(Efforts to re-establish the Rusty
Belly Cichlid in the US hobby)
Picture to enlarge
All photos by Al Knowles
By Al Knowles
Regan described Amphilosphus atromaculatus in
He originally named it Cichlasoma atromaculatus. The genius Cichlasoma
was used for many Central and South American cichlids
until about fifteen years ago. It is native to the Choco province of Colombia.
Choco is located between the western side of the Cordillera
Occidental Mountain Range and the Pacific Ocean. The reasons
for this fish’s current status in the hobby are the dense
jungle in this area, the lack of both roads and commercial
To obtain the fish, it would have to be by
the efforts of some brave hobbyist. They would have to be
willing to make
the long and sometimes dangerous journey into a wonderful
land of unseen beauty. In the early 1990s, a group of European
did just that. They made two such trips collecting Amphilosphus
the Rio San Juan, Rio Trado, Rio Condoto and the Rio Pepe.
Prior to this last trip, S. Kullander on February 7, 1989
obtained the fish from local boys in the area of the Rio
the Pan-American Bridge.
Click to enlarge pictures
Young 4 inch Male
In the mid 1990s, the Rusty
Cichlid was readily available
in the US hobby. I obtained my first stock from a member
of the Greater
Chicago Cichlid Association. There were several members of
the GCCA breeding the Rusty
Cichlid at the time. The knock on the
Rusty Cichlid was
it had a shy demeanor and lack of color. The base color
is beige with seven brown
to black vertical bands. During breeding the coloration of
the beige turns to a creamy white and the vertical bands
I found that my females have a rusty orange color in the
belly area (the “rusty belly” trade name) and
a black blotch covering about ¼ of the dorsal fin.
My first success at breeding Rusty
Belly Cichlid was actually
by accident. While protecting my last pair during a freak
winter storm, the “No Name Storm” we know it
as now, produced low forty degree temps here in Florida with
high winds and buckets and buckets of rain. I was housing
the pair on my screened porch at the time since there was
no place inside to house them. Finally, I resorted to placing
a 300-watt heater
in the tank and covering it with two blankets. My family
thought I had lost my mind but we all managed to get through
the famous "No Name Storm". Three days later, I
removed the blankets to find the pair guarding
inch PVC pipe [Ed: hint...hint...hint].
I was happy about the spawn, but disappointed soon came
with the number of eggs and the eventual fungusing of 80%
of the eggs. That pair
again. The eggs hatched and the small number of juveniles
was divided among me, a good friend Vinny Kutty and
Click to enlarge pictures
Infertility problem but not too bad.
A year later I was left with two males and
a female gift from Vinny, as Vinny prepared to move to California.
I believe Don
Conkel was able to produce a couple of spawns before he lost
his stock, but with such a low demand for the fish in the
hobby, most people lost interest in the fish. As time
and more exciting fish entered the US, Amphilosphus
lost to the hobby.
Seven years flew by and I was left with only
female, fully grown at eight inches and in good health. From
time to time I would locate some one with a lone male, but
could not work out an agreement to obtain it. Finally, two
years ago (2002) an agreement was struck with a friend out
of Chicago to obtain his male. In return he would get half
I picked up the seven inch male at the ACA
convention in Atlanta. When I returned home, my first concern
was if the
pair would be compatible. It took me fully a month to finally
put the two fish together. The male was introduced into the
that the female who shared the tank space with several other
South American cichlids. I had to select a time in which
to supervise this “blind date”. Chances of getting
either of these two 'old' warriors to spawn again were
very slim. The date went surprising well however and within
a week they were
together and seemed to take over the tank.
Two weeks later they spawned. Now I faced the
age-old breeder's question. Do you pull the eggs or not?
I pulled them! The
spawn was about 70 eggs, but the hatch rate was about 40%.
I was again disappointed in the numbers but relished the
fact of having free swimming Amphilosphus atromaculatus once
again in Tampa and the US.
to enlarge pictures
Massive Infertility Problem
Belly Cichlid fry have an unusual
pattern. I call it a “zebra
pattern”, where the markings consist of two dark bands
running diagonally through the body. I’m only aware
of two other cichlids with similar fry patterns. They are
Tomocichla tuba and Tomocichla
Click to Enlarge
'Tiger' Pattern of fry.
The pair spawned again three weeks later.
This time it was larger spawn, but again the hatch rate was
low. I witnessed
the spawning and it appeared everything was fine. The male
did not leave the site to chase other fish until the spawning
was completed. I do not have an explanation for the infertility,
other than both fish were over nine years old. During each
spawn the female
the eggs in a wide scattered pattern on the slate. Most cichlids
lay their eggs in a tight circular patch, not the Rusty
After three spawns with the same results, I was resigned
to the fact that more time would be needed to reintroduce
this fish into the hobby in large numbers. Then tragedy struck!
Click to Enlarge
'Tiger' Pattern of fry.
One morning I turned on the lights to find the male acting
very lifeless. There appeared to be a small puncture wound
between his eyes and he did not eat. Everything else seemed
fine. The female was her usual self. Things continued to
go down hill for the male. He never ate again and soon
found the "big aquarium in the sky". Several
days later I was doing a major gravel cleaning and I found
branch in the tank that would just about fit in the male's
wound. Is this what caused the wound on the male? I’ll
never know for sure, but what a shame as I had lost a friend.
It would seem my efforts to reintroduce Amphilosphus
atromaculatus have been
delayed, hopefully some day soon you will be able to
obtain this rarity. I was able to distribute about a
fish to various hobbyists. Also, still swimming in my tanks
are Vinny’s female (the mother) and about thirty
of her young juveniles. The rest of the Rusty
Belly Cichlid saga is continued,
Keep the PEACE!
Andersen, Kaj (1993) Colombia, a paradise for cichlophiles
part 2. The Cichlids Yearbook, Volume 3 pages 88-90.
Andersen, Kaj (1994) Colombia: back to paradise, The Cichlids
Yearbook, Volume 4 pages 78-83.
Ichthyology Section of the Swedish Museum of Natural History,
Collection Database, August 2002.
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