(This article was originally published in Cichlid News magazine, Aquatic promotions, Vol. 1. No. 3, July 1992; p. 11. It is here reproduced with the permission of author Ad Konings).
During an expedition in May and June 1989, Walter Dieckhoff, Saulos Mwale, Justus Chirwa, and I spent six weeks diving at many sites along the western coast of Lake Malawi. As Stuart Grant (from whom we borrowed boat, dive gear, and two stout men) has investigated much of this area, we were interested in places that had not been visited before. Therefore we asked local fishermen about the locations of so-called virundu, which are rocky reefs, sometimes very deep, that support large shoals of utaka, pelagic cichlid species regularly taken by net fishermen. Local fishermen have unbelievable memories when it comes to locating fishing sites exactly. We therefore made it a point to solicit their assistance in guiding us to a desired spot. Many times virundu consisted of just a few rocks scattered over a sandy bottom; even though such sites may harbor thousands of fishes, they were not the places we were looking for. We sought larger rocky areas that support diverse communities of mbuna, the small, rock-dwelling cichlids of Lake Malawi.
Pseudotropheus saulosi female, Taiwan reef, Lake Malawi. Photo by Ad Konings.
Justus Chirwa, the captain of our boat (the Lady Diana), was born and raised on Chisumulu Island. Like most natives living on the shores of the lake, the village people of Chisumulu are fishermen. So, Justus was able to tell us about reefs that he knew around the island. Not a fisherman himself, Justus organized some of his friends to guide us to a reef far from Chisumulu that the locals called Taiwan. In spite of a brisk wind, we reached the site in about an hour. Although our guides assured us we had arrived at the proper site, we could not anchor as the anchor chain was only 40 meters long. By then the south wind had also strengthened. Entering the water, imagine our surprise to discover a formidable current which carried us against the direction of the wind! The current was so strong that we barely managed to swim against it. With slow progress, I eventually saw rocks at a depth of about 7 meters, but it took a very long time before I could grasp a hold to prevent being carried away. Unfortunately I had to stay at this depth, as I could not clear my ears. Of course, this had to happen now, after more than 60 hours of diving up to then without any problem during the trip! While waiting and hoping for my ears to clear, I could see large groups of a small, bright-yellow mbuna fighting the current above large boulders. It was the only species I observed, and I surmised that it alone was able to withstand the formidable current. After 10 minutes or so I decided to go to the surface since the pain in my ears was quite unbearable. At the surface it took me a while to locate the boat since the waves, the current, and the wind had forced Justus and our guide to circle the spot where we had descended. In fact the boat had drifted (because of the current) against the strong wind! After a while Saulos surfaced and asked for a net; due to the unfriendly circumstances he had gone down without one. Then Walter came to the surface and told me about the yellow mbuna and a beautiful Aulonocara steveni, which he wasn't able to photograph due to the current. A short time later Saulos brought up a drum with several new specimens; we were all very excited about our finds. The following day Walter was able to photograph these new species in their environment. In 1990, I described the yellow mbuna as Pseudotropheus saulosi to honor the brave man who first collected it.
In December 1990, I re-visited the reef. The weather was much improved, as were my ears. Taiwan Reef itself may be large but only a small tip penetrates waters (above 50 m) open to our diving explorations. I found P. saulosi at depths of 7-15 meters. It sometimes occurs in large schools that wander through the habitat foraging from biocover on the rocks. Such schools are comprised of yellow individuals only. These appear to be females only, but may include quiescent males as well. Territorial males are rather rare and seen near rocky edges and caves between large boulders which make up the reef. At a size of only five centimeters (2") a male is mature and sexually active.
Pseudotropheus saulosi has since been successfully bred and raised in ponds in Malawi by Stuart Grant and is now available in pet shops around the U.S. Like many mbuna, it is a little demanding to keep and does best in small groups. Fry, juveniles, and females show a deep orange-yellow color equal in richness to that of a Kodak film pack. Males are blue with broad black bars and black markings in the blue dorsal fin. Due to its small adult size (the smallest of all blue-barred mbuna) and attractive coloration, Pseudotropheus saulosi is projected to be a favorite among cichlid hobbyists.
Pseudotropheus saulosi male courting a female, Taiwan reef, Lake Malawi as it appears in the book Malawi cichlids in their natural habitat 2nd. edition. Photo by Ad Konings.