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Geophagus sp. ‘orange head’
Geophagus: from the Greek geo, meaning ‘earth’, and phagos, meaning ‘ to eat’.
First collected in 1991 by German aquarists Christop Seidel and Rainer Harnoss (Steinhaus, 2010) from the rio Tapajós, eastern Brazil.
A second form which differs slightly in head colour and morphology later appeared in the trade as G. sp. ‘orange head Araguaia’, referring to the major tributary of the rio Tocantins.
The rio Xingú lies between the Tapajós and Tocantins so this led to speculation that there should exist an ‘orange head’ form in that drainage, too.
The latter tributary empties into the Tapajós close to its mouth, on the opposite bank to the city of Santarém and a little downstream of the Alter Do Chão lagoon which is the primary collection point for the aquarium trade.
The Tapajós main channel contains so-called ‘white’ water with a slightly acidic to neutral pH and low hardness but significant amounts of material in suspension at times giving it a cloudy appearance.
Depending on locality other features can include scattered rocks, submerged tree roots, branches and leaf litter.
At the confluence of the Tapajós and Arapiuns G. sp. ‘orange head’ was observed in clear water (visibility close to 20 m) which was flowing moderately over a substrate consisting of submerged boulders with long stretches of white sand between.
There was little in the way of vegetation or wood, pH was around neutral and adult specimens could be observed swimming in pairs with sexually inactive individuals congregating in groups of up to 20 (J. Cardwell, pers. comm.).
Other species known from the Tapajós and available in the hobby include Hyphessobrycon pulchripinnis, Nannostomus beckfordi, Metynnis argenteus, Pterophyllum scalare, Satanoperca jurupari, Heros efasciatus, Mesonauta festivus, Laetacara curviceps, Ancistrus dolichopterus, Hypancistrus sp. L260 and Peckoltia compta/L134 plus a number of occasionally traded ones such as Hyphessobrycon heliacus, H. vilmae, Dicrossus maculatus, Corydoras ornatus, Panaque sp. L027 (aka P. sp. cf. nigrolineatus `Tapajós’?), Leporacanthicus joselimai/L264, Peckoltia snethlageae/L141/L215 and Pseudacanthicus sp. L273.
There’?s also another undescribed Geophagus species from the lower Tapajós which has a smaller dark marking on each flank, lacks the orange head colouration and has appeared in the trade as G. sp. ‘Tapajós II’.
Maximum Standard Length
200 – 250 mm.
The most essential item of décor is a soft, sandy substrate so that the fish can browse naturally (see ‘Diet’).
Additional furnishings are as much a case of personal taste as anything else but the most favoured set-ups tend to feature relatively dim lighting plus some chunks of driftwood and scattered roots or branches.
Leaf litter is a typical feature of the natural environment but not really recommended in aquaria because the feeding behaviour of Geophagus spp. tends to cause an excess of partially-decomposed material in suspension which not only looks unsightly but can block filter and pump mechanisms.
One or two flattish, water-worn rocks can also be included to provide potential spawning sites if you wish.
Water quality is of the utmost importance since these cichlids are extremely susceptible to deteriorating water quality and swings in chemical parameters so should never be introduced to a biologically immature aquarium.
Mechanical filtration should also be tailored to trap small particles stirred up by the fish as sand can cause blockages and wearing issues with filter mechanisms if allowed to continually run through the system.
High flow rates should be avoided so position filter returns accordingly.
Temperature: 26 – 30 °C
pH: 4.5 – 7.5
Hardness: 18 – 179 ppm
Geophagus spp. are benthophagous by nature, employing a method of feeding whereby mouthfuls of substrate are taken and sifted for edible items with the remaining material expelled via the gill openings and mouth.
For this reason they’re commonly termed ‘eartheaters’ and the provision of a suitable substrate is essential to their long-term well-being.
Once settled they readily rise into the water column when food is introduced but continue to browse normally at other times.
Even as adults these cichlids seem unable to properly ingest larger food items meaning the diet should contain a variety of high quality, fine-grade prepared foods plus small live or frozen bloodworm, Tubifex, Artemia, mosquito larvae, etc.
At least some of the dried products should contain a high proportion of vegetable matter such as Spirulina or similar.
Home-made, gelatine-bound recipes containing a mixture of dried fish food, puréed shellfish, fresh fruit and vegetables, for example, are proven to work well and can be cut into bite-sized discs using the end of a sharp pipette or small knife.
Rather than a single large meal offer 3-4 smaller portions daily to allow natural browsing behaviour as this seems to result in the best growth rate and condition.
Behaviour and Compatibility
Unless breeding this species is surprisingly peaceful and will not predate on fishes larger than a few millimetres in length.
Suitable tankmates are far too numerous to list but include most peaceful species enjoying similar environmental conditions.
A group of 5-8 individuals should be the minimum purchase and these will form a noticeable dominance hierarchy.
When maintained in smaller numbers weaker specimens can become the target of excessive antagonism by dominant individuals or the group may fail to settle and behave nervously.
Substrate-spawning, larvophilous, biparental mouthbrooder that has been bred in aquaria.
Since accurate sexing is very difficult it’s best to begin with a group of young fish and allow pairs to form naturally.
A degree of patience is also required since it can be at least a year until they become sexually mature.
The chosen area is then cleaned and defended against intruders.
Spawning occurs in typical substrate–spawning style with the female laying one or more rows of eggs before the male moves in to fertilise them, the process being repeated numerous times over a period of several hours.
After around 72 hours the eggs hatch and fry immediately taken into the mouth of the female although on some occasions both parents may be involved from the start.
Some females therefore continue to hold all the fry or may even be driven away by the male to care for them alone.
In other cases both parents hold fry simultaneously or exchange the entire brood between one another on a regular basis, with such transfers tending to take place in a sheltered location such as a depression in the substrate.
When not brooding the adults will normally feed, and may even take some small morsels while holding fry.
The fry become free swimming at 8-11 days of age and the parents begin to release them to feed, initially with caution but for increasingly longer periods.
As time elapses and the fry grow they may only return to their parents’ mouths at night while the size of the territory becomes correspondingly larger.
This undescribed species is also known as G. sp. ‘red head Tapajós’ but when first exported for aquaria was referred to as G. sp. ‘orange head’ so that name is given priority here.
It’s achieved great popularity in the hobby and is now one of the more readily available members of the genus.
If wild fish are unavailable buy from a reputable shop or hobbyist.
There are at least two variants available one of which is usually traded as G. sp. ‘Araguaia orange head’.
This is misleading since both are endemic to the Tapajós drainage (see ‘Distribution’), and appears to date back to an error in collection locality when the fish were first exported.
The two differ in the extent of orange colouration on the head which extends onto the opercle in G. sp. ‘orange head (rio Arapiuns form) but is mostly restricted to the area above the eyes in G. sp. ‘Araguaia orange head’ (Tapajós main channel form).
The intensity of both head and dorsal stripe appears to be directly related to age, gender and social position, with dominant adult males displaying the greatest extent, although in general the Arapiuns form is the more brightly-coloured.
Since no other members possess the orange head colouration it’s also among the easiest to distinguish.
Young specimens also have five dark, parallel, vertical bars on the body (normally visible only when the fish are stressed, spawning or preserved) of which the anterior four become bifurcate (vertically split) as the fish mature.
There are no dark preopercular markings and caudal-fin patterning consists of irregular, alternating reddish and bluish to whiteish horizontal bands.
Representatives of the G. surinamensis assemblage are diagnosed by their relatively deep head and body shape, possession of a variably-sized dark spot on each flank and presence or absence of a small, dark preopercular marking.
There are currently thirteen described members but diversity is predicted to eventually prove much greater with a number of undescribed forms known some of which, such as G. sp. ‘orange head’ and G. sp. ‘Pindaré’, are regularly available in the aquarium trade.
The described members of the group are G. abalios, G. altifrons, G. brachybranchus, G. brokopondo, G. camopiensis, G. dicrozoster, G. megasema, G. neambi, G. parnaibae, G. proximus, G. surinamensis, G. sveni and G. winemilleri.
These are most easily separated on the basis that they all possess a complete infraorbital stripe but oddly have not had their own group name assigned, usually being referred to simply as ‘non-G. surinamensis group’ species.
Accurate identification of G. surinamensis group members has been problematic for a number of reasons, not least that prior to Kullander (1986) G. surinamensis itself was thought to range throughout the Orinoco, Amazon and Guianas river systems but is now considered endemic to the Rio Surinam and Ri0 Maroni (aka Marowijne) watersheds in eastern Suriname.
Several former ‘populations’ have thus been described as species in their own right since the turn of the century, meaning older literature can be somewhat unreliable.
Further, the majority of Geophagus species in the hobby are sold as G. surinamensis regardless of origin – a situation which continues to cause confusion and exacerbated by the fact that juveniles of most are virtually identical.
G. surinamensis is in fact almost never traded and very few privately-owned specimens exist.
The number of species awaiting description is unconfirmed but it seems feasible that certain rivers within the Río Orinoco, rio Amazonas, rio Tocantins and rio Parnaíba basinsm, plus coastal drainages of the Guianas, contain one or two endemic forms.
More preferable is to label with locality data when available.
The genus Geophagus was rediagnosed by Kullander (1986) who restricted it to include only those species with paired caudal extensions to the swimbladder lined by 6-12 epihemal ‘ribs’ plus a greater number of caudal than abdominal vertebrae.
Some former species were moved into the resurrected genus Satanoperca while others, such as the ‘Geophagus‘ brasiliensis and ‘G.‘ steindachneri groups represent distinct groupings still in need of definitive classification.
Geophagus and a number of related genera are often included in the putative subfamily Geophaginae.
Kullander (1998) later conducted a morphology-based phylogenetic study in which the neotropical family Cichlidae was divided into six subfamilies of which the Geophaginae contained 16 genera divided among three ‘tribes’:
Acarichthyini – Acarichthys and Guianacara.
Crenicaratini – Biotoecus, Crenicara, Dicrossus and Mazarunia.
Geophagini – Geophagus, Mikrogeophagus, ‘Geophagus‘ brasiliensis group, ‘Geophagus‘ steindachneri group, Gymnogeophagus, Satanoperca, Biotodoma, Apistogramma, Apistogrammoides and Taeniacara.
Later molecular studies by Farias et al. (1999, 2000, 2001) resulted in the additions of Crenicichla and Teleocichla to the Geophaginae, a result supported by López-Fernández et al. (2005) who conducted the most detailed molecular analysis of the grouping to date including 16 of the 18 genera and 30 species.
However their conclusions regarding interrelationships between genera did vary somewhat from previous hypotheses and can be summarised by the following loosely-defined groups:
– a weakly-supported sister group relationship between Acarichthys and Guianacara.
– a well-supported ‘Satanoperca clade‘ comprising Satanoperca, Apistogramma, Apistogrammoides and Taeniacara.
– a ‘big clade‘ with Geophagus, Mikrogeophagus, ‘Geophagus‘ brasiliensis group, ‘Geophagus‘ steindachneri group, Gymnogeophagus, Biotodoma, Crenicara and Dicrossus.
– a ‘crenicarine clade‘ with Biotoecus and Crenicichla.
No representatives of Teleocichla or Mazarunia were included in the study but the former is well-established as sister to Crenicichla while the latter has grouped closely with Dicrossus and Crenicara in earlier works.