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
From left to right: Copadichromis azureus 8 and 9
From left to right: Copadichromis azureus 9.5 and 10
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
Copadichromis azureus 'Nkhomo Reef' at his first birthday,
displaying to another male.
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
Left: the male Copadichromis
Right: the male coming out of his nest.
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
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.