Victorians: They Will Earn Your Respect
By Keegan Armke (4-98)

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          Lake Victoria is the third largest lake in the world. It’s the largest tropical lake. Picture a lake of roughly ovalure shape that stretches almost 250 miles at its longest point and almost 200 miles at its widest point.
          As you may already know, many cichlids of Lake Victoria are becoming extinct in the wild. Between the Nile perch, deforestation, and water hyacinths, the future of these fishes looks bleak.
          Sources say more than 200 species exist in the lake, and approximately the same number have already vanished. In the only book devoted solely to Victorian cichlids, Lake Victoria Rock Cichlids, author Ole Seehausen says many species he studied only a few years ago can no longer be found alive in the lake today.
          Noted cichlid expert Dr. Paul Loiselle says the piscavore species are especially endangered due to their open-water habitat. He says almost any living Lake Victoria piscavore cichlid is a rarity that needs to be protected.
          Some aquarists still need to learn that there is more to Lake Victoria cichlids than flame backs, rock kribensis and thick skins. No doubt, true strains of these fish are extremely attractive, but scores of new and interesting species are gradually being made available.
          If one counts the numerous smaller bodies of water in the equatorial zone in the vicinity of Lake Victoria as producing “Victorian” cichlids, there are many more from which to choose.
          Unusual Victorians seem to be highly prized in Europe and brought surprisingly high prices at last year’s ACA auction in Chicago—often bringing higher prices than many of the Tropheus species!
          One thing that sets Victorian cichlids apart from their Malawi and Tanganyika cousins is their irregular availability. For instance, we would not know where to go to replace some of the species we keep should we lose our present colony. In some ways, there’s appeal in this. Who doesn’t like the distinction of being one of the few aquarists anywhere to house specimens of Rockgrazerus sp. “Bright Red & Blue?” (to name a completely fictitious fish)
          When one observes enough Victorian species closely enough, he learns that these cichlids are not as easy to stereotype in regard to color, shape and action as is commonly thought. The habits of different species groups vary widely from each other.
          Commonly, even experienced, knowledgeable aquarists tend to group all Victorian cichlids together under one broad genus—”Haplochromis”.
          That’s old thinking. Today, we know that a Victorian cichlid could be a Haplochromis… or it could be an Astatotilapia or a Paralabidochromis or Psammochromis or a Lipochromis or Prognathochromis or Neochromis or Xystichromis, to name some present-day genuses.
           It’s a fact that a majority of known Victorian cichlid species have been discovered since 1991. Many of these newly discovered species are still quite rare in the hobby.
           In our experience, aquarium-kept Victorians are nothing if not adaptable. We keep Victorians in a variety of environments ranging from single- to multi-species tanks to full-blown community tanks housing cichlids from all three lakes.
During an ACA talk by Dr. Loiselle, he mentioned that some Victorian cichlids are surviving the Nile perch menace by escaping to water hyacinth beds where water is so low in dissolved oxygen content the feared predator cannot follow. Predictably, the hardy Victorian adapts.
          Let's take this opportunity to shatter a couple of  “myths” that surround the keeping of Victorian cichlids:
One of these myths says that two or more Victorian species cannot be housed together without great risk of inbreeding.
Without common-sense care, this is certainly a possibibility. However, with the infusion of new species, there is enough diversity in Victorian cichlids to house multiple species together in the manner that Malawi or Tanganyika cichlids are kept together.
           The second is that, contrary to common belief, not all Victorians are easy to breed. Just ask the many skilled aquarists who have failed in their attempts to successfully breed and raise the H. nyererei complex.
           Victorian cichlids overall have much to offer as highly desirable aquarium occupants.
           For the most part, males are beautiful fish, displaying colors that rival Malawi peacocks and other “jewel-like” species.
           They remain comparatively small—almost small enough to qualify as dwarf cichlids. Seehausen’s book cites maximum size at about 4" for most Victorian cichlids, but many remain smaller.
           They don’t significantly disrupt a tank’s interior appearance. They are not the serious excavators that some of their Malawi cousins are, for instance.
           Once bred and hatched, the fry are easily reared and adapt to a wide variety of feeding habits and aquarium environment.
           Admittedly, we go to great lengths to seek out new and rare young Victorians for our tanks. We want to see how they really look as they grow and start to color—and I enjoy the challenge of keeping a fish that may or may not continue to exist in nature.
           When someone asks me what I have new and interesting in my tanks, I rarely hesitate. I simply say, “Let’s look at the Victorians.”

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