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Melanochromis vermivorus

Melanochromis vermivorus

Above Male Albino Melanochromis vermivorus. Photo by Rick Borstein.

General

Melanochromis vermivorus is a maternal mouthbrooding Malawian cichlid first typed by Trewavas in 1935. It is found in the following locations in the lake Monkey Bay, Nankumba Peninsula, Eccles Reef, West Reef and Domwe, Thumbi West, Mumbo, Maleri, Mbenji, Chinyankwazi Islands.

One common name for this Melanochromis vermivorus is the Purple Cichlid. Males get a rich horizontal blue-purple lines with a cream or grey undercolor. Males approach 3.5" with females staying slightly smaller. The females are colored similarly, although not as brightly. The egg spots are also not as prominent.

The Albino variety— pictured above— is easy to sex. Males are pearly white. Females have a golden hue.

Melanochromis vermivorus is moderately aggressive.

Habitat

Melanochromis vermivorus is often found in schools always closely assocatied with the rocks. This fish has been found in water depths from a couple of feet all the way down to 100 feet. Water conditions are in the lake are 7.0 to 8.5 pH and tenmpertaures of 74 to 77F.

Care

Melanochromis vermivorus is not difficult to care for, but do heed the aggressive tendencies of this fish. It should only be kept with other moderately aggressive fish. I suggest a 40 gallon or larger tank with lots of rockwork, PVC or other hiding areas. Provide a flat slate or other surface for the breeding site if you want to get babies from this fish.

Regular partial water changes are recommended. I have had no problems with 50%+ weekly water changes.

Feeding

In the wild, Melanochromis vermivorus feeds on zooplankton when available, but also browses the biocover on rocks (aufwuchs).

In my tank, they eagerly accepted a variety of prepared foods including HBH Graze, New Life Spectrum, Dainichi Veggie Deluxe Pellets and spriulina flakes.

Breeding

I obtained eight, 1.5" juvenile Melanochromis vermivorus at a GCCA Swap Meet. At the time, a number of club members were keeping and breeding the fish. Although I do not normally like albino fish, the golden hue of the albino females was attractive.

I placed the eight young fish in a 75-gallon tank filtered by an AquaClear 500 and maintained the tank temperature at 78F. I performed weekly, 50% water changes. Tankmates included various Pseudotropheus species and some West African tilapias. I added several cichlid condos (PVC tubes glued together) and rockwork.

The Melanochromis vermivorus grew quickly and when the largest fish reached approximately 3-inches, he began to vigorously pursue and attack the two other sub-dominant males. Fortunately, there were enough other fish in the tank to buffer the aggression and I experienced no losses.

After a water change, I witnessed spawning interest and shortly thereafter I found a female holding. I left the female in the tank for 16 days and then netted an stripped her of 14 nearly free-swimming fry. I moved the fry to a 5-gallon grow out tank and immediately fed newly hatched baby brine shrimp.

The babies grow quickly and reach about 3/4-inch in length after 10 weeks.

Retail Price

$8 to $12for juvenile fish. Wild fish are in the $16-22 range..

Availability

Melanochromis vermivorus is occasionally available in shops that specialize in African cichlids. Place a free wanted at on GCCA's Cichlid Classified because, at the time of this writing, this fish is available in the club.

Report March 2005 by Rick Borstein.

Melanochromis chipokae

Melanochromis chipokae

Above Melanochromis chipokae male. Photo and retouching by Rick Borstein.

General

Melanochromis chipokae FemaleMelanochromis chipokae is an attractive Malawian mouthbrooder that exhibits clear sexual dimorphism. Males have a dark grey-blue body color with electric blue highlights to the flanks. Females are just as attractive, exhibiting a bright yellow belly, orange tail and alternating tan and brown stripes that extend into the dorsal fin. (See picture of mouthbrooding female at right) First typed by Johnson in 1975, this fish is often sold under the name Pseudotropheus chipokae.

In the areas where populations exist, it is a common fish indicating evolutionary success.

Melanochromis chipokae is popular aquarium fish, but may not be the best choice for beginners. While it generally stays pretty small, it is a very aggressive fish.  Some sites report that aquarium specimens reach 6 inches in captivity, but I have never seen one this big.

NOTE This fish is easy confused with Melanochromis auratus . . . and it happened to me! Fortunately, one of the many thousand of visitors to GCCA corrected me, hence this updated report. Per an email exchange with Brandon (no last name)

The easiest was to tell apart auratus from chipokae is half of the auratus' tail is yellow, they have a round snout for grazing algae, and males are usually a brown color and will usually not exceed 5 inches. Chipokaes have a fully patterned tail, a elongated snout for eating fry, and males are usually a purple black with light blue lines and will exceed the inch mark. The auratus was one of the first cichlids brought here but not chipokae.

Females of both species are nearly impossible to tell apart. My guess is that auratus and chipokae would interbreed if given a chance!

Habitat

In the lake, Melanochromis chipokae is not bound to any particular habitat. It occurs both in rocky habitats and intermediate zones (rock and sandy).

Care

Melanochromis chipokae is not a recommended fish for the beginner. Although it is hardy, the aggressive nature of this species makes it challenging to keep. Both males and females are aggressive, even at the juvenile stage. I have seen inch long fry fighting! Alpha males quickly kill off rivals and won't hesitate to beat on any females which "aren't in the mood."

In a mixed tank, these fish will quickly take over the lead position in the tank. Despite their small size, they can cause a lot of stress and damage to other fish. Beware!

Despite these dire warnings, by employing the right strategy, this fish can be easily kept and bred. Provide plenty of cover for sub-dominant individuals and females. The tank for these fish should be full of caves, slates, flower pots, plastic plants and anything else you can find to disturb the sight lines of the alpha male and provide cover. Extend the rockwork vertically at least halfway up the tank. Provide a PVC anchored near the water line for stressed individuals.

Feeding

Melanochromis chipokae is easy to feed. In the lake it is a true omnivore. Reports have found filmentous algae, zooplankton and cichlid fry in the stomachs of wild caught individuals. Provide a good quality cichlid flake and spirulina flake.

Breeding

Melanochromis chipokae isn't hard to breed, but you must provide shelter for the female. Provide a flat slate near the preferred "home" of the alpha male in the tank. When the female is ripe and ready, she will approach the male. After spawning, if your tank is stuffed with enough rock, she will retreat and hold onto the eggs for about 14 days.

Young females tend not to be reliable holders, mostly due to male aggression. After a couple of spawns, the females get smarter about hiding and become good holders in my opinion. I have netted out brooding females, bagged them, and delivered them with no loss of eggs.

Brood sizes are relatively small-- about 12-18 eggs. I have stripped females both early (after two days) and later (after 10 days) with good success. I fed the fry on freshly hatched baby brine shrimp and transitioned them at two weeks to flake food with no problems. The fry grow fast and at 3 to 4 weeks take on the coloration of the adult female.

Retail Price

Melanochromis chipokae is a fairly inexpensive fish. Adults usually are in the $7 to $10 range.

Availability

Melanochromis chipokae is easy to find at pet stores, even large chain stores. It's hardy and pretty and not a shy fish while on display.

Report June 2003 by Rick Borstein

Metriaclima phaeos

 

Metriaclima phaeos Male

Above Metriaclima phaeos. Photo of male in breeding color by Rick Borstein.

General

Metriaclima phaeos was first typed in Stauffer, Bowers, Kellogg & McKaye, 1997, so it is a relatively recent introduction. Synonyms for this fish are Maylandia phaeos and Pseudotropheus phaeos. Like all other Metriaclima species, it is a maternal moutbrooder from Lake Malawi.

In latin, phaeo (pheo) means grey or dun-colored. According to Stauffer, males of most populations have a solid grey dorsal fin. I would suggest as a common name "Grey Dorsal Mbuna" but, unfortunately, not all variants known in the hobby have grey dorsals!

Unlike many other mbuna, this fish has little red coloration. To my mind, that's a nice change from the cookie-cutter red zebras which are so prevalent in the hobby.

Males get up to about five inches or so. Females stay a bit smaller at four inches.

There appears to be some location variants for this fish (Londo and Undu Reef). The example of Metriaclima phaeos shown look closest to the Londo location variant.

All this said, an article by Ad Konings in Cichlid News suggested that the Metriaclima phaeos in the hobby may be something else entirely. Ad says that females of Metriaclima phaeos are bright yellow. Could it be that juveniles and young females are bright yellow and change color later in development?

My bright yellow fry make me think that is a possibility. Unfortunately, I sold all of my fry and the group before I found this out.

Habitat

Metriaclima phaeos was first collected in Mozambique in the Cobue area in water 1 to 5 meters deep. My guess is that it is found closely associated with rocks.

Care

Metriaclima phaeos is typical of the genus. Males can be aggressive to both sexes in a small tank, so I recommend at least a 55-gallon or larger tank. Like all mbuna, they do best in hard water. Regular partial water changes are important. I kept mine in a 125-gallon tank and did weekly, 50% water changes.

Do not mix mbuna species— Pseudotropheus, Metriaclima, Maylandia— in the same tank as they may interbreed.

Feeding

Metriaclima phaeos is easy to feed. I fed HBH Graze, Dainichi Veggie Deluxe and Color FX, and New Life Spectrum Cichlid Formula.

Breeding

I obtained a group of six, wild Maylandia phaeos from fellow GCCA member Mike Helford. The fish were in excellent condition and had already bred for Mike, so I considered these a slam-dunk BAP.

The fish were already full-grown adults which can be a bit more of a challenge to spawn. My experience is that juvenile mbuna are the easiest to breed. Adults seem to take more time between spawns and dominant male aggression can be a problem.

In my 125, aggression was mitigated by the space afforded the females and the other tank occupants. In about eight weeks, I spied a holding female. I allowed the female to hold the babies for 14 days at which time I stripped her of 55 large fry at the heads and tails stage. I move the babies to a clean 2-gallon container and six days later they were free-swimming.

The fry are bright yellow and retain that coloration until almost 1.5" in length.

Retail Price

Metriaclima phaeos is not commonly available at retailers. I would guess that prices for juveniles would be in the $10-12 range.

Metriaclima phaeos is sporadically available in the hobby on import lists.

Report September 2006 by Rick Borstein. Updated August 2011.

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