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AboveAstatotilapia calliptera Male., breeding color with fry. Photo by Rick Borstein.


Astatotilapia calliptera is a strange fish in a way. You don't expect to see a Victorian-like cichlid in the middle of Lake Malawi, but, that is the place this fish calls home. Astatotilapia calliptera occurs throughout rivers and creeks around Lake Malawi, so many color varieties are available. This is one of the first heavily-bred Haplochromines to be bred in the hobby as it was first typed by Günther, all the way back in 1893.

Let's revisit the location varieties issue. According to the ICUN, " . . the species has been reported as restricted to Lake Malawi and associated rivers. However, it is currently very common in upper and middle Akagera River and associated lakes, where it may have been introduced." In fact, this fish is farily widely distributed now. Perusing the internet, you'll see fish that look like the one above (let's call this the gold variety) and others that are grayer. At any rate, the variety above is widely available and sold in the hobby as Astatotilapia calliptera. Superficially, it looks similar to Astotilapia calliptera from Lake Malawi. I kept both fish both burton and calliptera in adjoining tanks and they looked different to me. Hopefully, scientists will step and resolve these issues in the future.

This fish has been the subject of scientific study. Check out this article from Stanford University about how Astatotilapia calliptera can use reasoning to solve problems.

At maturity, males get up to about four inches. Females stay a bit smaller at three inches. Sexual maturity is reached at a tad over one inch.

Males are larger than females and are much more colorful. Females are smaller and remain a brown-silver color.

Derivation of the name
Genus Astato= cunning (Latin), tilapia= fish (Native African)


Astatotilapia calliptera is found in Lake Tanganyika ad its surrounding creeks and rivers. .


I found Astatotilapia calliptera males to be very aggressive. I started with eight fish— three males and five females— all about an inch long. Within the first two weeks, the dominant male knocked off the other two males and two females. I recommend a tank piled high with rocks, territorial boundaries and hiding spots for the fish. Keep this fish with other aggressive fish, like Pseudotropheus types.

My fish did fine in Chicago (e.g. hard) water. Good water quality is always important so I recommend a 30-50% water change every two weeks.


This fish is an omnivore, so feed a balanced diet. I fed a variety of foods such as Spectrum, HBH Graze, etc.


If you can keep the male from terrorizing the rest of the clan, this fish is easy to breed. Females get fat, produce eggs, and spawning occurs like that of Victorian cichlids.

Females are great holders, and hold for about sixteen days. The broods tend to be small, and so are the fry. Fry grow fast though, and are an inch in about five weeks. Feed they fry on baby brine shrimp first, and them crushed flake.

Retail Price

Astatotilapia calliptera is occasionally available in pet shops. They are generally inexpensive, in the $5-10 range.


Generally, there is good availability of this species in the hobby since it is colorful and easy to breed. Your best bet it to place an ad on GCCA's Cichlid Classifieds.

Astatotilapia calliptera is not a fish you will regularly see, but if you like Victorians, give this Tanganyikan a try! It’s just as a pretty as the popular Victorians in the hobby.

Report March 2009 by Sam Borstein