by Len Reback
First published in Shoreline, Jersey Shore Aquarium Society
If there is such a thing as an underrated Rift Lake Cichlid, the Cyprichromis
leptosoma is it. C. leptosoma, is sometimes known as the "cyp"
(pronounced "sip") and sometimes as the "blue flash", although the
latter is more often used to identify a particular variety of cyp. Sometimes it is also
referred to as a "sardine cichlid", which is a reference to its streamlined
shape. It is a colorful, mouth brooding cichlid from Lake Tanganyika that would make an
excellent addition to many Tanganyikan tanks.
The typical color pattern for a male C. leptosoma is a bright blue, with some
yellow on the fins, and either a blue or yellow tail. A male cyp in good condition can be
a striking sight! Unfortunately, the females are much less colorful, primarily a pleasing
beige with perhaps some yellow in the fins (depending on the variety). But, as we shall
see below, even the less colorful females are not as much of a disadvantage as many other
mouth brooding cichlids.
The primary benefit the cyp has as an aquarium resident over virtually all its
relatives is its habitat preference. Unlike nearly every other cichlid, the cyp does not
require contact with the substrate. It is a midwater swimmer, just like barbs or tetras.
Since they do not compete for scarce substrate habitats, caves, or shells, the cyp can be
added to many setups without hindering the substrate spawners in the tank.
Another benefit the Cyprichromis has over most Tanganyikan mouth brooders is
its relative hardiness. While this is not an "industrial strength" cichlid like
some lamprologines, it will not drop dead at the first missed water change, or just
because you looked at it funny, as with many Tanganyikan mouth brooders. While they may
show some stress if tank maintenance becomes lax, they will survive for quite a while
under less than ideal conditions, allowing the situation to be rectified. Typical
Tanganyikan water conditions - hard, alkaline, and clean - are ideal for cyps.
Also unlike many of their Tanganyikan mouth brooding brethren, cyps do not require an
overly specialized diet. Their diet in the wild is primarily zooplankton and they enjoy
small crustaceans in the aquarium. I feed mine mostly OSI flakes, frozen brine shrimp and
daphnia, and freeze-dried cyclop-eeze. Basically cyps will thrive on the same diet you
feed julies, shellies, and most other lamprologines.
As noted above, there are several varieties of C. leptosoma. These varieties
fall within two major groupings, that probably actually represent separate species. The
first grouping is the original C. leptosoma, whose most popular varieties are
probably the "blue flash" (from both Malasa and Isanga), and the
"Utinta". These varieties grow to a maximum length of about 3 inches, and they
subscribe to the typical coloration described above, although males of the blue flash
varieties also have a streak of bright blue or purple on the top front of their bodies,
giving them their names.
The second grouping is sometimes described as C. leptosoma "jumbo"
and, as the name implies, they can grow much larger than the first variety - up to about 6
inches in length. The most popular variety of jumbo is probably the "tri-color",
and while some jumbos do show the typical color pattern, there are several significant
variations - some quite beautiful, others more drab.
My own experience with cyps is with the smaller, original group, and specifically the
"blue flash Malasa" variety. Although some books claim these fish need a lot of
space, I keep 10 adults and several sub adults in a 55 gallon (48 inch long) tank without
any problems, and with some breeding success. Based on some research on the internet, it
seems that many people have success with cyps in 48 inch tanks, and often in smaller ones.
My cyps have as tank mates a breeding colony of Neolamprologus multifasciatus
that live in shells and about 7 Synodontis petricola catfish that live in ceramic
caves. The different species generally keep out of each others' way - the multies living
among their shells, the cyps taking up the mid to upper levels of the tank, and the
catfish generally staying in their caves during the day. I find the combination of
colorful cyps darting around, active multies taking care of their shells and guarding
their young, and the occasional appearance of a beautiful catfish coming out of its cave
to be a very pleasing setup. Unlike many mouth brooders, cyps are best kept in a group
with about the same number of males as females. I am sure that a pure harem of one or two
males with lots of females will work as well. But since the males are more colorful, and
you can keep several together, you might as well. What would probably not work as well
would be to keep just a pair, since the male will be overly attentive to the single
female. But with multiple males to show off to, and multiple females to attend to, if you
keep a group of about ten, no one female will be overly harassed by the dominant male.
So how do cyps breed? Unlike virtually any other cichlid. As previously described, the
cyp can live totally independent of the substrate. The female actually lays her eggs in
midwater, where the male fertilizes them, after which the female backs up to catch the
newly fertilized egg in her mouth. Ad Konings shows pictures of this sequence in some of
his Tanganyikan cichlid books, but I have never been fortunate enough to witness it
myself. It must be a fascinating sight to watch if you are ever lucky enough to catch the
fish in the act.
In any case, the female carrying her eggs will be very noticeable by the large bulge in
the front of her throat. There is no need to remove her from the tank, at least if there
are several other females in the tank to keep the males' attention away. After about two
to three weeks of holding the eggs, you should be able to see the fry's eyes right through
the stretched skin of the mother's throat. The female should release the fry after about
three weeks, but in a community tank, she may not have a quiet enough spot to do so
(releasing fry is the one time in the cyp life cycle where a cave typically gets used).
But fortunately, stripping her is easy enough. When she is ready to release - about 3
weeks after laying the eggs, it is often sufficient to just lift her out of the tank in a
net and put her in a small container. Some of the fry are likely to be released before she
even reaches the container. After a few minutes in the container, she will have likely
released all her fry. But you may want to gently lift the female out of the container and
put her back a few times to be sure. In any case, there is no need to manipulate her mouth
in any way. Note that with cyps, once the fry are released, there is no turning back. The
mother offers no more protection to the fry after she releases them, although neither she
nor other adult cyps make any attempt to eat the fry.
A typical spawn will result in about 6 fry. Each is fairly large, and more than capable
of eating newly hatched brine shrimp. I put my newly released fry in a breeding net within
the same tank as the parents. I start out by feeding a dry powder combination of Hikari
First Bites mixed with a little spirulina powder. I also feed decapsulated brine shrimp
eggs (if you feed brine shrimp eggs they must be decapsulated or else they won't be
digestible; of course I am sure that newly hatched brine shrimp would work at least as
well). Soon they have grown enough to take Cyclop-eeze, and soon after that, frozen
One problem I have encountered with breeding cyps occurs when I get too anxious to
strip the female, and do so too early, say after 2 weeks instead of 3. In that case the
fry may still have their yolk sacs attached. But as typical with cyps, this problem is
easily rectified. The fry can be grown in breeder nets even with the yolk sac attached. It
is just important to make sure that the adults in the main tank cannot get at the yolk,
since the yolk is too much of a temptation for the adults to resist, and the fry with yolk
attached is immobile at the bottom of the net. The best solution to this is to use a net
within a net, so the fry is separated from the bottom of the net that the adults can pick
at. Alternatively, just raise them is a separate tank.
For anyone with a Tanganyikan tank with julies, shellies, and other substrate spawners
looking for a new challenge, Cyprichromis leptosoma is a perfect addition. I hope
you will give it a try. I'm sure you will enjoy it!