Hail­ing from a world of grey, a care­fully cho­sen pair of mel­low yel­lows make a strik­ing ad­di­tion to your aquar­ium.

Practical Fishkeeping (UK) - - Contents - AD KONINGS Ad Konings is an ichthy­ol­o­gist and au­thor known for his com­pre­hen­sive re­search on African Rift lakes ci­ch­lids.

Why a care­fully cho­sen pair of mel­low yel­lows make a strik­ing ad­di­tion to your aquar­ium.

THE LEMON ci­ch­lid, Ne­o­lam­pro­lo­gus lele­upi, is the quin­tes­sen­tial Tan­ganyika ci­ch­lid, and has been cared for in aquaria for over half a cen­tury. It’s the bright­est-coloured of a hand­ful of ‘stan­dard’ ci­ch­lids – some oth­ers be­ing Tropheus duboisi, Ne­o­lam­pro­lo­gus pul­cher and Juli­dochromis tran­scrip­tus – which any­one with an in­ter­est in these ci­ch­lids has kept at least once. As is of­ten the case with pop­u­lar ci­ch­lid species, N. lele­upi is less com­mon in the wild. There, it oc­curs in sev­eral colour vari­ants, of which yel­low is the least seen. You might read that most N. lele­upi in the lake are yel­low, but that’s not so; most are grey and un­wanted by the or­na­men­tal fish trade, so they are rarely ex­ported.

Another false­hood on the in­ter­net is that the pure yel­low N. lele­upi seen in the hobby are de­scen­dants of a line-bred strain de­rived from the wild form which, al­legedly, has a black snout. Few peo­ple have seen

N. lele­upi in its nat­u­ral habi­tat, but those who have can tell you that the ‘pure’ yel­low form is in the lake and does not need to be line-bred.


The yel­low N. lele­upi is just one morph of a poly­chro­matic species that has a much wider dis­tri­bu­tion in the lake than just the known yel­low morph pop­u­la­tions.

In­ter­est­ingly, I have so far failed to find a non-yel­low morph at any of the lo­cal­i­ties known for yel­low morph

N. lele­upi, al­though I have usu­ally en­coun­tered two morphs, a brown­black and a beige-coloured (but not yel­low), at all lo­cal­i­ties be­tween those for the pure yel­low vari­ants.

The dark/light non-yel­low morph is less con­spic­u­ous than its yel­low coun­ter­part, but it does not seem to

oc­cur where yel­low in­di­vid­u­als are found. This doesn’t mean that the black/beige morph isn’t present in these pop­u­la­tions, it may sim­ply be an in­di­ca­tion of its low abun­dance.

The fact that a dusky, as well as a light, morph (some­times with yel­low blotches) is found within a sin­gle pop­u­la­tion is re­mark­able, but not unique, among ci­ch­lids. In Lake Tan­ganyika, poly­chro­ma­tism oc­curs in other species as well. Two species close to N. lele­upi – N. mus­tax and N.

pec­toralis – are present in yel­low, as well as in brown-grey morphs.

In Lake Malawi, a ci­ch­lid species with sim­i­lar be­hav­iour, Labidochromis

caeruleus, also man­i­fests in sev­eral colour vari­ants, but here the yel­low, white and black-and-white barred forms are geo­graph­i­cal vari­ants, and no pop­u­la­tion is known where more than a sin­gle morph is found.

The well-known, or­ange-blotch (OB) morphs found in sev­eral other Malawi ci­ch­lids rep­re­sent a type of poly­chro­ma­tism, but are likely caused by dif­fer­ent genes/cir­cum­stances than those found in N. lele­upi.

In my opin­ion, N. lele­upi is quite a vari­able species with a rather broad dis­tri­bu­tion in Lake Tan­ganyika, but it’s not found in the south­ern part of the lake as is some­times claimed.

It was prob­a­bly present in the pa­leo-lakes when the wa­ter level was lower than at present. As wa­ter lev­els rose, the main pop­u­la­tion be­came split up but re­mained on the west and east-cen­tral coasts of Africa.

In the wild

The Lemon ci­ch­lid is usu­ally found in the re­cesses of rocky habi­tat. It feeds on in­ver­te­brates, mainly shrimp and other crus­taceans found in the aufwuchs (sur­face growths) on the rocks, or in the cracks be­tween them.

A for­ag­ing in­di­vid­ual, and al­ways soli­tary, Lemon ci­ch­lid cover a rel­a­tively large area of ter­rain while search­ing for food, mouth close to sub­strate ready to snap up any shrimp or other in­ver­te­brate star­tled by its ap­proach.

Food isn’t abun­dantly avail­able, so this may ex­plain N. lele­upi’s soli­tary be­hav­iour and pug­na­cious at­ti­tude to­wards con­specifics in the aquar­ium, with only ripe fe­males be­ing tol­er­ated in a male’s do­main.

The Lemon ci­ch­lid is usu­ally found in the re­cesses of the rocky habi­tat. It feeds on in­ver­te­brates, mainly shrimp and other crus­taceans found in the aufwuchs on the rocks

Eggs are de­posited in a fe­male’s cave, so in a lake a wan­der­ing male may find a ripe fe­male in her cave and spawn with her.

I have not yet seen breed­ing pairs in the lake, but it’s pos­si­ble that the male stays with the fe­male un­til the young are big enough to face the out­side world on their own.

In the aquar­ium

N. lele­upi can read­ily be kept in a Tan­ganyika com­mu­nity aquar­ium. Only one pair should be housed in the same tank, and avoid keep­ing N. cylin­dri­cus or N. mus­tax to­gether with N. lele­upi, as they look and be­have sim­i­larly.

N. lele­upi is harm­less to­wards other species but can be pug­na­cious to­wards its own. Be sure you have a male and a fe­male – the fe­male is smaller than the male, but vent­ing them will de­ter­mine the sexes.

If ju­ve­niles are in­tro­duced into the aquar­ium a small group can be housed to­gether, but as soon as the sexes can be dif­fer­en­ti­ated, a pair should be se­lected and the re­main­ing in­di­vid­u­als re­moved. It’s dif­fi­cult to in­tro­duce an adult pair into a tank to­gether. The best way is to first let the fe­male ad­just to the new en­vi­ron­ment be­fore plac­ing the male with her some days later. Wa­ter re­quire­ments are as those for all Tan­ganyika ci­ch­lids – be­tween 25-27°C and al­ka­line with a ph above 7.5. Wa­ter con­di­tions and food type in­flu­ence the in­ten­sity of the yel­low colour of the fish, and it may turn a dirty yel­low or brown shade when the en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions are sub­op­ti­mal. The black snout some­times seen in aquar­ium spec­i­mens is of­ten caused by some sort of stress, per­haps brought on by in­cor­rect wa­ter pa­ram­e­ters or food. Wild Lemon ci­ch­lids feed on in­ver­te­brates found on sub­strate. In aquar­i­ums, flake food and pel­lets are ac­cepted but live or frozen crus­taceans, mos­quito lar­vae, or plank­ton are rec­om­mended. To bring out the yel­low – and some­times or­ange – colour, N. lele­upi needs to have Cy­clops, My­sis or other food con­tain­ing carotene (but not Daph­nia as they can­not di­gest them well).

In ad­di­tion to carotene-rich food, keep N. lele­upi in a tank with mod­er­ate, uni­form light­ing and a light-coloured sub­strate, gravel or sand. Decor-wise, the tank should con­tain lots of caves to pro­tect the fe­male from ha­rass­ment. Breed­ing fol­lows if tanks prove suit­able and a suit­able spawn­ing site is present.

In a com­mu­nity aquar­ium, Lemon ci­ch­lids form a pair dur­ing the breed­ing pe­riod and usu­ally choose a dark site among the rocks, but in a breed­ing tank, a flow­er­pot or ce­ramic cave nor­mally gives the best re­sults. The pair bond, how­ever, rarely lasts longer than two weeks.

Ag­gres­sion dur­ing the breed­ing pe­riod is mostly di­rected against fry-eat­ing in­trud­ers and con­specifics; other non-looka­like species are ig­nored. Leave eggs or fry in place for as long as pos­si­ble, as the male may be­come ag­gres­sive af­ter they’ve been re­moved. If you do want to take out the eggs or fry to grow them on sep­a­rately, the male should tem­po­rar­ily be re­moved too.

Lake dis­tri­bu­tion

The first yel­low N. lele­upi was col­lected in the north-western part of the lake at Luhanga in the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of the Congo (DRC) and de­scribed by Max Poll in 1956; two years later in­di­vid­u­als from this area were ex­ported for the aquar­ium trade.

It is some­times claimed that the yel­low N. lele­upi is col­lected at Bemba (Pemba), but the form at this lo­cal­ity is dark grey and yel­low morphs have never been found there.

In the mid-1970s Misha Fainzil­ber ex­ported a yel­low N. lele­upi from the Tan­za­nian east coast of the lake. This form was later de­scribed as a sub­species, Lam­pro­lo­gus lele­upi

lon­gior, by Wolf­gang Staeck from spec­i­mens col­lected at Cape Kabogo.

The rocky habi­tats be­tween Halembe and Maswa along the Tan­za­nian shore of the lake are in­hab­ited by a yel­low morph of

N. lele­upi, al­though in small num­bers. Fur­ther south, at Ka­tumbi and Bulu Point, and at Kar­i­lani Is­land, the yel­low morph ap­pears to be more com­mon and it’s from mostly these lo­cal­i­ties that N. lele­upi is col­lected for the aquar­ium trade.

Pos­si­bly de­pend­ing on their mood and/or con­di­tion, some fish at Halembe, Bulu Point, and Kar­i­lani Is­land have a darker (yel­low) body colour and yel­low fins, but al­lyel­low in­di­vid­u­als are found at these lo­cal­i­ties as well. N. lele­upi also oc­curs fur­ther south along the Ma­hale Moun­tains range and the moun­tain range be­tween Isonga and Kekese, but the vari­ant that oc­curs in these lo­ca­tions doesn’t seem to in­clude yel­low-coloured in­di­vid­u­als; the lo­cal morphs are ei­ther a dark grey­brown or a light sil­very-beige colour. Along the western shore on Lake Tan­ganyika in the DRC, N. lele­upi has a rather wide dis­tri­bu­tion that ranges be­tween Luhanga in the north and M’toto in the cen­tral part of the lake. North of Lukuga River – the lake’s only out­let at Kalemie – there are only two lo­cal­i­ties known where N. lele­upi is yel­low – Luhanga and Kil­ima. All the other lo­cal­i­ties in be­tween have a grey/brown­coloured form.

South of the Lukuga River, the shore­line is mostly sandy un­til you get to Moba, but at the few patches of rocky habi­tat, at Cape Tem­bwe, Ki­tumba and M’toto, I’ve only seen yel­low morphs of N. lele­upi.


A Lemon, or Lele­upi ci­ch­lid, as we usu­ally see them.

BE­LOW: Tan­ganyika is a lake of epic pro­por­tions.

ABOVE: Nonyel­low Lemons are rare in the hobby.

The purest yel­low Lemons are a vis­ual treat.

Dif­fer­ences in habi­tat stops vari­ants from spread­ing.

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