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Melanochromis chipokae
by Brett Harrington

Melanochromis chipokae is a mbuna that is commonly available at many local pet stores, and has been a mainstay of the hobby since the 1970's. It is named after it's original collection point, Chipoka Island at Chidunga Rocks. It is a very common cichlid here, but is also seen in smaller numbers at Mumbo, Thumbi West, Nakatenga and Mbenji Island. Most often available as a juvenile, it is attractively colored as a yellow fish with two black vertical stripes on the body. The chipokae can be differentiated from the similar looking Melanochromis auratus in the following ways; auratus juveniles will have white lines, in addition to their yellow and black coloration, the chipokae also has a more pointed snout, and a larger mouth.

As the Melanochromis chipokae begins to mature, the males will begin to change color, to an attractive dark blue/purple, with lighter blue stripes. This is a large and robust fish, that grows to 7"(17cm) in the wild, but has been known to grow even larger in the aquarium. The Melanochromis chipokae is considered omnivorous, but it's primary diet is crustaceans, insect larvae and small fish. In the aquarium they will readily accept any diet that includes flake foods, high quality pellets, brine shrimp and Mysis shrimp.

Melanochromis chipokae femaleTypical of most fish from Lake Malawi, they prefer an aquarium with harder water, with a range of 7.6 to 8.5 being ideal. An ideal hardness would be considered to be in the range of 7 to 18 dh. Lake Malawi has very stable temperatures, and in the aquarium this fish is best kept in the 75 to 79 degrees Fahrenheit (24-26 Celsius). It is found in the intermediate habitat, mixed between the rocky areas, and the sand areas. It is also a fish that stays in relatively shallow waters, between 5 to 15 meters deep.

The very minimum tank size that I would recommend for Melanochromis chipokae is a 4ft, 75 gallon aquarium. As mentioned previously, they can grow to a rather large size. In the wild the males are only weakly territorial in the defense of their spawning sites. This contrasts severely with their behavior in the aquarium, where they can be one of the most aggressive mbuna. They are usually aggressive to all species in the aquarium, but particularly so with their own kind. It is best to keep at least three females for each male. If you keep less, it is likely that the females will be chased relentlessly, with deaths being a real possibility. It is best to provide multiple hiding places, for chased fish to hide from the aggression of the chipokae.

Melanochromis chipokae maleAppropriate mbuna tankmates include Metriaclima lombardoi (kenyii), Metriaclima "zebra complex fish", Metriaclima crabro, Tropheops, Labeotropheus, and Pseudotropheus "elongatus complex fish". In tanks of six foot and larger, they can also be kept with larger more aggressive Haplochromines. If attempting this, it is much better to start with much larger Hap's, in order to avoid them being overly harassed by the chipokae. Appropriate "Hap's" would include Nimbochromis, Dimidiochromis, Tyrannochromis, Fossochromis and Buccochromis varieties.

Breeding the M. chipokae is not particularly difficult, and they tend to become sexually mature at a very young size. I've seen holding females at slightly less than 2"(5cm). The fry are ready to be released, and fully developed by 21 days, and a larger female may carry up to 50 fry per mouthful. The fry are miniatures of their mother at this size, and grows quicker than most mbuna. The fry can be raised on crushed flakes, or freshly hatched artemia (baby brine shrimp).

While the Melanochromis chipokae is a very attractive fish, it is best left to those with larger aquariums. If you have a large aquarium, then they are well worth keeping.

References:
Andreas Spreinat (1996). Aqualex Malawi Cichlids, CD. Germany: Dahne Verlag GmbH

Froese, R. and D. Pauly. (Editors.) (2005). FishBase. World Wide Web electronic publication. www.fishbase.org, version (11/2005).

Ad Konings (2001). Malawi Cichlids in their natural habitat, 3rd edition. Cichlid Press, p175-177

Ad Konings (1995). Malawi Cichlids in their natural habitat, 2nd edition. Germany: Cichlid Press, p 168

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