Sydney Cichlid Aquarium Pages



Hemichromis & Anomalochromis

Lost Jewels Of West Africa

David Midgley 2001 - The jewel cichlid is familiar to most freshwater aquarists as one of the most colourful fish available. Along with these bright colours, however, comes a fearsome reputation as one of the most aggressive cichlids for its size. This reputation, coupled with the surge of popularity of the cichlids of the rift lakes, has led to the decline in popularity of this group of fishes. Originally at least six species, namely, H. guttatus (bimaculatus), H. lifalilli, H. cristatus, H. guttatus, H. x. 'Neon', and H. elongatus were available in Australia. A seventh species is also available periodically, known to the trade as the green forest jewel. This species may represent H. paynei or some other unidentified taxon, or possibly a line bred morph. In the abscence of any evidence to the contrary I will refer to it in this article as Hemichromis spp. affn. paynei.

In recent years many Hemichomis species have been interbred and it seems that many hybrids exist in stores. Along with this problem it seems that short of a miracle, H. elongatus, commonly known as the five star general, has been lost to the hobby at least in Australia where import of Hemichromines is prohibited.

The genus Hemichromis comprises at least 11 species and one known inter-species hybrid (Hemichromis sp. 'Neon'). The information available on these species is scarce, and I have used a number of sources for the information in this document. The information in many books is also quite confusing, in some texts the same photo appears with a different species name. Adding to the mounting confusion is the fact that many species have three spots along their sides as juveniles which do not always persist into adulthood. In mature fish, these spots provide useful tools for identification.

All Hemichromine species are monogamous pair formers that will spawn on a flattened stone or leaf, although some will also utilise caves if these are offered. In most species both parents play a role in fry raising, although most duties associated with young are undertaken by the female. The majority of Hemichromines are undemanding with regard to water chemistry but prefer pHs between 6.0-7.0. They do not do as well in higher pHs and therefore should not be kept with cichlids of the rift lakes. Sexing most species is difficult, although the female grows to a slightly smaller size in some species.

It is my hope that readers of this article will be inspired to utilise one small tank in their fish room and consider breeding what have to be some of the most spectacular tropical fish available to the hobby. To this end I will attempt in this article to define what characterises each species and hopefully aid the easy recognition of Hemichromis species.

The genus Anomalochromis contains only a single species A. thomasi ,which is a peaceful and much over-looked west African cichlid that is commonly available in Sydney, Australia. A. thomasi is included in this article for it is closely related to the Hemichromines.

The photos in this article are NOT to be redistributed without permission of the author. If you have a photo of a jewel cichlid and you wish it added to the article, with appropriate credits and a return link, post it to our email. The illustrations in this article are all by Nicole Sawyer and are exclusive to this article and the Sydney Cichlid Page.

Hemichromis bimaculatus
Origin: Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.
Maximum size: 11cm
Name derivation: bimaculatus - refers to the two spots on the flank of the fish, the first in the centre of the body, the second on caudal peduncle. This does not include the spot on the operculum.
Distinguishing Features: The true Hemichromis bimaculatus is a dark red-brown fish, it has very few irradescent spots on its flanks or gill covers and those that are visible are quite pale in colour. It has an elongated snout which gives it a more predatory appearance than other red jewel cichlids. Whether the true H. bimaculatus is available in Australia is a matter of considerable contention. H. bimaculatus is often confused with H. guttatus, this can be seen in the Baensch Aquarium Atlas I, where the photo of H. bimaculaus is in fact, H. guttatus.

Name: Hemichromis cerasogaster
Origin: Appears limited to Lake Maji-nndombe in Zaire.
Maximum size: 10cm
Distinguishing Features: H. cerogaster is a orange jewelfish with only one spot in the centre of the flank. The belly of the fish is more red in colour than the flanks which possess few iridescent spots. The dorsal fin is pale in colour, darkening towards the rear, there are no spots and the fin has a red margin. The photo of H. cerasogaster in the Baensch Aquarium Atlas III does not possess this dark area in the dorsal fin, and occurs in rivers around Kinshasa and may represent a closely related species. It is highly doubtful whether this species was every imported to Australia.

Name: Hemichromis cristatus
Origin: Guinea, Ghana and Nigeria
Common name: Red Forest Jewel
Maximum size: 9cm
Distinguishing Features: The easiest way to distinguish Hemichomis cristatus from all other red jewel cichlids is that the central spot in the centre of the body is surrounded by a a light yellow area. This fish along with H. lifalili are sold under the trade name of the Red Forest Jewel. It differs from H. lifalili by being a more orange colour at maturity, in having the aforementioned marked light area surrounding the spot in the centre of the flanks and by retaining, in some individuals, a faint shadow of the spot on the caudal peduncle. H. cristatus also has a yellow-gold colour on the operculum, which is not present in H. lifalili. H. cristatus has around 4-5 rows of scales that are blue and irradescent along the centre of the lateral flanks. The photo of H. cristatus in Baensch Aquarium Atlas II is the same photo from Baensch Aquarium Atlas I and is previously identified as H. lifalili. It would appear this photo is actually H. lifalili.

Hemichromis elongatus pair
Photo Courtesy: Jeff Rapps. Visit his website here.

Name: Hemichromis elongatus
Origin: Extensive.
Common name:
Five Star General
Maximum size: 15cm
Similar species: Hemichromis fasciatus, Hemichromis frempongi
Name derivation: elongatus - refers to the elongate/predatory shape of the body.
Distinguishing Features: Hemichromis elongatus belongs to a subgroup of Hemichromis (along with H. fasciatus and H. frempongi) that are distinctly larger and more predatory than the smaller jewel cichlids. H. elongatus has a longer more predatory snout is grey in colour with five distinctive black spots along the length of the body, the first on the gill cover and the last on the caudal peduncle. These spots are surrounded by small iridescent bronze scales and in sexually active fish the opercular spot is surrounded by a red colouration. This gave rise to the common name, the five star general. The fins are opaque and smoky in colour, the top of the tail margin fin sometimes has small a red mark. The five star general was once available in Australia, however it appears to have been lost to the hobby.

Hemichromis fasciatus
Photo Courtesy: Jeff Rapps. Visit his website here.

Name: Hemichromis fasciatus
Origin: Extensive, mainly in coastal regions.
Maximum size:
Similar species: Hemichromis elongatus, Hemichromis frempongi
Distinguishing Features: Hemichromis fasciatus belongs to the predatory H. elongatus group of jewel cichlids. Jeff Rapps, of Tangled Up in Cichlids has kindly given permission for this photo of his male H. fasciatus to be used in this article. The fish in the photo varies from the typical H. fasciatus in the intense red colouration of the underbelly which extends a long distance towards the tail and in the yellow colouration of the finnage. The photo may represent a male in breeding garb, a closely related, as yet undescribed species or may be H. frempongi. H. fasciatus is a typically a grey to silver fish with five spots along the flanks, the first on the gill cover and the last on the caudal peduncle. This species can be differentiated from H. elongatus by the fact that the finnage is typically clear to pale yellow in colour, and the black bars are not surrounded by the irradescent bronze scales that are present in H. elongatus. I am unsure but doubtful whether this cichlid has ever been available in Australia.

Name: Hemichromis frempongi
Origin: Appears limited to Lake Bosumtwi in Ghana.
Maximum size: 14cm
Similar species: Hemichromis elongatus, Hemichromis fasciatus
Distinguishing Features: Hemichromis frempongi is very similar to Hemichromis fasciatus in morphology. The differences appear to be the extensive red colouration of the underbelly which extends to the anal fin in H. frempongi and the size and surrounding spots of the five black spots which mark the fishes flanks. In H. frempongi these spots are smaller and the small irrascent silver pots which surround these markings in H. fasciatus are abscent in H. frempongi. Like H. elongatus and H. fasciatus, H. frempongi is a elongate predatory species. Hemichromis frempongi is not as yet available in Australia and has never been imported.

Name: Hemichromis guttatus
Origin: Ivory Coast, Ghana, Cameroon and Nigeria
Common name: Common Jewel
Maximum size: 11cm
Distinguishing Features: Paul Loiselle in his book, The Cichlid Aquarium, states that he believes Hemichromis guttatus to be the original jewel cichlid of the aquarium hobby and judging by the colouration and body shape of the so-called "H. bimaculatus" in Australia, it appears that he is probably correct. Pictures of Hemichromis guttatus in his text and others show a fish that appears very much like like the common jewel cichlid available in Sydney. The species when mature only has the spot in the centre of the flank, along with the spot on the operculum as the spot on the caudal peduncle fades with maturity. H. guttatus is reportedly "higher" in the body than other Hemichromines. I believe H. guttatus, is commonly available in Australia, however it is almost always misidentified as Hemichromis bimaculatus.

Name: Hemichromis letourneauxi
Origin: Widespread through much of tropical West Africa
Maximum size: 14cm
Distinguishing Features:H. letourneauxi is an browny orange fish which is difficult to confuse with other species due to its plainer colours and limited number of blue flecks through the body. The species has two spots on the body when mature, one on the caudal peduncle and the other in the centre of the flank of the fish. A gill spot is also present sometimes surrounded by a reddish colour. The males supposedly develop a slightly steeper forehead altthough it is difficult to distinguish the sexes. It is doubtful whether this species has every been imported into Australia.

Hemichromis lifalili

Photo Courtesy: Jessica L.Dion.
Visit her website is here.


Name: Hemichromis lifalili
Origin: Congo, Zaire, Ruki and Ubanghi River
Common name:
Red Forest Jewel
Maximum size: 10cm
Distinguishing Features: Of all the Hemichromines, H. lifalili is perhaps the most popular and most stunning in colour. Sold in the aquarium trade along with H. cristatus as the forest jewel, H. lifalili is a commonly available species. The fish itself is bright crimson in colour when mature, and has only two spots one on the operculum and another on the flank. The spot on the caudal penduncle, present in juvenile specimens completely fades with maturation. The body is covered in hundreds of small irradescent blue spots, which are strongly marked on the caudal fin. The head is small and the snout is more angular than in H. cristatus which has a more rounded snout. When selecting parent stock for breeding, it is important to choose highly coloured individuals that are preferably unrelated, as colour selection by females in the wild does not take place in the home aquarium. The picture of Hemichromis cristatus in Baensch's Aquarium Atlas II is probably H. lifalili.

Name: Hemichromis sp. affin. paynei
Origin: Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia
Common name: Green Forest Jewe
lMaximum size: 14cm
Distinguishing Features: The green forest jewel is quite a distinctive fish easily distinguished from other jewel cichlids by its olive green colouration. In particular the dorsal flanks of the fish are predominantly olive green, which fades to a gold colour in the centre of the flanks, the fishes throat and lower ventral regions are a pale red. Blue spots are present on the face of the fish and persist in sparse rows towards the caudal fin. The opercular spot is prominent, as it the spot in the centre of the flanks. The spot on the caudal peduncle, present in juveniles fades with age and at maturity is a small black stripe which preceeds the rays of the tail fin. Like other Hemichromines, the dorsal fin bears some blue spotting and a red margin which is continued on the upper corner of the dorsal fin. The green forest jewel is fairly commonly available in Australia.

 Hemichromis paynei
Photo Courtesy: Noel M. Burkhead.

Name: Hemichromis stellifer
Origin:Widespread throughout much of tropical West Africa
Maximum size: 11cm
Distinguishing Features: Hemichromis stellifer is a very similar fish to Hemichromis guttatus and looks much like the common jewel cichlid available in Australia. Like H. guttatus, H. stellifer is orangy red in colour with rows of irradescent blue flecks along its flanks. Only two spots one on the flanks and the second on the gill cover are present on mature specimens although juveniles have a pale spot on the caudal peduncle. H. stellifer differs only in dentition to H. guttatus and in all other respects the two species are very similar. The photo of Hemichromis bimaculatus in Baenschs Aquarium Atlas I, is either H. stellifer or H. guttatus, in reality it is probably H. guttatus as this is the more common species.

Name: Hemichromis X 'Neon'
Origin: Does not exist in the wild
Maximum size: 12cm
Distinguishing Features: The Neon Jewel cichlid or Neon head Jewel is a difficult fish to source information on. From what little information I have gathered it would appear that the Neon Jewel represents a inter-species hybrid, although it's parentage remains uncertain. If anyone has any information on the species used in this hybrid, please mail me. The Neon Jewel is a spectacular fish, however, I must try and encourage people not to keep this fish in place of geniune species of jewel cichlid. In Australia in particular it is important to try and promote the keeping of pure species lines, as the import of Hemichromines from German or as wild caught specimens from West Africa is prohibited. If you are truly interested in keeping a spectacular species why not consider Hemichromis lifalili or Hemichromis paynei? The Neon Jewel cichlid seems to have been accepted by many cichlidophiles as more acceptable than fish like the blood parrot. Although the fish bears none of the gross deformities of the blood parrot, it does represent a hybrid species and in a way I believe this fish poses a greater risk to the variety of species available to the hobby than the aforementioned blood parrot. The blood parrot is easily recognisable as a deformed hybrid species and the risk re-intergration to pure cichlid lines by accident is next to zero. Poor quality 'Neon' hemichromines, however, may be easily mistaken for other species and be interbred with pure species by the well meaning cichlid keeper. Therefore, the keeping of the 'Neon' X hemichromine must be discouraged by the responsible aquarist who wishes to see pure strains of Hemichromines available in Australia in the near future.

Anomalochromis thomasi
Photo courtesy: Karen McCabe.

Name: Anomalochromis thomasi
Origin:Widespread throughout much of tropical West Africa
Common name:
African Butterfly cichlid
Maximum size: 12cm
Distinguishing Features: Anomalochromis thomasi is easily distinguished from other Hemichromines, by the its cream to yellow body colour, small size, and distinctive flecks of blue and gold throughout the body. A. thomasi is excluded from the genus Hemichromis by it's unique dentition and is otherwise quite similar in morphology. A. thomasi are probably, along with the species of the south american dwarf cichlid genus Laetacara, are some of the most under-rated of cichlid aquarium species available. It is commonly available around Sydney and I would urge breeders to consider this fish for a small tank in your fishroom. Anomalochromis thomasi is an easy fish to spawn although the parents do not defend the young well against more determined predators such as barbs or loaches. Although the fish are monogamous open spawners like Hemichromis sp. they are shy fish and prefer a site that is more protected by plants or rocks. Many of the females of this species are egg eaters and this is, at least in part, due to the removal of fry by aquarists. These fry raising instincts should be promoted and pairs should be allowed several attempts at fry raising before intervention by the fish keeper.

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