Peppermint pikehead, Luciocephalus aura

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Matt Clarke looks at the recently described Green-spotted or Peppermint pikehead, Luciocephalus aura.

Scientific name: Luciocephalus aura Tan and Ng, 2005

Common name: Luciocephalus sp. "Peppermint" and L. sp. "Green".

Origin: Described from the middle reaches of swamps in the Batang Hari basin in Jambi in the Sungai Pijoan region of central Sumatra in Indonesia.

Size: The largest type specimens are around 11cm/4.25" long, but it may reach similar proportions to L. pulcher at almost 15-20cm/6-8".

Diet: Live foods, such as small fish or shrimps. Like L. pulcher, it is reportedly difficult to wean onto dead foods. Luciocephalus has protrusible jaws and can take large prey for their size.

Water: Luciocephalus aura is found in forest swamp habitats, so should do best in very soft, acidic water with a pH of 5.0-6.0.

Aquarium: A bit tricky in terms of diet and water requirements, so best kept in a planted species tank of about 90-120cm/36"-48". Often kept in groups, but provide plenty of surface cover in case of aggression. It lives alongside at the water surface alongside a range of cyprinids, including various Rasbora and Puntius species, as well as loaches and anabantoids, such as Trichogaster trichopterus. According to Tan and Ng, L. aura is also found alongside L. pulcher at Jambi, but the two fish may live in different habitats, with L. aura in faster flowing water and L. pulcher in the more stagnant areas. Provide a little extra flow to keep it happy.

Breeding: Recent research by Ruber et al. 2006 has shown that Luciocephalus are members of the spiral egg clade. Their unusual pear-shaped eggs have spiral ridges on the surface that lead to a structure called the micropyle. This is believed to indicate their relatedness to Sphaerichthys. Like pulcher, aura is probably a paternal mouthbrooder. L. pulcher males brood around 150 eggs and do not feed for the month-long brooding period.

Notes: The species was first collected by Maurice Kottelat and Heok Hui Tan in 1994. The Luciocephalus only contains two species, the more common L. pulcher, which was described way back in 1830, and this new fish, which was described in 2005. Despite appearances, this is a member of the goramy family Osphronemidae, where the genus sits in a subfamily called the Luciocephalinae.

Identification: Easy to tell apart from Luciocephalus pulcher by the presence of irridescent green spots on the broad longitudinal stripe. It also differs morphometrically, with a smaller preanal length, greater postdorsal length, smaller caudal peduncle length, greater anal fin base length and smaller eye diameter. The name "aura" refers to the glowing irridescence of these markings.

Availability: I first saw this species for sale at Wharf Aquatics a few years ago, where it was imported as L. pulcher. These ones were on sale at Water Gardens UK @ Oxford (01865 876516) during the summer of 2006. They're not common in the trade.

Price: Expect to pay around £10-30 each.