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Order: Cyprinodontiformes Family: Cyprinodontidae


Endemic to the Lake Maharlu basin close to the city of Shiraz in the Zagros Mountains, Fars Province, southern Iran. The majority of fish currently in the hobby are from the population inhabiting Barm-e-shur spring. Note that both Maharlu and Barm-e-shur often appear spelled with the letter ‘u’ replaced by a double ‘o’. The Iranian Plateau is home to a diverse group of Aphanius with four species already described and several awaiting description (B. Coad, pers. comm.).


Maharlu is situated 1460m above sea level and is endorheic i.e. it contains no outflowing rivers or streams and water is lost almost entirely via evaporation. It is hypersaline with particularly high concentrations of chlorides and is unable to support any plant or animal life other than algae and Artemia brine shrimp. A. farsicus is therefore unable to colonise the lake itself and is restricted to surrounding springs as well as associated pools, lagoons and marshes (some temporary) containing fresh to brackish water.

Periodic drying events occur during which the lake surface area is much reduced and larger streams are able to meet on the exposed salt flats allowing the transfer of fish to different populations and a subsequent degree of genetic flow. Conversely when water levels are high lake water inundates some of the shorter ones and wipes out the fish until the following dry period.

The water in the springs is usually clear and slow-flowing and the substrate composed of mud. Phragmites and Typha reed species often grow around the margins. Despite not being able to survive in the lake this species is highly tolerant of saline conditions and in one spring was recorded living in water with a salinity value of 14.4% (seawater is around 3.5% on average).

Most of the habitats are in danger due to various human activities such as road-building, pollution and extraction of water and the species should be considered critically endangered (H. R. Esmaeili, pers. comm. 2011). The introduction of non-native Gambusia is also exerting a significant effect by providing competition for similar resources.

Maximum Standard Length

55 – 60 mm.

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.


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 much of the available space can therefore be filled with acrylic wool mops (use a fine grade if available) and ideally filamentous algae.

Fine-leaved plants such as Java moss or Ceratophyllum can also be used but may fail to thrive as the addition of marine salt to the water in a minimum ratio of 1-3 g/L is necessary. Similarly there is no need to add a substrate although inert sand or gravel can be added if you prefer and 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.

Water Conditions

Temperature: The temperature in the springs of Lake Maharlu have been recorded to range between 8 – 32 °C. Artificial heating is therefore 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: The pH value in its natural waters is around neutral and we suggest aiming for similar or slightly higher values in aquaria, i.e., within the range 6.5 – 8.0.

Hardness179 – 536 ppm


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. farsicus a poor choice for the community aquarium. Given its precarious conservation status the emphasis should 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 silvery vertical bars in the rear portion of the body with sometimes 2-3 lighter bars in the caudal fin. The dorsal fin is darker, especially at the base of the first few rays but has a light marginal band as does the anal fin. The overall body colour is noticeably more yellowish than in females.

Females are larger, plainer and are unique among southern Iranian Aphanius in possessing a series of short dark bars on the flanks. They also have a dark spot at the caudal peduncle and more-or-less hyaline finnage.


A. farsicus shows reproductive adaptations to unstable environments and fluctuating population sizes with a relatively short lifespan (<3 years in most cases), early sexual maturity and a high reproductive effort. 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 November with peaks in April and August.

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 7 – 14 days with the fry being large enough to accept Artemia nauplii, microworm etc. immediately after they become free-swimming.

NotesTop ↑

This species is still sometimes listed as a species of Lebias although that generic 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.

It was known as A. persicus until late 2011 when it was reclassified due to that name being preoccupied by a Late Miocene fossil species previously referred to as Brachylebias persicus Priem 1908. This change was necessary because Gaudant (2011) had earlier demonstrated that Brachylebias is a junior synonym of Aphanius. B. persicus thus became A. persicus and the extant fish was assigned the new name A. farsicus.

It is most closely related to A. sophiae and A. isfahanensis, both of which also have restricted distributions in southern Iran, and is often confused with the former. Males of the two species do appear very similar but females are easily told apart as in A. persicus they have stripes on the flanks and in A. sophiae spots. These landlocked species are not considered to have migrated from the coast but were probably trapped during the rising of the Iranian Plateau around 10 million years ago.

You’re 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.


  1. Esmaeili, H. R., Z. Piravar, and A. H. Shiva, 2007 - Turkish Jounal of Zoology 31: 69-74
    Karyological Analysis of Two Endemic Tooth-Carps, Aphanius persicus and Aphanius sophiae (Pisces: Cyprinodontidae), from Southwest Iran.
  2. Gaudant, J., 2011 - Geodiversitas 33: 347-356
    Aphanius persicus (Priem, 1908) (Pisces, Teleostei, Cyprinodontidae): une nouvelle combinaison pour Brachylebias persicus Priem, 1908, du Miocène supérieur des environs de Tabriz (Iran).
  3. Monsefi, M., A. H. Shiva, and H. R. Esmaeili, 2009 - Turkish Jounal of Zoology 33: 27-33
    Gonad Histology of the Persian Tooth-carp Aphanius persicus (Jenkins, 1910) (Cyprinodontidae) in Southern Iran.
  4. Teimori, A, H. R. Esmaeili, and B. Reichenbacher, 2011 - Zootaxa 3096: 53-58
    Aphanius farsicus, a replacement name for A. persicus (Jenkins, 1910) (Teleostei, Cyprinodontidae).

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