A feast for the eyes – 
Cyprichromis sp. “Speckleback rainbow”

Discovered by African Diving in the beginning of March 1998, Cyprichromis sp. “Speckleback rainbow” hails from Cape Tembwe in the Congo. Males display polychromatism and exhibit strong pastel colours in individual combinations. Distinctive features comprise the speckled stripes on the back, hence its name. A group of displaying males shows a full range of rainbow colours. C. sp. “Speckleback rainbow” lives at a depth of about 25 metres. The habitat consists of huge rocks rising from the sand floor. The fish appears in small groups in open water close to the rocks. C. sp. “Speckleback rainbow” seems to exist endemically at Cape Tembwe.

Fig. 1. Cyprichromis sp. "Speckleback rainbow" from Cape Tembwe, Congo, in the aquarium. This species shows a high level of polychromatism, i.e. several different colour variants (colour morphs) are present within the same geographical variant, or population. At least about 15 different colour variants can be identified, of which 6 of them are seen in the picture: Solid or mostly blue with blue (1) or yellow (2) tail fin, or with yellow dorsal fin (3); blue back with yellow chest, blue dorsal fin and yellow tail fin (4); solid or mostly yellow with all yellow finnage (5), or blue/black anal fin (6).

Collection of the “Speckleback rainbow” was done on one occasion only. Between June 30 and October 27, 1998 a total number of 255 individuals were exported to Sweden (43 pcs), USA (138 pcs), France (16 pcs), Belgium (48 pcs) and Denmark (10 pcs). The fish was sold as Cyprichromis sp. “Leptosoma jumbo speckleback rainbow – Cape Tembwe, Zaire”, and presented on African Diving Website in the same year.

C. sp. “Speckleback rainbow” shares individual features with many of the other species in the tribe. The pastel yellow colouration seen in some of the males of C. sp. “Speckleback rainbow” is also featured in C. microlepidotus, especially in populations between Katumba Point and Lyamembe in Tanzania (for locations see the map in Kullander et al. 2014b: 434, fig. 7) {pdf file with map here}. Both species are large in size. Another large-sized cyprichromin is C. coloratus, possibly conspecific with C. sp. “Leptosoma jumbo” (see Takahashi and Hori 2006). 

Fig. 2. Cyprichromis microlepidotus at Lubugwe Bay, Mahale Mountains National Park, Tanzania; depth 15 metres. This species also exhibits polychromatism, and about a handful different colour variants are present at each location along the Mahale Mountains National Park in central Tanzania.
Fig. 3. Cyprichromis sp. "Leptosoma jumbo" ("Yellow head") in 15 metres depth at Katondo Point, Cape Mpimbwe, Tanzania {see a map here}. This species usually occur in three different colour variants (colour morphs) at each geographical location, within the same population. However, it is also known to occur in two different colour variants in southern Congo and in four variants in southern Tanzania. The yellow-head variant is one of the most distinct and beautiful of the species. At Cape Mpimbwe the three different colour variants are: with yellow head and tail fin (1); head with same colour as body: beige or brown, and a yellow tail fin (2); and a completely different variant which is mostly blue with yellow finnage, which is also known as “Azuri” (3).

C. coloratus was partially diagnosed from C. zonatus by the absence of vertical bands, with the latter having “three or four distinct vertical bands beneath dorsal fin base in live males” (Takahashi and Hori 2006). Based on similar vertical bands possessed by C. sp. “Speckleback rainbow”, this species is also separable from C. coloratus as well as C. sp. “Leptosoma jumbo”, which lack such vertical bands. The only other species of Cyprichromis with distinct and obvious vertical bands are C. zonatus (Takahashi et al. 2002; Geerts 2003), previously known as C. sp. “Zebra” (Konings 2000, 2003) and C. sp. “Mpimbwe zebra”, plus another yet undescribed species: Cyprichromis sp. “Kibishi” (from the Kavala Islands) (Konings 1998; Tawil 2014a, b). These three species are separable from C. sp. “Speckleback rainbow” by the absence of polychromatism, a feature which is strongly present in C. sp. “Speckleback rainbow” (see picture, fig. 1).

Located bareley 4 km off Kolwe Point, Cape Mpimbwe, the Frontosa Reef {see a map here} was discovered by our team in July 1994. One of the first species collected and exported was Cyprichromis sp. “Mpimbwe zebra” {see picture here}, by that time referred to as C. microlepidotus “Mpimbwe zebra” (Johansson 1994: 44). The species is, however, more similar to C. zonatus (previously C. sp. “Zebra”) from Kasenga, Zambia (see Karlsson and Karlsson 2014: fig. 2), from which it seems to differ slightly by the morphology of the finnage. The two are best kept apart pending an analysis. Both C. sp. “Mpimbwe zebra” and C. zonatus lack polychromatism. In addition, both possess vertical bars similar to C. sp. “Speckleback rainbow”. Subsequent to its discovery in 1988, C. zonatus was first looked upon as a possible variant of C. microlepidotus (Puttberg 1990) and then as a possible variant of C. pavo (Eysel 1994), the latter of which was commented on by Büscher (1995), explaining C. pavo and C. sp. “Zebra” (C. zonatus) not being conspecific.

C. pavo has sometimes been regarded as a southern counterpart to C. microlepidotus, but they are not that similar, either behaviourally or morphologically. Moreover, they are sympatric between Lubulungu River and Lyamembe in Tanzania (for locations see the map in Kullander et al. 2014b: 434, fig. 7) {pdf file with map here}. Along the Congolese shore, C. pavo has been found at a depth of 40 metres as far north as 30 km north of Moba (Büscher 1994). Due to its mostly deep-water living habits and, thereby, an obvious seclusion, C. pavo may possibly have an even wider distribution in the lake.

Fig. 4. Cyprichromis pavo in 35 metres depth at Maenga, Mvuna Island, Tanzania (for location see the map in Kullander et al. 2014a: 316, fig. 6) {pdf file with map here}. Many populations, both in Tanzania and in the Congo, exhibit no polychromatism, i.e. all males within the same population look the same. However, in some populations, such as in those in southern Tanzania, parts of the finnage may vary between yellow and blue.
Fig. 5. Cyprichromis leptosoma at Silaf Rocks, Cape Mpimbwe, Tanzania; depth 8 metres. This species is at most locations occuring in two different colour variants: all blue with either blue or yellow/orange tail fin. At several locations at Cape Mpimbwe, however, four different colour variants are present: individuals may either have a blue or yellow dorsal fin. Variants at Cape Mpimbwe with a yellow or orange tail fin are known as “Utinta flourescent”, and variants with a blue tail fin as “Tanzania neon”. Taxonomically, this species is the oldest in the tribe and was formally described in 1898.

South of Cape Tembwe, in the area between Kitumba and Kankwale (just north of Mtoto), lives another very colourful and yet undescribed cyprichromin variant: the well-known “Jumbo Kitumba” (Hermann 1995), also known as C. sp. “Brilliant jumbo” (Tawil 2014b). The colouration seen in this species seems to be a melting pot of colours, especially of blue and yellow, and individual colour combinations are numerous. Such an unstable and erratic colouration does not unlikely indicate some sort of hybridisation, which was discussed by Konings (1992). Species that seem to be absent from habitats in this area, but perhaps should be expected to be present, are C. sp. “Leptosoma jumbo” and C. leptosoma, and possibly also C. microlepidotus. The former (C. sp. “Leptosoma jumbo”) is found just south of Moba. It is a quite colourful variant, exclusively with a brown body and a bright-yellow chest, and with a caudal fin which is mostly yellow, and very rarely blue, i.e. males appear in only two different colour morphs; they were exported by us in the nineties as Cyprichromis sp. “Jumbo yellow – Litulo”. The type of blue colour seen in C. sp. “Brilliant jumbo” is very similar to the blue found in C. leptosoma (Tawil 2014: 15). Both C. leptosoma and C. microlepis are found along the shore of the Mahale Mountains National Park in Tanzania, i.e. the shore opposite the area of Kitumba and Kankwale (as well as Cape Tembwe). 

In light of the relatively shallow underwater ridges that are known to exist between the western and eastern shores of the central parts of Lake Tanganyika, in combination with the historically fluctuating nature of the lake, cyprichromin species from one side of the lake may very well have crossed to the other, such as C. leptosoma and C. microlepidotus {see a video sequence of the lake crossing dispersal animated here}.

Büscher (1994, 1998) reports on the presence of C. cf. leptosoma “Leptosoma Jumbo” along the Congolese coast. This species is conspecific with C. sp. “Leptosoma jumbo”, see picture in Büscher (1991: 253). Thus, the genuine C. leptosoma does likely not exist in the Congo.

The tribe Cyprichromini, including Cyprichromis and Paracyprichromis, is a monophyletic group (Takahashi 2003: 374). The two members differ (sensu Takahashi 2004) by the lachrymal bone (a small bony plate adjacent to the eye); in Cyprichromis the bone has five pores, and in Paracyprichromis only four (Takahashi 2004: 2, table 1). In addition, the post-lachrymal infraorbital bones (a series of small bones partially around the eye, also known as the infraorbital ossicles) further separate the two genera: in Cyprichromis the anteriormost ossicle is tube-like, vs. solid, or mostly solid, in Paracyprichromis (Takahashi 2004: 2, table 1).

Fig. 6. Paracyprichromis brieni at Mpando Point, south of Katili, Tanzania; depth 25 metres. This species is modestly coloured, and varies in its colouration only limitedly. As in all of the Cyprichromini, P. brieni exhibits sexual dichromatism, i.e. males and females differ in colouration.

In contrast to the monophyly of each genus of the Cyprichromini (Takahashi 2004), an mtDNA-based phylogeny subdivided the tribe into four distinct lineages (Brandsätter et al. 2005), with basically the several nominated Cyprichromis species representing one lineage each, plus one for Paracyprichromis. Further on, these lineages were split almost contemporaneously, indicating the possibility that some of the different Cyprichromis species may phylogenetically relate more to Paracyprichromis, than what they relate to one another – this, in turn, would thus be a case of parallel evolution. Paracyprichromis brieni is not unlikely the more basal form of Cyprichromini, from where several of the tribe’s members have evolved, possibly independently.

Underwater observations in the Kigoma area have revealed schools of Cyprichromis spp. containing more than 10,000 individuals (Dieckhoff and Meyer 1987). In the Cape Mpimbwe area, schools of C. leptosoma may be very large, containing an estimated number of 100,000 individuals (pers.obs.). In the wild, most cyprichromin species spawn in the water column, either in the open water column (e.g. C. microlepidotus, C. leptosoma, C. sp. “Leptosoma jumbo”) or close to a vertical rock surface (e.g. P. brieni, C. sp. “Mpimbwe zebra”) (Ochi 1996; pers. obs.), with the exception of C. pavo, which spawns on rocky substrate (Büscher 1994: 259). Furthermore, the undescribed C. sp. “Kibishi” seems to spawn close to a rock surface (Tawil 2014b). C. sp. “Speckleback rainbow” spawns in the same fashion as, for example, C. microlepidotus and C. leptosoma, i.e. in the open water column.

Fig. 7. A school of Cyprichromis leptosoma in 8 metres depth at Silaf Rocks, Cape Mpimbwe, Tanzania {see a map here}. The picture shows C. leptosoma colour variants of both orange and blue tail fin, as well as yellow and blue dorsal fin. The school is a mix of all colour variants including the uncoloured females. At many locations around Cape Mpimbwe, large schools of C. leptosoma have been observed, estimated to contain up to 100,000 individuals.
Fig. 8. One of the authors photographing Cyprichromis leptosoma at Silaf Rocks, Cape Mpimbwe {see a map here}. When shooting in the wild, the photographer's task often requires great patience and sometimes hours of untiring wait to get in close range of the cichlids.

Being a feast for the eyes, Cyprichromis sp. “Speckleback rainbow” is perhaps the most colourful and also one of the most chromatically variable species of Cyprichromini. It was discovered in 1998 but is still widely unknown. Its limitation to the remote area of Cape Tembwe has contributed to its existence in near obscurity. Wonders in Lake Tanganyika, will never cease.

Suggestion on how to cite this blog article;

Karlsson, M. and Karlsson, M. (2015) A feast for the eyes – Cyprichromis sp. “Speckleback rainbow”. African Diving Blog. Available from: http://blog.africandivingltd.com/2015/01/a-feast-for-eyes-cyprichromis-sp.html (accessed [day] [month] [year])


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