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Keeping Cyprichromis Leptosoma

Keeping and breeding the sardine cichlid

A schooling fish, C leptosoma, makes a colourful fish in a large aquarium, where the males will constantly display to passing females or rival males. While the fish remains quite small, 9cm, it needs a large aquarium with plenty of swimming space to be comfortable. A group of ten or more is ideal, and females will produce fry steadily. That being the case one might assume these fish would be readily available but due to the small individual spawns, around 12 fry, even large groups will have trouble producing fry en masse. Subsequently, this species will always command a reasonable price.

C leptosoma will accept most foods, taking plankton in the wild with it's protractile mouth.


Orignal article by Andrew Pearson with some modifications.

Sardine cichlids are named geographically. The format is as so: Cyprichromis leptosoma ‘location’
 for example Cyprichromis leptosoma Jumbo ‘Kasanga’. Each variety is named after the location in the lake that type is found.

Common names: Usually called by their scientific name and locality but also known as slender cichlids and sardine cichlids, their scientific name is sometimes shortened to lepto. Some types are named for morphological characteristics such as blue flash, blue glitter, black bee, neon head and so on.

Other related fish: C. zebra, C. microlepidotus, C. pavo, Paracyprichromis nigripinnis, P. brieni & P. velifer

Habitat: Lake Tanganyika Africa, found throughout lake.

Water parameters: pH 8.0 - 9.0, kH 12 - 14 (German), temp. ideal 24°C.
Having a kH of between 12 - 14 will stabilise the pH at the correct level, cichlid lake salt is extremely beneficial to these fish like all Tangs and I would never keep them without it.

Availability: Cyprichromis leptosoma is on the import list so all colours morphs including Jumbos should be able to be legally imported. Some localities are very rare as they are located in areas of the lake that are dangerous due to war and conflict, so are not collected very often, it is doubtful that these types will find their way into Australia. Cyprichromis are always good sellers once in adult colouration, Jumbos are presently rarer as a rule than standard cyps as there are less varieties in the country and theytake quite a lot longer to gain sexual maturity, Jumbos usually for this reason fetch higher prices. Cost for Cyprichromis range from $10 to $130 each depending on size, where purchased from and type. Even the more common variety adults still fetch upwards of $40 each.

Cyprichromis are always a good fish to breed as they are always in demand. The types I have kept are:
Cyprichromis leptosoma:- Chituta Bay, Malasa, Tri colour (unknown location), Jumbo:-Kasanga tri colour, Mpimbwe (Black Bee), Paracyprichromis nigripinnis & brieni

Colouration: Cyprichromis are amongst the most beautiful of all the cichlids. They range in colours including blacks, yellows, neon blue and purples, whites and aquamarines. The males possess the brighter colouration whilst most of the time the females are a very plain silvery gray. The colouration of the C. leptosoma, as discussed earlier varies depending on the location in which it is found, many locations have very similar to other locations while others are totally different. To add more confusion to the story, many types are highly polymorphic. A male C. leptosoma ‘Malasa’, for example, can produce male offspring with either a yellow or a blue tail, regardless of the colour of his own tail. The same is true of many other C. leptosoma types, including the popular ‘Utinta’ and ‘Mpimwe’ morphs.

One of the best aspects of keeping C. leptosoma in a tank setting is that even the sub dominant males and non breeding males have excellent colouration, so you can enjoy the colours all the time and not just during breeding. In my opinion nothing more spectacular than a tank full of these beautifully coloured fish.

Sizes: C. leptosoma is available in two sizes - there are larger growing morphs, these larger growing types are usually identified by the term Jumbo which in general is applied before the location in the name. The standard leptos usually attain a length of up to 3 - 3.5 inches in the aquarium (depending on type). The jumbo varieties can grow as large as 4.5 - 5 inches and have a deeper fatter appearance than the standard leptos. Jumbo males can also develop a largish forehead and convex nose and extended looking jaws, similar but not as obvious to that in Altolamprologus calvus, this is usual in larger older males. Females and males will grow to very similar sizes also, it is not unusual to have some females smaller and some the same size as the males in a school.

Wild Habitat: In the wild Cyprichromis are found in large schools numbering thousands. They hover and swim in the mid water section alongside large rock ledges and drop offs, depths vary. Notice in the photos, the high numbers of C. leptosoma present - these are schooling species and need to be kept as such.

Tank Set up: Leptos need as much swimming room as is possible, in tank settings a rock wall (that runs from the botton to the top of the tank) down one end or in the middle of the tank is sufficient. The rest of the tank can be left bare to give the as much swimming room as possible, whilst they don’t live in the rocks like other cichlids, they certainly feel at peace with a rock ledge, similar to the way they live in the wild. They will usually swim in the open water in the tank but love also to swim in and around the rocks and will seek refuge there if spooked. At night they will sleep on an angle against the rock wall. Substrate is not to important, cyps will not pick it up in their mouths but occasionally will venture to the bottom in the aquarium to pic at bits of food. I like to use sand in my tanks because it is soft, shell grit or other rough substrates may injure the fish when they take fright and shoot across the tank.

Tank Behaviour/Maintenance: All Cyprichromis must be kept in groups in the aquarium, they are one of the only true schooling cichlids. In the wild they live in schools and in the tank this must be replicated. Groups as low as 6 individual are OK but the more the better. I have found that Cyprichromis are at their happiest when in schools of over 20. I have kept these fish in groups of 6 to 60 adults. The behaviour of these fish, especially the males is much calmer when in larger groups compared to smaller ones. Whilst these fish are very gentle compared to many other cichlids the dominant males will have a territory during breeding time which is usually about the size of a volley ball. The more fish in the group the less aggression shown to any one individual. The Jumbo varieties tend to be more boisterous than the standard size leptos. They grow bigger and have more beans than the smaller leptos and for this reason require a larger tank size than the standard leptos. The dominant males will school peacefully with the rest whilst not in breeding mode. The best ratio for these fish is 1 male to 2 females, but 1 to 1 is also fine. The sub dominant males will just school with the females and are usually left unmolested by the males. These fish love to swim and can jump out of a tank without a second thought, tightly fitted lids are an absolute must. I have lost them out of very small holes in hard to get places that other fish just would not reach. The most danger of jumping comes in a smaller tank at night when the light goes off or when scared by something. The swim bladder of the Cyprichromis is elongated and when they are still they may adopt a head standing position.

Tank Sizes: The standard leptosoma can be kept in tanks as small as a standard 4ft, however, a 4 x 20 x 18 or bigger is far better for them. The jumbos should not be housed in a tank smaller than a 4 x 2 x 2. As mention before they grow larger and are very energetic, in my personal opinion a must for theJumbo is a 6 x 2 x 2. I have kept 13 Jumbo “Kasanga” in a 400L corner tank and whilst they bred happily in there, they were a little cramped for room. I currently have 27 Cyp Lept Jumbo Mpimbwe in a 6 x 2 x 2 and the difference in their behaviour and happiness is very evident compared to the Kasangas, lucky for them I recently sold them to a friend who now has them in a 6 x 2 x 2. A 6 x 2 allows the dominant male/s to have their territory whilst the rest can school separately unmolested. This is not possible in a smaller tank. The behaviour of the standard lepto males is a little more subdued (but still exuberant) and along with their smaller size allow smaller tanks.

Breeding: The happier these fish are the better they breed, hence the larger the school and the larger the tank the more success you should have with them. One, three or more males should be used as in a pair the dominant male may stress the sub-dominant male, but this is most likely with the jumbos when housed in too smaller tank. The more females the better of course as they are mouth brooders. A breeding male will take a three dimensional territory about the size of a volley ball (as previously stated), he will try and lure females that are ready to spawn into his territory. He will do this by swimming around them with fins wide open and colours on full intensity in an effort to direct the female into the territory, once in his area he will clamp shut his dorsal and anal fin tightly and spread open his tail fin (looks like a cigar with a tail), he will approach the female, whilst vibrating from behind and to the side with his protruding mouth and induce her to pop out an egg. The egg is immediately taken into the mouth of the female and then she approaches the male from behind and nips at his ventral fins which he vibrates and curves outward from his body towards her mouth. The process then repeats itself. The action of the female and male is almost identical except for the obvious differences. The number of eggs the female has depends on the size of the female, the eggs are very large compared to the fishes body and mouth and will number between 5 and 25 usually for both Jumbo and standard leptos. I have witnessed a lot of breeding behaviour by these fish and sometimes females will try and breed with other females if they greatly out number a single breeding male, the females do like a selection of males as in the wild, a single male with a great number of females can be a little overwhelmed. To breed these fish and keep them with the most success they need to be the dominant fish in the tank. The males do not like to be pushed around be other fish. Females will hold for 3 - 4 weeks and during the first week may cull off some of the eggs due to the large size of the eggs and young. I regularly have females start with over 10 eggs and end up with only a few, this is very common in less mature females. Standard cyps will breed at about 1 and 3/4 inches and jumbos about 2.5 inches. Jumbos also take longer and have to grow bigger before showing adult colouration.

Raising Young: One of the benefits of these fish is the fact that they do not eat their young, females can be left to spit the young into the tank which will then school to themselves and eat small particles of food. The only time I have found the young can be in danger is with the jumbo types when housed in too smaller tanks, their hyperactivity can be too much for very new young and can stress them causing death, but if in a big enough tank then they find a bit of space and do fine. As the young grow they will join the school of larger fish. These fish will grow quite quickly if feed several times a day in smaller amounts. As they young grow they may show different colouration at different times, this is especially the case with Jumbo Kitumba and in my experience the Jumbo Mpimbwe.

Diet: In the wild these fish eat plankton out of the mid water. Their mouths are designed to eat very small pieces or particle of food and extend like little tubes then they suck in the food. In the aquarium they will eat most flakes and frozen foods. These guys also go crazy on live baby brine and daphnia. I don’t recommend feeding blood worms or similar to these fish as their mouths are not designed for long/large foods. It is a very real danger of the wrong type of foods getting caught in their mouths when they extend to suck in the food, this can lead to the fish suffocating. I use good quality crushed flake , freeze dried baby brine and Cyclops, frozen baby brine and daphnia, I would love to use live food but don’t have the room for making it. The best way to feed them is to release a cloud of small sized food into the tank and allow the fish to pick it out of the mid water like they do in the wild. These guys will eat from the surface of the water but are very likely to get air bubbles caught in their throats and have difficulty expelling the air due to their mouths, I have had to chase these guys a couple of times with a net to dislodge the air as after hours they were unable to expel the air bubble from their throat, but a great majority of the time adding more food to the water will dislodge the air as they extend their jaw to take more food. Another great benefit of these fish is that the adults and young eat the same sized foods, and the young will also eat the small particles of larger food offered that is expelled through the adults gills, these micro bits of food not usually being eaten in other tanks.

Tank mates: These fish must not be kept with the aggressive Malawi cichlids, the only one I can think of that I would put with them is the electric yellow (if I kept Malawians) but even that would not make me happy. The Cyprichromis are very well suited to a Tanganyikan tank, house with gentle or non breeding species. The frontosa is the number one predator of these fish in the wild so specimens large enough to fit a Cyprichromis in its mouth should not be kept with them. I have kept Alto compressiceps, Neo ocellatus, and Ectodus descampsii with my Cyprichromis. The main thing to remember for optimum conditions is that they need to be the dominant fish in the tank, especially the mid water section. I would not keep breeding Lamprologines with these guys unless in a big tank. Julidochromis, Chalinochromis, and Paracyprichromis would also be ideal tank mates, anything that is not too aggressive basically. In my opinion the best tank mates are sand sifters or Paracyprichromis, especially if you wish to breed two types of fish in the one tank. The best I have done is house Neo ocellatus gold, Ectodus descampsii and Cyp lept Jumbo Kasanga in the same 400L corner tank whilst all bred at the same time and without much aggression, it did end up getting a little crowded though, ending up in the death of a female Kasanga that strayed into the ocellatus territory during breeding (the male ocie had grown quite large and killed the Kasanga with a freaky single blow to the head), after that I took out the ocellatus. However in a 6 x 2 x 2 you could happily breed three types of similar/same fish, but there is always a slight risk, that’s why I prefer Cyprichromis in a species tank or with gentle fish .

One of my Ectodus descampsii females In the 6 x 2 x 2 Mpimbwe tank, she is holding a mouthful of young. Both fish breed in the tank without ever annoying each other, at times the descampsii will even school with the Mpimbwes. .

Danger of Hybrids: Different localities of Cyprichromis leptosoma must never be housed together, the only thing separating these fish is colour and hybrids are a real concern, as has happened with peacocks over the years.

When buying these fish do not buy if you do not trust the shop, I have seen some very dodgy looking fish only Labelled as leptosoma and the store person could not tell me their locality. Whilst I have not seen any confirmed hybrids I have certainly seen a few very suspicious fish. The best way to buy these is from a trusted store or breeder. German imported fish are also a good way to go, it brings new blood into the country and assures the fish are of good quality. Paracyprichromis nigripinnis and brieni can be safely housed with leptosoma as long as there are males and females of both varieties in the tank. These three fish are the most common in Australia and as you can see they look almost identical, there are also other rarer ones in the country like Cyprichromis leptosoma ‘Utinta fluorescent’, and Isanga that look very similar as well. An inexperienced hobbyist must make sure what he is buying. All of these three come in blue tails as well.

Tri Colours: Some fish are commonly called “tri colour” on the fish lists from Germany, it is hard to know what you will get if you order these as there are about 4 - 5 different Jumbos called “tri colour”. These fish themselves are unlikely to be hybrids coming from Germany but I would never buy 2 types of non coloured tri colour from different places to keep together as they may grow to be different fish. Males can be distinguished but females may be impossible to tell apart.
Both these fish are called Cyprichromis leptosoma Jumbo Kasanga, both these fish are types of Kasanga also called tri colour, the yellow headed one could easily be mistaken for Mpimbwe (see below). I have been unable to find out if both the colours are from the one type or from two different types from the one locality.

This is a photo of two of my male Cyprichromis leptosoma Jumbo Mpimbwe, one black head male and one yellow head male.

These are the two dominant males in the tank, they are right at home in the school that so far numbers 27. This fish is another also known as tri colour. Please excuse web cam quality.
It may be that some of these fish are identical to each other but just live in different localities, but it is not worth taking the chance when adding different fish together unless you are sure, just as you would with the peacocks of Lake Malawi. There is still a lot unknown about the origins and relationships the Cyprichromis have with each other until then caution should be practised when adding to already established colonies. Cyprichromis look amazing in a good size school, I recommend them to anyone that is after something different, colourful, peaceful and rewarding. I have concentrated on Cyprichromis for the last 8 years or so and never grow tired of them.

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