The Ralph Wilhelm Memorial
Writer's Award

Updated August 27, 2007

In March of 2004, MASI lost one of it's finest members. Ralph J. Wilhelm. Ralph was the longest continuous serving member on our Executive Council in club history, serving for 20 consecutive terms before retiring. He served as President, Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer, Show Chairman, Librarian, Exchange Editor and several other positions in his many years with the club. Most folks remember him for serving seemingly forever as the Auction Chairman.

Hobbyist writers were very important to Ralph - he kept a well indexed library of all the exchange articles on various fishy topics, etc. It was that love of articles that made Ralph create this memorial writer's award in his will. We honor his wish by selecting one Darter writer every year and bestowing this very special MASI award to them. Below are those winning articles.

We miss you, Ralph!

2005 Winner | 2006 Winner

The 2005 Ralph Wilhelm Memorial Award Winner

Finding Cichlids in Lake Tanganyika Turns out to be… Not-so-Hard
by Lawrence Kent

As we taxied up the dirt runway we saw a huge white UN helicopter, bigger than the 35-seat passenger plane in which we had just landed. We had arrived in Kigoma on the shores of Lake Tanganyika and I was excited. Kigoma is in Tanzania but only about eighty miles across the lake lies Congo, with its thousands of Hutu refugees, civil unrest, and UN peacekeepers. The huge helicopter apparently runs supplies to these peacekeepers and refugees, as well as another group of refugees from Burundi about a hundred miles north. But my friend Caroline and I hadn’t arrived to see refugees – we had come to see cichlids.

In August 2004 I met Ad Konings for the first time at the American Cichlid Association meeting in Denver, and I grabbed the opportunity to get his advice: “Ad, I may be going to Tanzania for work sometime and I need to know where to go to see cichlids.” The cichlid-guru responded: “I usually go to Lake Tanganyika through Zambia; but I think if you go to Kigoma [in Tanzania] you might be able to see some there.”

Without any information beyond this tidbit of advice, I booked a plane ticket from Dar Es Salaam (Tanzania’s capital) to Kigoma, and after finishing a week of work with local regulators of agricultural research, I headed to the airport with Caroline – my friend and an agricultural researcher who recently was stationed in Tanzania.

The unpaved runway and one-tiny-room terminal gave us a clue as to the small size of Kigoma: a typical small African town, but also the most significant one on Tanzania’s long Lake shoreline. It has a nice $70-a-night hotel called the Hilltop, which overlooks the Lake. As soon as we checked in, I grabbed a mask and snorkel and rushed down to a gravelly beach about a half-mile down the path. It was going to get dark in an hour, but I needed to see if we had come to the right place or embarked on an expensive wild goose chase. One minute into the water and I was face to face with Tropheus moorii and Lepidiolamprologus elongatus. Yes! We had ventured into the unknown but not come in vain!

I snorkeled around the gravelly shoreline for an hour that night and for another couple of hours in the morning. The clown cichlids (Eretmodus cyanostictus) were particularly abundant, darting in and out between the rocks nearest to the shore. I saw hundreds of them, and it was easy to get my mask within inches of these comical fish without apparently bothering them. As I swam a few more meters offshore, where the water was about a meter or so deep, I saw hundreds of Tropheus moorii – the local race is dark with yellow bars and a yellow spine – flitting between the larger rocks, grazing algae, chasing off intruders, and doing the “shimmy” mating dance. Where the rocks meet the sand and the depths reached two meters, I began to see a few representatives of one of the more familiar hobby fish – the blueish, black-barred Lamprologus tretocephelous. These individuals were more brilliant than any I’ve seen in an aquarium. The edges of their dorsal and ventral fins were a spectacular, glowing neon blue. They contrasted well with the all-black Neolamprologus toae that seemed to share their microhabitat. Admittedly, I had no idea what those N. toae were when I first saw them, but my copy of Ad Konings’ “The Cichlids of Lake Tanganyika in their Natural Environment ” (1998) was never far away, lying up on the rocky beach, available for quick consultation (it is consequently water-damaged). On that same shoreline I was also able to find Altolamprologus compressiceps – loners cruising the rocks at rapid speed – and magnificent Ophthalmotilapia ventralis (feather fins) swimming in the deeper areas over the sand. The regional variant of O. ventralis is a dark blue with long black fins edged in white. There were also a few Tropheus duboisi showing their trademark juvenile colors: white polka dots on a black background. We had hit pay dirt by coming to Kigoma – it was great.

The next morning we joined two other tourists who were heading to Gombe national park to look for wild chimpanzees. Gombe is were Jane Goodall carried out her ground-breaking studies on chimp behavior, and we took a two-hour boat ride up the Lake to the park entrance. Luckily the driver dropped us on the beach for a couple of hours while he rounded up a guide and made other arrangements. This provided two hours of snorkeling time in a new micro-environment, and new species abounded. Probably the best was another spectacular feather-fin: Cyathopharynx furcifer. Nine-inch long males in bright breeding colors with yellow heads were guarding their adjacent sandcastle nests, sparring at the perceived boundaries and courting passing females. I couldn’t believe how lucky we were to be seeing this – something I’ve read about in numerous books but now was witnessing first hand. There were also shimmering metallic blue killifish (Lamprichthys tanganicanus) courting and spawning while other cichlids hovered nearby trying to steal eggs. In the deeper areas off the beach, we also saw yellow and blue Boulangerochromis microlepis – the world’s largest cichlid. The night before, we ate this species for dinner at the hotel: delicious.

By chatting with one of the workers on the boat (our guide translated into Swahili), I learned about a fish collector at a small hotel called Aqua Lodge only 500 meters from where we were staying. The next day we visited the place and found an adjacent warehouse with cement holding tanks filled with Cyphotilapia frontosa, Synodontis multipunctatus, various Tropheus variants, Cyprichromis sp. “leptosoma jumbo,” Altolamprologous compressiceps and more. The young Tanzanians working there didn’t speak much English and they didn’t know much about the business side of things (because they just send the fish to the capital where the owner arranges sales), but they seemed to know a lot about finding and catching fish, so we told them we’d pay $75 to go fishing with them on their motorboat the following day, and the arrangements were made.

We drove that boat to a rocky shore about five miles south of Kigoma, near Ujiiji, and jumped into the water with our masks and snorkels. Idi and Hamis brought hand-nets and a three-meter gill-net. If I saw an interesting fish, for example a Neolamprologus tretacanthus, I would just point it out to Idi or Hamis, and one of them would dive down and net it directly or chase it into the gill net where it would get stuck and then be extracted by hand and put into a bucket on the boat. We saw and caught several Petrochromis species and the fat-lipped Lobochilotes labiatus among the underwater rocks, as well as aquarium favorites like Neolamprologus brichardi and gorgeous specimens of Cyprichromis leptosoma with bright blue and neon orange tails. We also saw a four-foot long water cobra (Boulengerina annulata stormsi) swimming nearby and numerous Tanganyikan eels (Aethiomastacembelus sp.). These eels were fairly common, and several of them surprised me by shooting out from beneath the rocks I was looking over for other cichlid species.

After an hour or so, we had a barrel full of fish on the boat to examine, identify, and photograph. There were some unfamiliar faces that we needed the book to i.d., such as Perissodus eccentricus. This species is considered eccentric because it has an asymmetric mouth, opening wider on either the left or the right side, depending on the individual. It is a scale-eater and has evolved to be either “right-mouthed” or “left mouthed” to facilitate its attacks on the flanks of its victims (Hori 1993 cited in Konings 1998). Another unfamiliar face was that of Lepidiolamprologus lemairii, a big-headed cichlid, disproportionately tapered towards the tail, with the teeth and cryptic coloration of a predator. Idi told me the name of another new-to-me fish in our barrel – Xenochromis hecqui. It had a sharply descending forehead and two dark spots on its upper flank, which I learned later are identifying marks. Konings (1998) describes X. hecqui as a “cichlid from the depths,” but we found ours at only five meters.

After photographing most of the fish in the barrel, we returned them to the lake, except for about twenty Altolamprologus compressiceps that Idi kept to add to his inventory back at the holding tanks. We then took the boat back towards Kigoma, stopping near a beach to try out a new spot. Here we explored the sand, and saw big schools of Xenotilapia species skimming over the bottom, sifting sand through their gills to eat microorganisms and insect larvae. Most were X. sima, with distinctive yellow eyes, and some were X. spilopterus, with tiny blue spangles. We also saw silvery Ectodus descampi, an elongated cichlid with a large spot on its dorsal fin encircled by a distinctive light blue ring. A horizontal strip cutting across the dorsal fin is also light blue, and above that is a black stripe, topped by a yellow frosting. This is a beautiful fish that certainly would be popular if it were available to hobbyists. Other noteworthy sightings (and nettings) were: Ctenochromis horei, with its rows of small red dots along the flanks, and Simonchromis loocki, a finely barred convict-like cichlid that reportedly feeds on algae growing on water plants.

I also got a chance to witness the cichlids’ famous parenting skills in their natural habitat. I dove down to look into a cave that was clearly being guarded by a pair of Lepidiolamprologus elongatus and inside I saw what looked like almost two hundred fry, each a half inch long. The big nine-inch male approached me menacingly so I backed off and swam back to the surface (besides I can’t hold my breath very long).

After enjoying this excellent fish viewing most of the day, Caroline and I realized we had to get back to our hotel and then to the airport for the flight back to Dar Es-Salaam. Idi and Hamis dropped us off at the beach near our hotel, and we struggled up the path in the very intense sun, lugging our gear, and feeling our skins burn. We noticed a few outstanding African birds along the way – pintailed whydahs, red bishops, and melba finches – and arrived in time for the hotel manager to tell us, frantically, “good to see you, now hurry up and get to the airport – they sold sixty tickets but there are only 35 seats! And there’s not a second flight for two or three days!” We rushed, and we made it, leaving the big white UN helicopter and Kigoma behind us as we flew back to Tanzania’s capital, fully satisfied with our trip to the Lake.

The 2006 Ralph Wilhelm Memorial Award Winner

by Steve Edie

Well, I thought I’d catch up on the state of the union of the Missouri Aquarium Society’s Breeders Award Program by looking into what we’ve done over the last 32 years or so. The Cardinals had an off day and I needed a statistics fix. Hopefully you also enjoy numbers, percentages, numerals, ratios, digits, integers, totals, sums, fractions, facts, factors, and all things statistical, combined with unpronounceable Latin names. Hot dang! [By the way, Albert Pujols will figure heavily in future baseball statistics.] There have been 3,249 spawns reported by 145 members, representing 32 different families, 218 different genera, and 688 different species. Six of these families are represented by only a single spawn each: Alestiidae, Channidae, Elassomatidae, Percidae, Polycentridae, and Tetraodontidae. [By the way, the average life expectancy of an enemy soldier in a Chuck Norris film is 4 seconds.]

The largest concentration by far belongs to the family Cichlidae, with 1,302 spawns among 86 different genera and 330 different species. Thus Cichlids account for 40% of all submitted spawns, 39% of the genera, and an amazing 48% of the species. The remarkable adaptive ability of Cichlids allows them to occupy almost every available freshwater niche by adopting various feeding, breeding, and social behaviors. But the common theme is attentive parental behavior of protecting their eggs and fry, fending off predators large and small, with remarkable success. This behavior is why they are so attractive to hobbyists. The single most popular Cichlid (popular meaning most frequently spawned) is the Angelfish, Pterophyllum scalare, with 99 spawns, followed by the Convict Cichlid, Archocentrus nigrofasciatus with 48 spawns, the Zebra Cichlid, Metriaclima zebra, with 40 spawns, and the Kribensis Cichlid, Pelvicachromis pulcher, with 38 spawns. There were even 14 spawnings of the Discus, Symphysodon aequifasciata/discus, considered a difficult fish. There were likely more spawnings of this fish and some of the other difficult species, but those breeders may have been reluctant to donate these valuable fish to the BAP program. We recently reduced the quantity required for BAP donation of the more difficult species to lessen the financial impact to these breeders. [By the way, the number of chemical elements in the universe is 109; the number in a glass of New Jersey tap water is 98.]

A solid second place goes to the family Poeciliidae, with 874 spawns among 23 different genera and 94 different species. The top dog here is, of course, the Guppy, Poecilia reticulata with 209 spawns, representing numerous colors and tail configurations. Next up was the Swordtail, Xiphophorus helleri, with 138 spawns, the various Platies and Moons, Xiphophorus maculatus, with 85 spawns, the Molly, Poecilia sphenops, with 65 spawns of various colors, and the Sailfin Molly, Poecilia latipinna, with 58 spawns. [By the way, the average powder base on an Aspen ski slope is 17 inches; on Tammy Faye Baker it’s ¼ inch.]

Other popular families include the Cyprinidae, with 185 spawns among 11 genera and 33 species, the Osphronemidae, with 181 spawns among 9 genera and 25 species, and the Nothobranchiidae, with 146 spawns among 9 genera and 70 species (I’ll note here that the Killie folks are quite liberal in what they consider a species, subspecies or locale variant). Rounding out the top ten families are the Callichthyidae, with 102 spawns among 4 genera and 21 species, the Goodeidae, with 93 spawns among 13 genera and 17 species, the Melanotaeniidae, with 89 spawns among 5 genera and 34 species, the Characidae, with 78 spawns among 12 genera and 27 species, and the Loricariidae, with 48 spawns among 6 genera and 12 species. [By the way, the average salary of a pro wrestler is $47,500 per year; if pro wrestling didn’t exist, it would be $4.25 per hour.]

Perhaps just as interesting as what is on the list is what’s not on the list, or is barely on the list. As popular as the Ram Cichlid, Mikrogeophagus ramirezi, is in the hobby, our club members have only spawned it three times in over thirty years. The Checkerboard Barb, Puntius oligolepis, has also only been spawned three times. The Uaru Cichlid, Uaru amphiacanthoides, has only been bred twice, as has the Oscar Cichlid, Astronotus ocellatus. However, a few of the missing species seem surprising, such as the Bumblebee Goby, Brachygobius nunus, which might not be considered easy, but would seem to be relatively easier than some of the more difficult species that our membership has accomplished. Also on this missing list is the Black Paradisefish, Macropodus concolor, the Snakeskin Gourami, Trichogaster pectoralis, the Panda Barb, Puntius fasciatus, the Clown Barb, Puntius everetti, the Odessa Barb, Puntius ticto, and the Tanganyikan Killie, Lamprichthys tanganicanus. [By the way, the Apollo 11 had only 20 seconds of fuel left when it landed.] Among several tetras overlooked by our members include the Rosy Tetra, Hyphessobrycon roseus, the Serpae Tetra, Hyphessobrycon serpae, the Red Eye Tetra, Moenkhausia sanctaefilomenae, the Rummy Nose Tetra, Hemigrammus bleheri, and the Splash Tetra Copella arnoldi. [By the way, in Calcutta, 79% of the population live in one-room houses.] Some Cichlids yet to be spawned include Altolamprologus calvus, Nimbochromis polystigma, Ophthalmotilapia ventralis, Satanoperca jurupari, Tilapia buttikoferi, and Biotodoma cupido. To those looking for some new challenges these might be good species to attempt; they will rate fairly high point values in the BAP program and will also get the bonus points for first MASI spawn. Plus you get the admiration/envy of your peers in the hobby and some fry not commonly seem in our area. Come on. Be somebody. [By the way, 0.3% of all road accidents in Canada involve a moose.]

It is not that surprising that our members have been unable to spawn the Neon Tetra, Paracheirodon innesi, the Cardinal Tetra, Paracheirodon axelrodi, the Harlequin Rasbora, Trigonostigma heteromorpha, or the Altum Angelfish, Pterophyllum altum, as these species are considered to be next to impossible to breed in captivity. Someday, someone will accomplish one of these. [By the way, 40% of women have hurled footwear at a man.]

So what is the breakout of species points? There are 45 Class “D”, 20 point species; 246 Class “C”, 15 point species; 318 Class “B”, 10 point species; and 77 Class “A”, 5 point species. That gives a pretty good points distribution of 46% Class “B” (medium difficulty), 36% Class “C” (difficult), 11% Class “A” (easy), and 7% Class “D” (very difficult). [By the way, assuming Rudolph was in front, there are 40,320 different ways to arrange the other eight reindeer.]

So who are our big breeders in the club? Well, I’m sure you are aware of the current top guns: Pat Tosie, with 233 spawns of 212 different species for 2,858 points; Mike Hellweg, with 192 spawns of 180 different species for 2,467 points; Jim (Junior) Miller, with 178 spawns of 162 different species for 1,939 points; Gary Lange, with 94 spawns of 90 different species for 1,314 points; Charles Harrison, with 86 spawns of 82 different species for 1,381 points; and Rick Tinklenberg, with 66 spawns of 66 different species for 1,050 points. Noteworthy among these totals: Pat has spawned 19 different species of Apistogramma, Gary has spawned 16 different species of Melanotaenia, and Mike has spawned 15 different species of Poecilia. I noticed that Steve Lundblad, of Portland, is credited with 228 spawns by his club, so we rank with some of the best. I don’t think anyone knows for sure (including the maestro himself) just how many notches are on the belt of Rosario LaCorte of New Jersey. [By the way, one-fourth of the bones in your body are in your feet.] But you may not remember some of our former members who were the major breeders in their day. They include: Peggy Scott, with 217 spawns of 206 different species for 2,872 points; the late Reet Thomas, with 166 spawns of 149 different species for 1,942 points; and the late Ralph Wilhelm, with 102 spawns of 101 different species for 1,401 points. Peggy has spawned 15 different species of Pseudotropheus and 13 different species of Neolamprologus. Note that the difference between number of spawns and species accounts for multiple color morphs of the same species. [By the way, the average four-year-old asks 400 questions per day.]

So who has been the most productive in a single year? [That would be Barry Bonds, with 73 home runs in 2003.] Oh. Then that would be Jim Miller, who turned in 38 spawns in 1984. Next would be former member Rick Winkler, who turned in 35 spawns in 1993, followed by Peggy Scott with 34 spawns in 1985. Peggy also had 25 spawns in 1980, 23 in 1987, 21 in 1982, and 20 in 1986. Former member Ray Fisher had 32 spawns in 1987, as did Mike Hellweg in 2003. Mike also had 28 spawns in 2005, 23 spawns in 1993, and 20 in 2004. [By the way, Mike is batting .358 with Goodeids in scoring position.] (Sorry) Former member Warren Scott had 31 spawns in 1985, as did Reet Thomas in 1981. Reet also had 23 spawns in 1987. Other current members with high annual totals are Rick Tinklenberg, with 25 spawns in 2005, and Pat Tosie, with 24 spawns in 1990. It is worth noting that a fairly new member, Gary McIlvaine, already has 16 spawns through May of this year, so he is on pace to join this elite group. [By the way, you are more likely to be attacked by a cow than by a shark.]

Not enough stats for you? Okay, so who is doing the most difficult fish? That can be looked at a couple of different ways. Who has spawned the most class “D” (20 point) fish? That would be Mike Hellweg, with 11, followed by Charles Harrison, with 9, Peggy Scott, with 6, and Reet Thomas and Rick Tinklenberg, with 5 each. Jim Miller, Ralph Wilhelm, and Derek & Harold Walker have 3 each. [By the way, if you played all of the Beatles’ songs that came out between 1962 and 1970 back to back, it would only last 10 hours and 33 minutes.] Okay, who has the highest percentage of class “D” fish among their spawns? 10.5% of Charles Harrison’s spawns were class “D”, 7.6% of Rick Tinklenberg’s, and 5.7% of Mike Hellweg’s. [By the way, there are more plastic flamingos in the U.S. than there are real ones.]

Okay, which of our breeders has shown the most diversity in their spawning endeavors? That would be our Mike Hellweg, with 21 different families. Gary Lange and Peggy Scott are tied for second with 19 each, followed by Jim Miller with 17, and Charles Harrison and Reet Thomas with 15 each. Next up is Pat Tosie with 13, Rick Tinklenberg with 11, and a four way tie with 10 each: Ed Millinger, Derek Walker, and former members Blenda Godman and Gerry Ketts. [By the way, Montpelier, Vermont, is the only state capitol without a McDonalds.]

Another way of looking at success is who has the most “1st MASI spawns”? That would be Peggy Scott, with 106, closely followed by Pat Tosie, with 104. They are followed by Mike Hellweg, with 83, Gary Lange, with 50, Ralph Wilhelm, with 43, and Charles Harrison and Reet Thomas, with 42 each. Jim Miller and Rick Tinklenberg are not far behind with 37 and 32 respectively. Digressing even further into statistical heaven, who had the highest percentage of 1st spawns among their total spawns? That would be the late Rich Crabtree with 65.8% (25 1sts), Gary Lange with 53.2%, Peggy Scott with 48.85%, Charles Harrison with 48.84%, (notice I added an extra decimal place to break the tie), Rick Tinklenberg with 48.48%, Pat Tosie with 44.6%, Mike Hellweg with 43.2%, and Ralph Wilhelm with 42.2%. [By the way, there are 108 stitches on a regulation baseball.]

Gee, what’s left? I guess a difficulty factor would be average points per spawn. Leaders there would be former member Chad Christensen, who averaged 18.1 points per spawn. (That included some 1st spawn bonus points but is still quite impressive), Close behind is Steve Edie, with 17.8 points per spawn, Cory Koch with 16.3, Diane Brown with 15.7, and Jerry Jost with 13.8 points per spawn. However, these five don’t yet have enough career at-bats to qualify for top honors here. So among our heavy hitters, the leaders would be Charles Harrison, with 16.1 points per spawn, Rick Tinklenberg with 15.9, Gary Lange with 14.0, Ralph Wilhelm with 13.7, Rich Crabtree with 13.6, former member Randy Ison with 13.4, Mike Hellweg with 12.85, Peggy Scott with 12.82, Pat Tosie with 12.2, Reet Thomas with 11.7, and Jim Miller with 10.9. [By the way, if everyone in India lined up in front of you, and you started walking past, you would never see the end due to their reproductive rate.]

So aren’t you glad you asked? By the way, our members have scored a grand total of 34,235 points, which averages out to about 1,070 points per year, or 89 points per month, or….

Note that this information is current thru May 2006. Things change.

A very special thanks to Gary Lange for the photo.