Cyrtocara moorii is a beautiful, mild-tempered
fish that is a delight to keep. It is commonly known in the hobby as the
Malawi Blue Dolphin, and was once classified as Haplochromis
moorii. Now it is the only species belonging to the genus
Cyrtocara. The nickname Blue Dolphin originates from the shape of
its head – a nuchal hump and bill-like mouth – which resembles that of a
This fish is quite rare in Lake
Malawi, although it has a very wide distribution. Notwithstanding, most
exports come from Lumbaulo and Malombe. It has been in the hobby for
several decades now, being first imported in 1968. In the wild, C.
moorii displays a very unique feeding adaptation. Classified as a
micro-predator, it follows close behind substrate-digging cichlids - like
Taeniolethrinops praeorbitalis, Fossorochromis rostratus,
and Mylochromis lateristriga – and feeds on the small edible
organisms and particles that get stirred up behind them as they
In fact, as these fish dig in the
sand looking for food, the resulting clouds attract C. moorii, like
sharks to blood, but not as dramtatic. This is its only documented method
of hunting for food in the lake.
C. moorii attain very
respectable sizes. Males grow up to 8 inches (20cm) in length, and females
up to 6.5 inches (16.5cm). While they certainly do grow larger than this,
these are more typical lengths. The only downside to keeping this fish is
that it takes a very long time to grow and reach sexual maturity.
Typically, it will take about one and a half to two years for fry to reach
4-5 inches, at which point they will begin spawning. Juveniles are silver
and begin taking on blue coloring at around 4cm. Interestingly, fry have
an orangish-yellow anal fin, which disappears a few months after
Despite requiring patience while
waiting for these fish to grow and spawn for the first time, once they do
reach sexual maturity all your patience will be rewarded. They turn into
little clocks, spawning every two months, with clutches ranging between 20
and 90! Several days before spawning occurs, the male will begin to
display more often to the female. He also becomes much more active,
digging a nest out of the substrate or clearing off a smooth stone. The
female will then lay her eggs either in the nest or on the stone and picks
them up immediately.
Fertilization occurs before the
female actually picks the eggs up in her mouth. The eggs hatch after 18 to
21 days and are usually released a week after that.
to catch a holding female, be very careful to not make any sudden moves
that may frighten her. C. moorii females are notorious for spitting
eggs when chased by a net. It is best to catch her at night, several hours
after the lights have been out. If she does spit the eggs out during
transport (i.e., in the net), drop the eggs in the new tank with the
mother, as she will pick them up after an hour or so.
C. moorii are polygamous
mouthbrooders and do best with one large male and several females. If you
keep more than one (and preferably three to six), they will tend to
cluster together and school around the tank. They tend to get along very
well with just one lone male and several females. The two sexes are
difficult to differentiate because there is no difference in coloration
between them. Furthermore, there is no apparent correlation between hump
size and gender. Having said that, there is quite a bit of variation in
the shape and size of the fatty, fibrous hump on the forehead, which
becomes larger with age.
Because of this fish’s giant
proportions, adults and even sub-adults should not be kept in aquariums
less than 125 gallons in size. This fish also needs a large open area to
move around. Sand or a fine gravel such as aragonite are the best choices
of substrate for this fish that is found in muddy bays and sandy coastal
areas. It is known as one of the chisawasawa, or sandy
bottom-associated cichlids. It is a sifter, and eats the smaller bits of
food left behind after feeding time. Rocks are okay, but should be kept to
the back or corners of the tank. This is important because C.
moorii gets startled easy and could potentially get injured if the
tank is cramped with rocks. Also, note that it will burrow down into the
substrate, but won’t harm any live plants.