If there is one genus of cichlid sure to dazzle, it has to be Paratilapia from Madagascar. Large, resplendent in colour and demeanour they are hardy, unusual and sure to earn a place in the heart of any keeper.
Paratilapia are the most widespread genus of cichlid in Madagascar and once found throughout the island. Today they are less common but still extant in the north-west and north-east, and along the entire east coast. There are also relic populations in the Central Massif and in pockets of the south-east.
All populations are at risk from fishing, habitat degradation and introduced exotics, but some species are now being captively bred to maintain aquarium stocks.
A key question discussed by hobbyists and scientists involves the number of species of Paratilapia. Initially only one, P. polleni, was described and the name was mistakenly used to describe small spotted fish in the hobby. it was later found that the true Paratilapia polleni from north-west Madagascar is large and spotted.
A second species was later described as Paratilapia bleekeri and thought to differ from P. polleni in jaw shape, coloration, spot size and genital shape.
Although some authors placed it in synonymy with P. polleni the general consensus is that this is a good species found in the swamps surrounding Antanananarivo, the capital of the island. This species is now likely to be extinct.
A third species of Paratilapia was described as P. typus and until recently this was also placed in synonymy with P. polleni, but again it has recently been suggested that this name should be resurrected to describe large spotted Paratilapia from the north-east. There are certainly more Paratilapia to be described and it will be interesting to see how the future maps out.
There are at least four species currently in the hobby. Paratilapia sp. “Andapa” (which may be Paratilapia typus) is the biggest at over 30cm/12” in length. These have huge white spots on a velvet black body and are extremely popular, although fairly rare.