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Labidochromis sp. "Mbamba"
by Darcy McQuillan
Photos by Kevin Bauman

The Labidochromis sp. "Mbamba", or "Yellow Top Mbamba", is found in and around Mbamba Bay in Lake Malawi, particularly in the southern area of the bay. Although the males of this species are spectacularly coloured, in my experience they are less popular than other species of Labidochromis, most notably the Lab. caeruleus, "Hongi", and "Perlmutt".

This species of Labidochromis tends to be much more aggressive and active then Labidochromis caeruleus (yellow labs), and have been described as similar in temperament to M. estherae (Red Zebra's). This being said, Lab. sp. "Mbamba" are usually less aggressive then most mbuna, and tend to reserve that aggression to their own kind. However, the aggression usually only extends to chasing the intruder away from the dominant male's territory, as opposed to constant harassment.

Males tend to start colouring up at two months, and exert dominance early on. The males of this species show black vertical bars overlapping a bluish background on the body. The dorsal, anal, and pelvic fins are black, with the dorsal and anal fins completed with a yellow stripe on the outer edge. The anal and pelvic fins may be finished with a whitish stripe, and the bluish body usually melts into a yellow tail. This produces a spectacular display when breeding or exerting dominance.

Female "Mbambas" are actually quite drab in appearance compared to the males. Their body can take on a pink/brownish colour, and lack the blue seen in the male. They do sport faint stripes and the fins take on the yellowish hue, similar to that of the male's fins.

Adults range in size 3 - 4", and females are generally a little smaller in length. This species should be kept in a tank of at least 55 gallons to accommodate its territorial nature. pH levels should be kept steady between 7.5 and 8.5, complete with a water temperature of 75 to 82°F.

Labidochromis sp. "Mbamba" are found down to a depth of 15 metres in the lake. This species feeds on algae, crustaceans, insects, and other forms of smaller aquatic life that it finds in the bio-cover. In the aquarium, it should be fed a mixed diet including; flakes rich in spirulina, regular flake food, brine shrimp, mysis shrimp, cyclops and cichlid pellets. I find that mine enjoy the occasional treat of fresh greens and vegetables along with their normal food.

I have found that "Mbamba's" are quite easy to breed. The male can get fairly aggressive trying to entice the female, so plenty of rockwork with caves for hiding places should be available to escape his advances, both before and after breeding. The female will generally hold for approximately 28 days.

Females generally have spawns of 6-35 fry, depending on the age and size of the female. Fry are usually free swimming at 14 days with egg sacs visible, and after a couple of days hugging the bottom, they start to move around more freely. Immediately after being stripped they react to your movement, and seek out dark places to hide. One word of warning: if you use a darker sand like I do, they blend in incredibly well, even though they have their stripes. As the fry become older, the stripes on the males become darker, and they will start to show dominance at two months. Some males are very apparent, simply due to their territorial attitude towards the other fry. Fry will also begin to colour up from two to three months old, and the males should be exhibiting fairly nice colour by four months. These "Yellow Top Mbamba" juveniles will become sexually active starting at 8 months.

All in all, the "Yellow Top Mbamba" is a fairly peaceful fish that can be kept with most other mbuna. It is a nice addition to the Labidochromis family with its unique colouration. If you enjoy keeping Labs, but are looking for something a little different than the regular yellow Lab, or slightly more aggressive, the Labidochromis sp. "Mbamba" may be a good choice for you. □



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