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Labidochromis caeruleus
by Marc Elieson

Labidochromis caeruleus ''Electric yellow'' maleL. caeruleus is understandably one of the more popular Cichlids in the hobby, always being in demand. This is due to its bright yellow coloring and its more docile temperment. This latter attribute makes this African Cichlid a compatable tank mate for virtually hundreds of other Cichlids. Dear to the hearts of many cichlidophiles, this mbuna gets housed with peacocks, featherfins, lamprologus, and of course other mbuna. Its omnivorous diet also makes it a versatile addition to just about any setup.

The "Electric Yellow" morph is just one of almost a dozen different morphologies seen in this species through out the lake. Labidochromis caeruleus ''Electric yellow'' femaleThese other morphs go either unnoticed, ignored, or forgotten by most hobbyists because of the omnipresent availability of the "Electric Yellow". This color variant, while more rare in the lake, enjoys a distribution in the hobby that would easily out number the wild population by probably several hundred-fold. In fact, the "Electric Yellow" that is so popular today was only recently discovered (about 15 years ago). The discovery and subsequent public offering of this mbuna constitutes a very colorful tale.

L. caeruleus was first identified in 1956 by G. Fryer. He described this fish as normally being white, with a black stripe through the dorsal fin, which would become a pale blue cast in breeding males (probably the morph from Nkhata Bay, Malawi). Believe it or not, this species was named caeruleus (meaning "blue" in Latin) for this very reason. It wasn't until around 1980 that this xanthic color variant was discovered by Stuart Grant and his divers. Grant et. al supposedly discovered a small colony of "Electric Yellows" at Lion's Cove, Malawi.

Labidochromis caeruleus ''Electric yellow'' maleStuart Grant only collected a few specimens, but refused to mass-collect and export them because of the population's small numbers, fearing that they would be pushed into extinction. Then two Swedish collectors paying a visit to Stuart Grant noticed these beautiful, bright yellow mbuna in his tanks and requested that he collect and export some for them. The story is that when he declined, these two Swedes bribed some of his divers, who knew right where they were located. They then returned to Sweden with two yellow labs, unbeknownst to Grant

From what I have read, these two yellow labs were then given as a gift to Pierre Brichard, who was very impressed by them. This is where the story gets really interesting: Brichard then took them back to his fishing operation in Burundi, along Lake Tanganyika (of all places!) and bred some 20,000 fish, all related to that pair. Quite amazing. And he did this in less than six years time. Then, in 1986 he made them available to the public, selling them for a hefty price from what I hear. Brichard ended up making a good dollar off that pair, while Stuart Grant on Lake Malawi, who found the fish in the first place, was left holding the bag.

The story of the yellow lab doesn't end here, my friends. When Brichard put his yellow labs on the market in 1986, he called them "Labidochromis tanganicae", which caused immense confusion among hobbyists. Was this a Tanganyikan Labidocrhomis species, or had Brichard collected this "new" Labidochromis from Malawi and raised it in his ponds on Lake Tanganyika? Eventually the issue was settled, but it did cause quite a commotion. And to think, that most yellow labs in the hobby all descended from that single, illicit pair.

Stuart did capture 22 fish later on but had a bit of a spill and only a few were left. These were given to Gary Kratchovil in San Antonio, TX. You'll see him offer F1 stock from time to time. Labidochromis caeruleus ''Electric yellow'' maleA couple of years ago, a friend of a friend bought some F1 yellow labs that had been pond-raised in Africa. Surprisingly, they were no better in quality than other good yellow labs that we have seen! There are plenty of bad strains out there - some with lots of black on the body and face. There is a morph with a whitish belly that is not as attractive. Don't be mislead into thinking that is a man-made strain. This is a naturally occurring morph that comes from Lion's Cove, along side the yellow lab we all know.

I mention this because I have heard a lot of people bag on yellow labs and breeders, suggesting that they have been over-bred. True, there are many breeders out there that are not patient or careful and put up for sale anything that hatches. BUT, a fish can be bred for hundreds of generations and still retain is beauty and fitness, as demonstrated by Pierre Brichard. In fact, some of the most spectacular fish you will ever see - you know, the ones that win all the shows - have been line bred. The best looking progeny from each generation are pulled out and then bred to each other. Sometimes, the best genes aren't those that come from the lake (F0), but from a carefully maintained line. This isn't unethical, in my opinion. These people are simply selecting the more desirable traits and retaining them. If you find this reprehensible, next time you see a black-barred yellow lab next to a clean one, ask yourself which you'd rather own, or purchase for that matter.

Labidochromis caeruleus ''Electric yellow'' maleBefore concluding, let me say a few words about this fish's behavior in both the wild as well as captivity. L. caeruleus is an omnivore, feeding primarily upon insects, snails, and mollusks; however, in the aquarium, this fish can be fed a wide assortment of foods. I personally recommend a good Spirulina based flake food with occassional frozen food supplements, or alternatively, The European Shrimp Mix. These insectivores wander through their rocky biotope, never lingering at any particular spot, and it seems they are tolerated in the territories of most other species.

L. caeruleus prefer dark caves, but they are always careful to inspect the ceiling for prey. Likewise, in the aquarium, rock work, and particularly honeycomb limestone (aka holey rock), is appreciated. Notice in the picture above how this female is hiding from the male, anxious to induce her to spawn with him. The hole is too small for him, but not for her! This provides her an opportunity to escape his aggressive entreaties when she is not interested or ready to spawn. And as already mentioned, L. caeruleus has a very wide distribution in the lake, with the yellow morph occuring between Charo and Lionís Cove on the Malawi side of the lake, at a depth of 20 meters. Broods usually number between 15 and 20 fry, with incubation periods lasting typically 28 days. Males tend to have much more black on their pelvic and anal fins, and are usually 1/3 larger than females at adulthood. The second picture in this article is of a female and the rest are of a male.

 

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