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Aphanius mento (HECKEL, 1843)

Classification

Order: Cyprinodontiformes Family: Cyprinodontidae

Distribution

Has been recorded in various eastern Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries although most of the fish seen in the aquarium hobby originate from Turkey. There its range extends eastwards along the Mediterranean coastal region of the country through the provinces of Antalya, Mersin, Adana and Hatay and it can be found throughout the Ceyhan and Seyhan River basins to the southeast.

A number of landlocked populations also exist, some of which may have been introduced by humans such as the one inhabiting an artificial pond near the town of Bor. In the Tigris-Euphrates system it occurs in both eastern Turkey and Iraq as far as the confluence of the two rivers into the Shatt al-Arab at the border with Iran.

To the south it is found around the coastlines of Syria, Lebanon and Israel including the Orontes River drainage and in the Jordan Rift Valley as far south as the Dead Sea where it is reported to hybridise with the nominal subspecies A. dispar richardsoni in some springs.

The fish exhibit notable variations in colouration and patterning depending on locality. It is therefore important that the different forms be labelled with the collection details by hobbyists and scientists alike in order to preserve bloodlines and maintain accuracy e.g. “Kirkgöz”, “Elbistan” etc. While it is not currently at risk of extinction at species level many individual populations are sadly threatened for various reasons. In the north and northeast of the Konya steppe, Turkey it now occurs sympatrically with A. a. anatoliae due to the construction of a number of agricultural canals in the area but potential effects of this overlap, such as hybridisation, have not yet been studied.

Habitat

Inhabits various biotopes including coastal lagoons, marshes, first order streams, irrigation canals, small lakes and rivers and occurs in both fresh and slightly brackish water. It is most often found in marginal zones where submerged vegetation and/or filamentous algae grow thickly.

An example of a typical habitat is Kirkgöz spring in Antalya province, Turkey. This spring originates from karstic limestones and flows for around 30km before emptying into the Gulf of Antalya. The water contains relatively high levels of salts containing chlorine, magnesium and calcium making it very hard and alkaline although the pH is not too high and has been measured to range between 6.88 – 7.58. It is very clear and contains lush growths of submerged vegetation and algae.

Maximum Standard Length

50 – 70 mm, depending on population to some extent.

Aquarium SizeTop ↑

pair or trio can be kept in a container with base dimensions of 60 cm x 30 cm or so but as a general rule members of this genus do best when maintained as a larger group in a space measuring upwards of 120 ∗ 30 cm. Due to the aggressive nature of breeding males (see ‘compatibility’) do not attempt to keep anything more than a pair or small group consisting of a single male and several females in smaller aquaria.

Maintenance

Even for long-term maintenance a simple set-up will suffice. The most important factors are the provision of many broken lines of sight and a suitable medium in which the fish can deposit eggs. Female and subdominant male individuals must be offered the opportunity of respite from the aggressive alpha males during the spawning season so most of the available space must be filled with acrylic wool mops (use a fine grade if available), clumps of java moss or Ceratophyllum and ideally filamentous algae. There is no need to add a substrate although inert sand or gravel can be added if you preferand filtration need not be too strong either.

It is possible, and preferable, to maintain it outdoors all year round in many countries and it will show better colours and overall condition if exposed to at least a few hours of natural sunlight each day. Try to find out the origin of your fish as some populations will do best in freshwater but if in doubt we recommend the addition of marine salt in the ratio of 1-3 g/L as most will need it.

Water Conditions

Temperature: Active over a wide temperature range of 2 – 30 °C. Artificial heating is not required in all but the coldest climates and it should be provided with a ‘winter’ period of several months during which it is maintained at low temperatures or it is likely to suffer both reduced fecundity and a shortened lifespan.

pH: 7.5 – 9.0. It will probably not survive under acidic conditions.

Hardness: 179 – 536 ppm

Diet

Omnivorous although it displays a marked vegetarian tendency compared to most congeners with a large proportion of the natural diet being composed of algae and other plant material. If the aquarium or container does not contain filamentous algae try to introduce a good quality dried product with added Spirulina content to the diet. It should also be offered regular meals of small live or frozen fare such as Artemia, Daphnia or bloodworm, this being particularly important during the months of spring and summer when the fish show a high reproductive effort.

Behaviour and CompatibilityTop ↑

Its particular water requirements and territorial behaviour make A. mento a poor choice for the community aquarium. Given its rarity in the hobby the emphasis should also be on captive reproduction and we strongly recommend maintaining it alone. It should be kept in a group with a ratio of two or three females to each male being the ideal. Males of this species are the most aggressive in the genus and will often fight to the death while unreceptive females may also be killed if the tank is insufficiently decorated. They will also attack other species in a community setting and we have read of several ‘experiments’ that have ended with dead cichlids and suchlike.

Sexual Dimorphism

As with all members of the genus sexual dimorphism is pronounced especially when the fish are breeding when the body colour of males darkens to a deep black/blue. Males also exhibit a series of irregular, iridescent blue spots on the on the flanks and in the fins where they form curved bands. When not in spawning condition the body colour fades to a greyish brown and the spotting is less intense. Females are larger and much plainer possessing only a series of silver or black (depending on locality) spots on the body and completely hyaline finnage. Fish from some populations, such as Kirkgöz, can display light vertical bars in the rear portion of the body.

Reproduction

Captive reproduction is not difficult if the tank or container is properly arranged and maintained (see ‘tank set-up’). It is a fractional spawner with females depositing eggs on a more-or-less continuous basis between the months of April and September. Males form temporary territories which they defend against rivals while attempting to entice females to spawn. Dominant individuals will show more intense colouration. Eggs are released singly or in small batches and are attached to algae or other surfaces by means of small filaments. Aphanius typically eat their eggs/fry and the spawning medium should therefore be checked on a daily basis during the spawning period.

The eggs are very small and must be treated carefully. Use a fine pair of forceps to gently remove pieces of medium with eggs attached whilst avoiding contact with the eggs themselves. Alternatively the entire medium can be removed and replaced every couple of days. This should be transferred to a container with water of the same chemistry and temperature as that of the adults. The incubation period can vary a little with the temperature but is usually between 6 – 14 days with the fry being large enough to accept Artemia nauplii, microworm etc. immediately after they become free-swimming.

NotesTop ↑

This species has something of a confused history having been previously been considered synonymous with both A. sophiae (a separate species native to Iraq and Iran) and A. cypris (currently considered a junior synonym of A. mento). Although some populations occur close to and even sympatric with other members of the genus in Turkey phylogenetic studies have shown it to be more closely-related to the Middle Eastern species A. dispar dispar, A. d. richardsoni, A. ginaonis and A. sirhani. It’s considered to be one of the more ancient species of Aphanius having diverged from the ancestor of the A. dispar group between 25 – 28 million years ago and is arguably the most attractive so has found greater popularity in the hobby than its relatives.

You are unlikely to find it on sale in aquatic stores although it may be available via specialist breeders or associations from time-to-time. While Aphanius are certainly not as colourful as some of their relatives their interesting behaviour and continuous activity make them fascinating aquarium subjects and well worth a try if you possess the dedication to take on a long-term maintenance project since conservation is key with all members of the genus.

It currently contains 22 species and subspecies which are thought to have derived from a common ancestor originally distributed around the periphery of the former Tethys Sea. None are particularly well-documented in aquarium literature although some are very beautiful and the majority are not too difficult to maintain and breed. Sadly most are on the verge of extinction for one reason or another with several existing only in remnant, highly-localised populations.

In practically all cases the root cause for this decline is the activity of humans and although some species are now protected by conservation law the mismanagement and degradation of their habitats continues at an alarming rate. A few species are still sometimes listed as members of Lebias although that name has long been considered a synonym of Cyprinodon by most authorities and an ICZN committee voted to suppress the name in favour of Aphanius as recently as 2003.

References

  1. Güçlü, S. S. and F. Küçük. 2008 - Turkish Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 8: 269-274.
    Population Age, Sex Structure, Growth and Diet of Aphanius mento Heckel in: Russegger, 1843 (Cyprinodontidae: Teleostei), at Kırkgöz Spring, Antalya-Türkiye.
  2. Hrbek, T. and A. Meyer. 2003 - J. Evol. Biol. 16(1): 17-36.
    Closing of the Tethys Sea and the phylogeny of Eurasian killifishes (Cyprinodontiformes: Cyprinodontidae).
  3. Wildekamp, R.H., F. Küçük, M. Ünlüsayin, and W. V. Neer. 1999 - Turk. J. Zool. 23: 23-44.
    Species and Subspecies of the Genus Aphanius Nardo 1897 (Pisces: Cyprinodontidae) in Turkey.

One Response to “Aphanius mento”

  • cordylus

    Is anyone in the US working with Aphanius? I would love to try some species, but have not had any luck finding breeders. Shoot me an email or note if you can point me to an organization or individual who does.


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