Etroplus canarensis, the Canara pearlspot

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Until fairly recently, this exceptionally rare cichlid was believed to be extinct. It's recently been imported into the UK. Matt Clarke managed to buy six of them...

Common name: Canara pearlspot cichlid

Scientific name: Etroplus canarensis

Origin: A restricted range - only the Karnataka and the Kumaradhara River, South Canara, south-west India.

Habitat: Freshwater streams and tributaries.

Size: Most references state it will reach 10cm/4", but museum records show preserved fish of 15-20cm/6-8", suggesting that the species can grow much larger than thought.

Water: Precise conditions aren't known, but details on fish from the same river claim that the pH is 6.0-6.5, GH5, 22-26C/711/2-78F. My fish seem happy in water of pH 7.6, GH6, 25C/77F. They come from freshwater, so there is no need to add salt to the tank.

Aquarium: These very shy, peaceful cichlids are initially tricky to feed, so don't keep them with anything boisterous. They rarely wander more than 30cm/12" from the shoal. My six fish are kept in a 900 l./200 gal. system furnished with boulders, bogwood and a silver sand substrate. The tank is heavily filtered and has a very high flow rate to simulate the flowing waters of their natural habitat.

Adult colouration: The pattern stays more or less the same but the opercula now have an attractive blue squiggly pattern on them. A feint tilapia-spot like mark is still visible on some of the smaller specimens, which may be females.

Diet: Shy feeders that browse on aufwuchs on rocks and bogwood, and on morsels of food that have dropped to the bottom. Mine accept brineshrimp, Daphnia and bloodworm. They have recently started to accept flakes. As such they are unlikely to do well next to boisterous feeders.

Similar species: Only two other species - Etroplus maculatus and E. suratensis, neither of which can be confused with E. canarensis due to its striking markings. E. maculatus is the smallest and most common and has several colours including red and orange, besides the natural olive-green and black form. E. suratensis is a bigger fish, reaching around 20cm/8". Both fish can be successfully kept in freshwater, but may need to be acclimatised to it from brackish conditions.

Breeding:There have been reports of captive breeding. Wild fish are said to breed in their second year. Other Etroplus species spawn by depositing around 200 stalked clownfish-like eggs on a rock. They have a nuclear family with protracted brood care lasting several months. The offspring feed on secretions from the flanks of the parents, rather like juvenile Discus.

Notes: Although discovered in 1877, it's never been common in the trade. It was rediscovered in 1997 and exhibited at Aquarama. A small group were imported into the UK in 2000.

Availability: Maidenhead Aquatics at Harlestone Heath obtained these directly from India. They are probably one of the rarest cichlids in the hobby, with only a handful in the UK.

Price: At £37.50 for a 2cm/1" fish, these aren't cheap, but it's a small price for such an exceptionally rare and graceful fish.

This article was first published in the September 2004 issue of Practical Fishkeeping magazine.