Tilapia (Coptodon) snyderae


Matt Clarke explains how to keep and breed the Bermin dwarf tilapiine cichlid, Tilapia (Coptodon) snyderae.

Common name: Bermin dwarf tilapia

Scientific name: Tilapia (Coptodon) snyderae

Origin: West Africa: Endemic to Lake Bermin, a tiny 700-875m wide crater lake (called a caldera) in the top of a volcano in south west Cameroon.

Habitat: Lake Bermin is quite shallow at up to 15m deep and the shores are surrounded by dense jungle. The area is relatively undisturbed by man; possibly because it's a 20-mile walk uphill from the nearest town and the crater rim rises 60m above the water level of the lake, making access a little difficult.

Size: Probably the world's smallest tilapiine at just 6cm/2" in the wild. Aquarium fish grow a fraction larger; my largest male is probably getting on for 12cm, though the female is only 8cm.

Diet: Don't make the mistake I made and put them in a tank containing plants! They're exceptionally herbivorous and will strip most plants back to the stems. Mine are feeding well on Nutrafin Spirulina flakes, Tetra Prima, Tetra Crisps and Mini Granules.

Water: Studies of the lake have shown that the pH is slightly alkaline at around 7.5, but fairly soft (80 microsiemens). The lake contains rocks, bogwood, leaves and plant detritus.

Aquarium: I have five fish in a 900 l./200 gal. aquarium furnished with a 120cm/4' piece of Mopani wood, various rocks and a silver sand substrate. They spend most of their time in the shady areas below the wood and among the rocks at the bottom of the tank. They're not particularly aggressive while spawning, and really only chase other fish away from their breeding site while they're guarding eggs, but they do become quite territorial during broodcare.

Breeding: Like the other Bermin cichlids, these are substrate spawners with bi-parental care, but may use caves when spawning in captivity. I managed to persuade mine to spawn within a week. During early courtship there is lots of circling, shaking, slapping and jaw-locking and the fish start to turn red. The female's genital tassle becomes very prominent the morning before the fish spawned and the belly of both sexes turns black. According to Dr Anton Lamboj, captive broods are larger than those of wild fish, which usually number around 20. My pairs both produced around 100 eggs (on several occasions) which were laid inside bogwood "caves". The parents defended the sites well, leaving only occasionally to eat. The eggs hatched in two days and took a further three days to become free swimming. The pair bond is very strong and the parents go on defending the fry until they are several centimetres in length (for well over three months). This is fairly protracted brood care, even for a cichlid.

The parents often move the brood around the aquarium and pick up any straying fry in their mouths to release them back to the safety of the shoal. The fry are easy to feed and will take finely crumbled flakes as soon as they are free swimming. At a size of about 2cm the dorsal fin turns red and they develop the characteristic tilapia-spot on the rear of the dorsal. Parental care is fascinating to watch. The male turns an olive colour with a series of vertical bars, while the female turns maroon-black. They do become very aggressive when the fry first appear and it may be wise to remove any remaining fish from the tank and leave the pair to it.

It could also be an idea to give individual pairs a lot of room. I stupidly put one pair in a 60cm tank and they spawned within a couple of weeks. However, the male then killed the female and the offspring were lost. The presence of other fish (such as the danios in my large tank) may serve as a distraction for the male's aggression.

Sexing: Males are longer, stockier and more colourful than females.

Adult colouration: My males have an olive-green to reddish brown back with a bright red belly. The females are currently silvery to olive-green, but become slightly redder when being courted by the males. A tilapia-spot is present on the dorsal of both sexes, but is most apparent in the females.

Similar species: The nine, or so, Bermin species can be very hard to tell apart, unless you're a taxonomist. I've also recently purchased a group Tilapia bythobates, another of the Bermin flock. It's said that many of the snyderae in captivity are actually different members of the Bermin flock.

Notes: These fish are on the IUCN Redlist for fishes and are classed as vulnerable, mainly because the wild population is so tiny. The area is at risk from deforestation. A few of the Bermin flock are being kept and bred in captivity but all are extremely rare in the hobby.

Availability: These are exceptionally hard to get hold of, and this is one of the few times the species has been sold in the UK. (The offspring from my broods were given to Frisby Aquatics in Hull and Maidenhead Aquatics @ Northampton).

Price: These fish are selling for 10-20 each.