by Chuck Nishihira
In 2005, a stop at a drainage canal to get my bearings turned out to be the most interesting observation spot on the road leading South from Lambarene. Looking for streams in the area proved to be very unsuccessful, as not a single one crossed the road. Sitting by this drainage canal, I was convinced that I had gone too far south. All the literature on the lampeye Plataplochilus miltotaenia stated the location as Lambarene. While deciding what to do next, some movement in the water caught my eye. It turned out to be cichlids of the genus Chromidotilapia swimming around. What luck! Request from back home to catch a few was now going to be easy. Walking around the edges to access the easiest entry point, I noticed a tiny stream, maybe no more than a foot wide entering this canal. Climbing through the barricade of grasses and trash that had accumilated there led me to an even larger trickle! At two feet wide and just a few inches deep, this remnant of what was most likely a beautiful stream at one point, looked interesting enough to try a few sweeps of the net. The result left me overjoyed and disappointed at the same time, for there in the sediment rich stream, meandering through unwanted debris, was the reason for my searching- Plataplochilus miltotaenia. It certainly didn’t live up to my mental picture of what the moment would be like. But, at least here they were! After bagging them up I noticed 3 tiny black and white barbs swimming among the lampeyes. Staring at them all night long left me convinced that these tiny 3/4″ gems had differences that made sexing possible. Or at least I convinced myself that they did. Could it be that here was a tiny barb that rivaled Barbus papilio? A tank full of black and white barbs, what a sight that would be. Returning to the stream provided no additional specimens, even after hours of going back and forth.
Upon returning home these three fish got special attention and a 30 gallon tank to themselves. They grew slowly and stayed black and white for a few more months. Saddened by the muddy colors that the males acquired, but balanced with the happiness of the clean black and white markings of the female. At least the girls were nice! When the males actually matured my disappointment was replaced with excitement. Those muddy colors turned into rosey bodies with black dorsals and bright red ventral and anal fins. It was something to see as these 1 1/2″ males danced around the tank. Even the tip of their anus turned bright red, making me realize that in tropical fish, bright red looks good anywhere! A few knowledgeable people have told me that they do not recognize this barb and that it may be a new species. Hopefully they are still surviving in a prettier stream in Gabon.