Misinformation Clouds Search for Right Name
By Ken Armke (8-98)

       We understand that fish names in general--and cichlid names in particular--can be confusing to anyone, especially when common names are sometimes used for multiple fish, and scientific names are subject to change at any time.

          For instance, we found humorous a recent exchange on the web in which someone purchased an "electric blue" from a fish store and wanted to know what they had. Some responses assured the owner that the fish was a "Haplochromis ahli". Others said, no, the fish was a "Melanochromis johanni". Naturally, both fish are commonly sold under the name "electric blue". But only some Melanochromis johanni (those from Chilucha Reef) are "electric blues"; others are not. Further, another fish, Melanochromis sp. "maingano" is also sometimes offered as "electric blue". To add to the confusion, the fish referred to as "Haplochromis ahli" is really Sciaenochromis fryeri, and the real "ahli" has been renamed Sciaenochromis ahli. It is a completley different fish and is really rather rarely seen or offered for sale, not even as "electric blue"!

          Got that?

          In our own case, we have for years been buying, breeding, trading and selling the popular and pretty Victorian cichlid, Haplochromis obliquidens. We did, that is, until--in the course of a running commentary with Dr. Paul Loiselle--we were informed that H. obliquidens in all likelyhood has never been exported from Lake Victoria. Most of the "obliquidens" being sold in the U.S. are forms of Haplochromis sp. "thick-skin". Does that surprise you about the obliquidens? It certaintly did us.

          While situations such as those described with the "electric blue" and the "obliquidens" may range from humorous to curious, there's another that is not funny at all. It's dissemination of misinformation. For instance, we've recently encountered multiple references (some on the web, some off-web) stating that Haplochromis sp. "flameback" and Haplochromis nyererei are different names for the same fish.


          As confirmed at our request by Dr. Loiselle, the flameback and the nyererei are not even close to being the same fish. The problem with this type of misinformation is as follows. As African cichlids go, the "flameback", while attractive, is a prolific breeder and is consequently commonly available at extremely reasonable prices. The "nyererei", on the other hand, encompasses a whole complex of Lake Victoria fishes which can look quite different, are not prolific, and always command relatively high prices (several times that of a "flameback", fish for fish).

          However, armed with the "misinformation" that his "flameback" is really a "nyererei", a cichlidkeeper (innocently or otherwise) faces a simple decision when he is ready to sell or send to auction his surplus fish: Does he offer his fish as "flamebacks" at a lower price, or does he offer them as "nyererei" at a higher price? Don't snicker! We saw this exact situation happen...in all innocence, simply because the perpetrator believed everything he had seen on the web!

          The victim, of course, is the fellow cichlidkeeper who 1) purchases a completely different species than he thought he was getting, and 2) is vastly "overcharged" for what he does get.

          Unfortunately, we have even encountered name "misinformation" among fish store owners, though it's possible there was no malicious intent. Usually in these cases, the store owner, not being able to quickly identify a common cichlid, resorts to photos in aquarium literature to identify the fish, sometimes coming up with the name of some extremely rare species that happens to bear some pictorial resemblance to the fish in question.

          How does one avoid the potholes in such a fish disinformation highway? Treat them as speed bumps. In other words, proceed slowly and cautiously when you aren't sure of yourself or your supplier. Acquire your uncommon fish from reliable sources who are ready, willing and capable of answering questions. Better yet, educate yourself. Put together a library of the Konings-written and the Aqualex books, and use them. Then, your search for misinformation becomes a challenge, not an obstacle to your enjoyment.

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