Ad Konings, 2012
Cichlid Room Companion

Neolamprologus leleupi (Poll, 1956)

By , 1996. image

Classification: Species overview, Lake Tanganyika.

(This article was originally published in "Cichlids Yearbook Volume 3, Cichid press; 1993; pp. 16-19. It is here reproduced with the permission of Ad Konings, Cichlid Press.).
Neolamprologus leleupi

Neolamprologus leleupi photographed at a depth of 23 meters at cape Tembwe, Zäire. Photo by Ad Konings.

Neolamprologus leleupi became known to aquarists for the first time in 1958 (Riehl & Baensch, 1985). These first specimens came from the northern part of Zaire where they were caught by collectors of ornamental fishes usually operating in the jungles of what was then the Belgian Congo. As almost all fishes exported from Zaire at that time were collected in soft acidic waters, N. leleupi was thought to come from such waters as well, and this very highly priced fish was maintained in the purest rainwater a fortunate hobbyist could obtain. Needless to say these specimens died within a few days; the softer and more acidic the water the sooner they died. Now every cichlid fancier knows that fishes from Lake Tanganyika need rather hard and alkaline water.

N. leleupi remained a rare fish in the hobby for quite some years until it was bred in larger numbers in the early seventies. In the mid seventies M. Fainzilber exported N. leleupi from the Tanzanian east coast of the lake. This geographical variant was described in 1980 as Lamprologus leleupi longior (Staeck, 1980). Much earlier Matthes described another subspecies and named it L. leleupi melas (Matthes, 1959) because it was dusky coloured and lacked the bright yellow. This subspecies was found at the same locality as N. leleupi, namely the northwestern Zairean coast, near Bemba. Later on under water observations revealed that such brown-black individuals are also found on the east coast (near Magambo) sharing the habitat with the yellow subspecies (Walter Dieckhoff, pers. comm.). In 1986 Poll, in his revision of the Tanganyika cichlids, placed the subspecies melas in synonymy with N. leleupi leleupi and gave the subspecies longior the status of a species.

The fact that within one population a dusky coloured as well as a yellow coloured morph is found (polychromatism) is remarkable but not unique among cichlids. Poll (1986) found, after examining fresh specimens of the dark morph, that the yellow pigment of such individuals is obscured by the black pigment. The yellow individuals are thus just lacking the black colour. In Lake Tanganyika polychromatic individuals are also known to occur in other species. Ctenochromis benthicola has orange as well as brown females (Mireille Schreyen, pers. comm.). Biischer (1991) reports on polychromatism in N. pectoralis. Personal observations have revealed that N. mustax also shows polychromatism. Cichlids show polychromatism in other water systems as well. In Lake Malawi such individuals are described as orange blotched (OB) or orange (0) and occur in at least 6 species. Among the Cichlasomini in Central America orange individuals are known to occur in several species, e.g. Paratheraps fenestratum, "C." citrinellum, and Petenia splendida.

The yellow N. leleupi is thus one morph of a polychromatic species. At several locations it seems that the yellow morph is more frequently seen than the dark one, although N. leleupi is a rare species at most locations. Kuwamura (1987), however, reports that N. leleupi is common along the central eastern coast near Myako, Tanzania. The dark morph is of course less conspicuous than its yellow counterpart, but it does not seem to occur at all localities where yellow individuals are found. At Cap Tembwe, Zaire, I observed several yellow individuals of N. leleupi but no dark ones. The same is true for two localities south of Cap Tembwe, Kitumba and M'toto. This does not mean that the dark morph is not present in these populations; it just may give an indication of its low abundance.

Some populations of N. leleupi (or a very closely related species) do not show yellow pigmented individuals but silvery-beige ones. In these populations one also finds black individuals and light coloured fish. Around Milima, an island of the Kavalla group, I observed a species with a close resemblance to N. leleupi. The only obvious morphological difference from known N. leleupi appears to be their long pelvic fins. However, in behaviour, polychromatism, and abundance it resembles N. leleupi. Again, a very similar population occurs at Kapampa and Kiku. This population lacks the yellow morph but black specimens are found sympatrically with light beige individuals. These cichlids seem to have a higher body than N. leleupi from Bemba in the north of the lake. N. mustax is closely related to N. leleupi and has a higher body. However, at Kiku it was found sympatrically with the leleupi-like species.

Neolamprologus mustax
Neolamprologus mustax
Neolamprologus mustax
Neolamprologus mustax
Neolamprologus aff. leleupi
Neolamprologus aff. leleupi
Neolamprologus leleupi
Neolamprologus leleupi

Nevertheless there is a close relationship between N. leleupi and N. mustax. N. leleupi at M'toto (see photo) has a relatively deep body and, remarkably, a white chin, a feature that was thought to be typical of N. mustax. The most northerly known distribution of N. mustax is at Kiku which is about 100km south of M'toto. In my personal opinion N. leleupi is quite a variable species with a rather broad distribution in Lake Tanganyika. The populations with the yellow colour morph are probably the oldest because these are also found on Tanzanian shores. They were probably present in the paleolakes when the water level was much lower than at present. With the rising water level the main population became split up but remained on the west and east central coasts. The species which has been described as N. longior is, from my viewpoint, a population of N. leleupi.

The Malagarazi river delta was and still is a barrier to the northward expansion of the species on the east coast. There N. leleupi is found only south of the river. It is not known whether N. leleupi inhabits the rocky shoreline south of the Kungwe mountains. N. cylindricus, which is very closely related to N. leleupi, is reported from the southern Tanzanian shores of the lake.

On the west coast N. leleupi is found in the intermediate and rocky habitats. All individuals observed were solitary and found at depths below 15 metres. N. leleupi is a predator feeding mainly on aquatic insects and crustaceans. These are located in the biocover on the rocks or in the cracks between them. A foraging N. leleupi covers a large terrain. It is not known if they have a specific feeding territory; also juveniles have been observed feeding on their own. Their solitary behaviour may explain their pugnacious attitude towards conspecifics in aquaria. Only ripe females are tolerated in the male's domain. Eggs, however, are deposited in the female's cave. In the lake a wandering male may therefore find a ripe female in her cave and spawn with her. In the aquarium N. leleupi forms a pair during the breeding period. Breeding pairs have not yet been observed in the lake but it is likely that the male stays with the female until the young are big enough to face the outside world on their own. In the aquarium the pair bond rarely lasts longer than one month.


  • Buscher, H.H., 1991. Einneuer Tanganjikasee-Cichlide aus Zaire. DATZ, 44, pp: 788-792.
  • Kuwamura, , 1987, Distribution of fishes in relation to the depth and substrate at Myako, East-middle Coast of Lake Tanganyika. Afr. Study Monographs, 7, pp: 1-14.
  • Matthes, , 1959, Une sous-espece nouvelle de Lamprologus leleupi: Lamprologus leleupi melas ssp. n. (Cichlidae). Fol. Scient. Afr. Centr. V. 1: p: 18.
  • Poll, , 1986, Classification des Cichlidae du lac Tanganika: Tribus, genres et especes. Memoires de la classe des sciences. Academie royale de Belgique. Collection in-8'-2' serie, T. XLV, Fasc. 2.
  • Riehl, R. & BAENSCH, H.A., 1985, Aquarien Atlas. Band 1. Mergus Verlag, Melle, Germany.
  • Staeck, W., 1980, Ein neuer Cichlide vom Ostufer des Tanganjikasees, Lamprologus leleupi longior n. ssp. (Pisces-Cichlidae). Rev. Zool. afr. 94(1): pp: 11-14.


Konings, Ad. (Oct 22, 1996). "Neolamprologus leleupi (Poll, 1956)". Cichlid Room Companion. Retrieved on Apr 16, 2024, from: