Thomas Andersen, 2005
Cichlid Room Companion

A Xenotilapia of a different shape: Xenotilapia leptura (Boulenger, 1901)

By , 2005. image

Classification: Captive maintenance, Lake Tanganyika.

" A detailed account on the reproduction of this beautiful sand dweller from lake Tanganyika, Xenotilapia leptura "


Xenotilapia leptura were described by Boulenger in 1901 as Asprotilapia leptura, using specimens caught in Msambu on the southwestern coast in Tanzania. Takahashi transferred it to the genus Xenotilapia in 2003, together with the genera Enantiopus and Microdontochromis. For more infomation on this topic please see Synopsis of Xenotilapia Boulenger, 1899.

Adult in aquarium Xenotilapia leptura in the aquarium of Paolo Salvagiani; Italy Photo by Paolo Salvagiani. Determiner Paolo Salvagiani.

The body of Xenotilapia leptura is extremely slender and elongated, and it looks even longer as the strongly forked caudal fin is elongated too. The color of the body is grayish silvery with a thin black margin on the dorsal fin. The maximum total length is app. 11 cm. There are no differences in color or the shape of the body between the sexes, but the male tend to be slightly bigger than the female. In comparison with most other members of the genus Xenotilapia, it has only two lateral lines and tricuspid teeth (Boulenger, 1901). Very characteristic is the extremely under-slung mouth and the protruding little nose, which superficially could remind you of the members in the X. papilio-group, X. papilio, X. sp. "papilio sunflower" and X. sp. "katete" but whose coloration differ a lot.

Adult in aquarium Profile of a Xenotilapia leptura in the aquarium of Marc Senaffe, France. Photo ɠMarc Senaffe.

The distributional range of Xenotilapia leptura encompasses the entire Lake and itӳ found at almost every rocky coast that contains large boulders of rock (Konings, 1998). Variations among the different populations are very small and distinct geographical variants are not known, but the populations from Zambian waters tend to have a slightly reddish or purple hue on the body.

Xenotilapia leptura in the wild...

You can hardly call Xenotilapia leptura a sand-dwelling cichlid, as it lives in the shallow rocky habitat and dines on the biocover of the rocks, although the rocks are often surrounded with stretches of sand. The mouth of X. leptura is very special and is unique among the cichlids of Lake Tanganyika and itӳ similar to the mouth of Labeotropheus from Lake Malawi. It feeds by biting at the Aufwuchs with its belly very close to the substrate and due to the under-slung mouth it can pick at the algae from a position parallel to the rocks. It picks on the rocks and pulls the algae from the biocover, rather than pressing its lips against the substrate (Konings, 1998).

Outside the breeding period Xenotilapia leptura is often seen in small foraging groups feeding from the biocover of the rocks, but it may leave the rocks when plankton is abundant, forming bigger feeding groups in the water column (Konings, 1998).

...and in the aquarium

In an aquarium with a length of 150 cm (app. 5 feet), there is plenty of room for two or three pairs to stake out their territories at the same time. Start with a small group of 6-10 individuals and let them form harmonic pairs. If kept in low numbers it could lead to an elevated level of aggression. The bottom of the aquarium should consist of a layer of fine sand and some large rock should be scattered over the bottom and placed against the back of the aquarium. As Xenotilapia leptura mainly dines on algae, they should be fed a vegetable diet, but also occasionally with cyclops and artemia. Perfect tankmates for X. leptura are some of the bottom-dwelling Xenotilapia species and free swimming species like Cyprichromis leptosoma and Paracyprichromis spp.

Adult in aquarium Xenotilapia leptura in the aquarium of Marc Senaffe, France. Photo ɠMarc Senaffe.


Xenotilapia leptura is a biparental mouthbrooder and in the Lake a pair separate from the school and stake out a small territory before spawning begins (Konings, 1998). In the aquarium the pairs are territorial too, but not to such a degree as seen in other biparental mouthbrooders, like members of the X. papilio-group.

Adult with fry in aquarium Xenotilapia leptura with fry in the aquarium of Marc Senaffe, France. Photo ɠMarc Senaffe.

During spawning the female releases a few eggs at the time, which are fertilized by the male when they are still on the substrate, in the aquarium often on the sandy bottom. It has been noted that the pair may use different spawning sites during a single spawning sequence. If more eggs are expelled than the female can hold in her mouth, the male will assist the female and collect the remaining eggs, but normally the female broods the eggs and small larvae on her own. Halfway through the incubation period - which normally takes 17-20 days - the females transfers the brood to the male. During the brooding the pair stay close together, and when the fry are released both parents guard them - this guarding can last for several weeks and it is normal to see pairs with relatively large fry both in the Lake and in the aquarium.

Adult with fry in aquarium Xenotilapia leptura with fry at Kachese, Zambia. Photo by Ad Konings. Determiner Ad Konings.


Xenotilapia leptura is a very interesting cichlid with a special feeding and reproduction strategy and what it may be lacking in color compared with other species of Xenotilapia, it has in its interesting behavior and peculiar appearance.

References (3):


Andersen, Thomas. (Dec 02, 2005). "A Xenotilapia of a different shape: Xenotilapia leptura (Boulenger, 1901)". Cichlid Room Companion. Retrieved on Apr 17, 2024, from: