• Species: Buccochromis rhoadesii

  • Species: Colomesus asellus

  • Species: Purple Emperor Tetra

  • Species: Oryzias woworae

  • Species: Pseudohemiodon laticeps

  • Species: Axelrodia riesei

  • Species: Tanichthys micagemmae

  • Species: African Butterfly Cichlid

Stock list review: Amwell Aquatics@ Epping

27 December 2016

Amwell Aquatics operates two superstores in the East of England, one in Amwell Aquatics at Soham, Cambridgeshire and the other in Thornwood Common, near Epping in Essex. Both are large stores with plenty to interest beginners and experienced aquarists alike, but this article focuses on the Essex branch. We'll be looking at some of the more desirable species currently in stock, including some species that are only rarely available or new to the hobby.

The Amwell Aquatics branch in Essex is at Thornwood Common, just 5 minutes off Junction 7 of the M11, on the B1393 (High Road) on the way into the village of Thornwood. If you're travelling by public transport, Townlink Buses routes 20 and 21 between Harlow and Ongar serve the Uppland Road stop very nearby. The information below was correct at the time of writing, but we'd recommend getting in touch with the store directly if you're making a long journey with the intention of purchasing a particular species of fish described here.

African Butterfly Cichlid

Known to science as Anomalochromis thomasi, this West African dwarf cichlid is not seen so often as the popular Kribensis, but is just as colourful and well worth keeping. Juvenile fish are pinkish-brown with numerous metallic, with vivid blue, red, white and black markings on the fins. Mature fish become more strongly coloured, with golden and dark grey patches on the face and flanks that come and go with mood. The two sexes look fairly similar, but whereas the maximum length is about 8-10 cm for males, females tend to be a little smaller.

In terms of behaviour African Butterfly Cichlids are very much like Kribs. Pairs are territorial but generally ignored dissimilar tankmates that occupy the middle and upper levels of the tank, such as barbs and tetras. They do not do much digging, but they do appreciate suitable hiding places such as caves or coconut shells where they can hide or spawn. African Butterfly Cichlids make excellent parents and are relatively easy to breed, spawning in much the same way as Kribs and guarding the fry for several weeks. They are little more touchy about water chemistry than Kribs though, and appreciate soft to medium hardness water with a slightly acidic to neutral pH.

Yellow Lepturus

Like all Buccochromis, this species, Buccochromis rhoadesii, is a fairly large schooling predator that inhabits Lake Malawi. In general terms it looks a lot like other haplochromine cichlids, being oval in shape, deep bodied, and exhibiting clear sexual dimorphism. Males are blue with yellow markings, particularly around the throat, belly, anal fin and the bottom half of the tail fin. They also spot 'egg dummy' spots on their anal fins that the less brightly coloured females lack. Maximum length is around 30-35 cm, so a group will need to be kept in a very large system, likely upwards of 750 litres for a group of 5-6 specimens if they're going to be kept alongside other Malawians of similar size and temperament. Singletons can be maintained in smaller system, though being predators, tankmates should be chosen carefully.

This species is not difficult to keep, providing its given space, robust filtration, and appropriate water chemistry. Buccochromis will of course favour suitable live and frozen foods including earthworms, river shrimps, lancefish and small pieces of seafood such as coley and squid. But they also take good quality pellet and flake foods, those being optimised for predatory fish being particularly useful. Buccochromis generally ignore dissimilar tankmates that are not bite-sized, but males may squabble among themselves and sometimes chase females as well. Like other haplochromines, Buccochromis rhoadesii is a maternal mouthbrooder, but the species has only been rarely bred in captivity, likely because its size makes managing a large enough group beyond the ability of all but the most dedicated hobbyists.

Amazon or South American Puffer

This small, attractive pufferfish is only seasonally available, but makes an extremely good aquarium fish, so its availability at Amwell Aquatics, Essex is worth recording. Healthy specimens have vivid green and black bands across their back and flanks, white bellies, and bright golden eyes. These fish are very active, rarely resting on the substrate for more than a few minutes except at night when they like to curl up in groups among the plants. Mostly they patrol the tank, examining floating vegetation for food or interacting with each other. Unlike a lot of freshwater puffers this species is quite sociable, and groups tend to be less nervous than singletons.

Maintenance is fairly easy, though no pufferfish should be thought of as a beginner's fish. Water chemistry is not too important, but water quality should be excellent. A decent current is expected because this species is a river dweller that likes to have plenty of opportunity to swim about in the open. It will consume all the usual frozen foods including krill, brine shrimp, bloodworms and so on, but some 'crunchy' prey will be important as well. Without sufficient snails in its diet this species tends to suffer from overgrowing teeth, and while the tips can be trimmed using cuticle clippers, such an operation requires care to be done safely, so prevention is better than cure!

Note that this species is correctly referred to as Colomesus asellus, even though older aquarium books frequently identify it as Colomesus psittacus, a similar, but much larger brackish water species that has only been very rarely traded as an aquarium fish.

Oryzias sp. 'Kendari'

Ricefish, Oryzias spp., generally make excellent aquarium fish, being small enough for nano systems, very peaceful, and with a distinctive approach to breeding that makes them as interesting to experienced fishkeepers as to beginners. This species, often traded as the Neon Ricefish, was assumed to be related to the popular Daisy Ricefish, Oryzias woworae, having a similar neon blue colouration on its flanks and reddish edges to its tail fin. But unlike that species, male Oryzias sp. 'Kendari' have long rays on their dorsal fin that give it a raggedy appearance, something seen on some other ricefish species but not Daisy Ricefish. So while the two species may be related within a species flock endemic to Sulawesi, scientists consider Oryzias sp. 'Kendari' sufficiently different that it is now recognised as a distinct species of its own, Oryzias wolasi.

Oryzias> sp. 'Kendari' is not widely kept, but seems to be as good an aquarium fish as any other. Water chemistry is not critical provided extremes are avoided, though moderately soft to slightly hard, slightly acidic to neutral water is probably best. While there are some subtropical ricefish species, this isn't one of them, and should be maintained around 25 degrees C. It will do well on finely powdered flake and micro pellet foods, though occasional offerings of tiny live foods like daphnia would probably help to keep it in tip-top conditions. Ricefish are sociable and need to be kept in groups, ideally with floating plants or clumps of Java moss where they can deposit their large, sticky eggs. The fry are quite large and easy to rear, and may even survive alongside the adults if given space and cover. Tankmates should be chosen with care. In a breeding tank tankmates are best skipped, but very small and placid tankmates such as dwarf corydoras and algae shrimps can work nicely.

Vietnamese Cardinal Minnow

This is a small fish related to the popular White Cloud Mountain Minnow, Tanichthys albonubes, but from Vietnam rather than China. Compared to its Chinese relative, the Vietnamese Cardinal Minnow, Tanichthys micagemmae, has its blue and pink bands further down the flanks, and of the two bands, the blue is much more prominent. Its yellow fins sport bright red patches, similar in colour to those of a cardinal's robes, hence its common name. Maximum length is 2.5 cm.

Maintenance is basically the same as that of the White Cloud Mountain Minnow, though slightly warmer water, 22-24 C, is recommended. A rainforest stream set-up works nicely, with a decent current, lots of oxygen, and open areas of sand and pebbles. The water flow shouldn't be too strong or turbulent though, because these aren't true hillstream biotope specialists. Being quite small and timid fish, larger fish shouldn't be kept with them, even things like danios and barbs apt to bully them. On the other hand they make great companions and dither fish for things like small Corydoras, whiptail catfish and hillstream loaches.

Purple Emperor Tetra

This infrequently seen South American characin is available from Amwell Aquatics, Essex in both its standard and the even rarer 'super blue' form. Although quite similar to the widely kept Emperor Tetra, Nematobrycon palmeri, the Blue Emperor Tetra, Inpaichthys kerri, is more sky-blue in colour than purple, making it one of the more distinctive tetras kept by hobbyists. Males and females look pretty similar, though males do tend to be a little bigger (4 vs. 3 cm) and more colourful.

Like most South American species the Purple Emperor Tetra does best in water that isn't too hard; aim for 2-12 degrees dH, pH 6-7.5. Water temperature should be middling warm, 24-26 C. The species has a reputation for being delicate, but that's more a reflection of its inability to do well in hard water or alongside boisterous tankmates. In a peaceful blackwater stream biotope aquarium this species is not demanding at all; it can be highly recommended to the more experienced aquarists able to cater to its needs. In a South American system for example it would work fine alongside Apistogramma, Corydoras and Nannostomus species, among others. Note that the Purple Emperor Tetra is intensely social, and must be kept in a large group, certainly at least six specimens, and more humanely and effectively, ten or more.

Ruby Tetra

This interesting little tetra is known to science as Axelrodia riesei, its genus name honouring the noted aquarist and fish collector Herbert Axelrod. It is a small fish -- no more than 2 cm long when mature -- but the bright red colouration exhibited by healthy specimens is certainly eye-catching enough to warrant its inclusion in relatively small well planted tanks.

Maintenance is straightforward; a mature tank with soft, slightly acidic water chemistry being the main necessity. Although adaptable feeders, small live foods like daphnia and brine shrimp nauplii will be particularly welcomed alongside good quality flake and micro pellets. Tankmates should be chosen with care, primarily things like algae shrimps, Otocinclus and the smaller Corydoras. Given its small size and peaceful nature, a large group needs to be maintained, upwards of a dozen being recommended.

Giant Whiptail Catfish

Pseudohemiodon can be thought of as scaled-up versions of the common whiptails (Rineloricaria spp.) widely kept by aquarists. They have much the same requirements except on a larger scale, including the need for more robust filtration and bigger tanks, but apart from that are peaceful and adaptable fish.

The Giant whiptail Pseudohemiodon laticeps is speckled brown in colour and reaches a maximum size of about 30 cm. It is unusually gregarious for such a big fish, so best kept in a large enough tank that two or three specimens could be maintained without problems, something upwards of 250 litres being recommended. They are typical whiptails in terms of aquarium decor, preferring an open tank with plenty of sand or fine gravel; any plants or rocks should be kept around the edges otherwise they will have trouble foraging or even turning around. Floating plants are the best option, but species that attach themselves to bogwood roots are good as well.

Pseudohemiodon laticeps will thrive on a diet of algae wafers and frozen invertebrates. They get along well with most midwater fish, including easy-going cichlids, barbs and characins.