Species Article: Lake Tanganyika

Astatotilapia burtoni (Gunther, 1894)

by Greg Steeves

To those of us in the cichlid world, Astatotilapia burtoni is known as a popular haplochromine from the area in and around Lake Tanganyika. Surprising to many, Astatotilapia burtoni has a wide distribution encompassing much more than the afore mentioned waters. The range of A. burtoni include Lake Tanganyika and feeder waterways in Burundi, Zaire, Tanzania, and Zambia. Populations of A. burtoni have been recorded in Lake Kivu and in Rwanda’s Lake Ihema, Lake Rumira, Lake Sake, and Lake Cyohoha. In general terms Astatotilapia can be found in waters from northern Lake Malawi to southern Lake Victoria. While many cichlids display variation in coloration dependant on locale, A. burtoni individuals also display significant variation within populations. There is a blue form from the southern portion of their range while the extreme northern populations display dull green body coloration. The more common forms of A. burtoni demonstrate a yellow to lime green body coloration, and another line that exhibit a rust red hue.

Astatotilapia burtoni typically inhabit shallow slow moving waters. As an opportunistic feeder, A. burtoni is omnivorous with a particular affinity for insects. In the confines of the aquarium, this haplochromine will subsist nicely on nearly anything presented to it including flake, frozen and live foods. Maximum size for A. burtoni is 15 cm but I have never had them grow any larger than 10 cm. Within their wild range this cichlid thrives within a wide spectrum of water parameters. This transpires to an unforgiving cichlid in terms of water chemistry. So long as the water is clean A. burtoni will prosper. Males will become territorial with growth so it is important that your aquascape include areas where individuals in the colony might escape each other’s line of sight. Tank decor could include rockwork, hardy plants such as many of the anubias species with a gravel or sand substrate.

Prolific is somewhat of an understatement when describing the breeding frequency of Astatotilapia burtoni. So long as, in the confines of your aquaria, dominant male(s) are not harassed by other inhabitants and there are ample healthy females, A. burtoni will spawn readily. It is rather remarkable how young these haplochromines will reach sexual maturity. I have had 3 cm long females hold a brood to term. At normal aquarium temperatures (76F-82F) A. burtoni will hold for around 20 days. Brood size increases with growth but spawning frequency will drop off as the fish ages. As a mouth brooder, A. burtoni is also a popular choice as host of the cookoo spawning catfish Synodontis multipunctatus. When in peak breeding condition, A. burtoni females will carry a brood monthly.

Astatotilapia burtoni may be a great cichlid to introduce a novice hobbyist into the realm of haplochromines. Although one might consider it a good beginner fish, there will always be room for this colorful little cichlid with even the most experienced aquarist. A. burtoni combines well with many other cichlids and as such can be considered a community fish in an aquarium designed for a haplochromine community. You may well find that A. burtoni mixes with other cichlid lineages as well. The pleasing coloration and mild disposition make Astatotilapia burtoni a welcome addition to many cichlid aquariums.


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