When most people hear the words “African cichlid,” their thoughts tend to gravitate towards the fish of the African Rift Lakes Tanganyika and Malawi, and often specifically to the colorful haplochromine species flock of Lake Malawi. The same happens when they hear the term “mouthbrooder.” Africa is, however, incredibly vast, and there are many species of mouthbrooders and other cichlids found on the continent that have nothing to do with Lakes Malawi or Tanganyika. Even in East Africa, Lake Victoria alone dwarfs either of those lakes, but beyond a dozen or so species, we seldom see fish from there available in the hobby. The devastation of Lake Victoria’s ecosystem by the well-publicized introduction of the Nile perch Lates niloticus, alongside other forms of human impact, has made it impossible for many of the cichlid species endemic to this lake to ever become aquarium staples.
Dwarf Victoria mouthbrooder Pseudocrenilabrus
multicolor victoriae, a male in normal coloration.
In the swampy, weed-choked channels of the upper Nile
River and the plant-bed areas in the shallows of Lake Albert
and Lake Victoria, a very tiny mouthbrooding beauty can
be found. Unlike some of their larger lacustrine cousins
from further south that are limited to one Great Rift Valley
lake, these miniature cichlids are fairly widespread in east
central Africa, occurring in a variety of habitats in Uganda,
Kenya, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of the
Congo. Males barely reach 3 inches, and females might not
reach over 2½ inches. But despite these small sizes, they
manage to sport all of the colors and interesting behaviors
of their much larger and much better-known southern
cousins. I’m talking, of course, about the dwarf Victoria
mouthbrooder Pseudocrenilabrus multicolor victoriae.
While all but ignored by most mainstream hobbyists, this
little beauty has held the interest of generations of scientists.
Its conspecific P. multicolor (now P. multicolor multicolor) has
been known to science since 1903, and it has been a fairly
common fish in the hobby for most of the past century. P.
m. victoriae was only recognized as a separate subspecies by
Seegers in 1990. The species has gone through the ringer of
the name game over time, since the very beginning. It was
first described in 1903 by Schoeller as Chromis multicolor,
and in the same year by Hilgendorf as Paratilapia multicolor
(there is conflicting information in various sources as to
who was actually first).
Later revisions moved it to Haplochromis multicolor,
and then Hemihaplochromis multicolor. One author even
attached Haplochromis strigigena to this diminutive little
cichlid, but this is actually an invalid name for yet another
species! Finally, another respected author elevated it to
species status as Pseudocrenilabrus victoriae, which actually
makes sense to me, as there are differences between the
two subspecies in head structure, size, color, etc. But I’m
a hobbyist, not a scientist, so I’ll leave it at this: the most
common name currently accepted is Seeger’s 1990 name of
Pseudocrenilabrus multicolor victoriae.
Males are a deep golden yellow color that darkens to a
copper or brown color behind the beginning of the anal
fin. Some of the scales in this copper-colored region are
individually highlighted in metallic powder blue, and