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Protomelas spilonatus "Mara Rocks - Sulphurhead"
by Jen Marrs

Fin Water Organism Fish Marine biology

This is a fish who's time has come....again. Protomelas spilonotus was popular in the Rift Lake hobby many years ago. In fact, many well-known companies use a picture of one of these beauties in their marketing materials - I have seen them in catalogs, on web pages, and even on the occasional package. However, not a lot of information is available on the web about these fish as they are just beginning to regain popularity.

I first became interested in Protomelas spilonotus when I was looking for a large "showpiece" Malawi Haplochromine for my 180 gallon show tank. I happened across this terriffic web page on the GCCA site: Protomelas spilonotus "Mozambique" by Jim Stigliano. I was in love! I then embarked on a search for this "Mozambique" variant of this species. Unfortunately, I was unable to find any for sale. However, I did find a pair of Protomelas spilonotus "Mara Rocks" and decided to take the plunge. I bought the pair as mature 7" specimines and put them into my 180 with a bunch of Haps and a few mild Mbuna.

I soon found that this variant bore a fairly strong resemblance to the "Mozambique" after all.

Photograph Vertebrate Nature Blue Organism

The male can display powder blue, midnight blue, or cream/red, depending on his mood. The brilliant sulfur stripe on his head remains visible at all times. The pair seemed very strongly bonded and displayed no aggression toward each other, nor their tankmates. In fact, when I have thrown 1/2" or smaller fry into the tank during culling, these fish do not chase or eat the small fish. They are truly gentle giants.

They did spawn after about 2 months in my tank. The male claimed a flat rock and displayed above it for 2 days before the female laid any eggs. She held them for 3.5 weeks in typical mouthbrooder fashion. I removed her at the 3 week mark and placed her alone in a 30 gallon tank. She was extremely withdrawn but spit her fry right on schedule. She took them back into her mouth when disturbed
for 2 days and would not eat. On the third day I approached the tank while the fry were free-swimming, and she did not take them back in - even when they nudged against her lips. At that point I removed her and put her back in the 180 with the male. He was extremely excited to see her and they immediately began cruising the tank together as if nothing had ever happened. She ate normally right away.

I counted about 40 fry. They were spit already measuring 1/2", and were silver with black markings resembling those on mom.

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At the time of this writing, the fry are about 1" at 1 month of age. They are eating crushed flake with some supplements of crushed "breeder/conditioner" pellets. I am changing 50% of the water every other day and feeding 4x daily. I culled one that had either an abdominal deformity or a tumor. He ate and was active but had a huge uneven distention of the abdomen. I have 2 "runts" who seem to be developing normally but have the physical appearance of 1 week old fry rather than 1 month. I am interested to see if they eventually catch up - I intend to keep them as well as 4-6 others into adulthood.

Vital statistics on Protomelas
"Mara Rocks":
OriginLake Malawi
Adult Size10-12 inches
DietOmnivore - feed
typical Haplochromine diet. Big, assertive, messy eater.
Tank Size75 gallons minimum
Environment Rocky, but not
a cave-dweller. Prefers to swim 1m from vertical rock faces in the wild.
Does not dig.
BreedingHarem spawner,
but forms pairs readily.
AggressionMinimal, safe
even with small fish. Multiple males may be kept in larger tanks. Not shy
with humans.

I have been keeping them at PH 8.1, GH 9, KH 12. I do not add salt or epsom salts. I feed once per day alternating between cichlid flakes (45% protein), veggie pellets soaked in spirulina powder and water, and cubes of frozin "European Shrimp Mix" I made at home using peas, shrimp, gelatin, vitamin liquid, and spirulina powder.
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