Sunday, April 3, 2011

Shell Castle Cichlid

Male with Females and Shells
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Actinopterygii
Order : Perciformes
Family : Cichlidae
Genus : Lamprologus
Species : L. callipterus

Length : Males 6in (15cm), Females 2.5in (6cm)

IUCN Status : Least Concern

Yesterday afternoon I watched several episodes of the Science Channels "Mutant Planet." One of these, about the lakes in Africa's Rift Valley, featured today's animal, a curious fish sometimes known as the Shell Castle Cichlid.

Lamprologus callipterus is endemic to Lake Tanganyika. These fish exhibit extreme sexual dimorphism; the males can weigh 20 times as much as the females! They are predators that feed off of crustaceans and smaller fish.

I chose this particular Cichlid to feature today because of their interesting breeding behavior. The males are highly territorial and protective of their many, many mates. They gather up old snail shells, sometimes hundreds of them, and bring them into their territory. They then attract nearby females, who then enter these shells in order to lay their eggs. The males then guard over both the females and the eggs until the fry are large enough to leave. At that point neither parent takes any further action in the care of the offspring. Interestingly, the males do not eat at all while they are guarding their "castle." Eventually they become weak and are often chased off by larger, healthier males.

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