Blue lips and beautiful fish (Fishy Ugandan Tales: Episode 2)

Here in Uganda, fishing isn’t done exactly how I learnt to do so as a kid. Back then, I always used a rod and hook, but here, we use nets.

Pulling nets on Lake Nabugabo (photo by Logan Smith)

Thankfully, the nets often leave fish unharmed, so we can take a look at our catches, get a few useful measurements, and return the little critters to the lake so they can continue on with their underwater lives.

The ‘Ekeje’ (Haplochromine cichlids) are one of my favorite discoveries in our nets up to date. The males have shiny red tales and pretty orange dots on one of their fins. These colorful dots are actually called “egg spots” because they mimic the eggs of females. But why have dots on a males’ fin that look like eggs?

Well, the Ekeje are mouth brooders, so females release their eggs, catch them in their mouths, and then a male has to come fertilize them.  Thinking these spots are eggs, the females are tricked and approach them, which allows males to fertilize.

The orange egg spots on this fin are what allow this species to continue reproducing!

Blue lips are another one of my favorite fishy discoveries. And yes, they are called blue lips because their lips really are blue!  This is not because it’s cold here, but rather, because for this species, blue lips are what females consider sexy.  In fact, some recent research suggests that the bluer the lips, the more attractive the fish!

Blue lip (photo by Logan Smith)
That's not lipstick, those lips really are blue!
That’s not lipstick, those lips really are blue!


But bright colors aren’t everything here… I’ve also discovered one amazing brown creature referred to as the ‘Mamba’.

Mamba in a boat

When I first heard ‘mamba’ I immediately thought snake, but this is actually the local name for a lungfish. These fish are some of the oldest species in the world still alive today. In fact, they’ve been around since the dinosaurs were on Earth! These fish have some of the earliest documented forms of lungs, which allow them to breathe air at the surface.  This, and a number of their other traits, make scientist believe that this species was part of the transition between those that live in water and those that live on land.

After setting and pulling these nets so many times, they are bound to have holes; and of course, they need fixing when this happens. Later this week, I’ll be visiting with a man named Musenze who is the local net mender.  Keep posted for pictures and stories of this encounter!


Changing Planet

Meet the Author
Since as far as I can remember I've spent my time outside attempting to understand and connect with the natural world that surrounds us. When it came time to make a career choice, this lead me toward research in ecology and conservation, topics that are of fundamental importance to me. I completed a Bachelors degree in Environmental Sciences at the University of Ottawa in 2011, during which I studied the effects anthropogenic traffic noise on birdsong; discovering the impacts human activity has on even the most unexpected aspects of animal life! I then completed a cross-Canada canoe journey in partnership with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society & the Ottawa Riverkeeper Alliance raising funds and awareness for watershed conservation. Between 2012 & 2014 I studied mercury contamination in African freshwater fish as part of a Masters degree in Biology at McGill University. (The stories in this blog series are from my field work in Uganda!) Following this, I spent time developing Science Faction, a podcast all about unbelievable discoveries and creating an urban beekeeping collective in Montreal, Canada, with which we teach locals about beekeeping and pollinator gardens. Today, I'm working on a PhD in the department of Natural Resource Sciences at McGill University, during which I will explore questions related to riverine ecosystem service conservation.