Species Article: Lake Malawi

Metriaclima estherae (Konings, 1995); AKA 'The Red Zebra'

by Rohnda Pagan

The Metriaclima estherae is a beautiful cichlid that is moderately aggressive. It is endemic to Lake Malawi in Eastern Africa. Named after the late exporter Stuart Grant's wife Esther, it has a life span of 10 years.

The most colorful of these fish are found near Minos Reef. In the wild the male appears to be blue or a whitish-pink while the female is colored deep orange or even red. It is typically found that in captivity the male tend to be orange while the females are not as vibrant, looking lighter then the male. The male is usually a little larger then the female as well. These fish can reach up to 5 inches (12.5 cm) in length.

Metriaclima estherae is a maternal mouth brooder (females carry their eggs in an appendage of the mouth called the buccal cavity) as are all Lake Malawi mbuna cichlids. Gestation time for this brood is usually 21 days give or take a few days depending on temperature. A brood of 20-35 is an average size and mom will take care of her brood for another two weeks once she releases them. If you are planning on breeding or keeping these fish, 1 male is recommended for 3-5 females. Mothers should be removed from the community tank when brooding is noticed. It is good practice to remove only after you are sure she has been holding for at least 4 days to ensure she will not prematurely spit her larvae. Mom should be left with her young for at least the first week so that she may eat before being returned to the community tank where she is likely to spawn again. She may eat while carrying if she is experienced, holding several previous broods. She will need time to eat and regain strength after three weeks of not eating. During the process of holding her young, mom will most likely not eat.

These cichlids are omnivores. In our aquariums, they will eat just about anything. They love algae as well as a good flake food or pellet. It is strongly recommended to feed these cichlids a green vegetable 1-2 times a week. This can consist of zucchini slices, romaine lettuce or even squished fresh peas. Be careful to stay away from greens low in nutrients such as iceberg lettuce or celery. M. estherae also need their daily amounts of protein which will come from a good flake or pellet. Two to three feedings a day is recommended. One should take special care in not over feeding these fish or giving them high protein sources such as beef heart or live food on a regular basis. Their intestines are very long and curvy and digestion can slow down considerably. In the fish world it is referred to as the "bloat" or "Malawi bloat". This disease is one of the most common issues with African cichlids and can be fatal. It is not contagious however more than one fish can get sick from it at a time in the same aquarium.

The aquarium should be of adequate size for these little beauts. A Thirity gallon aquarium is the minimal recommended size for 3-5 Metriaclima estherae. The temperature should be between 75F and 80F. For infantile juvies, the temp should be between 78F and 82f degrees. Ammonia and nitrites should always be at 0 ppm (parts per million) and nitrates should always be at their lowest, usually around 10-15. The value of pH should be in the rage of 7.6-8.6.

There should be lots of hiding areas in the aquarium whether it be caves, plants, rocks or even pvc piping. A 25-33 percent water change should be done weekly. Keep filters clear of debris and change HOB (hang on back) filter media at least once every 4-6 weeks. Keep a 4 inch square of the old filter media (not rinsed out) to place with the new filter media to ensure safe biosphere. This is good practice for all aquarium species.

Most other moderately aggressive Malawian cichlid can be placed in the aquarium with Metriaclima estherae that are of equal size. Whatever African cichlids you choose for your tank should be eating the same food, have the same aggression level, and require the same water values. Some cichlids that do well with the Metriaclima estherae are Pseudotropheus kenyi, Melanochromis johanni, Labidochromis caeruleus (yellow lab), Pseudotropheus crabro (bumble bee), Melanochromis cyaneorhabdos (Mainganos), Aulonocara species (Peacocks), Scianochromis ahli (Blue Ahli), Pseudotropheus socolofi, and the Pseudotropheus sp. “ice blue” (Red Top Ice Blue). These are all great fish to start your aquarium out with, they all can hold their own aggression wise, and they all basically eat the same thing. These Malawian cichlids, coupled with Metriaclima estherae, will display a myriad of coloration rivaling any salt water reef!

Copyright ©2008 by Rohnda Pagan, all rights reserved.

Photos Copyright ©2008 by Evan Bowers, all rights reserved.


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