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Metriaclima estherae
by Brett Harrington (aka Fogelhund)

This is one of the most popular, and most commonly kept African Cichlid, and for good reason. You will find that some sites will call this fish a Maylandia estherae due to a disagreement within the scientific community on the Genus name. More can be read about that here. This fish can also be found in some places under Pseudotropheus estherae, or even Pseudotropheus zebra, both archaeic names. You will find it in the pet stores often sold as the Red Zebra, the Red x Red Zebra, OB x Red Zebra, or the Blue x Red Zebra.

While this fish is found in a number of locales in Lake Malawi, it is principally collected from Minos Reef for the aquarium trade. The majority of the males at this location are a bright blue colour, with a hint of barring at times. There are also Orange/Red males at this location, though Ad Konings suggests this is only about 1% of the population. In addition to the Blue and Orange Males, there are OB males. Ad Konings has only ever seen one in all of his dives at Minos Reef, and suggests that this colour represents only about 0.1% of the natural population of estherae at Minos Reef.

Most of the females are Orange/Red in colour. There are also OB females, and while they are more plentiful then the males, they still only represent about 2-5% of the natural population.

The "Red Zebra" first appeared in the Aquarium Hobby in the fall of 1973, and commanded a pretty heft price due to its brilliant colouration. At some point in the mid 70's, a few "Red/Orange" males were imported, and these were used as the foundation breeding stock, whereby they were line bred to produce only these "Red/Orange" males. For several decades, this Red x Red (Red males, Red females), were the only available colour that one could purchase the estherae. In the late 90's, wild specimens began to be captured again, as the political situation began to stabilize. OB line bred strain made an appearance, about that time as did Blue males.

The availability of the Blue males is quite regionally dependent, with them becoming common in some areas, and unheard of in others

The estherae is a bit stockier then some of the other "zebra" types. In the wild they are "aufwuch" grazers, but are known to feed on the plankton clouds when available. In the aquarium, they will accept most prepared foods eagerly, but are best fed a diet that includes foods that will help to maintain the brilliant orange/red they are known for, in the females. Foods such as New Life Spectrum, Cyclops are two such foods that are commonly used. It is recommend to avoid overfeeding this fish, as they are prone to becoming obese, with negative health issues occurring.

The estherae, like most other mbuna, is a fish that is best kept with 2-3 females for each male. While males can be territorial, and aggressive, they would be considered mid-level aggression for a mbuna at best, tending towards the lower aggression side. Having said this, it would be recommended that this fish is best kept in an aquarium that is 48"/120cm long, though experienced aquarists have been known to keep them in 36"/90cm tanks. By providing plenty of cover, in the way of rocks, or other hiding places, you can provide hiding places for females, and subdominant males to escape damage from the attentions of the dominant male.

Males usually grow to 5.5 inches /14 centimeters and females to 4.0 inches/10 centimeters. Juveniles of the "Red x Red" variants are hard to sex: they all have the same orange color. Sub-adult males, however, start to show a shade of light blue on the anal fin. At about 2.25 inches males will start to put on a light blue shade all over their body and fins, and thus become somewhat unworthy of their name. The females just put on a brighter orange color as they mature. Both males and females have "egg spots". Juveniles of the wild "type" "Blue x Red" are distinguishable right from being released by the mother.

Water specifications are the same as with other Malawi species: pH= 7.8 to 8.4; dKH = 10 to 14; dGH = 10 to 14, though domesticated strains are not as particular as many other species. This fish digs a lot, so undergravel filters are not recommended. Good tank mates are other mbuna but avoid other similar, short-bodied Zebra species (e.g., Maylandia callainos), and Labidochromis caeruleus as crossbreeding may occur. There are many common estherae hybrids available in pet stores these days, so please check out the fish you are looking at purchasing to ensure that you are actually getting what you are paying for.

This fish is fairly undemanding, and easy to keep, and along with its attractive colouration, makes it a good candidate to be kept by both beginners, and experienced aquarists alike.

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