Lee Newman is the Aquarium's curator of tropical waters.

Lee Newman is the Aquarium’s curator of tropical waters.

There’s no hakuna matata* if you’re a cichlid (“sick-lid”) in Africa’s Lake Malawi. In fact, it’s a fish-eat-fish world in there. Literally. Lee Newman, curator of tropical waters, says some cichlids are piscivorous, meaning they’re fish-eaters. Yes, they eat each other. According to Lee, “They make their living in unique ways to exploit their habitats.” And, in a sea of fish, why wouldn’t you eat other fish?

Cichlids reproduce quite readily – they start young and reproduce a lot. Lee says this provided an ideal opportunity for fish-eating cichlids to evolve (they would have eaten algae and plankton eons ago). But if there’s going to be a kill, there has to be a way. Behold three cichlid species and their unique predatory behaviours:

resize thumbnail Pseudotropheus crabro - 3526 - 04Jul'14-adj_LeeNewmanBumblebee cichlid (Pseudotropheus crabro)

This fish is the ultimate frenemy, innocently eating the parasites off the skin of the bagrid catfish before swimming away, changing colours (to brown-black) and coming back to eat the catfish’s eggs. And the catfish is none the wiser.

resize thumbnail Dimidiochromis compressiceps-juv-12Jun'14-4549-adj_Neil FisherMalawi eyebiter (Dimidiochromis compressiceps)

This fish is laterally compressed meaning it’s flattened side-to-side. It takes its skinny body and hovers between aquatic plants. Then, it darts out and grabs its prey. Lee says despite its name, it’s not an “obligate eye specialist.” Hmm… didn’t even know there were animals that specialized in eating eyeballs.

resize thumbnail Nimbochromis livingstonii - juv-12Jun'14 - 4518-adj_Neil FisherKaligono (Nimbochromis livingstonii)

This fish pretends to be dead. It lies on its side on the lake bottom and turns almost white in colour.When some unsuspecting cichlid swims up to it, the kaligona ambushes it. Bon appétit!

So there you have it. Three fishes from the same family with very different feeding techniques. See them in the new Teck Connections Gallery, unvelied June 13 as part of the biggest expansion in the Aquarum.

Written by Karen Horak, writer-editor, content and digital experience at the Vancouver Aquarium.

*a Swahili phrase meaning “no worries,” according to The Lion King

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