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Aphanius anatoliae (LEIDENFROST, 1912)


Order: Cyprinodontiformes Family: Cyprinodontidae


Central and western Anatolia, Turkey where it can be found in freshwater springs, streams and small rivers feeding Lake Tuz as well as the Turkish Lakes (Göller Bölgesi) region in the west Taurus mountains, around Lakes Eğirdir, Beyşehir and Kovada. It has also been recorded from various rivers, pools and swamps between the cities of Konya and Niğde and further west from springs of the Büyük Menderes drainage and within the area of coastal wetland formed by the rivers lower reaches in the Selçuk plain.

 Populations from Lake Çavuşçu and the upper Sakarya river basin that had also been considered closelyrelated to A. danfordii were elevated to species status in 2003 and are now classified as A. villwocki.

Unfortunately the species is not as widespread as it once was. Around Lake Tuz several populations have disappeared or are considered at risk due to pollution or removal of water for agriculture and it has already been extirpated from Lakes Ak, Yarışlı, Gölhisar and Söğüt. In 1996 one relict population was discovered inhabiting irrigation canals at the northern end of the Söğüt plain. The introduction of predatory species to Lakes Eğirdir and Beyşehir has resulted in a serious decline of the numbers recorded. In the north and northeast of the Konya steppe it now occurs sympatrically with A. mento 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. See thenotessection for a little more on the distribution of Aphanius in Anatolia.

It is quite variable across its range with body and fin colouration often being indicative of locality. The different forms are often labelled with the collection details by aquarists and scientists in order to preserve bloodlines and maintain accuracy e.g. ‘EÄŸirdir‘, ‘BeyÅŸehir‘, ‘Işıklı’ etc.


This species is found living in various habitattypes depending on the locality with some populations existing in slightly brackish conditions and others in pure freshwater. For example Lake Tuz is a shallow, seasonal, hypersaline lake located to the southeast of Ankara and in hotter months becomes almost completely dry exposing a residual salt layer up to 30cm thick. The fish are unable to survive in the main body of the lake and are restricted to surrounding, mildly saline waters

EÄŸirdir and BeyÅŸehir are freshwater systems and while A. anatoliae can be found in the lakes themselves it tends to be restricted to reedy marginal zones due to the presence of predatory species both native and introduced. In other areas it has been observed in swamps, pools, smaller rivers and streams, usually where filamentous algae or submerged/marginal vegetation grows thickly.

Maximum Standard Length

4055 mm.

Aquarium SizeTop ↑

A 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 better when maintained as a larger group in a space measuring upwards of [dimensions].


Even for longterm maintenance a simple setup 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 much of the available space can be filled with acrylic wool mops (use a fine grade if available), clumps of java moss/other fineleaved plant and ideally filamentous algae

Theres no need to add a substrate although inert sand or gravel can be added if you prefer. Filtration need not be too strong and this species certainly does not require running water as suggested by some sources. 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.

Water Conditions

Temperature: Active over a wide temperature range of [temp]. Artificial heating is not required in all but the coldest climates and it should be provided with awinterperiod 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: [pH]. It will probably not survive under acidic conditions.

Hardness: [hardness]


Aphanius species are basically micropredators feeding on small aquatic crustaceans, worms, insect larvae and other zooplankton although algae and other plant material is also taken at times. In the aquarium they will learn to accept dried foods in most cases but should also be offered regular meals of small live or frozen fare such as Artemia, Daphnia or bloodworm. This is particularly important during the months of spring and summer due to their high reproductive effort throughout this period. 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.

Behaviour and CompatibilityTop ↑

Its particular water requirements and aggressive spawning behaviour make A. anatoliae a poor choice for the community aquarium. Given its precarious conservation status 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.

Sexual Dimorphism

As with all members of the genus sexual dimorphism is pronounced. Males exhibit a series of 610 greyish vertical bars in the rear portion of the body with usually one or more darker bars in the caudal fin. The anal fin is yellow with a thin black edge and when in spawning condition the dorsal fin turns black with a lighter band at its base. Females are larger and much plainer possessing only a series of variable dark blotches on the flanks along with a roughly circular black marking on the caudal peduncle and completely hyaline finnage.

Depending on the population the number and width of the vertical bars in males can vary and there may or may not be small spots or stripes or a terminal band in the anal fin.


Captive reproduction is not difficult if the tank or container is properly arranged and maintained (seetank setup‘). It is a fractional spawner with females depositing eggs on a moreorless 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 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. The medium/eggs 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 714 days with the fry being large enough to accept Artemia nauplii, microworm etc. immediately after they become freeswimming.

NotesTop ↑

A. anatoliae is the most widelydistributed of the Anatolian Aphanius species although like most of its congeners is not easy to come by in the hobby. You are unlikely to find it on sale in aquatic stores although it may be available via specialist breeders or associations from timetotime. While Aphanius spp. 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 longterm maintenance project since conservation is key with all members of the genus.

The Anatolia region represents a centre of diversity with ten endemic species described to date. These are thought to have diverged as a result of the splitting of what was originally a vast lake covering much of modern Anatolia. Two separate divergence events occured, the first resulting in the western separation of A. asquamatus, A. danfordii and A. villwocki around 1215 million years ago (possibly earlier in the case of A. asquamatus). 

Lakes Tuz, EÄŸirdir and BeyÅŸehir are remnants of the central part of the lake where A. anatoliae now occurs and there exist three other locally endemic species in the Turkish Lakes region that became isolated when the eastern end of the lake became disconnected around 1112 mya. They were further separated from one another 78 mya and have evolved independantly to survive in bitter lake environments containing high levels of alkaline carbonates and sulfates. Due to an historic lack of competition, predators and aquatic vegetation in their habitats theyve developed distinctive limnetic (open water) characteristics including an elongated, relatively slim body shape and unique jaw morphology.

A. anatoliae is most easily distinguished from the other members of this A. anatoliae species complex as its the only fullyscaled member of the groupA. splendens, A. sureyanus and A. transgrediens all show differences in the extent of scalation on the body which is now known not to be a fixed characteristic and results from an unpredictable variation in their genes. Its been hypothesised that this occured due to a lack of selective pressures allowing individuals with less scalation to survive and breed, thus facilitating an overall increase in scale variation

This may represent a case of regressive evolution as neither the stream/river dwelling populations of A. anatoliae and other Anatolian Aphanius (fullyscaled) nor the very isolated A. asquamatus (completely scaleless) exhibit such variations. The relatively wide genetic variation among the isolated populations when compared with the riverine ones suggests that genetic flow is an important factor in the structure of Aphanius populations (Hrnek et al., 2002).

Further the lake district species can interbreed freely in aquaria and appear to form a distinct clade whereas the forms found in western and central Anatolia have been shown to exhibit differing degrees of sterility to the lake fishes. When this is considered problems with nomenclature arise and Villwock (2004) theorised that all subpopulations should be regarded asspecies in statu nascendii.e. in the process of creation and referred to as A. anatoliae ssp. pending further study. Hrnek et al. (2002) alternatively suggested that the different clades may represent new species but agreed that further study is required. Weve chosen to list them separately in order to avoid using subspecific names.

The genus 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 welldocumented 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, highlylocalised 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.


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