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Copadichromis borleyi "Namalenje"

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Copadichromis borleyi "Namalenje"
by Craig Morfitt

Copadichromis borleyi is a very attractive cichlid from Lake Malawi. It is, without doubt, as pretty as any of the Aulonocara "Peacock" species that are probably more well known in the hobby. This article will look at this species and its natural habitat, how I have kept it in captivity, and the resulting spawns.

Fin Organism Fish Underwater Marine biology

Copadichromis borleyi (there is no common name) is one of the Utaka, or open water cichlids that inhabit Lake Malawi, one of the great Rift Lakes of Eastern Africa. It has a fairly wide range and is usually found above underwater reefs (Staeck, p39). Utaka are primarily plankton feeders and occur in huge numbers. This means that they can be caught in bulk by the African fishermen so, despite their small size, they represent an important food source for the local inhabitants (Staeck, p37).

The maximum size of C. borleyi is 16cm (roughly 6 inches) for males and 13 cm for females (Konings (1), p. 116). Its sedentary behaviour restricts it to the rocky shores and this has resulted in the evolution of many geographical races. The most obvious of the differences involves the colouration of the males but some of the races show differences in the spots on the flanks (Konings (2), p. 313). Whilst the norm tends to be three spots along the flank, some species have less, or none at all. In the wild, territorial males defend spawning sites alongside large boulders and spawning usually takes place against the vertical face (Konings (2), p. 314). In the races that inhabit water deeper than 12 metres, the males have elongated pelvic fins. The fins are shorter where the water is shallower (Konings (1), p.116). These elongated pelvic fins are generally white to bluish on the anterior edge and, in older males, can reach the back edge of the anal fin (Baensch, p. 894). In contrast to the bright colours of the males, females tend to be a plain grey colour.

The race of borleyi that I have is not featured in any of my books. The male Copadichromis borleyi Namalenje is a very attractive. The whole of the head is a metallic blue, reaching back past the gill plates. This same metallic blue extends along the full length of the fish to the tail, in the top quarter of the body. The rest of the body is a golden, honey yellow. The yellow colouring extends into the anal fin which also features a dark band and light coloured egg-spots. The dorsal fin has a white band running along the upper edge. The pelvic fins are white and extended. The female is grey in colour with a golden yellow anal fin. As the name suggests, this race is found at Namalenje Island which is situated off the western (Malawi) coast of the lake near to Senga Point. It is the nearest island to Kambiri Point, home of Stuart Grant.

Water World Azure Underwater Fluid

An underwater shot, taken whilst snorkelling at Namalenje Island.

I had the pleasure of visiting Namalenje Island and snorkelling in its waters, during my visit to Lake Malawi in October 1999. The island itself is home to hundreds, if not thousands, of cormorants. These fish-eating birds are now a protected species and they seem to thrive on the local cichlids. All of the rocks that protrude above the lake surface are white, the result of thousands of bird droppings over the years. This blanket coating of bird droppings is not confined to the rocks. Much of the vegetation on Namalenje Island is equally coated, as I found out on a short hike up the steep edge of the island to take photographs. Fortunately, it washed off easily once I returned to the water! The snorkelling around Namalenje is excellent, with a wide variety of cichlids to be seen.

I did not catch my own borleyi at Namalenje. I found them in the vats at Stuart Grant's fish collecting and exporting facility, where I spent the week. At least two or three of the concrete vats were holding borleyi Namalenje and they were one of the most visually striking species that I saw there. When a net full of these adult fish were pulled out of the vat for inspection they shone magnificently in the sunlight. Hand-held fish display their colours more brightly than when viewed through water and these borleyi were simply stunning. I knew as soon as I saw them that I had to bring some home with me.

Water Nature Plant Natural landscape Organism
Water Nature Building Engineering Metal
Namalenje Island, Malawi. Look closely and you will see numerous cormorants sitting in the trees.Concrete vats at Stuart Grant's cichlid facility, Kambiri Point, Malawi. The wild-caught cichlids are held here pending shipment around the world.

I brought home a "bag" of these borleyi that consisted of two males and three females. Unfortunately, during the long journey from Malawi to Bermuda, two of the fish had died in the bag. The remaining two males and single female were gasping badly and didn't look as though they would last long. They were placed in a tank with clean water and by the next day another of the males succumbed. Fortunately, the remaining pair pulled through and made a full recovery. I consider myself lucky that I didn't end up with two males or two females!

I had the pair in a bare ten-gallon tank and it wasn't long before the male began to harass the female. I placed an upturned plant-pot into the tank that really solved the problem. The pot has a 4 inch diameter top. I cut a 1 inch by 1 inch square hole into the top edge and then placed it upside-down in the tank. This created an igloo effect. The one square inch hole (now at the bottom) was large enough to allow access to the female but the male was too large to follow. The female is about 3 inches total length whilst the male is approaching 5 inches. The female spends much of her time inside her "igloo" away from the attention of the male. She comes out to feed but retreats when the male gets to be a nuisance.

The tank is filtered by a double Tetra Brilliant sponge filter and is heated to a temperature of 80 degrees F. I perform 50% water changes every two weeks and I add baking soda and Sea-Chem Cichlid Lake Salt to the make-up water at a rate of 1 teaspoon each per 5 gallons. The water has a pH of 8.4, Total Alkalinity of 180 ppm, and Total Hardness of 90 ppm. Feeding is primarily flake food but also includes a home-made frozen food consisting primarily of shrimps and peas.

On 19th January 2000, I noticed that the female was not leaving her "igloo" to feed. When she poked her head out of the opening I noticed that her throat had a slight bulge. This was not the obvious bulge exhibited by some mouth-brooding cichlids and could easily have gone un-noticed in a community of these cichlids. However, the combination of the slight bulge and cessation of feeding indicated that the pair had spawned and that she was holding eggs in her buccal cavity. The female released the fry on 12th February but kept most of them inside the "igloo" with her. Three of the fry were eager to see the world and tipped me off to their release. Two days later, mother allowed the whole brood out of the pot and I estimated there to be between 20 - 30 fry. This was remarkable considering the slight nature of the bulge in the female's throat. The fry were perhaps a quarter of an inch long at release.

I left the pair with the fry for about one week after which I moved the pair to another tank, leaving the fry alone to grow out. The parents had not shown any indication of harming the fry but I wanted to be careful with this first spawn. The fry were fed crushed flake food which they took to readily. Now, three months later, they are over one inch in length. I dare say that more frequent feedings and a diet of brine shrimp would have resulted in a more rapid growth rate.

Water Sky Fluid Lake Bird

Cormorants sitting on a rock near Namalenje Island. Note the large rock to the left, turned white by the bird's droppings.

On 1st April, 2000, I again noticed that the female had not been eating for a couple of days. Once again, the bulge in her throat was barely noticeable as she popped her head out of the protection of her "igloo". The fry were released on 22nd April. I observed the male chase a couple of the fry shortly after their release. Worried that he may eat them, I placed a divider in the tank, separating him from the female and fry. My fears were unfounded. By the next day, fry had made their way into his side of the divided tank and he was ignoring them. I have left the fry in the tank with both parents and all are doing well.

I consider the "igloo" cave to be a major factor in the successful spawning of these fish in the small confines of a ten-gallon tank. Without it, the female would surely have been constantly harassed by the male, perhaps to the point of death. With the "igloo" in place, the female can avoid the male until she is ready to spawn. Then, after successfully spawning, she can again avoid the male until she has regained her strength and conditioning.

In a larger tank, with plenty of hiding places and a larger group of fish, the igloo pot probably wouldn't be necessary. Those hobbyists who like their fishes to be as pretty as a peacock should certainly give Coadichromis borleyi Namalenje a try. Its dazzling good looks and ease of spawning should make it a real favourite.
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  1. Baensch, Hans A. and Dr. Rudiger Riehl. 1993. Aquarium Atlas 2. Tetra Press, Morris Plains, NJ.
  2. Konings, Ad. 1990. Cichlids and all the other Fishes of Lake Malawi. T.F.H. Publications, Neptune City, NJ.
  3. ____. 1995. Malawi Cichlids in their Natural Habitat. Cichlid Press, Germany.
  4. Staeck, Dr. Wolfgang and Horst Linke. 1994. African Cichlids II - Cichlids from Eastern Africa. Tetra Press, Melle, Germany.
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