Cichlid Room Companion

Breeding tanks

Pseudotropheus sp. 'Msobo'

By , 1999. printer
Francesco Zezza, 1998

Classification: Captive maintenance, Lake Malawi.

Pseudotropheus sp. 'Msobo' male

Pseudotropheus sp. "Msobo" male in the aquarium. Fish and Photo by Francesco Zezza.

I like those fish for some reason: Ok they're nice, but this is not the main reason. First of all they remind me of my trip to Lake Malawi, back in 1997 (very few of them survived the trip back home because of a great delay in delivery; that's another reason why these fish are so important to me). Secondly, these are the first "wild caught" fish that have ever spawned in my tanks. I think these reasons are quite enough to look at them from a different perspective.

Quarantine, once at home, has been my first contact with these fish, there were five upon leaving from Lilongwe (Malawi's Capital) but I lost a pair during the trip, thus remaining with one male, alone, and two females. they were hosted (Nov 97) in a 130 liters (35 gal) tank with four more Mbunas (a pair of Pseudotropheus elongatus "Luhuchi Rock" and two more females not yet identified).

Tank set-up is what You'd expect to find in an "average" cichlids tank: Sand at the bottom, and rocks piled over rocks, with plenty of crevices, from bottom to top, almost no plants (but I'm thinking of adding a few small Anubias Barteri). Water chemistry is, of course, oriented in the alkanine side of the range, while temp is about 24° C (75° F). Nitrogen cycle is managed by a filter (flow is about 600 lt/hr - 160 gals/hr) loaded with the following medias: small ceramic pipes, tiny lava rock gravels, some Zeolite and syntetic (white) fiber. Final touch is a water change (25% of total gross capacity) every two weeks, while the only chemical in use is a contra-chlorine product.

I've been thinking frequently of Mbunas as "easy to spawn" fish. It's, generally speaking, true (or should be so ...), so once the routine keeping of the "savages" (how I use to call fish taken from the lake) has started I was quite confident to get "tons" of fry ... Day started to pass, and turned into weeks, that changed into months but nothing has happened ... then, about 11 months after the return from the Lake, I spent two days at annual auction of "Associazione Italiana Ciclidofili" (Italian Cichlid Association) and upon returning home, I finally found the "parcel": one of females was holding!

Next step has been moving the "mother to be" to a floating hatchery (quarantine tank was full for other reasons) to protect herself from her "Boy" and other tankmates. Time started to pass more slowly than usual: one week, two weeks, three weeks ... then in the middle of her fourth week of holding I decided to "strip" her. This action resulted in 14 (all live) fry showing a residual yolk sac (probably they would have needed two or three more days) but all of them survived, and started their track in this world. After about two weeks in the nursery they were moved to a growing tank (35 liter/9 gals) where, after about three months and a half (at size of half an inch each) the tragedy took place. I was used to using water from a well for water changes (in all tanks and for over three years at that moment!) ... it was a routine "tank cleaning/gravel siphoning/water changing" duty but something went wrong: fishes started, suddenly, to show abnormal breathing, loss of balance, abnormal swimming (even trying to jump "out" of tank!). In terms of seconds I caught (by net) all fry moving them to another tank (not involved in cleaning at that moment) nevertheless all, but one, youngster died within few hours! I was feeling horrible!!! A water sample from the well has been checked by "Health Service" but nothing unusual was found (except a nitrate (NO3) rate a little higher, not that much, of what was expected) so the mistery has remained unveiled: but I suspect an "ammonia problem". Any way from that point on, I started to use different water for all my (5) tanks.

Grown-up fishes were in a different tank and I turned my attention to them once more and finally, on Christmas afternoon, they spawned again (the male and "that" same female) it took them a couple of hours to finish their duty, stopped every now and then to chase other tankmates when coming too close. Sad to say that given day I was out of film for my camera, ... how lucky of me!!!

Any way, once more, I caught the holding female, ... this time I had an "empty" tank and there she was hosted! In the beginning she was carrying an incredibly big "bag", but after little more of four week of (absolutely natural) wait the result was only four fish born: don't know why!

Those fishes are quite intersting to observe for some uncommon habits they perform: after releasing, a female moved to a tank (no Mbunas in it) where she can recover her fit, turns her color from yellow-orange to bluish in a somehow masculine pattern, also showing a sort of "melanic pattern" and few "dummy eggs"!, Once returned to the main tank (or at least in sight of a "real" male) she quickly turned yellow again. Another strange behavior can be observed in the other female (who still, stubbornly, refuses to spawn!) who chases, cooperating with other fish, the returning females. So after first release took place I've been forced, again, to remove her, from the tank and recover her once more. Then re-introducing her again in the tank. Andreas Spreinat, in his book on Malawi cichlids from Tanzania, reports of having observed, in wild, that same behaviour (thus supposing some territorial comportament also from females). My fishes are far too few (three) to confirm or refuse this idea but I'd like to agree to this theory, because of this fact: while the female was holding for the second time I moved other Mbunas to a 100 gals (360 lt) tank where, after release, also the incubating female was switched. Given more room to hide and move the "former" pregnant female even if hardly chased by others managed to "survive" ... quite well and now, about a month after release, seems to be on her way to regain her place in tank's jerarchy.

The story is, now, complete: five newborns (1+4) are, at the moment, going toward their adulthood and I'm only wondering why both spawns happened with the same female while the second one shows, absolutely, no interest in courting behaviour of the male! Any suggestions, on this topic, are welcomed!

Addendum: Finally, I'd like to thank my "Internet Friend" Linda Hodnett for the revision of the English text which, for sure, saved me a lot of mistakes. I've deeply appreciate Her support.

Pseudotropheus sp. 'Msobo'

Pseudotropheus sp. "Msobo" female holding eggs in the aquarium. Fish and Photo by Francesco Zezza.


Zezza, Francesco. (March 28, 1999). "Pseudotropheus sp. 'Msobo'". Cichlid Room Companion. Retrieved on January 23, 2018, from: