, hardy and easy to keep. For an introduction to the wonderful world of cichlids, you can't get a better fish than the kribensis

Kribensis tropical fish


The first thing to notice about kribs is the intense coloration - someone obviously noticed this whilst naming the fish as 'pulcher' actually means 'pretty'. The kribs have a red underside followed by a dark band along the length of the body and in-between this is a lighter silvery-gold stripe. The fins are even more colourful and patterned, especially the dorsal (top) and caudal (tail) fins of the males which trail to a point and sport a dark centre topped with silver-gold and red stripes.

Both males and females may have dark spots on the dorsal fins but generally it is only the males that have distinctive spots on the caudal fin. A few males may not show these spots so it is not a foolproof way of sexing the fish, luckily there are a few other methods and using these it should be easy for anyone to select a pair.

Kribs are often sold whilst young, before the colours and fins have developed, if this is the case a pair can be selected by looking at the body shape, females are shorter and deeper bodied than males. If old enough you can always select a pair by looking at the pelvic fins (pair of fins situated under the front of the belly), the males are pointed whilst the females are blunt and rounded.

A quiet life

In nature kribensis are found in pools, streams and quiet waterways in Nigeria, and so do not appreciate fast flowing water in the aquarium. Like their natural habitat, kribs will do best in aquariums with a sandy or small gravel substrate and plenty of densely planted areas interspersed with pieces of bogwood.

Most fish that come from small, isolated bodies of water are very hardy and undemanding in terms of water quality and the kribensis are no exception. Tank-bred specimens, which are in the vast majority, can be quite happily kept in most water conditions. Wild caught fish or many of the recently appearing and closely related Pelvicachromis species should only be kept in soft, neutral to acidic water that mimics their natural environment. Some sources suggest the use of salt is beneficial to kribensis, and even that kribs may inhabit brackish waters although this may be speculation rather than fact.

In nature the kribensis would feed upon small aquatic creatures and invertebrates amongst the plants and substrate. In the aquarium, kribs tend to do very well on diets made up mainly of dried foods such as flakes but should be given additional live or frozen food supplements such as bloodworm, daphnia, and brineshrimp.

Noisy neighbours

The general opinion of many novice fish-keepers is that cichlids are aggressive and troublesome, much like the opinion that all barbs are fin-nippers. What has to be remembered here is that within every group of fish there are exceptions, and the cichlids are a pretty large group of fish.

Under most circumstances, kribensis will make a good addition to a community aquarium of hardy fish. When kribs start to pair up and breed however, you can expect to see some stereotypical cichlid behaviour. A pair of kribs will defend an area of breeding territory around 45cm (18in) square so in reality if kept in a community, the aquarium should be at least 90cm (36in) long. This size of aquarium should give the other fishes plenty of space to retreat to should the neighbourhood become a little rough. Although the kribs may give the other fish a little hassle, they will not pick on specific fish so should not be considered a bully.

Family values

The territorial nature of the kribensis is however, part of their most interesting quality - breeding behaviour. Kribs are excellent parents and it is a memorable fish-keeping experience watching these fish pair up and breed. Selecting the right fish to form a pair is important, if possible, spend five minutes or so just watching the fish on sale - you should be able to identify an established pair fairly easily.

Females can be quite picky in their choice of mate; he must be confident, well coloured and ideally larger than she is to be suitable. A male and female will not pair up immediately, so they will need their own space, which is another reason why a larger tank may be more suitable.

Kribensis are cave spawners so they should be provided with a suitable cave-like piece of decor or ideally the classic clay pot. The female will first choose a site and defend it then when she is nearing spawning condition she will approach the male and 'quiver' in front of him, showing her willingness to breed. The pair will both clean the spawning site, which is normally on the side or ceiling of the cave, before the female lays up to 100 or more adhesive eggs closely followed by fertilisation by the male. Females carry out most of the egg care by fanning oxygenated water over the eggs and 'cleaning' the eggs in her mouth. Whilst the female is caring for the eggs the male will stand guard at the cave mouth and chase off any fish that get too close.

It is important to note here that the kribs can only do so much, and a heavily stocked aquarium might result in the eggs being eaten whilst the kribs are too busy chasing other fish. Providing the eggs survive, they should hatch after around three-four days. The newly born larvae will stay attached to the spawning site for up to four days before they are free swimming, during this time they will get their nutrition from the remaining egg sac. Once they are able to swim the young will be escorted out of the cave by the parents and will forage for food in the immediate surroundings. At this point the young should be given tiny foods such as Cyclops, newly hatched brineshrimp, or liquid fry food. At night the young are herded back into the cave spawning site, so it is important to make sure that when the tank lights are switched off, there is enough ambient room light for the parents to see the young safely home. Watching the young fry being herded, watched over, and kept in order by the parents is an experience which any fish-keeper should find a privilege.

Kribensis fact file

Origin: Nigeria
Habitat: Quiet waterways with dense patches of vegetation and driftwood
Size: Females 8cm Males 10cm
Minimum tank size: 90cm or 60cm for a species tank
Water conditions: Undemanding, ideally soft and neutral to acidic.
Temperature: 25-28C

Other Pelvicachromis species

In recent years there has been an increase in availability of some of the other closely related Pelvicachromis species. Most of these have similar needs and attributes to the krib and in some cases when breeding, may have even more intense coloration. If you've kept kribs before or just want to try something a bit different, any of the Pelvicachromis species are well worth a go. Two species of particular interest are P. subocellatus and P. taeniatus. P. subocellatus grows slightly bigger, has a 'chunkier' appearance and males are a little more reservedly coloured. P. taeniatus is often seen on sale and has varying colour types depending on the local region they were collected from, which can often be quite stunning.

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