Juan Miguel Artigas Azas,
Cichlid Room Companion

The beauty of the deep

By , 2024. image
Last updated on 10-Apr-2024

Classification: Distribution and exploration, Lake Tanganyika.

" A potentially new species of cichlid has been found in the deep rocky habitats of Lake Tanganyika's Tanzanian coast "

Individual at Luagala Point An individual of Neolamprologus sp. 'benthosplendens' at Luagala Point, Lake Tanganyika [Tanzania]. Photo by Mattia Matarrese. (2019-09-18). determiner Ad Konings

After more than 130 years of scientific knowledge of the cichlids of Lake Tanganyika, starting when Mr. Edward Coode-Hore (1848-1912), an Australian missionary living on the lake shores from 1877 to 1888, during a medical leave in 1889 took to England the preserved fishes that served Albert Günther as material for the first original descriptions of cichlids from that lake, published in April 1894 in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (namely Astatotilapia burtoni, Oreochromis tanganicae, Shuja horei, and Simochromis diagramma in our current classification), we thought that probably we had seen all of the cichlid species living in the second deepest lake in the world. However, Lake Tanganyika still has surprises to give.

In 2019, during an exploration looking for cichlids in the Tanzanian shores along the Mahale Mountains National Park, Tautvydas Pangonis (UK) and Mattia Matarrese (Australia) were able to find in the dark depths of Lake Tanganyika, at 46 m, what at first sight they thought was a Julidochromis species, but after closer examination it turned out to be a new undescribed species.

Diving at such depths in a highland lake (Lake Tanganyika is 773 m above sea level) comes with its difficulties and dangers. Diving tables suggest a maximum bottom time of five minutes for a first dive (and even less for subsequent dives) at such depth with regular diving equipment, before risking running out of air to return to the surface, so time to look for and photograph fishes is scarce. Nevertheless, Mattia and Tautvydas were able to obtain beautiful photographs of the species. After requesting suggestions, they decided to provisionally call it Neolamprologus sp. ‘benthosplendens’, the beauty from the deep, as suggested by Ad Konings. ‘benthosplendens’ is a combination of the Greek word “benthos” (depth) and the Latin word ‘splendens’ (beautiful, shiny).

According to Ad Konings (2024), the only Lamprologine with which Neolamprologus sp. 'benthosplendens' could be confused is N. buescheri, with some populations of that species exhibiting vertical bars on top of the two horizontal bands on the flanks. Nevertheless, N. sp. 'benthosplendens' lacks the black submarginal band in the dorsal fin which is evident in every known population of N. buescheri. Additionally, the eye of N. sp. 'benthosplendens' is visibly much larger than that of N. buescheri. The approximate maximum size of the so far seen specimens is 6 cm in length, while females are estimated to reach a maximum of 4 cm.

While at the beginning it was only known from one locality which was kept secret, currently the species has been found in more localities in the central Tanzanian shore of Lake Tanganyika, having been found at Halembe, Hapa Ingii Fara, Luagala Point, Kalugunga, Kekese, and Katondo Point. It has turned out not to be a rare cichlid but one that lives below 40 m deep in a rocky type habitat which makes catching one not an easy task, so far, no known collections have been made of this species.

Neolamprologus sp. 'benthosplendens' has always been seen in a habitat that includes a large rock formation surrounded by sand, which may act as a barrier to going far away from the rocks. Females and sub-adults were observed alone or in small groups of two or three fish, either above the rocks, in between crevices, or just in front of the cave where the male resides. N. sp. 'benthosplendens' has been observed to be a secretive cave brooder, with males skittish and scared of divers getting close to them, disappearing from the entrance into the dark of a cave as they were approached. Juveniles smaller than 2 cm have not yet been seen, but small individuals have been seen in a pair's cave. It is thus likely that offspring remains for a long time with its parents.

The only other species of cichlid found together with N. sp. 'benthosplendens' is the shell dweller ‘Lamprologus’ similis.

While reading Mattia's account (Matarrese, 2020) of the discovery of this species, one notices that in exploring the depths of Lake Tanganyika, new surprises may still be waiting.

References (2):


Artigas Azas, Juan Miguel. (Apr 10, 2024). "The beauty of the deep". Cichlid Room Companion. Retrieved on May 24, 2024, from: