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Melanochromis chipokae
by Brett Harrington


Melanochromis chipokae was described in 1975 by D.S. Johnson, in the "Today's Aquarist" magazine. This fish has gone on to be one of the most common, and widely available African Cichlids.

The Melanochromis chipokae is seen at a number of locations in the Southern part of Lake Malawi, being most common at Chidunga Rocks, near Chipoka. It can also be seen, at Thumbi Island West, Mbenji Island, Nakatenga and Mumbo, though it is less common at these locations. These fish have been bred for many generations in captivity, and are quite flexible when it comes to water parameter requirements, though a ph above 7.6 would be recommended, along with regular water changes.

Contrary to the commonly held myth that all Lake Malawi Mbuna are herbivores, the Melanochromis chipokae is quite the opposite. Stomach content analysis of wild caught fish reveals the following items in order of percentage consumed; Insect Larvae, Small Fish and Crustaceans. Algae is also consumed by this fish, though it is likely incidental consumption. In the aquarium a diet that consists of Flake Food, high quality pellets, and Mysis Shrimp would be recommended.

The "chipokae" is often confused by many with the Melanochromis auratus as juveniles. These fish differ in that auratus has white horizontal lines, between the yellow and black lines that the chipokae lacks. In addition, the face of the auratus is more rounded, and has a sharper slope than the chipokae does. The M. chipokae differs from the less commonly seen M. parallelus and M. vermivorus primarily in that the females are a deeper yellow colour than the other two.

The maximum total length in the wild is approximately 17cm (7 inches), though the fish can get slightly larger in the aquarium. While this fish is not as particular about it's water parameters, or diet compared to other mbuna, it does present the aquarist with some challenges. This fish happens to be one of the most aggressive of all mbuna's, and has been known to eliminate competitors, both conspecific and interspecific. To avoid the problems typically associated with Melanochromis chipokae aggression, one should follow a few simple guidelines. The most commonly encountered cause of problematic aggression is simply trying to house these fish in aquariums that are too small for this species. I would suggest that those who are interested in M. chipokae, have an aquarium that is no smaller than 75 gallons. In addition, overcrowding is recommended, to spread out the aggression that a dominant male can have, to many targets, instead of an isolated few. Appropriate tank mates include other robust mbuna, including Metriaclima zebra complex types, M. lombardoi, Labeotropheus, Tropheops types, Cynotilapia and Pseudotropheus elongatus complex fish.

Breeding Melanochromis chipokae is not difficult, though their aggression can cause some issues. Like other Malawian Mbuna, M. chipokae is a maternal mouthbrooder, and is not a pair bonding fish. Due to their levels of aggression, it is recommended to keep at least three females to each male. The female chipokae will carry the fry for 21 to 28 days post spawn, though can take the fry back into her mouth for up to an additional month once they are free swimming. Most aquarists will separate the fry from the mother once they are free swimming though. The fry are generally quite easy to raise, and can be fed crushed flakes, crushed pellets, or frozen or live artemia juveniles (baby brine shrimp). Weekly, or twice weekly water changes in the fry tanks will increase the rate of growth of the fry.

Despite it's levels of aggression, the Melanochromis chipokae does make a very good aquarium fish, if kept in the right size tank, with appropriate tankmates. A full grown male is a very attractive fish, and it's ease of maintenance and husbandry are also benefits. This fish is certainly worth consideration, but only if you can keep it correctly.
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