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Copadichromis azureus"Nkhomo reef"


 

When you've already kept most of the mbuna species,  it's time to discover the wide variety of the other interesting cichlids of Lake Malawi. 
Copadichromis azureus 'Nkhomo Reef' is such a non-mbuna and a beautiful representative of the Utaka group (= local name for large Haplochromid cichlids that eat plankton in the open water). Of course this fish lacks the spectacular colouration of the mbuna. At birth Copadichromis azureus is a grey fish with three black spots on the sides. The females will keep this dull appearence all their life. Only the males will get colour, and when kept in optimal conditions, they can really look awesome. My territorial male got his first blue dots at an age of seven months, and a month later he was blue all over. The real bright hue came from about 9 months. The last pics are taken at an age of one year.


Copadichromis azureus 'Nkhomo reef' 8 months Copadichromis azureus 'Nkhomo reef' 9 months
From left to right: Copadichromis azureus 8 and 9 months old

Copadichromis azureus 'Nkhomo reef' 9.5 months Copadichromis azureus 'Nkhomo reef' 10.5 months
From left to right: Copadichromis azureus 9.5 and 10 months old

Age is not the only determinant factor for a superbly coloured fish. As they are schooling cichlids they have to be kept with at least 4 males and 3 females. This way the dominant male has to be in his best suit all the time for defending his territory against the other males and seducing the females. An aquarium with lots of hiding places, large rocks and at least 2 sides, better 3 sides covered will help them feel comfortable. Also keeping the light focussed at the front creates a 'safe' dark place in the back of the tank and adds an impression of depth.
Sand is an absolute must to see the Copadichromis azureus 'Nkhomo Reef' behaviour in full. The dominant male(s) construct a nest for spawning. This nest is built against or under a rock with the aid of sand that's taken out of the nest. This sand is sifted through the gills and released over the spawning spot, to create a non-egg- confusing breeding carpet. The coarse gravel is spitted out at the edge, what gives the nest the typical crater look.

    
Copadichromis azureus 'Nkhomo reef' 1 year

Copadichromis azureus 'Nkhomo Reef' at his first birthday, 
displaying to another male.

Feeding this cichlid is not that difficult. In nature Copadichromis azureus normally eats plankton from the open water. In the aquarium all food like pellets and flakes are eaten. To get the best colours from these marvellous Utaka, it's best to give them artemia, krill or shrimp.


Copadichromis azureus 'Nkhomo reef' displaying Copadichromis azureus 'Nkhomo reef' coming out of the nest

Left: the male Copadichromis azureus displaying.
Right: the male coming out of his nest.

Breeding is observed very frequently. I keep a group of 6 males and 5 females. There is always one of the females ready to spawn. Such a female is chased and seduced. At first she doesn't respond to the male's attempts. After a couple of days, when she's really ready to lay her eggs, her egg tube will open. A clear sign for the male to increase his activities. All other fish and especially the concurrent males are chased to the other half of the aquarium. Now the female follows the male into the nest. First the couple turns around in circles a few times and after slowing down a bit and shaking vigorously, the female lays her first 1 to 6 eggs. These are rapidly taken into her mouth. Then also the male shakes vigorously and releases the sperm thats picked up by the female. While doing this the eggs inside her mouth get fertilized. This procedure is repeated until all eggs are laid. Of course the older the female, the more eggs she produces. Depending on the temperature the eggs hatch after a few days and the fry is released after about 21 days. In nature Copadichromis females release their fry all together to increase the survival rate of the young fish. Unless you let the female spit in a separate tank (NO stripping!!!), it's almost impossible to keep the fry alive as they are eaten by the other adult cichlids as soon they're released.


Overvieuw of the nest

Copadichromis azureus 'Nkhomo reef' female holding

Left: the nest that's constructed against a giant rock. 
Notice the sand that's piled up at the egdge in front and between the two rocks in the back. 
Right:
the female Copadichromis azureus holding eggs. 
if you look carefully you can see a yellow egg in her mouth.

Photos and text by Frank Panis. See next page for more photos.

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