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Melanochromis chipokae

Melanochromis chipokae

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


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!


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.

Metriaclima estherae

Metriaclima estherae

Above A 4-inch Maylandia estherae "red" male. Photo by Rick Borstein


Metriaclima estherae (aka Pseudotropheus esteherae and Maylandia estherae) is a robust Malawian mouthbrooder first typed by Ad Konings in 1995, although it had been exported since the 1970's. Konings has shown that this fish is different enough from the popular Pseudotropheus zebra types to merit it's own genus.

Maylandia estherae can be difficult to identify because several color morphs are available

  • Red males and Red females (actually orangy-yellow to yellow, see above) from Minos Reef
  • Blue males and Red females from Minos Reef
  • Blue males and OB (spotted) females from from Meluluca, Mozambique
  • Blue males and Yellow females from Minos Reef

The species name "estherae" (and common name Esther Grant's Zebra was chosen by Konings to honor Esther Grant, the well-known wife of cichlid exporter Stuart Grant.


Metriaclima estherae is found over rocky areas in the lake near reef structures.


You should have little trouble caring for this cichlid. Maylandia estherae is hardy and easy to keep. Provide regular, partial water changes, a temperature of 76-80F and moderately hard water.

This fish is moderately aggressive. I kept mine with some more aggressive Malawians with no trouble. I have not observed aggession or mate killing.

Males of the species get up to about 4.5". Females attain a maximum size of 4" or so.


Metriaclima estherae will eagerly consume a variety of prepared foods. I fed Tetra Cichlid Flakes, Aquadine Duraflakes, Tetra Cichlid Sticks, spirulina flakes and earthworm flakes. They are omnivorous, so a good mix of fish-based and vegetable-based food is a good idea.


I obtained six young fry from Scott Moreen of the GCCA. The "red" morph was the type he was seeking for some time and was finally able to obtain. Scott is quite a discerning hobbyist so it was no surprise to me that these fish turned out to be something special. I think you'll agree from the photo above.

Folks who know me understand that I'm usually first in line to try just about any yellow or orange-colored cichlid, so I was prepared to bid high in when Scott brought in fry to the BAP auction.

Metriaclima estherae is one of the easier cichlids to breed and it does so in typical Malawian fashion. Sexual maturity is reached at 3 inches. Males of the "red" type, exhibit a powder blue sheen on the dorsal fin and a pointed anal fish with conspicuous egg spots.

To breed the fish, condition them on a variety of foods by feeding twice a day. Provide a flat stone or piece of slate for the "act". That's about it.

Brood sizes are similar to many other Pseudotropheus species; about 20-30 eggs.

Females are good holders, although for production I generally strip females at a couple days post-spawning and artificially raise the eggs.

This fish occasionally is inihibited from spawning by more aggressive tank mates. If your fish aren't "getting busy", remove the agressive fish from the tank. Some peace and quiet generally gets them in the mood.

Retail Price

I have not seen this fish in local pet stores. My guess is that young adults would go for $12-18.

Metriaclima estherae "red" is something of a hobbyist's fish at the moment and it has not yet become highly popular outside of "cichlidiot" circles. As of this writing, there are a few GCCA members who have the fish. Several wholesalers list this fish, but not often the "red" variety. Ask your pet shop to order some for you . . . you will enjoy this fish.

Report February 2003 by Rick Borstein. Updated August 2011.

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