Cherry Bellies!

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With their prominent pink tummies and laid-back community antics, the Kribensis is one beginner fish you’ll definitely want to keep and breed, writes Gabor Horvath.

My first meeting with Kribensis happened long-long ago when a good aquarist friend (and my greatest competitor) acquired a breeding pair. Their stunning colours grabbed my attention straight away, but I had to keep my admiration in secret, as they were his fish! We were both aged 14 at the time, so these things really mattered.

When he managed to breed them, I decided to put my affections on the back burner. After all, who wanted a fish that was so easy to breed that even my friend could do it? After that, I resisted the temptation to keep Kribs for a long time, until someone from my local aquarist club offered me a beautiful young pair for free. My resistance waned, and I joined the ever-growing fan club of ‘Kribs’.

The Kribensis, or Rainbow krib, Pelvicachromis pulcher, as it’s called now, is one of the most stunning fish out there. Even the scientific name refers to its great look — ‘pulcher’ being the Latin word for beautiful. Kribs deliver what they say on the tin and really live up to expectations.

The adult male has an elongated body with a wide black stripe and a thinner, golden horizontal stripe, a trapezoid-shaped tail and long trailing dorsal and anal fins with golden-orange edges. They also have pinkish bellies, and this colour extends to the usually yellow-green chest and cheek area on some specimens.

The real beauties are the ladies. Not many fish could compete with the dazzling colours of a ready-to-spawn female Krib. Although they’re shorter and squatter than the males, what they miss in size they make up for in looks. The golden-orange tint on the fins is more pronounced, but the real distinctive and eye-catching feature is the deep-red belly. No surprise then that they are called Cherry-belly cichlids in Hungary.

The common name of Kribensis also has scientific roots. A couple of revisions ago (fish names are frequently revised and updated to account for new diagnostic techniques) they were called Pelmatochromis kribensis, and the name stuck. To confuse the issue, there is already a fish called Pelvicachromis kribensis, which looks similar but isn’t readily available to hobbyists.

There are also other Pelvicachromis species popping up time to time in the shops
— P. subocellatus and P. taeniatus being probably the two most frequent ones. The common Krib is a ‘bread and butter’ fish which you can find in almost every aquatic store, and quite rightly so.

Its popularity extends beyond its looks. Despite being a cichlid, Kribensis behave well in a community tank most of the time, and, aside from when breeding, they don’t harass their tankmates. About a year ago, I saw a large, but pale and sad-looking, male laying on the bare base of a shop tank. I also discovered an equally tatty female at the rear corner of a neighbouring aquarium. They probably were customer returns, and I would usually not buy fish in this state, but I decided to rescue and give them a second chance.

After arriving home, the pair got a tank of their own with caves to facilitate spawning. I expected some dazzling display, but the couple kept hiding behind the sponge filter. Even after a week, they only darted out to grab some food, but, at the slightest fright, quickly retreated to their hiding place. To encourage them, I added a few Guppies, Poecilia reticulata, as dither fish, hoping that the sight of active small fish would draw the Kribs out from their hide.

There was some improvement, but, whenever I got close to the tank, the pair disappeared. After two months, I gave up on them and moved them to my large nursery home tank. It houses most of my older fish, who had fulfilled their breeding duties, giving them a comfortable and pleasant retirement home of sorts.

Courageous little fish

The change of environment and the company of lots of other fish worked wonders. Within days, they became brave. There was no hiding in my presence — the pair was always among the first to grab the food. They happily patrolled the tank together, regularly showing their mutual affections. Their colours came back and, very soon, the female’s belly got quite rounded and turned a deep cherry red, which was a sure sign of her getting into 
a spawning condition.

Although there were no caves in their tank, they found a suitable place under the driftwood and decided to start their own family. I couldn’t see them, but the female disappeared from sight for a few days, and the male frantically defended that particular area of the tank. They did their job well, as, despite the tank holding a fully-grown pair of Bristlenose plecs (Ancistrus sp.) and a few Corydoras, around a week later a shoal of fry emerged under the close supervision of the proud parents.

The parents took turns in guiding the youngsters. While one of them watched the offspring grazing on the sand and decoration (they seem to like aufwuchs, the microorganic growths on the surfaces), the other had defensive duties, chasing away the intruders. They did it against even my huge Denison-barbs, Sahyadria denisonii, which were almost double the Kribs’ size. This resulted in the Kribs having one-third of the four-foot tank for their own, while the rest of the fish had to stay at the other end. Despite the heroic attempts of the parents, most of the fry disappeared in the following days, but 10 of them still managed to reach maturity in the community tank, showing the extreme gumption of this cichlid.

 

Kribs at home

Kribs are easy to keep. Although in the wild they mainly live in slightly acidic waters, they don’t have special requirements regarding the parameters in aquaria. An aquarium with soft- to medium-hard (6-14°H) water would perfectly suit them, and, as long as you keep the acidity between 5.5-7.8pH, they will be fine.

The only time you should think more carefully about the pH is when you plan to breed them and raise fry for further breeding. The Krib is one of the few fish species where environmental factors can influence the gender of the offspring. This is well-known among fish breeders, and recent research proves that it isn’t just a tell-tale. It was found that lower pH (under 6.0) increases the ratio of males-to-females within juveniles, while higher, more basic pH leads to more females-to-males. This fact explains what I experienced so many years ago when breeding Kribs in rock-hard (27°H) and basic (8.1pH) water —about 90% of the offspring became females. That’s why a male Krib was so sought after in that region.

Décor wise, they aren’t too fussy either — Kribs will feel at home equally well in a densely planted aquarium or hardscaped tank. Try to use sand as substrate, because they love to sift through it in search for some food and probably also digest some of the microorganisms in there — just like the marine sand-sifting gobies do. Even with this activity, Kribs will not ruin your decoration or uproot your plants.

When setting up their tank, make sure you provide them with a suitable place to spawn. This can be a flowerpot turned to its side, a coconut shell with an opening or a cluster of wood: as long as it resembles a cave, they will take it.

You don’t have to worry too much about how to persuade them to breed. If there is a mature and well-fed male and female Krib in the aquarium, they will surely do it. While I would usually suggest setting up a dedicated breeding tank for most fish, with Kribensis this is much less pressing, and for more than one reason.

Firstly, there is their shyness. It’s possible that they will become nervous and spend time hiding away, and not even think about spawning — just like my fish did. Secondly, although the pairs form quite close bonds in community tanks and work together as a team — if there are no other fish with them to divide their attention and channel out any aggression, they may turn on each other. It can be so serious that one of them often gets killed, especially when kept in smaller tanks. For this reason, I wouldn’t keep a pair on their own. If you must do this, don’t pick an aquarium smaller than 60cm long.

They’re best housed together with similarly sized community fish, including barbs, tetras and even medium to large livebearers. Bottom-dwelling fish (like Corydoras, Otocinclus, Ancistrus) should be avoided, as they’ll get into conflict with any Kribs tending their offspring. There were cases when the over-enthusiastic parents simply demolished bottom feeders reacting too slowly to their warnings. Just yesterday, I watched my young breeding pair — guarding their very first babies — attacking a huge Bristlenose male without any fear of a fish more than twice as large as them. Now the catfish is temporarily removed until the juveniles are gone and the peace is restored.

Spawning Kribensis

Breeding Kribs in a community set-up will, no doubt, raise some issues. If you are happy with just a few occasional surviving fry, then you need to do nothing. Simply feed your fish normally, using a range of live, frozen and dried food, and the juveniles will grow up on whatever morsels they can find.

If, on the other hand, you plan to raise big broods, then siphoning the free-swimming fry out is the way to go. I usually wait for a couple of days before removing the offspring, as, when the parents and the shoal of juveniles are getting brave, they move to areas where they are easier to reach than in their original hiding places. These early days could also help the youngsters to learn the baby-care from their parents; so, when the time comes, they could carry out the parental duties in the same fashion. I also leave a few fry with the parents to reduce the shock of losing the rest of the brood.

Unless you have an outlet to pass the young Kribensis onto, I wouldn’t suggest keeping too many juveniles because the survival rate of the Kribensis is extremely high. Even with my ‘leave some in’ method, I often easily get near 100 offspring. The fry are large enough to eat Artemia nauplii, microworms or powdered flakes right after they’ve used up their yolk sacs, so, in this case, the question is not what but how much to feed. They can eat a lot and grow very quickly, so you will need a large enough tank with proper filtration to accommodate them. In a few months, you will see young pairs forming, and the new cycle begins.

Kribs are ideal egglayers to begin your fish-breeding journey and provide hours of entertainment for their keepers. I enjoy watching the interactions between females when they show off in front of each other by bending their bodies to ‘U’ shapes and lock their fins while flashing their
purple bellies. Their competition is all about who has the bigger tummy, which is a sign of a fertile female carrying eggs. The females do a similar dance in front of the males, trying to enchant them.

If successful, a long and colourful courting follows, and the pair will keep close to each other while searching for a suitable place for spawning. During this time, their colours go up a notch, getting even more dazzling than before.

My favourite time with Kribs is their fry care. I can watch for hours the silent communications as they take turns in caring for the babies. Kribs control their young with various body language by shaking their bodies and signalling with fins. The fry understand it very well — if the parents indicate danger with sudden jerking movements, the whole shoal of youngsters ducks under the decoration or plants, going into hiding mode while remaining almost motionless. When the danger is passed for the next signal of their guardian, the twirling cloud of fry emerges as one from the debris and continues to graze. Most of the time, it’s the female who spends more time supervising, while the male guards the territory; but, there could be many variations. I have seen single mothers and single fathers, who didn’t let their partners go close to the babies, treating them as complete strangers.

If you’re looking for a dwarf cichlid for your community tank, but you don’t want to upset your budget or take on difficult projects, then don’t look any further — the Krib is a perfect choice. It’s beautiful and effortless to keep, and — because it’s easy to breed — also quite cheap. What are you waiting for?

 

Did you know?

Despite rumours to the contrary, Kribensis are not brackish water species and do not thrive in salty water.

 

Want something more special?

As well as standard Kribs, there are many Pelvicachromis species that periodically become available. Though they require more care, and have more rigid water requirements, look out for the following:

Image: Alamy

Ocellatus kribensis

Scientific name: Pelvicachromis subocellatus

Pronunciation: Pell-vik-ack-row-miss sub-oss-ell-ah-tuss

Size: Males to 8cm; females to 6.5cm

Origin: Africa: Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Nigeria

Habitat: Heavily vegetated pools and slow-flowing streams

Tank size: 60x30x30cm

Water requirements: Soft and acidic to slightly alkaline water; 5.5-7.5pH, 4-18°H

Temperature: 22-25°C

Temperament: Peaceful community species, sometimes territorial with its own

Feeding: Wholly unfussy — offer flakes, pellets, live and frozen Daphnia, bloodworm

Availability and cost: Rare find, may require specialist stores. Prices from around £15 a pair

Image: Alamy

Yellow kribensis

Scientific name: Pelvicachromis humilis

Pronunciation: Pell-vik-ack-row-miss hue-mill-iss

Size: Males to 12.5cm; females to 8cm

Origin: Africa: Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia

Habitat: Heavily vegetated shallows of slow rivers with sand and some leaf litter

Tank size: 75x30x30cm

Water requirements: Soft and acidic to slightly alkaline water; 5.0-7.0pH, 2-12°H

Temperature: 24-28°C

Temperament: Peaceful community species, sometimes territorial with its own Feeding: Wholly unfussy — offer flakes, pellets, live and frozen Daphnia, bloodworm

Availability and cost: Rare in stores; expect to pay £12.50 or more each

Image: Alamy

Striped kribensis

Scientific name: Pelvicachromis taeniatus

Pronunciation: Pell-vik-ack-row-miss teen-ee-ay-tuss

Size: Males to 8cm; females to 6cm

Origin: Africa: Nigeria, Cameroon

Habitat: Pools and slow-flowing streams

Tank size: 60x30x30cm

Water requirements: Soft and acidic to slightly alkaline water; 5.0-7.5pH, 2-12°H

Temperature: 24-28°C

Temperament: Peaceful community species, sometimes territorial with its own

Feeding: Wholly unfussy — offer flakes, pellets, live and frozen Daphnia, bloodworm

Availability and cost: A rare find in stores, expect to pay upwards of £15 a pair if you manage to source them