Text and photos by Ted Judy
‘Dwarf’ is a relative term, and no more so than when using it to describe a cichlid. The generally accepted definition of a dwarf cichlid is a fish that reaches a maximum adult size of approximately 4” (or 10 cm) in length; but there are other characterizations that are often used to describe dwarf cichlids that can be wholly inaccurate if the definition is based upon size. Many aquarists will describe dwarf cichlids as small, pair-bonding, substrate or cave spawning and able to be maintained in small aquariums (another relative generalization). But there are MANY species that are under 4” total length that do not fit that mold (like all the Lake Malawi Labidochromis sp.)
There are also many cichlid species that fit the characterization of bi-parental substrate spawners that are small, but maybe not quite small enough, and are lumped into the genre of dwarf cichlid. Good examples of that group are the species that make up the West African genus Pelvicachromis. Most of us would call them dwarf cichlids, but there are only two species that have males that rarely grow larger than 4”: P. roloffi and P. subocellatus. The males of all the other species easily reach 4”, and four will bust that limit by 2” or more… easy. One of those is the topic of this article: P. sacrimontis… the Giant Krib.
Green variation- male
The giant krib has been around in the hobby for decades. It is exported from its natural range of the coastal regions of western Nigeria (near the capital of Lagos). In the 1970’s and into the early 1990’s the fish arrived in boxes of ‘mixed kribensis’ along with P. pulcher, P. taeniatus and P. sp. aff. subocellatus. Those boxes were a LOT of fun! Occasionally you could pay a little more for a box of ‘giant kribensis’, and you would get a box of BIG P. pulcher, P. taeniatus and P. sacrimontis.
One of the problems with ordering them was that the valid name of the species caused some confusion for a long time. The most famous hobbyist reference came in the 1995 publication of The Cichlids from West Africa by Linke and Staeck. Unfortunately, the debate on the name had not been settled at the time of publication, so the authors used the undescribed moniker P. sp. aff. pulcher. Unfortunate, because the valid description of P. sacrimontis was published by Paulo in 1977. It was not until Anton Lamboj published his book, The Cichlid Fishes of Western Africa in 2004, that the name P. sacrimontis was generally accepted by hobbyists. We tend to read the books with the pretty pictures…
Green variation- female
There are three known color varieties of P. sacrimontis. The ‘yellow’ variety is rarely imported (I have never seen one alive). The pictures I have seen depict a lighter brown fish with a lot of yellow in the fins and a brighter lateral line stripe than the other color morphs. The other two, red and green, are almost identical (especially the females) except that the males of the green variety have a green breast and a red belly, while the males of the red variety have only red. There is some debate as to whether or not the two colors are different collection locations or not. I have seen both morphs imported together in the same box, but that does not mean very much. Collectors bring the fish to the export houses where all the fish are put into holding tanks together. Until someone can get into the Lagos area and find the collection locations, we may never know if the color forms are different locations or not. Unfortunately, Nigeria is not the safest place to go for a fish collecting vacation.
My experience with the species has been that they are not difficult to keep, but need some space to help control their aggression towards each other. If a large aquarium cannot be provided, a lot of structure is needed to ensure that subdominant fish do not get killed. The aggression problem is also why I do not suggest keeping the fish as a single pair. Eventually the male will go after the female. I keep a group of four females and one male in a 40-gallon ‘breeder’ aquarium with a lot of driftwood, spawning caves and a large mass of suspended plants (some type of hornwort… I am no botanist). The subdominant females spend a lot of time hiding, but there are enough of them to dilute the aggression of the pair, and there is enough cover, that none are being hurt.
Giant kribs have a reputation of being hard to spawn. That has not been my experience, though they are less frequent breeders than P. pulcher (the meter stick by which all the other species in the genus are measured). I think that on a scale of 1 -10, with 10 being ‘just add water and they will breed), P. sacrimontis is a 7. The key factors for success in my fish room were to not try to breed a pair alone and give the fish a lot of very private spawning sites. More that half of the spawns that have occurred in my tanks went unnoticed until the fry were being led around the tank by their parents. Cave choice is important too. They are typical kribs in that they like a roomy cave with an opening just large enough or the male to slip into. I offer three types of caves: domes, burritos and coconut shells. The dome is a clay cave with a flat bottom and an opening at its base. The clay burrito looks like its name and has a hole cut in its side. The coconut shells the fish like best are whole with a 1” diameter hole in one spot. In a large enough tank with a lot of caves (at least one per female) I have had two females breeding with one male at the same time.
Water chemistry is not important for keeping this species so long as the extremes are avoided. The pH is important for the sex ratio of the fry, however, so close to neutral is better is you want both males and females. Cooler temperatures in the range of 72 – 76 are preferred over hotter water. If the tap water has a KH > 10, there is a chance that fertilization rates of the eggs will be reduced. My KH out of my tap is 15, so I use 50/50 RO and tap when I do water changes. When I am vey sure that a spawn in eminent, I will do some changes with pure R/O water so that the pH will come down to as close to neutral as possible.
P. sacrimontis in nature is primarily a plant detritus feeders, but in captivity they will eat anything. Plant-based flake foods are perfect for long-term care. Higher protein pellets and live foods will help condition females to spawn, but a diet of nothing but the rich stuff will shorten the fishes’ life spans. With good care, water and a vegetable-based diet, these fish can live and breed for years. My best pair lasted 5 years with regular spawns (3 – 4 times a year).
Now that the exporters in Nigeria know what the species is, and that there is a demand for it, P. sacrimontis no longer arrives in boxes of mixed species. They are available regularly, but in the past few years the frequency of their arrival has lessened. There is some concern that their numbers are dwindling due to pollution caused by oil drilling in their coastal habitat; but so far nobody has risked going there to find out what is happening. Just in case, P. sacrimontis should be thought of as a ‘species of concern’, and as a good candidate for a long-term maintenance project. We will never know if the last box to arrive is the last box we will ever get of this wonderful fish or not.