Sonia Guinane, 1999
Cichlid Room Companion

Lamena nourissati & Lamena sp. 'thick lips'

By , 2001. image

Classification: Captive maintenance, Madagascar.

Paretroplus nourissati

An female Paretroplus nourissati in breeding dress. Photo by Dave Tourle.

(This article was originally published in Cichlid News Magazine, Jan-01 pp. 18-22, It is reproduced here with the permission of author Sonia Guinane and Aquatic promotions).

On a rainy day back in the summer of 1991, towards the end of a very enjoyable vacation in Miami, Dave and I were wandering around a store located just down the street from our hotel. Both of us wanted some reading material for our imminent departure back to the UK. I cannot recall which of us first noticed the aquatic magazine with a photograph on the cover of a spectacular "red" cichlid from Madagascar that neither of us had ever seen before. However, from that time onwards, we really hoped that eventually we would be able to obtain some of these gorgeous fishes.

The fish in question was the Lamena nourissati, (Allgayer 1998), which was first collected in 1991 from the Mangarahara River and its tributary, the Ambomboa River, by Jean-Claude Nourissat and Patrick de Rham. These rocky rivers are located in the Sofia River basin not far from the town of Mandritsara in north central Madagascar. The Lamena, which means red fish in the local Malagasy dialect, is a rheophilic cichlid whose natural habitat is the fast flowing rapids within these rivers. It is thought that probably at one time, like so many other Madagascan cichlids, this species enjoyed a much larger area of distribution, beyond the Sofia River system. Initially, because of basic similarities between the Lamena and the known Paretroplus species, it was decided to place the former within this genus. However, some experts also considered that the Lamena warranted having its own genus at some time in the future.

These thoughts were certainly correct, when in 1997, on another of their annual expeditions to Madagascar, Jean-Claude and Patrick discovered another Lamena species in the Kalamilotra River, which is part of the Betsiboka River drainage in the north west of the island. This fish is very different to the "red" Lamena, larger, deeper bodied and less colorful in non-breeding dress. They have fleshy, blue lips and the pattern of the vertical bars on the flanks differs from those of the Lamena nourissati. The breeding coloration of the Lamena sp."Blue Lips" is a most attractive yellow-orange as opposed to the orange-red breeding dress of the L. nourissati. Both of these variants have now been placed in the Lamena genus, but to date the Lamena sp."Blue Lips" remains an undescribed species (Ed. note; now described as Paretroplus tsimoly).

Paretroplus nourissati by Dave Tourle

During the last three years, our good friendship with Jean-Claude Nourissat and Patrick de Rham has enabled Dave and I to obtain juveniles specimens of both Lamena species. Our five F1 L. nourissati sub-adults are currently housed together in a 90 US gallon species aquarium. The aquarium décor consists of an inert sandy substrate, many rocks, plastic tubes, driftwood and artificial plants. With this species it is absolutely necessary to provide as many refuges and hiding places as possible for the less dominant fishes. (We are fairly certain that our current L. nourissati population is made up of two males and three females). The water temperature is maintained at 26°C (79°F). Internal power filtration is used in all our aquariums and regular weekly 25% water changes are carried out. The local water parameters in this part of Southern England are alkaline, with pH 7.7 ­ 7.8, KH ­ 8dH and GH 15dH. We have found the L. nourissati to be extremely slow growing, but adult males will eventually reach 15-20 cms TL, with the females remaining about a third smaller.

Lamena means red fish in the local Malagasy dialect

Earlier this year, our largest male began displaying to one of the females whose abdomen had become noticably swollen. He would move alongside her, quivering with his fins erect and after a short time she was responding by quivering in a similar way. At the same time, another of the female L. nourissati, whose abdomen was also quite swollen, made movements towards this male. Spoilt for choice, he displayed to both of them, but eventually paired with his original female. The pair, whose red coloration had intensified considerably, patrolled the aquarium looking for a suitable spawning site. The female had singled out a small terracotta cave, whereas the male, because of his larger size, seemed to prefer a big plastic pipe nearby. Periodically, the male would glance off the sandy substrate, which Dave and I have subsequently seen occur with some of our other Madagascan species, particularly those of the Paretroplus genus, prior to spawning, so we think this must be a territorial action. Reminiscent of his African and American cousins, he cleared an area in the substrate outside both of the favored spawning locations. Eventually, the female chose the small cave and began laying eggs inside on the roof, but unfortunately, the male was struggling, because of his much larger size, to invert his body within the confines of the cave to enable him to fertilise the eggs. He seemed very unsure of what he should be doing and she frequently had to persuade him to re-enter the cave. Dave and I thought this was probably because of his inexperience and the size of the cave, but it wasn't too long before we realised he was actually eating the eggs!

Successful spawnings of the Lamena nourissati have occurred in Europe, (Patrick de Rham, 1995, Jean-Claude Nourissat and Bolton Museum Aquarium), as well as Laif DeMason and some other cichlid hobbyists in the US. However, it is well known that the species will often eat their eggs in captivity, so we have been advised to take the eggs away and hatch them artificially if at all possible. We have had two further spawnings since then, with two pairs laying eggs within 24 hours of each other at different ends of the aquarium, but unfortunately, Dave and I witnessed both males eating the eggs as the females were laying them! Hopefully, this situation will improve in the future.

Our population of five F1 Lamena sp. "Blue Lips" has grown considerably faster than the L. nourissati and the size of our largest specimen, which is actually a female, is currently approximately 18 cms TL. We are fairly certain that the four other fishes are all males. They are housed in a 120 US gallon aquarium, which has a similar décor to that of the L. nourissati and all our other aquaria. The L. sp. "Blue Lips" share their aquarium with seven, wild-caught, Ptychochromis sp. "Mandritsara", (an undescribed species collected by Jean-Claude and Patrick from a location near the town of Mandritsara) and a single homebred Paratilapia polleni "small spot". The non-breeding coloration of the L. sp. "Blue Lips" is a darkish brown and less attractive than that of the non-breeding L. nourissati, but both Lamena species have really spectacular, but differing breeding coloration. While the L. sp. "Blue Lips" is another rheophilic fish, as I have already said, it is more rounded and deeper bodied in appearance than the other Lamena and can reach up to 25 cms TL. Dave and I have observed that the behaviour of the L. sp. "Blue Lips" in the aquarium is less far aggressive towards each other and their tank-mates, than that of L. nourissati.

Successful spawnings of the Lamena nourissati have occurred in Europe, as well as some by cichlid hobbyists in the US

Incorrectly, Dave and I thought that the largest L. sp "Blue Lips" was a male and that the two other smaller fishes following "him" were potential female suitors. While displaying the extremely attractive illuminous yellow-orange breeding coloration for the first time, these two smaller "Blue Lips" faced and threatened each other with their mouths open, but without any physical contact. After a few moments, the large "male" swam between the other two as if to deliberately break up the confrontation. These standoffs continued for several days, during which time we noticed that the largest "Blue Lips" was becoming distinctly fatter in the abdomen area and its spawning tube became increasingly visible. This fish chased off the other two on several occasions, until finally they kept out the way and "he" laid some eggs on the roof of an upturned terracotta plantpot! Dave and I had got it wrong, he was a she and probably the two smaller males were still too immature to fertilise the eggs! On the positive side, the female did not immediately eat the unfertilised eggs.

A few months later, the female "Blue Lips", who was still larger in size than the other four, was spending a lot of time with one of them. In spite of her attempts to pursue him, he stood his ground and together the pair chased off their tankmates, without causing them any damage. A few different sites were inspected and the same inverted pot seemed be of interest to both fishes. The yellow-orange coloration of the male was far more intense than that of the female, whose color seemed to come and go more often. The frequent displaying, that occured between the pair, was exactly the same as the courtship behaviour of the L. nourissati, that we had already observed, but with less obvious aggression. Dave and I hoped to witness the imminent spawning to enable us to remove the eggs immediately to hatch them artificially as a precaution, just in case the parents decided to eat them. Two days later, their spawning tubes were clearly visible, but for some obscure reason, another site had been selected. The female was cleaning a large rock located at one end of the aquarium, some distance from the inverted plant pot. This was quite a surprise to Dave and I, as we understood that the L. sp "Blue Lips" usually spawned on the roof of a cave in the same manner, as their close relatives, L. nourissati.

Paretroplus tsimoly

An adult Paretroplus tsimoly breeding pair in the aquarium. Photo by Dave Tourle.

Eventually, the pair began spawning on the rock, with the female laying quite large creamy white eggs, closely followed by the male fertilising them. This was a very anxious time, as we just did not know whether the male or the female both would eat the eggs. Thankfully, neither of them attempted to do so and they were actually proving to be very good, prospective parents, keeping their tankmates at a respectful distance. The rock and the eggs were placed in a pail and carefully moved to a small hatching tank, filtered by two mature sponge filters, had already been filled with water from the parent's aquarium. Methylene Blue treatment was added to the water to prevent the eggs from fungusing The larvae, which numbered about 60, hatched after four days and were freeswimming six days later. Unlike other young cichlids, they kept together in a school and were seen to be continually shoaling at the surface in a rapid circling manner. They were fed on microworm, Liquifry and powdered fry food, but did not seem to be very interested in eating. Thankfully, after two or three days, their apparent agitation decreased and they began to eat. The distress of fry that have been removed from the parents too soon, has been witnessed with Lamena nourissati, (de Rham, 1995), as well as Paretroplus species that have spawned in aquaria. Obviously, this poses a very difficult dilemma for anyone who has experienced successful spawnings of any Madagcascan cichlids in the Paretroplus genus or the Lamena genus. The conservation status of the majority of these species is either vulnerable or highly endangered, so it is imperative, whenever possible, to maintain captive breeding programs.

Unfortunately, all of the L. sp. "Blue Lips" fry, except one, died within the first three weeks of their life

Unfortunately, all of the L. sp. "Blue Lips" fry, except one, (he is still thriving!), died within the first three weeks of their life, so we decided that if the pair spawned again, the eggs should remain with the parents. About a month later, another spawning occurred inside the inverted plantpot and it was extremely interesting to observe that it was the male fanning the eggs, while the female patrolled the surrounding area. Having read Patrick de Rham's account (Cichlid News, 1995) of breeding L. nourissati, in which he describes the male of that species undertakes most of the parental duties, including care of the eggs, the close relationship between the two Lamenas is very obvious.

The L. sp. "Blue Lips" male continued to tend the eggs, the hatched larvae and was rarely absent from his post, even when food was "served" to the aquarium residents. The female was occasionally seen to guard the wrigglers for a very short period of time, while he chased off anyone who came too close. However, for most of the time, this was the female's only contribution to the parental care. We hoped that once the larvae were freeswimming, it would be possible to syphon some of them into a nearby hatching tank and leave the remainder with the parents. In spite of the parents' exemplary care, the other tank residents had other ideas and began to pick off the fry. Luckily, we were there to witness this, so plan "B" was quickly implemented and about thirty fry were transferred to the little aquarium. Their agitation at being taken from their parents became apparent again, but within a very short space of time, they relaxed and were feeding well, so Dave and I were quietly optimistic about their future development.

Paretroplus tsimoly by Dave Tourle

After four or or five weeks there were still about 20 fry remaining, which was considerably better that the first spawning, but the L. sp. "Blue Lips" babies were just not growing. Microworm and other suitable fry foods were offered four times a day and regular small water changes, using water from the parents' aquarium were carried out, but to no avail. Gradually all the surviving fry died and needless to say, Dave and I were extremely disappointed, as we did not know what had gone wrong! We have already had successful spawnings with Paratilapia polleni "Small spot", as well as various Ptychchromis species and raised the fry. However we have subsequently learnt that other aquarists have also had problems raising Paretroplus and Lamena fry. We know about the risks involved moving the eggs for artifcial hatching, as well as removing freeswimming fry from their parents too soon. Given the delicate conservation status of so many of Madagascar's cichlids, what is the answer?

Dave and I have sought advice from many different sources and now believe that there might be a protozoan parasite of the tetrahymena species in the water of our aquaria, against which Paretroplus and Lamena fry have no resistance. In spite of the same intitial problem, Bolton Museum Aquarium has now sucessfully bred and reared L. nourissati, Paretroplus menarambo, Paretroplus maculatus and Paretoplus kieneri. The curator at Bolton, Tim Henshaw has advised that we should use a standard protozoan treatment in the water, when attempting to rear fry artificially. He suggested also, that perhaps, the fry might be susceptible to high levels of phosphate within the water and to use an appropriate phosphate treatment to lower these levels in the fry aquarium. Tim's third and final suggestion was to use a bacterial filter booster to counteract the effects of the fungus-preventing Methylene Blue treatment, as it has been known to effect the necessary bacteria in mature filters. We have acquired all these necessary remedies, so now all we can do is wait for our Madagascans fishes to decide to spawn again, so the treatments can be tried. Unfortunately, at the time of writing it is mid November and all of our Paretroplus and Lamena spawnings have occurred during the longer daylight hours of summer, so it is very much a waiting game!


Since the time of writing, I am pleased to report that our Paretroplus spawning results have been more successful this summer using Bolton's regime and we are currently raising Paretroplus menarambo and Paretroplus kieneri fry. Both Lamena species have been placed back in the Paretroplus genus and the recently described Lamena sp. "Blue Lips" is now known as Paretroplus tsimoly and Lamena nourissati is now Paretroplus nourissati.

Paretroplus nourissati

An adult Paretroplus nourissati in the aquarium of Patrick de Rham. Photo by Juan Miguel Artigas Azas.


Guinane, Sonia. (Jul 07, 2002). "Lamena nourissati & Lamena sp. 'thick lips'". Cichlid Room Companion. Retrieved on Jun 18, 2024, from: