Astatotilapia calliptera occurs amongst vegetated areas in shallow waters of the Lake Chilwa, river system. It is also found in and around Lake Malawi, Chiuta; Lower Zambezi, Buzi, Pungwe and Save River waterways. Distribution is contained between Lake Malawi and the southern portion of Lake Victoria. The diet of Astatotilapia calliptera consists of invertebrates, algae, plants, small fishes and plankton. In captivity this cichlid does well on a diverse diet of common prepared food.
Male coloration varies from olive green to bright yellow in courting males. The anterior of the dorsal is edged with black fading to red at the posterior. The caudal fin is translucent blue along the fin rays and also edged faintly in red. In keeping with the Astatotilapia designation, the anal fin is adorned with true occuli in a single row. The anal fin is attractively adorned with red edging on a light blue base. The pelvic fins are black with a light blue/white edge to the first fin ray. A distinctive black line runs from the corner of the mouth through, through the eye, and ending at the top of the eye socket. The lips are bright blue. Faint vertical body bars number between 6 and 8. Female body coloration is olive green to yellow. Fins are mainly colorless.
Native name translates to "Eastern Happy". This is a misnomer in my experience as on my first attempt with this fish, I found this haplochromine to be among the more aggressive of Astatotilapia species, especially between co specs. With the onset of sexual maturity (at a length of about 4 cm) Astatotilapia calliptera savagely tear each other apart. I attempted to introduce Auloncara stuartgranti to the colony of A. calliptera. The Auloncara stuartgranti were virtually ignored and the slaughter continued. I was left with two individuals, a male and a female. After a couple infertile spawns, the growing male turned on his mate and killed her as well. Other hobbyists have relayed experiences of Astatotilapia calliptera being a model resident in the aquaria.
My second attempt with Astatotilapia calliptera occurred when Spencer Jack brought me a box from his Florida fish farm. He had told me how brilliantly colored the fish were but seeing is believing. This strain had a much more vibrant yellow base as opposed to the olive green I had been accustomed to. The fish were fairly small at about 4cm. It happened that at the time I was converting a 125 gallon tank into and mixed Malawi/Victoria community. The occupants consisted of Paralabidochromis sp. "red fin piebald", Cytocara moori, Astatotilapia calliptera, Paralabidochromis sp. "rock krib" and the dwarf Tanganyika catfish Synodontis lucipinnis. In this larger aquaria, A. calliptera has been a much more peaceful resident. It may well have been that my first attempt was made in a tank that was too small. Feeding consist of my own home mixed flake. The cichlid has maintained it's vibrant yellow hue.
I have had my young females hold fry in the 125 numerous times but due to the hassle of taking all the rockwork out to catch them, I've let them hold and release in this tank. It is doubtful that any of the fry survived the other tank inhabitants. I finally managed to catch a holding female that was dazed when I first powered up the lights on the tank. She was placed in a 10 gallon tank where she could finish brooding in peace. Somewhere around day 20 of her gestation, she began releasing her clutch of 5 fry. She briefly let them forage close to her and then scooped them back up into her buccal cavity. As the releasing became more frequent, the fry were allowed to wander further away from their mother. Eventually I relocated the female back to her 125 and left the fry in the 10 gallon. They have grown slowly but I believe that this is due to the temperature in the fish hut this time of year. It is around 70F now but raises to 85+F in the summer months. The fry are being fed the same flake formulae as the young adults are only crushed into a fine powder. I'm also sure that as the fish grow, more sizeable spawns can be expected.
All in all Astatotilapia calliptera is a beautiful "haplochromine" species. I am very glad I gave it a second chance.
Originally published in The Lateral Line, the official
publication of the Hill Country Cichlid Club.