Notho - Safari “MT 2003”



Article text: Filipe Torre (APK 50)




In the summer of 2002 I have suggested to my wife that a collecting trip of Nothobranchius could be a good opportunity to know Africa. Fortunately she had agreed on that almost immediately and we’ve started the procedures. During more than six months I have studied maps and I’ve also establish contacts e gathered all the material that I have thought it would be necessary to make this trip a success. The chosen destiny was Beira, in Mozambique and the “targets” were N.rachovii and the N.orthonotus that occur in that region.

Finally, on the 4th of April 2003, we have cached the plane to Mozambique with the objective to capture Nothobranchius. The flight till Maputo taked ten hours and was extremely tiring and bored but that was secondary and I had the strong will to come back to Portugal with new Notho. locations belonging to the Beira area. Beira is the second largest and important city of Mozambique and is situated in the centre of that country just in front of the Indic Ocean. In Beira, it is also situated the end of the hydrographical basins of the Pungoé river, Buzi river and Chiveve river, being this last one a small river that born and die in the city.

During the flight to Maputo I had the time to think about the collecting code to be used and I have decided that “MT” was the right one.  “M” means Mozambique and “T” means Torre. For me, it seems correct to include the first letter of the collector’s surname in the collecting code although that is frequently missed in the East African collecting codes.

After the arrival to Maputo, we would have to take another flight that would finally lead us to Beira. The flight Maputo – Beira takes only one hour. We had some problems to take the flight since someone told us that our reservation had been cancelled. In the end, everything went well thanks to the TAP officer in the Maputo airport that gently could put us in a flight some ours after.       

 It was almost dark night when we landed in Bier and the sky was cloudy but even so it was very hot, in fact the thermometer marked 35º Celsius. This temperature almost doubled the registered in Portugal at the departure time. Fifteen hours had passed since we left Portugal and we were very tired.   

In the airport of Beira we called a taxi (the car could barely move; for sure it was the most degraded piece of junk that I had ever seen until those days) that would take us to Embaixador Hotel where we’ve stayed during the trip. Since me and my wife had no experience in these kind of trips we had agreed that the safest and easiest solution would be to stay always in the same city during the trip, and to try to discover Nothobranchius habitats in a ray of 100 Km. 

In the moment that we’ve entered in Beira, the deception and frustration took me (probably also due to the fact that I was very tired and starving) since the city looked a giant ghetto and the streets were crowded with thousands of persons walking around trying to find something to eat. Not even in my worst previsions I would have thought that Beira was in that awful situation of complete degradation.



Locality 1.


In the next morning, April the 6th, my wife waked me up around 8,30 hours and told me that it was a beautiful day and that right in front to our room some pools were present. I’ve watched the pools for some minutes trying to imagine if would be possible that Nothobranchius were present in the middle of the city. In the meanwhile we have eaten the breakfast. Right after we were back to our room in order to catch a net and a rubber boots. We have not taken any recipients to put the fish since we were 15 meters from the Hotel and at that time I did not know if there were Nothobranchius in the pools. I have passed the net in the first pool but I have captured only frog larvae. In the next tries the results were always the same, more frog larvae. In the meanwhile, some kids gathered to assist my performance and I’ve asked them if those pools contained small fishes. They told me that the fishes were in two pools some meters ahead and they showed me the spot. They called the fishes “Badeirinha”. Before I’ve started to collect the fish I was back to the Hotel to get recipients to put the fish and also the GPS reader, the camera and the thermometer. This area had several pools that, according to the natives were connected between themselves in the beginning of the rains season. One of the kids told me that when the rain was strong, a small river crossed the road (later I’ve found out that it was an arm of the Buzi river) and one could find there hundreds of “Bandeirinhas”. I have also asked if red fishes similar to “Bandeirinha” were present in the area but they told me that this fish was unknown in there (obviously I was looking for N. orthonotus “Red type” frequently called N. kuhntae).          

The pool were the fish were collected was situated in the left side of a small sand road that passed near the “Casa de Cultura da Região Administrativa de Sofala”. The called “Casa dos Bicos” could be seen at the bottom of the road.  Two trees were pending over the pool but one of the parts were totally exposed to direct sunlight. The habitat was deep in some parts (more than 1 meter deep - I noticed this when one of the kids fall in one part being completely submersed) but in most cases presented only 15-50 cm. The main aquatic flora was a small red floating plant very similar to Duck – weed but one could also spotted some Water Lilies. The grass formed the land vegetation along with some trees. Some of the grasses were almost 1 meter high.

The water was very transparent in this place but had brownie coloration and a mixture of sand, black mud and some vegetable matter that conferred a dark aspect to the pool formed the soil. Some Coca – cola cans were spotted in some places of the habitat.   

One of the kids asked me for the net and started pushing it towards the bottom of the pool. After just few seconds the first fish were caught, in this case a male of N. rachovii showing attractive colours but also very week and apparently starving. In this pool, the kids collected in total 3 males and 6 females, all of them showing sings of starvation and with a debilitated health. 

The water analysis showed the following results:


Ph = 7

Carbonate hardness (KH) = 5

Nitrites (NO2) = < 0,3 mg/l 

Temperature = 25,1ºC


The air temperature was 27,9ºC at 10,30.

Only two trios survived to the trip back to Portugal. The population and collecting code of this place is: “Beira, MT 03/1”.

The males are similar to “Beira 98” population with some differences, specially regarding the colour distribution. The main colours are the blue and orange and the body shows red vertical bars. It is the most beautiful N. rachovii population that I have ever seen showing a fantastic deep orange colour all over the body, which is crossed by vertical red bars.

Locality II.


During the morning of the 7th of April, we headed to the airport in order to get the car. Some days before I had asked for a 4WD vehicle and a driver since neither me or my wife had knowledge of the roads and the driving was on the left side of the road. Unfortunately it was not possible to satisfy any of my wishes and the available vehicle was a Toyota Corolla 1.3 cc and we had to drive the entire journey. The Toyota Corolla proved to be a very comfortable and though car but totally unsuitable to that kind of journey. After this we were on the way of EN6 Route, in the Dondo - Chimoio direction. Few kilometres after Inhamizua, the pools started to appear along the sides of the road but in it I have collected only cichlids. When I was inside of one of the pools, a couple of natives approached and asked me if I was collecting fishes. I said yes and asked them if they knew “Bandeirinhas”. The women told me then that this kind of fish could be collected in the Cerâmica area, some kilometres from the place where I was.

In Cerâmica, I discovered a big marshy area with lots of pools, most of them bigger than a Football field.

After several frustrated attempts to collect Nothobranchius in some of the pools (at this time I had collected barbs, characins, cichlids, Clarias sp., etc; but not a single Nothobranchius) on the right side of the road, I have decided to go to the other side and finally I had collected the first Notho, a small male of  Nothobranchius orthonotus “red type”. 

 The habitat was situated on the left side of the road and consisted in several pools connected between them by small channels. All the area was completely exposed to direct sunlight and the pools were rather deep, in some cases more than 1,5 metres.

The aquatic vegetation was very abundant and that caused me some difficulties to capture the fish since the net was always full of plants. The species present were water lilies and a long green plant very similar do Elodea spp.. The land vegetation consisted only in grass.

The soil was similar to Locality I but presented also small stones. The water was dark in colour.

Two couples of N. orthonotus  “red type” and one male of N. rachovii  “black type” (similar to the fishes that I have also collected in Locality IV) were collected in this place. The fishes were collected only in the deepest parts of the habitat. I have visited the habitat some days after but was not able to collect more fish.

Unfortunately only one N. orthonotus couple survived to the trip back to Portugal. This fishes showed strong red colours. In terms of colour, they were almost like N. kuhntae “Roloff strain” showed in Aqualog.

In these pools I have also captured several small barbs, characins, frog larvae and a very beautiful amphibian.

The water analysis showed the following results: 


Ph = 6

Carbonate hardness (KH) = 1

Nitrites (NO2) = < 0,3 mg/l 

Temperature = 26,7ºC


The air temperature was 39,5ºC at 10 o’clock.

The population and collecting code of this place is: “Cerâmica 1, MT 03/2”.

Locality III.


In the next day, 8 of April, we returned to the same area in order to discover more pools where Nothobranchius might be present. The area was huge and for sure more habitats would exist. In the beginning of the road my wife discovered three pools connected among them by small channels and we decided to stop to investigate (in the day before these pools were not detected). I’ve started to push the net towards the bottom of the pool and after just a few seconds I’ve collected the first Nothobranchius, in this case a female of N. orthonotus of about 4 cm. I’ve continued to collect fish and in the end I got six pairs of N. orthonotus in total. After some days we’ve returned to the same pools and captured more three pairs. The fish were very healthy and they were abundant. The live food in these pools was also very abundant and consisted in small aquatic beetles. Several other kinds of fish were also present in the habitat: a Clarias spp. of about 30 cm, a predator; several small cyprinids; frogs and a lot of frog larvae of about 5 cm.

The pools were completely exposed to direct sunlight and the deepest part had more than 1,5 metres. The shallow parts were about 30 cm. There was no aquatic vegetation at all.

The Nothos. were only present in the deepest parts of the habitat.

The soil was very similar to the previous locations but containing a lot of clay and the water was light brown and muddy.

The N. orthonotus collected in this place had a blue/green body and red fins. The mouth was turned up being this characteristic present in the scientific description of Nothobranchius mayeri Ahl, 1935, considered nowadays a synonym of N. orthonotus.

From the nine collected pairs, eight survived to the trip back to Portugal.

The water analysis showed the following results: 


Ph = 6,5

Carbonate hardness (KH) = 1

Nitrites (NO2) = < 0,3 mg/l 

Temperature = 26,7ºC


The air temperature was 33,5ºC at 10 o’clock.

The population and collecting code of this place is: “Cerâmica 2, MT 03/3”.

Localidade IV


In the morning of April the 9th, we were going to visit a swampy area near the airport, in the SE part of Beira which is very well known since N. rachovii and N. orthonotus were collected in there several times in the past. John Rosenstock collected both species in this marsh in 1991. Unfortunately and despite the excellent description given by John about the area it was not possible to collect Nothobranchius in here. The only fish present in the area was Clarias sp.. The road that crosses the marsh was full of bags and cans of pesticides used in rice fields. Probably the pesticides have killed the Nothos.. I hope I’m wrong and I will try to collect in that area in 2005.

The day was not bright to us. In the beginning of the morning we had a small car accident but fortunately it all went well.

In the middle of the morning we headed to the Savane River, 100 Km North of Beira, since I knew that Nothobranchius were present in there. This entire area is huge and contain thousands of pools distributed by almost 100 Km of extension. I’ve tried to collect in several pools but the only thing that I’ve got was some nice cichlids, probably Pseudocrenilabrus philander. During the entire trip I’ve captured this specie several times, together with Tilapia spp., but I’ve returned all the fishes to the wild again. After travelling 80 Km we discovered that the bridge to Savane River was severely damaged and it was impossible to pass though it. We had to go back but it was best this way. Right after the small village of Nhangau, my wife told me that some kids were telling to stop the car. I’ve decided to stop and one of them showed me a small plastic bottle. Inside of it were almost thirty males of N. orthonotus and N. rachovii. My wife and me started immediately transferring the fish to clean water in order to try to save as much fish as we could. When we ended the transfer of the fish, I’ve decided to capture females since at that time we had only males.

The habitat was located 50 Km NE of Beira, on the right side of the road, few Km before a mined field.

I’ve started to collect and the first female that I’ve collected belonged to N. rachovii.. At the same time I’ve returned to the margin a 4WD vehicle stopped and inside were four Wildlife Rangers. This day was threatening to become memorable to us. In the meanwhile, my wife told one of them that she was a Physician and the Ranger asked her if it was possible to have a look to an injury in the elbow as a result of a motorcycle crash. After that the Rangers said goodbye and gave us a phone number of one of them. We meet them this same day and in the following days. We talked a lot about football and drank some Manica and 2M beers. After that we had no more problems.

 In total ten pairs of N. orthonotus and fifteen more of N. rachovii were collected. The two species occurred in the same habitat. We visited the habitat in the next day and captured some more females of both species.

I have also captured a big Clarias spp. of about 50 cm, cyprinids, characins, a big lungfish, cichlids and crabs. The kids that were fishing told me that the Nothobranchius were not used as food. All the no Nothobranchius were offered to the improvised helpers. They were very happy to get some crabs.

The habitat was exposed to the sun but offered some shadows furnished by a big tree pending to the water. The deepest part was about 70 cm. This was the shallowest habitat of the entire trip.

The aquatic vegetation was formed by water lilies.

This time the females were in the margins of the habitat. All the males were captured in the deepest parts of the pool.

The soil was formed by clay and a lot of plant waist very similar to the peat used in Nothos. tanks. The water was very dark.

The N.  orthonotus collected in this habitat had bright red colours all over the body, including the fins. The N. rachovii were dark in terms of coloration, very similar to the one’s present in Krüger National Park, in South Africa. This park is situated 1000 Km SW of Beira. Almost all the fish survived to the trip back to Portugal.

The water analysis showed the following results: 


Ph = 6,5

Carbonate hardness (KH) = 1

Nitrites (NO2) = < 0,3 mg/l 

Temperature = 31,5ºC


The air temperature was 37,9ºC at 14,30 hours.

The population and collecting code of this place is: “Nhangau, MT 03/4”. 

Final comments.


Some of the females of N. orthonothus showed black spots all over the body and fins, just like the females of N. melanospilus while other females had no spots at all. It was also the first time I’ve seen golden females. Usually the females of Nothobranchius have a grey coloration, except the one’s belonging to the specie N. fuscotaeniatus. 


In my point of view the following points are very important:


-        In the positive side:


·        The capture of a deep orange population of N. rachovii almost like the regular aquarium strain;


·        The capture, in the centre of Mozambique, 50 Km North of Beira, of a black population of N. rachovii, very similar to the “KNP” population. The “KNP” population occurs in the Krüger National Park, Republic of South Africa, and 1000 Km SW. Before this capture the northern distribution limit of N. rachovii “black” was reported to Vilankulos, almost 500 Km South of Beira;


·        The capture of several populations of N. orthonotus in the same hydrographical basin (the Pungoé River) with great variability of colour, size and shape among them which probably will re-open the debate about the valid status of N. kuhntae and N. mayeri;


·        Almost all the females were captured in the deepest parts of the pools, together with the males (only the females of “Nhangau, MT 03/4” were collected in shallow waters);


·        The return of the collecting trips to Beira, in the Sofala region. The last known collecting trip was in 1991, by John Rosenstock;


·        The kindness and cordiality of the people of Mozambique.





-        In the negative side:


·        The degradation of Beira and suburbs. Although, we were informed that the town is in recovering process;


·        Most persons survive in miserable conditions;


·        The lack of potable water. To get good water one has to buy it.


·        Most roads are in very bad conditions;


·        The rice fields are growing and probably will destroy a lot of Nothobranchius habitats since pesticides are being used to control the plagues.




Filipe Torre, APK 50