Species Article: Lake Malawi

Pseudotropheus acei

by Chris Cow

Pseudotropheus acei are a beautiful, deep purple fish with yellow fins which reach an adult size of about 4-6 inches, with the male slightly larger than the females. They were until recently classified as Pseudotropheus Acei. They are Mbuna from Lake Malawi, and are fairly aggressive, though less so than most Pseudotropheus sp. A few years ago, these were a very rare fish in North America, and still very little info can be found about them online. They are very easy to breed, and this has quickly made them much more common and more available. Iíve recently seen them in Walmart, though for obvious reasons I recommend you get your stock at a more reputable fish store.

I picked up a trio of these fish in June (1M, 2F), and after a short quarantine period, introduced them to my 55 G African cichlid tank. At the time, tankmates included L. caeruleus, Hap. obliquidens, a common pleco, and boesemani rainbowfish. After living peacefully with the rainbowfish for a couple of months, I witnessed the male acei and the Hap. obliquidens both attack a female boesemani, killing her. Needless to say, the remaining rainbows were removed from that tank post haste. Since then, new tankmates have been added, including a juvenile Ps. Crabro and a Nimbochromis venustus and a trio of Synodontis eupterus catfish.

Both males and females possess dummy egg spots on their anal fins, though the maleís is considerably brighter than the femaleís. Thus, telling them apart can be difficult, though if you watch them for a little while, behavioural differences should manifest. The male is usually considerably more aggressive than the female. Of course, to be certain, the fish should be vented.

When not mouthbrooding, the acei swim constantly through the upper reaches of the tank, and the male frequently chases the females, or alternatively, tries to convince them to breed by shaking his tail at them. Then chases them when theyíre not receptive.

There are rocks piled high across the back of the tank, and some live plants, including vals and anubias sp. The pH in the tank is 8.0, the hardness is around 10 dKH, temperature at 78F. Water changes have been done at the rate of 50% twice weekly (though lately itís been weekly). Nitrates, specifically, are kept very low (<10 ppm).

The mating ritual itself takes place on a high, flat rock. The fish circle each other, each fish nipping/nudging the anal fin of the other, while the other fish shakes itís tail. When done, the females develops the characteristic throat lump which tells of a mouthbrooding fish. They stop eating as well. In my case, both females were holding within a couple of days to a week of each other. The first female spit her fry early in the main tank; the second was caught (after a long chase) and gently stripped into a bucket. The fry were transferred into a heated 15 G tank with lots of small rocks for cover, and a sponge filter for filtration. They were able to accept finely crushed flake food from day 1, and have grown quite quickly to about 3/4-1" TL in about 6 weeks. About 3-4 weeks after the females were stripped of their fry, they were again holding, and both were recently stripped. The first batches were relatively small - less than 20 fry. The second batches were much larger; there are now at least 80 fry (at a guess) in my 15 G tank from them.

These are a great fish, very easy to breed, and are compatible with most other Malawian cichlids. They have not hassled any other cichlids in the tank, and are frequently run off by the dominant L. caeruleus male.

Copyright ©2000 by Chris 'Nomad' Cow, PhD, all rights reserved.

Editor's Note:

Pseudotropheus acei was formerly known as Gephyrochromis acei.


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