Saturday, November 27, 2010


Neolamprologus pulcher (formerly brichardi)

Fairy Cicihlid, Lyretail Cichlid, Brichardi Cichlid, Princess Cichlid, Princess of Burundi

Family: Cichlidae
   Tribe: Lamprologini
      Genus: Neolamprologus
         Species: pulcher (formerly brichardi)

The The Fairy Cichlid, also known among aquarists as the Brichardi Cichlid, is undoubtedly the most famous cichlid to come out of Lake Tanganyika. The Brichardi Cichlid is an elegantly graceful and beautiful cichlid. It's beauty is not in an outstanding or vibrant coloration, but because of its subtle colors, and more importantly its graceful design, with its elongated fins and lyre-shaped tailfin often highlighted with outlining white, blue or yellow borders.

The brichardi was named after Pierre Brichard, a Belgian who set up a collection station, for the export
of Tanganyikan cichlids in 1971, named "Fishes of Burundi." The current day collectors and admirers of African Lake Cichlids owe much gratitude for the early exports, and discoveries of Pierre Brichard.

In his book Fishes of Lake Tanganyika, [TFH Publishing 1978, p251], Pierre Brichardi described these cichlids as follows: "32-36 scales in longitudinal line; 20 scales in upper lateral line, 5-8 in lower; 6 canines in upper jaw, 4-6  in lower; 7-14 gill rakers; body depth 3.2-3.7 in standard length; pharyngeal teeth conical and thin; body pale beige, eventually with orange spots at the rear; all unpaired fins with long white filaments; black stripe from eye to opercular bone; size 90 mm (usually much less)"

It is found throughtout the lake over rocky areas down to a depth of about 50 feet. Virtually each population around the lake sports distinctive markings and color variations. They reach an adult size of about 4 inches, and exceptional aquarium grown specimens have commonly grown to 6 inches.

It is known to be an ideal beginner's Tanganyikan cichlid. It can be maintained in aquariums as small as 15 gallons. Extensive colonies can be maintained in large aquariums (150 gallons) wit several pairs and schools of juveniles present. Each pair must have a territory of its own, like a cave or pile of rocks.

With a minimal amount of on-line research, it's possible to quickly recognize the "key" markers that identify this species. The lyre-tail finnage is paramount in identifying the species. Following this there are several key things to note, particularly around the head and gills:

Neolamprologus brichardi, close-up of head to study identifying marks.

Above the operculum (the gill cover plate), there is an orange-yellow spot. Below this on the spot, the operculum sports an elongated black marking, which resembles a "checkmark" which extends up to the eye and transverses the eye itself. Below the checkmark, the face will have iridescent blue and yellow scribbles.

Brichardi are unique in a number of ways. First, this fish is an egg-laying substrate spawner, laying their eggs on a surface such as a stone, sandy pit, or empty snail shell. While this is not unique on its own, it is the only known substrate-spawning cichlid that schools. It is not unheard of to find a school numbering near 100,000 individuals within a 50 meter square area. Second, a unique characteristic of its spawning habits in the wild, are in the rearing of the fry. It is the only known fish in Africa that utilizes a collective nursery. This means that adults, juveniles, and even half-grown fry all participate in a multi-generational rearing of the fry. Brichardi individuals not only care for their own fry but the fry of those who spawn around them as well as keep vigil over other adults when actively spawning. Spawns of over 100 eggs are not uncommon.
A Brichardi parent nurturing her fry.
The fish will begin to breed in the aquarium as early as 2 inches and aren't choosy in selecting spawning mediums, and are known to spawn in rocks, shells and inverted flower pots. As in the wild, the parents will allow many generations of fry to stay within the territory, and the fry will assist the parents in guarding the youngest fry.

An important consideration in selecting Brichardi for an aquarium is being aware of how protective this fish is in defending their fry.  It is not at all unheard of, for a single pair of  Brichardi to take over a mixed tank of Tanganyikans, even as large as a 75-gallon aquarium. They pair off earlier than most other cichlids. It is not uncommon to have a pair to have all of the other fish either huddled in the top corner, often with damage and even some fatalities.

There is tremendous variation among the species colonies around Lake Tanganyika.

We have found that the best way to build a strong confidence level in identifying species and colony variations, is by viewing lots of pictures. Here is a gallery of variations that show many commonly seen coloration differences.

N brichardi, showing the common coloring and key markings.
N brichardi 'fulwe' variation
A White-tail Brichardi variation.
N pulcher (brichardi) 'electric blue' variation
N brichardi 'Sunflower' variation
N Brichardi 'albino' is a genetic variation denoting an absence of coloration

Taxonomy UPDATE
The Fairy Cichlid (Brichardi) is the same as the Daffodil Cichlid...
Formerly known as Neolamprologus brichardi, the Fairy Cichlid or Brichardi may now be called Neolamprologus pulcher.
     You may recognize this as the scientific name for another popular cichlid, the Daffodil Cichlid. These two fish are almost identical in appearance. The distinguishing characteristics that help the hobbyist to identify the Fairy Cichlid is the black stripe running from the eye to the gill cover and a yellow spot just above it, which are absent in the Daffodil Cichlid. These two fish are also never found occurring together in the wild, but rather in close vicinity to each other. However color patterning and location are not the only determination of a species, today there is also DNA sequencing.
     A recent study published in the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution has suggested that these two fish are a single species. Because Neolamprologus pulcher is the older of the two scientific names, the rules of scientific nomenclature would make this the correct name for the species. 

See the results of the study to learn more about it:
 Authors: Nina Duftner, Kristina M. Sefc, Stephan Koblmuller, 
      Walter Salzburgerf, Michael Taborsky, Christian Sturmbauer

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