Mary Bailey, 2001
Cichlid Room Companion

Teleogramma brichardi Poll, 1959

By , 1998. image

Classification: Captive maintenance, Africa.

Teleogramma brichardi Teleogramma brichardi Poll, 1959 male in the aquarium. Fish and Photo by Mary Bailey.

Teleogramma is a genus of small, sexually dimorphic, rheophilic cichlids originating from the Congo River and its affluents. At the time of writing four species are known to science, of which only one, T. brichardi, has been exported for the aquarium trade.

T. brichardi was first seen in Europe in the late 1960's and early 1970's, together with several other interesting West African species of the genera Steatocranus, Pelvicachromis, and Nanochromis. Of these, however, only Steatocranus casuarius became established in the hobby, and there are few records of any others being bred. T. brichardi was bred at least once, but failed to become established, and the aquarium population died out with the original wild stock. Subsequently political upheavals in Congo put an end to exports of aquarium fishes for some years, and it was not until the 1980's that T. brichardi was again available to aquarists.

The natural range of this species is limited to a comparatively short stretch of the lower Congo River near Kinsuka, to the south-east of Kinshasa; it is apparently replaced further downstream by two of its congeners, T. gracilis and T depressum. (The fourth species, T. monogramma, is restricted to the River Kasai, which drains into the Congo upstream of the T. brichardi locality.) Natural water conditions are reported as very soft, pH 7-7.5, temperature 28-29°C, and, obviously, a very high oxygen content.

All four species inhabit areas of turbulent water where the river descends over rapids. All are more or less cylindrical in cross-section and extremely elongate, giving an almost snake-like appearance. All have the much reduced swim-bladder characteristic of rapids cichlids and seen also in Gobiocichla, Steatocranus, the fluviatile species of Lamprologus, and Orthochromis from Africa, and in the recently described analogous genus Teleocichla from Brazil. This modification is thought to enable them to remain resting on the bottom, unaffected by the rush of water overhead; buoyancy is not an advantageous characteristic for small fishes inhabiting fast-flowing waters which might easily sweep them away. It has to be said, however, that because of the difficulty of underwater studies in such conditions our knowledge of their natural lifestyle is, of necessity, largely surmise. We do not even know what foods are taken, though it is reasonable to assume a diet of aquatic invertebrates and crustaceans, probably with a degree of opportunism. T. brichardi relishes live foods suchas Daphnia and chironomid larvae in captivity, and recently imported wild specimens show no hesitation in seizing and devouring whole earthworms.

The species exhibits marked sexual dimorphism, particularly at breeding time when the female is a medium grey with a large salmon-coloured area extending from the pectorals to the vent, covering the entire depth of the body and suffusing the lower part of the dorsal. The breeding male is, by contrast, uniform grey. Non-breeding females may show no red at all, or just a tinge on the belly, and the body becomes banded vertically in two shades of brownish-grey. Non-breeding males are very similar. Generally speaking males are larger (up to 12 cm SL) than females on an age for age basis, and the sexes can be easily told apart at all times by a characteristic marking in the tail. Both sexes have a white outer edging to the dorsal, and in males this continues onto the upper edge of the caudal. In females, however, the edging broadens to a large, forward pointing, triangle of white in the upper caudal. Interestingly these white markings appear red in preserved specimens (Roberts & Stewart, 1976), but in live fishes they are unequivocally a pure white.

Teleogramma brichardi was merely a name to me until the publication of Linke & Staeck's volume on West African cichlids in 1981, after which I endured several years of unrequited longing before finally obtaining a pair in late 1985. I had read that there was liable to be considerable hostility between individuals (it is thought that this species, in common with some other rapids cichlid species, e.g. Steatocranus tinanti, lives solitarily except at spawning time), so they were given a fairly large aquarium. Within a few hours the male was chasing the female relentlessly, so I inserted a clear divider. A victimised fish usually takes refuge in an upper corner, and obviously this would be a far more serious situation for a fish with minimal buoyancy than for a "normal" cichlid, because of the need to expend energy swimming to remain in situ. It therefore seemed best to let them settle into individual territories before attempting a further encounter.

In the event this strategy proved highly successful, and when some weeks later the divider was moved slightly aside, to leave a 3-4 cm gap at the front of the tank, there was no hostility, even though each fish regularly ventured into the other's half of the tank. In fact there was little mutual interest shown at all, although a few weeks later I did see the pair indulging in a rather halfhearted display, resting alongside each other, head to head, on a flat stone. The only other interesting activity observed at this time was the method of digging employed by the female, which consisted of diving head-first into a small cave, "worming" her way forwards with gravel flying out behind her. I have never seen any other cichlid excavate a cave in this manner!

Spawning took place only much later, and quite unexpectedly. The female was found resting in her usual cave with a clutch of large (2.5 x 3.5 mm approx.) creamy-white eggs clearly visible on the ceiling. The spawning may, perhaps, have been triggered by a rise in temperature due to unseasonably sunny June weather which had raised fish-house ambient temperature to 28°C. The male was at some distance and showing no interest in the proceedings. All went well for three days, then I noticed that there appeared to be fewer eggs, and as I watched the female pulled one from the rock (with great difficulty, presumably the eggs need to be extremely adhesive to withstand the currents) and ate it; in consequence the rock was removed and the eggs hatched artificially, this was, after all, only the second known spawning in captivity.

Teleogramma brichardi female with eggs
Developing eggs of Teleogramma brichardi
Teleogramma brichardi Poll, 1959 female in the aquarium showing the enormous eggs (left). Eggs developing (right). Fish and Photo by Mary Bailey.

The eggs were opaque and I feared they might be infertile, but the next day about 20 of the 30+ had hatched. It could then be seen that the infertile eggs were whiter than the creamy colour of the others. The wrigglers remained firmly attached to the rock for a further six days; seven died during the wriggler stage, and another two after they became free-swimming, for reasons unknown. The fry were enormous (a Tropheus female would have been proud of them), measuring about 1.5 cm total length. Obviously large fry would be more likely to survive in turbulent conditions.

One or two further points are worth noting: firstly, there is little point in trying to simulate natural turbulence, as these fishes do not at all appreciate one's efforts. During experiments with an internal power filter with its outlet above the surface, the female perpetually sat under the filter itself, i.e. in the least turbulent spot available. When the filter was turned off she returned to her normal routine of patrolling her territory. The degree of aeration provided by moderate turnover airdriven UG filtration has proven satisfactory with these fishes, as with several other species of rapids cichlids.

Secondly, despite the initial aggression of the male (and the species' reputation for intraspecific aggression), once territories had been established there was no further problem. I am not even sure that "territory" is the correct word to use, as neither fish showed any particular inclination to defend its own area. It has been suggested that territoriality in some rapids cichlids is linked to food supply rather than reproductive activity, so perhaps it can become superfluous in captivity where the ability to obtain sufficient food generally ceases to be a survival factor. Even when the pair were moved to another smaller tank there was no resumption of hostilities, and a further small brood was raised without my intervention or (initial) knowledge.

The first batch of young were grown to sizes ranging from 5 cm (smallest female) to 8 cm (largest male) and lived together in amity with an average territory size only 10 cm or so in diameter, although there was a vertical component, with the smallest female based (literally) on the wire clip of the external thermostat!

Some years later another pair, already settled in captivity by a previous owner, presented no problems, although later still a newly imported pair proved considerably more troublesome, the female jumping a divider several times and eventually murdering the male. As neither of my two previous pairs had shown any such athletic tendencies I found this rather surprising, but have subsequently been told that it is by no means uncommon. Despite her single-minded persistence in bringing about the demise of the male, she has never shown the least inclination to attack other tankmates. This is in line with my experiences with other individuals, none of which, despite warnings to the contrary in the literature, has ever attempted to molest heterospecifics, even similar cichlids such as Steatocranus tinanti.

Importations of this species now seem to be more regular, so hopefully its future in the hobby will soon be assured by a significant degree of captive breeding, as it is by no means as difficult to maintain as originally indicated.


Bailey, Mary. (Jul 11, 1998). "Teleogramma brichardi Poll, 1959". Cichlid Room Companion. Retrieved on Sep 23, 2023, from: