Labeotropheus trewavasae "Jumbo"
By Craig Morfitt
First published in Fish Tales, Bermuda Fry-Angle Aquarium Society, and on Craig's web
Labeotropheus trewavasae "Jumbo." Photo by Craig Morfitt
Labeotropheus trewavasae was first introduced to the hobby in 1964 (Riehl) and
is named after the renowned British ichthyologist, Dr. Ethelwynn Trewavas. It shares the
genus Labeotropheus with its cousin, fuelleborni, and they both exhibit
the underslung mouth and overhanging fleshy nose that assist them with feeding on the
algal bio-cover that grows on rocks in their native Lake Malawi. L. trewavasae is
generally regarded to be a long slender fish, particularly when compared with fuelleborni,
but this is not always the case. When found at submerged reefs in the lake, trewavasae
has a deeper body than the individuals at adjoining rocky coasts (Konings, p.130). Ad
Konings reports that at Chirwa Island, near Chilumba, large orange specimens of trewavasae
resemble L fuelleborni in shape and size (p. 130). These observations proved
interesting to me, as my L. trewavasae "Jumbo" do not have the slender
appearance typically attributed to trewavasae.
I obtained my "Jumbos" from Stuart Grant at his Kambiri Point facility in
October 1999. I have since contacted Stuart to determine where these fish were collected.
He was unable to give an exact location but stated that they come from "the Chilumba
central area where you have a small group of islands - not north like Ngara or south like
Chitimba." Stuart's description leads me to presume that the fish come from the area
including Chitande Island, Mpango Rocks, Mpango Reef, Katale Island and Chirwa Island (see
Maps of Chilumba
area on north-west coast of Lake Malawi.
Maps courtesy of Ad Konings - Malawi Cichlids in their Natural Habitat.
My male is quite a stocky fish. It is generally a light blue (almost neon in its
intensity) with a subtle rusty brown patch running the length of its lower flanks. The
nose area has a couple of darker blue bands running across it. The rear edges of the
dorsal, anal and caudal fins are a yellow-orange colour. The pelvic fins have a white
leading edge with a wide black band running the length of the fin. The females are
slightly less deep-bodied than the male and have a drab brown body with vertical dark
bands. My male is approximately 6 inches total length and the females are about 5 inches.
I was able to successfully bring back five of them. I sold a pair and kept a trio for
myself which I housed in a 55 gallon tank together with a pair of Dimidiochromis
compressiceps "gold". The tank is filtered by two Tetra Super Brilliant
sponge filters. It has a bare bottom and a variety of clay plant-pots, PVC pipe, smooth
rocks and a single large piece of red slate.
As is the case with all of my tanks, water changes of about 50% were conducted every
two weeks. Baking soda and Sea-Chem Cichlid Lake Salt were added to the replacement water
(1 teaspoon of each per 5 gallons). Water conditions, as per Mardel test-strips, included
pH of 8.4, Total Alkalinity of 240 ppm, Total Hardness of 90 ppm. Water temperature was
about 78 F. Feeding primarily consisted of flake food with a high vegetable content.
The Baensch Atlas reports that the species is territorial, extremely aggressive and
intolerant. It lists the male as being polygamous and recommends that each male be kept
with several females (p. 730). Within the first couple of weeks I noticed that the male
was continually harassing both females. He was nipping their fins and leaving marks on
their bodies. Despite this, the females seemed quite hardy. Whilst they fled from his
attentions they were not forced to retreat into the upper corners of the tank, as is often
observed in cichlids that are subjected to more abuse than they can take (such fish must
be removed from the tank before they are killed). I found that, despite there being
various hiding places on the bottom of the tank, the females seldom took advantage of
them. They did make good use, however, of three floating mops that became their primary
point of evasion from the male.
After a couple of months of pursuing the females, the male's efforts finally paid off
in January 2000 and I was fortunate enough to observe the spawning activity. The chosen
spawning site was the large piece of red slate that was leaning at a 45 degree angle to
the bottom, at one end of the tank. The male's colours were at their brightest and he was
shimmying over the slate to attract the larger of the two females. The pair came together
and did a lot of circling over the slate with the male doing his shimmying dance.
Occasionally the female came down to the surface of the slate and laid a single egg.
Despite the sloped angle of the slate, the egg did not roll off but stayed in place. I
believe that this is due to the shape of the egg, in addition to the rough surface of the
slate. Having laid the egg, the female turned around and picked it up in her mouth. The
male then shook his body whilst in contact with the slate and the female pecked at his
anal fin (in the vicinity of his dummy egg-spots). With the egg safely in her throat (and
presumably fertilised) the circling continued, interspersed with the laying and
fertilising of eggs, one at a time. I had obviously missed much of the spawning activity,
as the female already had a throat bulging with eggs when I stumbled on the activity. I
observed the pair lay about 10 eggs before the female seemed to be done. The male was
obviously having a good time and didn't seem prepared to stop. The female swam off to the
opposite end of the tank but the male followed her and tried to tempt her back to the
slate with more displays of his shimmying and shaking.
A couple of days after the spawning, the male was still harassing the female so I
decided to give her some peace. I removed her from the tank and placed her into a bare 10
gallon tank. Nineteen days after spawning, the female released 27 fry. The dark-coloured
fry seemed quite large and stayed close to the bottom of the tank for a few days. They
readily accepted crushed flake food and were soon swimming at all levels of the tank. The
female was left in the 10 gallon tank with her babies for 3 months and showed no signs of
harming them.In the absence of the first female, the male continued to harass the second
female but no spawning occurred. The first female was recently returned to the 55 gallon
tank and immediately became the target of aggression from the male. After 3 months of
R&R she had been in fine shape but the male soon had her fins torn and her body marked
up. So much so, that I have had to isolate her behind a divider. Meanwhile, the second
female receives much less aggression and it may be that a pair-bond formed during the
absence of the first female. The divider will allow the male to see both females without
being able to get at one of them. There is a gap at the bottom of the divider that may
permit spawning with the first female, without him being able to beat her up. Time will
tell. Meanwhile, the fry have done well and will soon be going to new homes.
Grant, Stuart. Personal communication
Konings, Ad. Malawi Cichlids in their Natural Habitat (second edition). 1995.
Cichlid Press, Germany.
Riehl, Dr. Rudiger and Hans A. Baensch. Baensch Aquarium Atlas. 1982.