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