Altolamprologus: What a Wonderful Variety
By Keegan Armke (11-97; edited and updated 8-99)

(Refer to Image Gallery for Photos)

          One genus which inhabits nearly all of our show aquariums is Altolamprologus. I am referring to the Tanganyikan compressiceps and calvus. These fish adapt well to various environments and tankmates. We house specimens of Altolamprologus with Tanganyikans, Malawians, Victorians and South Americans.
          The unique body shape and peculiar habits of compressiceps and calvus endear them to their keepers. As a group, they are big favorites among veteran African cichlid enthusiasts. These fish grow extremely slow, but are long-lived. This accounts for the comparatively large difference in price between young and adult specimens.
          While most serious hobbyists are familiar with the orange and redfin compressiceps, there are others encountered with less frequency. The varieties of goldhead compressiceps with which we are familiar are striking fish with bright gold-plated heads. The Malasa Island (Tanzania) variant has a chocolate brown body with a gold head. The Kalambo variant is a lighter-bodied compressiceps with a bright gold head. Recently being imported is a variant from Muzi, Tanzania, which can be identified by gold spotting on the flanks. Other, more recent imports have included goldhead varieties from Kantalamba and Samazi. The Samazi appears to be a smaller fish and exhibits an extremely bright gold head, while the Kantalamba specimens have been comparatively large but equally striking. Rarest of all at present is the Mutondwe Island (Zambia) specimen. It has the same gold head and similar body color, but sports hues of blue in the unpaired fins. It is the only referenced compressiceps which exhibits any blue coloration. The blue is much more noticeable when the fish is in its light phase coloration.
           Another little known Zambian compressiceps from Mutondwe Island is the gold dot variety. This attractive fish displays gold dots (similar to the white spots on a calvus) on its body and unpaired fins.
           The rare Kiku gold compressiceps is from Congo (formerly Zaire) and sports an overall bright gold color over the body. Sometimes the vertical dark barring can form a sharp contrast with the gold. The fish looks splendid in either dress.
           The Nangu blackhead compressiceps (Cape Kachese and Nangu Island, Zambia) has shiny pearly spots on a brown body with a jet black head in both sexes which intensifies when the fish is excited. We believe it to be a dwarf of some type. It is not to be confused with the equally scarce black compressiceps from Congo. This color form lacks the white dots for which the black calvus is known. We recently imported a black compressiceps from Tanzania that does sport white dotting similar to a calvus. Another Zambian compressiceps is the Mbity Rocks sunset. It earns its sunset trade name with a yellow chest against a light brown body.
           Three red forms of compressiceps include the Kigoma red, the Burundi red and another which is collected off the coast of Zambia. There are also multiple forms of the so-called orange compressiceps, including the attractive Chaitika orange, the darker variety traded as Kapemba orange, and the ruddy colored Kalambo orange. The most spectactular orange compressiceps, however, might be the one collected at Mwela; it has the brightest coloration of those mentioned here.
            For the real connoisseur or shell-dweller specialist, there are two highly interesting and peaceful varieties of dwarf Altolamprologus. The Altolamprologus sp. Sumbu (Sumbu Bay, Zambia) and the Altolamprologus sp. Shell (Mbita Island, Zambia) are common in their dwarf stature and snail shell-spawning behavior, but exhibit different coloration. In comparison, the sp. Shell has thicker, fleshier lips; exhibits barring in both sexes; and has nice yellow in the unpaired fins. In a recent import shipment, we received a new variety dubbed "White Dwarf" by the collector/exporter, who collected the fish at Kabwe off the coast of Tanzania. It is a much larger "dwarf" than the two mentioned previously. These dwarf species can be happily housed and spawned in appropriately stocked aquaria from 10 to 200 gallons in size.                                                                              "New" varieties of compressiceps have been reaching us on a regular basis, and there are varieties recently received which are not covered in this article.
            The four well-known color variants of Altolamprologus calvus are black, white, pearly and yellow. The beautiful black calvus comes from both Congo and Zambia. There is a variant from Mpala, Congo, that sports larger-than-normal white spots. The unusual yellow calvus has been documented to originate from Nangu Island, Nkamba Bay and Chilange Rocks—all in Zambia.
            The white calvus is found at Cape Chaitika (Zambia) and is also a favorite because of its pleasant, contrasting black and white coloration. It differs from the pearly calvus in this stark contrast; the pearly calvus has a silver to gray background contrasted with dark barring.
            Of the varieties discussed here, our searches lead us to believe that some are extremely rare among present U.S. aquarium populations. In addition to these, there are a few other Altolamprologus varieties found in the trade and—hopefully—many more yet to be discovered.
            The fish has a wonderful personality, accepts most foods, tends to be hardy and is a great addition to any aquarium.

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