Lamprologus lethops

Roberts and Stewart 1976

Lamprologus lethops
Lamprologus lethops. Photograph by Melanie Stiassny, used with permission. See below for another photograph




Lower Congo River: freshwater


Holotype: MCZ 50248. Paratype: MCZ 50249.


Type locality: Lower Congo River rapids near Bulu (5o1'S, 14o1'E). During a study of the Congo River Lamprologus species Schelly and Stiassny (2004) only had the holotype and paratype to study but later collection trips ???


Alter et al. (2015) used molecular methods to show that the sister species of L. lethops is L. tigripictilis Schelly and Stiassny 2004.

Schedel et al. (2018, 2019) recognize several novel mitochondrial lineages and one of them is proposed as a monophyletic clade for the Lamprologus of the Lower and Central Congo drainage, including Lamprologus lethops. The type species of the genus (Lamprologus congoensis Schilthuis 1891) is not part of this clade and it is likely that any future revision of the tribe Lamprologini will provide a replacement generic name for this group (L. mocquardi, L. markerti, L. tigripictilis, L. lethops, L. teugelsi and L. sp. Kwango). A member of the subfamily Pseudocrenilabrinae.

Kurata et al. (2022) used genome-wide SNP data to determine that Lamprologus lethops is a monophyletic group and sister to a group of three Lamprologus species, L. werneri, L. tigripictilis and L. markerti.

Biological Notes

Oliver Lucanus (Lucanus 2013 and pers. comm.) managed to keep numerous specimens of this species alive in captivity after carefully treating their decompression symptoms. They also bred and laid eggs but these did not hatch.

The lower Congo River, and especially the northern and southern rapids below Pool Malebo, are home to many endemic species (Roberts and Stewart 1976, Bailey 1986, Thieme et al. 2005, Mamonekene 2005, Alter et al. 2015, Alter et al. 2017, Stiassny 2016). In particular there are at least eleven species, in five Families, which exhibit the troglomorphic features of reduced eyes and pigment:


Channallabes apus (Günther 1873) Teugels 1986

Dolichallabes microphthalmus Poll 1942

Gymnallabes nops Roberts and Stewart 1976

Platyallabes tihoni (Poll 1944) Poll 1977


Notoglanidium pallidum Roberts and Stewart 1976


Mastacembelus aviceps Roberts and Stewart 1976

Mastacembelus brichardi (Poll 1958) Vreven 2005

Mastacembelus crassus Roberts and Stewart 1976

Mastacembelus latens Roberts and Stewart 1976


Lamprologus lethops Roberts and Stewart 1976


Stomatorhinus microps Boulenger 1898

These features probably evolved because these species live at depth within the rapids and spend their whole lives in permanent darkness, analagous to life in caves. The ocular and craniofacial anatomy of several of these species have been studied (Schobert et al. 2010, 2011, 2013) but almost nothing else is known about these animals.

Conservation Status


Moelants, T. 2010. Lamprologus lethops . The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2010: e.T182930A8005445. Downloaded on 17 March 2020.

Museum Holdings

As above plus: AMNH 248124 56.2mm SL, AMNH 247885 125.4mm SL, AMNH 251325 32.2mm SL, AMNH 247962 (all Stiassny and Alter 2021).


Internet Resources

Main page for the Congo Project

Elizabeth Alter's work on Congo fishes

New York Times article with good photographs

Convergent evolution in the Congo rapids

A fish with the bends

Melanie Stiassny video presentation on the Congo River fishes

Genbank mitochondrial DNA

Key References

Poll, M. Journal Article 1959 Résultats scientifiques des missions zoologiques au Stanley Pool subsidiées par le Cemubac (Université Libre de Bruxelles) et la Musée Royal du Congo (1957-1958)
Roberts, T.R. and Stewart, D.J. Journal Article 1976 An ecological and systematic survey of fishes in the rapids of the lower Zaire or Congo river
Decu, V., Juberthie, C. and Tercafs, R. Book Section 2001 Republique Democratique Du Congo (ex-Zaire)
Schelly, R.C. and Stiassny, M.L.J. Journal Article 2004 Revision of the Congo River Lamprologus Schilthuis, 1891 (Teleostei: Cichlidae), with descriptions of two new species
Jackson, P.R., Oberg, K.A., Gardiner, N. and Shelton, J. Conference Paper 2009 Velocity mapping in the Lower Congo River: A first look at the unique bathymetry and hydrodynamics of Bulu Reach, West Central Africa
Schobert, C.S., Schwab, I.R., Stiassny, M.L., Schelly, R.C., Lowenstein, J.H., Zeiss, C. and Dubielzig, R.R. Conference Paper 2010 Abstract 4. Comparative ocular anatomy of four species of lower Congo River fish
Schobert, C.S., Stiassny, M.L.J. and Dubielzig, R.R. Conference Paper 2011 Abstract 12. Comparative ocular and craniofacial anatomy in nine species of lower Congo River fish
Schobert, C.S., Stiassny, M.L.J., Jeffery, W.D. and Dubielzig, R.R. Journal Article 2011 Comparative ocular anatomy In troglomorphic fish: Sensory compensation for reduced vision
Schobert, C.S., Stiassny, M.L.J., Schwab, I.R., Zeiss, C., Schelly, R.C. and Dubielzig, R.R. Journal Article 2013 Comparative occular anatomy in a blind African cichlid fish, Lamprologus lethops
Lucanus, O. Journal Article 2013 First notes on the husbandry of the blind cichlid Lamprologus lethops from the Congo River
Brawand, D. et al. Journal Article 2014 The genomic substrate for adaptive radiation in African cichlid fish
Tougas, S. and Stiassny, M.L.J. Journal Article 2014 Lamprologus markerti, a new lamprologine cichlid (Teleostei: Cichlidae) endemic to the lower Congo River in the Democratic Republic of Congo, west-central Africa
Alter, S.E., Brown, B. and Stiassny, M.L.J. Journal Article 2015 Molecular phylogenetics reveals convergent evolution in lower Congo River spiny eels
Stiassny, M.L.J. and Alter, S.E. Journal Article 2015 Phylogenetics of Teleogramma, a riverine clade of African cichlid fishes, with a description of the deep-water molluskivore —Teleogramma obama — from the lower reaches of the middle Congo River.
Alter, S.E., Munshi-South, J. and Stiassny, M.L.J. Journal Article 2017 Genomewide SNP data reveal cryptic phylogeographic structure and microallopatric divergence in a rapids adapted clade of cichlids from the Congo River
Stiassny, M.L.J., Monsembula Iyaba, R.J.C., Liyandja, T., Mbimbi Mayi Munene, J.J., Yoko, M., and Alter, E. Conference Paper 2018 The evolution of extreme phenotypic convergence across fish lineages in the hyper-diverse Lower Congo River
Schedel, F.D.B., Musilová, Z. and Schliewen, U.K. Conference Paper 2018 New divergence ages provide novel insights into the biogeographic rigin of the East African Cichlid Radiation (EAR)
Stiassny, M.L.J. Journal Article 2019 Fishes in the lower Congo River An extreme case of species divergence and convergent evolution
Schedel, F.D.B., Musilova, Z. and Schliewen, U.K. Journal Article 2019 East African cichlid lineages (Teleostei: Cichlidae) might be older than their ancient host lakes: new divergence estimates for the east African cichlid radiation
Aardema, M.L., Stiassny, M.L.J. and Alter, S.E. Journal Article 2020 Genomic analysis of the only blind Cichlid reveals extensive inactivation in eye and pigment formation genes
Elbein, A. Web Page 2020 Earth’s deepest river conceals an evolutionary mystery
Stiassny, M.L. and Alter, S.E. Book Section 2021 Life in the fast lane: diversity, ecology, and speciation of cichlids in the lower Congo River
Kurata, N.P., Hickerson, M.J., Hoffberg, S.L., Gardiner, N., Stiassny, M.L.J. and Alter, S.E. Journal Article 2022 Riverscape genomics of cichlid fishes in the lower Congo: Uncovering mechanisms of diversification in an extreme hydrological regime
Kurata, N.P. Thesis 2023 Illuminating the drivers of genomic diversification in lamprologine cichlids of the lower Congo River
Wang, J., Tai, J., Zhang, W., He, K., Lan, H. and Liu, H. Journal Article 2023 Comparison of seven complete mitochondrial genomes from Lamprologus and Neolamprologus (Chordata, Teleostei, Perciformes) and the phylogenetic implications for Cichlidae
Lamprologus lethops on a hand. Photograph by the Americam Museum of Natural History, used with permission and courtesy Melanie Stiassny. Fish is c. 70mm long.