"Barbus" litamba (Keilhack, 1908)

by Michael K. Oliver, Ph.D.

"Barbus" litamba was long classified in the genus Barbus, but is neither a proper Barbus nor a Labeobarbus. It is a predatory, fish-eating minnow endemic to the Lake Malawi basin. [Drawing above by P. Lastrico, reproduced from Eccles (1992) with permission of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.] It used to be known as Barbus rhoadesii but Banister & Clarke (1980) showed that "B." litamba was published earlier and thus was the correct specific name. It can be readily separated from the other two "large Barbus" in the lake (Labeobarbus brevicauda and L. johnstonii) by its large, upturned mouth, concave upper head profile, radiately striate scales, and serrated dorsal fin spine (Banister & Clarke, 1980: 510, 513).

Not much is known of the biology of this species. Banister & Clarke state that "[w]ithin the lake, adults form shoals in open waters, moving about in search of food. Young fishes concentrate over sandy areas. Nothing is known of its breeding habits; it is presumed to migrate up feeder streams to breed."

The account in Jackson (1961) adds the following details. "Barbus" litamba feeds on insects in addition to fishes. It is "not uncommon" but "[n]ot in sufficient abundance to be of much economic importance." It occurs "all round the lake though seldom very far from shore, also in the lower reaches of rivers." Unusually large individuals of as much as 44 cm (17.3 inches) length are reported. The indigenous name is "Tamba."

Although its populations are thought to be under possible threat from overfishing, "Barbus" litamba is assessed as being of Least Concern status in the IUCN Red List of threatened species, with "no major widespread threats identified."

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Last Update: 29 April 2014
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