My initial experience with Lake Barombi Mbo cichlids dates back to 1997, just after Aquatic Promotions featured an article in the July 1997 edition of Cichlid News magazine. Coincidentally at the same time, still a pleasant surprise to me all these years later, a local fish store in Pittsfield, MA had one adult Stomatepia pindu available in their tanks. No knock against any local fish stores in western Massachusetts, inclusive of Pittsfield, but encountering such an oddball species was very much an oddity. I took that one S. pindu home with me and set out to find and acquire more. A couple year’s prior, I had relocated from central New Jersey back home to western Massachusetts. While in New Jersey I had the distinct pleasure of being a member of the North Jersey Aquarium Society (NJAS). Among the many benefits of being a member of that club was access to some incredible pillars of the hobby such as Dr. Paul Loiselle and Rosario LaCorte (amongst many others). In late 1997 I was able to acquire a group of S. pindu from Dr. Loiselle. Additionally he provided me groups of Konia eisentrauti and Sarotherodon lohbergeri. I was beyond excited.
I worked with these three species for many years, successfully spawning each. For like reasons, needing preservation support from and being new to the hobby, I was also working with more than a dozen Lake Victorian cichlid species, again NJAS and Dr. Loiselle being a source of many of these species. In the 1990s, Dr. Loiselle was very actively presenting the plight of cichlid species in Lake Victoria (and other locations) at club meetings / national conventions and he had successfully piqued my interest. I maintained these species through roughly 2011 when I moved along my remaining breeding groups at an NECA auction. A challenge with the Lake Barombi Mbo species, along with Lake Victorian species, has always been finding ways to move along the offspring. Thankfully, while still not as mainstream as the rift lake species, there does seem to be a current increased interest in species from Lake Barombi Mbo and other localities, no doubt fostered by the efforts of the NECA.
This is where the NECA comes into the picture, having reenergized my interest in odd and/or new species. I have been an active member of the NECA for approaching eight years now. Early in this period of time I was primarily only working with Lake Tanganyika and Lake Malawi species, with a couple catfish species as the only exceptions. More recent efforts by the NECA, to make additional cichlid species available, have me working with both familiar and new Lake Barombi Mbo species, as well as species from other African localities. Presently I have a 100 gallon Lake Barombi Mbo species tank with the following species: Stomatepia pindu, Stomatepia mariae, Konia eisentrauti, Sarotherodon lohbergeri, Sarotherodon caroli, Sarotherodon steinbachi, Myaka myaka, and Pungu maclerani. These account for eight of the eleven Lake Barombi Mbo cichlid species, with those missing being Stomatepia mongo, Konia dikume, and Sarotherodon linnellii.
The tank is heavily stocked with this many species represented and as such I am filtering with two external AquaClear 110s and three medium/large internal sponge filters. Pre-filters are also in place on the intake tubes of each AquaClear 110. Also changing 40% of the water at least weekly but while not exact, closer to three times every two weeks. The tank incorporates a couple inches of Caribsea African Cichlid Sand, a few scattered medium to large sized rocks and a multiple tangles of spider wood. Currently no plants of any kind. I also regularly add 4 – 6 almond leaves, which is clutter that the Lake Barombi Mbo species seem to appreciate. The tank is maintained at a pH level between 7 and 8, using an occasional (not every water change) dose of SeaChem Lake Tanganyika Buffer, and the temperature is maintained at 82° F or above.
This tank is easily one of the most active of my 40 tanks, which for me makes it one of the best to spend my time observing. I find myself spending most of the time during water changes sitting in front of this tank. Typically I am focused on breeding the various species I maintain. While this is true with my Lake Barombi Mbo species as well, I am more focused on maintaining the tank, a little slice of Lake Barombi Mbo if you will, and all the species together as opposed to breeding each individual species. That being said, I have successfully spawned S. pindu, S. mariae, S, caroli, K. eisentrauti, and S. lohbergeri. I have had spawns of S. steinbachi but these have not yet yielded any viable fry to date. I have not yet had any M. myaka or P. maclerani spawns, but signs are I will with P. maclerani in the not too distant future.
Related to spawning there are a few interesting things I have noticed while maintaining this tank. First, and from a practical maintenance perspective, raise the temperature in the tank!! These species spawn more often and more successfully with the temperature north of 85°F. Second, with my mix of species, you need to be aware of the possibility of hybridization, especially between the two Stomatepia species. Now while stating that as something to be aware of, I have not personally seen any real interest between my groups of S. mariae and S.pindu, however I have seen quite a bit of interest between S. mariae and K. eisentrauti and I have actually witnessed them (male S. mariae with female K. eisentrauti) spawning. Any fry from this consortium have never been removed from this tank and any fry released in the tank are quickly consumed. I have actually never seen any free swimming fry of any species in this tank. Lastly and interestingly I have had many the ‘false’ mouthfuls, especially with M. myaka and S. caroli. Many number of times I have noted spawns due to females with mouthfuls of ‘eggs’, only to discover days later that it was just a mouthful of food, specifically 2mm/3mm NorthFin Veggie, Cichlid, or KrillPro pellets. These fish will gobble up these pellets and hold on to them for many days.
The tank is fed once a day, sometimes twice if I am lucky enough to spend time in the fish room both early and late in the day. In addition to the mentioned NorthFin Veggie, Cichlid, and KrillPro pellets, they are also fed Jehmco Spirulina Flake food as well as occasional freeze dried Krill, frozen blood worms, and frozen daphnia. I vary the pellets day-to-day, combining those with daily offerings of the spirulina flake and supplement in the freeze dried krill or frozen bloodworms/daphnia once or twice a week. All the species seem to do well on this diet and do not shy away from any of it. As mentioned above, they obviously like the NorthFin pellets enough to store them up for future meals.
The species of Lake Barombi Mbo, taken as a whole, are not as colorful as the Lake Malawi species flock, as an example, but that being said there are some very appealing color schemes at times with some of the species. Two perfect examples would be the deep purple spotting against the jet black background color on adult breeding male S. pindu and the bright orange fins on young S. lohbergeri. There are also some interesting patterns like the mottled black blotches against golden brown background coloration of P. maclerani and the greyish white head coloration combined with a charcoal gray to black body coloration on male M. myaka. These species are also very active and exhibit a wide variety of behaviors and personalities. In my experience the S. mariae are the most aggressive and tend to set the overall activity level of the tank at any given time. A couple species, such as S. steinbachi and S. caroli, just seem to mind their own business and go with the flow. The majority of the other species fall somewhere in between. I do not believe I have lost any fish due to aggression or stress related to any other fish in the tank. The mix of fish that I am currently keeping works very well together and continues to maintain a high level of my interest. I never have found it hard to sit in front any fish tank, regardless of it being mine or someone else’s, regardless of family of fish or species of fish. That being said my Lake Barombi Mbo tank makes it even easier to ‘lose time’ and much harder to leave the fish room. Would love to see these species find homes across a wider scope of the NECA membership and beyond!!!