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When you have seen other articles about the Malawi cichlids I'm keeping, you'll probably have noticed that my favorite ones are the large predators. Aristochromis christyi is also such a fish eater. In nature they hunt Mbuna who are approached with the body tilted over. The prey is observed with one eye and when it's within reach it's grabbed sideward. 
The name of this species is derived from his special shaped nose together with the highly placed eyes, what gives it an 'aristocratic' look. It's also the most conspicuous feature of the fish. The rest of it's appearance is rather dull. The fins are relatively small and discreetly colored, what can be said of the body too. The black stripe that reaches from the head to the tail only disappears with the dominant males in breeding color. 


Aristochromis christyi male seems to feel happy in my new 2300L aquarium
 

Again such a large growing cichlid can't be crammed into a 55 (popular tank size in the US, in gallons, corresponding to 200 metric liters). It just needs a large tank. As a rule of thumb you can take 10 cm of aquarium width for every cm adult fish. Drawing the line towards this fish that grows up to 30cm implies that it needs a 3 meter tank to stand out well. As Aristochromis christyi normally lives in a rocky habitat, it's best to decorate the aquarium with some large stones in such a way that caves for hiding are formed. Although this fish doesn't have a preference for sand it's always better to use this instead of gravel.
Feeding this hunter is another issue. Live fish will be appreciated a lot, but apart from the accident on the pics below, this predator doesn't get feeder fish. 3 to 4 shrimps will find it's way to the large mouth every day. Cichlid sticks and flakes are also eaten, but on a limited basis. Giving too much of these will fatten up the fish too much. Food is always difficult on Malawi cichlids: they are simply insatiable. The captive bred ones that are fed on request will become squat and loose their elegant shape compared to the fish in the lake.



I clearly underestimated the hunting instinct of this predator. Due to a lack of space (kitchen rebuild) all fish were put in the same 1000L tank with this dramatic consequence: a juvenile Copadichromis azureus was eaten. There was no reason to punish the fish. Aristochromis cristyi won't look in the other direction when such easy opportunity occurs. Notice the large mouth that can swallow a surprisingly large prey fish. Literature about this fish mentions that mbuna from 3 - 8 cm are it's favorite food.

 

Compared to that of other Haps, breeding doesn't really differ. The male "senses" that the female is ready for spawning about a week in advance. He starts defending a territory by chasing all other fish away from that location. When the female is finally ready she'll accept his "invitation" and comes in to the nest where she starts circling and shaking while dropping her eggs. Quickly she turns around to take them into her mouth. Then it's time for the male to shiver and eject his milt. While the female searches for eggs she'll come close to the anal fin of the male that has an egg pattern. This way she swallows the milt cloud and the eggs get fertilized. This procedure is repeated until all eggs are laid. The eggs start to hatch in the second week, but the female will carry the fry (about 3 weeks depending on temperature) until they're ready to swim independently. Then she'll release the fry from time to time and takes them back when she feels threatened. When the juveniles are old enough they're left by the mother.


The female carrying


Again the male in breeding dress

Photos by Frank Panis See more photos in next page.

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