Teale Miller, 2002
Cichlid Room Companion
Breeding tanks

Labidochromis caeruleus Trewavas, 1935

By , 1997. image

Classification: Captive maintenance, Lake Malawi.

" Jessica Teale Miller tells us her experiences breeding this old time mbuna favorite from Lake Malawi Labidochromis caeruleus "

Labidochromis caeruleus pair spawning

A pair Labidochromis caeruleus Fryer 1956 spawning. Photo by Jessica Miller.

Labidochromis caeruleus have long been a favorite of mine. Commonly referred to as "Electric Yellow's" or "Yellow Labs", these fish still enjoy a high degree of popularity in the cichlid hobby. I got my first Yellow Lab from a local store owner when I was living in Colorado, and as luck would have it it turned out to be a female. Over the next few months I continued to pick up one here and there and ended up with a group of five, one male and four females.

That was about three years ago, and since then this group has produced a huge number of fry. As I write this I have around 70 little ones swimming in tanks behind me. This group has probably moved more times than a wanted criminal and has bred in every tank from a 40 gallon to a 125 gallon. Presently, and for the last year, they have resided in a 100 gallon tank furnished with rock piles on both ends, and an open center for swimming, spawning, or whatever. Tankmates include 2 female Cyrtocara Moorii, 1 female Protomelas fenestratus 'Steveni Taiwan', and one mystery crossbred mbuna type (hey, she was my first cichlid!). They are fed twice a day OSI Spirulina Flakes and OSI Spirulina pellets that have been soaked for 15-20 minutes. They also get Romaine lettuce and frozen brine shrimp once a week or so. The tank is illuminated by two CoralLife 50/50 Daylight bulbs. Water conditions are as follows: pH 8.0, temperature 78-80°F, water hardness is around 150ppm. I treat the water for chlorine and heavy metals with Aquarium Pharmaceuticals Dechlorinator, and add Seachem's Malawi salts to bring the pH and hardness up. Water changes of 30% are done weekly if I'm feeling energetic, every other week if not. Water changes do seem to provoke spawning however, so that's one reason to do them more frequently!

Labidochromis caeruleus female brooding

A female Labidochromis caeruleus brooding. Photo by Jessica Miller.

Another trick I use to get them in the mood is to turn off their lights for the day and not feed them dinner. Generally when I do this I am gone for the day so I don't have to see them pleading for some chow, and then return to find all my girls holding. Turning off the filtration has a similar effect. I have the breeder tank filtered by two AquaClearTM 500 backfilters which have quite a bit of flow, and turning them off leaves the tank eerily quiet and still. Both of these methods either slightly stresses them or just bores them, and both result in increased spawning. Just don't forget to turn the pumps back on! Unless you are in a hurry, leave them to their own methods and you will have one of your females holding before you know it.

I also provide them with ceramic caves which they absolutely love. Labs really enjoy tight spaces and as it turns out, these are just right. Another nice thing about these is that it makes moving females very easy. Every pregnant female I have had will hang out in her favorite one and when it's time to move her I just put my thumb over the opening and pull her out. She then emerges in the nursery tank unstressed. Be sure to note the pH of both tanks before you move her and adjust them as necessary. These females have been through it so many times they seem to know the routine, and she will soon release the fry. With younger, inexperienced females, they can hold their fry for quite a while before release, as much as 30 days. Normal brooding ranges from 20-22 days. I have found that it helps to put her in her own tank and cover the tank on three sides. If she seems especially nervous I will just go ahead and cover the whole thing and leave her be until she releases.

Labidochromis caeruleus breeding tank

The Labidochromis caeruleus breeding tank. Photo by Jessica Miller.

Labidochromis caeruleus and Cyrtocara moorii fry

A month old Labidochormis caeruleus and Cyrtocara moorii fry. Photo by Jessica Miller.

Labidochormis caeruleus and Cyrtocara moorii

The grow out tank for Labidochromis caeruleus and Cyrtocara moorii. Photo by Jessica Miller.

Labidochormis caeruleus

Labidochormis caeruleus love lettuce!. Photo by Jessica Miller.

I furnish these nursery tanks with the ceramic cave the female moved in, some small rock piles for the fry, and a bushy piece of plant attached with a lettuce clip to the side of the tank for fry to hide in after release. A 20 gallon is just the right size, but I have a few 10 gallons also as backup. They are filtered with either a sponge on a small powerhead, a PenquinTM 160, or an AquaClear MiniTM. I take the female out as soon as I can be sure she has let go all the fry as she really pays them no mind and they adjust much better without her in the tank. Females provide no fry care so there is really no reason to keep her with them. I move her back to the breeder tank in the same ceramic cave she moved in with! Even though many mouthbrooders will not eat while holding, larger female Labs will eat some while brooding and thus, keep their weight up and can then immediately be returned to the breeder tank. A favorite food while holding is frozen adult brine. I feed them a little once every other day or so while they are holding in the nursery tank. I also add a few flakes now and then which they will pick at. Younger females will do this a little, but not like the larger more experienced ones.

After the female is removed from the nursery tank the fry will start to swim around freely and pick at things. I feed them live baby brine shrimp and crushed, moist (I crush it up then add liquid vitamins and water) OSI Spirulina Flake twice a day. Once they have matured a bit I will move them to a larger growout tank. The one I happen to be using right now is a 45 gallon long which provides good space for them. It is filtered by an AquaClearTM 500 back filter. Water conditions are the same as the breeder tank, and decoration consists of some small rock piles, caves, and a ceramic castle. I usually use fine natural sand for substrate on fry and grow out tanks. The baby fish can pick through it easily and you don't need very much of it. I use about 1/4" on the bottom of the tank.

Juvenile Labidochromis caeruleus are very tolerant of babies in their midst which makes grow out much easier. I usually give the newborns about a month before they move into the growout tank. The fry are quite hardy and can actually tolerate moving right away if the water conditions are the same. Never move them into a cooler tank. I don't recommend moving them so soon, but sometimes it has to be done.

At about 1 1/2" the fry can be shared with your friends or sold. They will start breeding again at around 2+" though the females will only produce 3-6 fry at this size, and may hold for a longer period of time. There is much debate on reliable ways to sex these fish. In my experience, watching them is really the best way, though I notice my males have a somewhat deeper chest and less sloping of a head than the females. Also the females tend to be lighter in body color though only slightly and will show less black on their fins. Keep in mind that this is only a generalization as females can look just as male as the boys can given the right motivation!


Miller, Teale. (Sep 08, 1997). "Labidochromis caeruleus Trewavas, 1935". Cichlid Room Companion. Retrieved on Apr 17, 2024, from: