Pam Chin, 2002
Cichlid Room Companion


By , 2007. image

Classification: Captive maintenance, Lake Tanganyika.

" Care and breeding of this wonderful assemblage of Lake Tanganyikan cichlids "

I have always been fond of the Julies! I have plenty reasons for liking this group of cichlids:

  1. They were one of the first Lake Tanganyikan substrate spawners that I worked with and I’m sentimental!
  2. I am also lazy; you can easily maintain a pair in a smaller aquarium and the parental care is a joy to watch.
  3. I need money to help support my cichlid habit; Julies are easy to sell, and the price has remained consistent for many years.
  4. Last but not least, even though I have kept them for years they have yet to bore me; I loved them then and I still love them now!

I like the way they look, torpedo shaped bodies with bold patterns, or as Konings says, "they are slender with thick lips". As you get closer you can see that all the unpaired fins are edged in a blue or white. While the pattern is basically black and white, it is amazing how distinct these two colors can be. In a lake with a lot of brown fish, it is nice to have some vivid black and white! Diet, light, and habitat cover drive the degree of contrast in the pattern, personally I prefer the blacker or dark patterns.

Over the years we have learned a lot about this genus. Where they are found in the lake, the differences between the collections sites, and how important it is to make sure they are not crossed between species or geographical variants. We know how and what they eat, how they interact with other species, and of course how they reproduce. Julidochomis transcriptus and J. ornatus are considered dwarf Julies, and the male is usually larger. While J. regani and J. marlieri are called giant Julies and the female is typically larger. I have long said that only the Julies themselves need to know who is who!

I have found that Julies consume lot more algae than we realize. Their diet is consistently listed as invertebrates, but they are also taking in a lot of algae while they are eating. As they pick these small crustaceans and bugs off the rocks and sponges in the wild, they can’t help but take in algae with them. What is even more interesting is that they also take in particles of the sponges.

One debate among Julie enthusiasts involves the species long known as J. transcriptus "gombe". It is now believed that this species is actually a dwarf J. marlieri, easily identified by the stripe under its eye, which is not present in J. transcriptus or J. ornatus. This stripe seems to be prominent in wild stock, but it is not always present in F-1 or later fry in our aquariums. My experiences show that they do not breed like J. transcriptus, they are clutch spawners and they grow larger. But it is the "stripe under the eye debate" that seems to linger on, even though other geographical variations of this dwarf J. marlieri have been found in the lake. There are also studies being done on Julies regarding mate selection, and whether the females are responsible for picking mates, or if harems are ever utilized.

Still there are many questions that are unanswered about this group of cichlids. The biggest one of all is; just how closely related are they? It has been speculated that perhaps J. regani and J. marlieri are the same species and that J. transcriptus and J. ornatus are possibly the same species. And how and where does J. dickfeldi fit into the picture? I was a little shocked, to say the least, when I first heard about this! I mean it is obvious to me that J. regani and J. marlieri have totally different patterns, or do they? And generally speaking these are also the differences between J. transcriptus and J. ornatus. However, after being in the hobby for many years, I realize that just when you think you have all the logical answers, they have to throw in the scientific angle, and start counting teeth, scales and rays. This uncertainty only reiterates the importance of keeping the species and collection sites separate and the linage clean. With all work to be done on the cichlid fauna in Tanganyika, I just wonder if this will be determined in our life time.

The good news is they still spawn the same way! All of these tidbits and facts about Julies are interesting, and it is important to keep track of changes, but I have a bit of that cichlid breeder mentality; regardless of whether they lump them or split them, I will still like them, and I just want to be able to crank out as much fry as I possibly can.

They basically spawn in the same basic manner as many of the other substrate spawners in Lake Tanganyika. I always suggest buying 6 - 12 juveniles, you can keep them in a species only tank to get some size on them, but eventually you will want to house them in a community setting with other Tanganyikans about the same size. As they reach maturity in a species only tank, it takes much longer for them to pair off, since they have grown up together they tolerate each other and avoid confrontation. In a community setting, they are forced to focus on a territory, because without any land, there is no way to attract a mate.

My Tanganyikan community tanks are around 227 liters (60 gallons), they are bare bottom tanks with box and sponge filters. I like to provide plenty of cover, so if someone is getting trashed there should be a place for them to go. I use flowerpots, a variety of PVC pipe and fittings, along with spawning caves. I have found rocks do not work as well; they displace a lot of water, are total pain to clean around and nearly impossible to catch fish in. PVC and flowerpots are much easier to move around, and the terracotta spawning caves seem to satisfy their need for a totally secure site.

The next step is to just let them mature and it will only be a matter of time before nature takes its course. By observing your fish, and getting to know them better, you can tell who is hanging out with whom. You can see that some fish are allowed in other fish’s territories while others are always chased out. As pairs begin to form, the aggression towards others in their area usually increases. It is this defensive behavior that builds the pair bond, and just as in the lake, it is survival of the fittest, where only the strongest pairs are able to not only hold off the crowd but also spawn in this type of setting. The pair bond in Julies is intermediate, it is better than you will see in some of the other substrate spawners like Neolamprologus leleupi or N. cylindricus, but they are not as devoted to each other as pairs in the brichardi-complex. At any time during this process if you have fish up in the corners of the tank, they need to be removed immediately. They have been rejected, and will eventually be killed.

Once I am confident that I have a pair, I will move them to a 38 - 76 liters (10 or 20-gallon) tank. It usually doesn’t take them too long before they will spawn. This is a good time to add some live foods like black worms to their diet, this rich food will get them in great condition to spawn. Provide several different pots or caves for the pair to pick from. They are very private spawners and it is unlikely that you will see them in the act. The females prefer to lay the eggs on the roof of a cave or crevice, which only has one entrance, this makes it easier to guard. The eggs are said to be green in color. Generally the female will stay in the pot or cave after the eggs have been laid until they are free-swimming 5 - 8 days post spawn, depending on your temperature. If the female is not coming out of the pot to eat, it is likely that she is either guarding fry, or dead.

Typically J. transcriptus will lay 1 - 2 eggs at a time, every few days, and soon you will have a variety of different size fry swimming about the tank. It is this scene that has drawn me to this genus, it is what I strive for. The rest of the Julies are what I call "clutch spawners", where they produce a small group of fry (10 - 50), all at once. They start with smaller spawns but as they become more experienced with the process, the spawns can become larger. I have had spawns of over 100 from J. regani and J. marlieri, but that is not the norm.

Once you see fry the only thing you need to do is start feeding freshly hatched baby brine shrimp once or twice a day. I also like to let the green algae take over the tank, this allows the fry to constantly feed, I usually only wipe the front glass so I can see in and provide regular water changes. The parents will do everything else, they are totally devoted to their fry, it is so much fun to watch them. When they are ready to spawn again, they gently push the older fry out a little further from the site. They will continue to spawn on a regular basis as long as they feel there is enough room in the tank. I like to remove the fry after they are around 1.25 - 2.5 cm (1/2" - 3/4") and place them in grow out tanks. Then the cycle begins again, when the fry are around 2.5 - 3.8 cm (1" - 1-1/2"), I like to cherry pick a few out and start over, by adding them to a young Tanganyikan community tank and hope for new pairs. I usually sell or trade the rest of the fry; Julies are great for bartering power.

Myths, Rumors, Tips and Theories

I don’t know where the rumor that Julies don’t like water changes got started. I have found they love their water changes and a consistent routine of tank maintenance keeps them spawning on a regular basis. Regular water changes also help the fry grow faster, so you can trade them sooner. There is nothing like a water change to encourage them to spawn again. If you think any different you are in denial, work your Julies up to frequent and larger water changes, you’ll notice how much better they look. Keep the temperature around 24 - 26 C. (76 - 78 F.) degrees and the pH between 8.5 - 8.8. Although they will spawn at a lower pH, if you give them the optimum conditions, your Julies will be healthier, and your spawns will be larger and more frequent.

I like to keep my Julies in tanks that have dark backgrounds and darker colored cover. I want to encourage the black pigmentation of their pattern to intensify. I observed an experiment, where there were three painted tanks housing Julies; one was an off white color, one was a medium brown, and the last one was black. In the off white tank the pattern was a faded brown and washed out, in the medium brown tank the pattern was more distinct, and definitely darker than the first. While the tank that was painted black, had the ideal Julie in my mind. Not only were the stripes so brown they were black, but the pattern was bolder. I now have a Julie section in my fish house where the tank backgrounds and the cover for the fish are darker than the rests of my tanks.

Breeding pairs in community tanks verses species only tanks really boils down to the number of fry you want. It’s not difficult to spawn Julies in a community setting, but it is hard to catch the fry. Once they start free-swimming the parents have a hard time containing them and they become easy targets for other occupants in the tank. The fry are very small in size and about the only way you can maximize your numbers is to siphon them off before they leave the spawning site. However, often you don’t even know you have had a spawn until you see the fry inching away from the cave. They are so small that it is impossible to catch them in a net without crushing them. Some hobbyists have made fry catchers to help them, and while you will be able to salvage some fry, it will not be in the numbers you can get by breeding them in smaller tanks, with just the pair.

There is a myth that you can’t remove all the fry or the parents will kill each other or the pair bond will disintegrate. As a long time Julie keeper, I don’t seem to pay much attention to this myth anymore. I have found that if you remove the fry, and immediately rearrange the pots and cover, it is usually not a problem.

The best place to buy stock is from a local hobbyist/breeder, where you can see the parents. It is important to look carefully at Julie fry, there is a lot of junk going around and it is hard to tell good Julies from bad ones when they are only 2.5 cm (1 inch) long. Reliable breeders typically have superior stock, they cull their fry and only breed the best to the best, insuring that we will have good Julies in the hobby for a long time to come.

There are many ways to be successful working with Julies. Getting good stock, providing regular water changes and the right foods are important keys. By doing so, you will be rewarded by one of the most sought after sites in our aquarium’s, there is nothing cooler than watching your Julies take care of their fry. Even though they have been in the hobby for many years I have found they will always be a joy to keep and breed.

Julidochromis transcriptus Matthes, 1959

Julidochromis transcriptus Julidochromis transcriptus from Pemba in the aquarium. Photo by Ad Konings.

Found in both the northwest and southern part of the lake, populations at different locations have patterns and coloration that may vary. In addition to this well-defined black and white ground pattern, the fins are edged with an iridescent blue. The female lays a couple of eggs every few days, and soon you will have fry that is all different sizes, all over your tank. This is the ultimate site when you are working with J. transcriptus. The fry should be nearly jet black with just slits of white, while the belly and chin should be a brilliant white. Transcriptus are considered a true dwarf and usually reach around 7.5 cm (3 inches) in length.

Julidochromis ornatus (Boulenger, 1898)

Julidochromis ornatus Julidochromis ornatus at Kasakalawe, Lake Tanganyika. Photo by Ad Konings.

I will never forget my first sighting of Julidochromis ornatus in the wild at Kasakalawe it was a powerful moment in my life with cichlids. This Julie has 3 horizontal stripes the upper one located directly below the dorsal. It is easily distinguishable from other Julies by a blotch/spot at the end of the caudal peduncle. The body is ivory white and they sport a blue fringe on the dorsal and tail, adult males are around 7.5 cm (3 inches). I find the most desirable ones have a yellow hue in the body, this coloration varies from intense to none at all depending on the collection site. It is the hardest Julie to find, when you do see them, examine them carefully and make sure the stripes are complete, straight and distinct in color.

Julidochromis dickfeldi (Staeck, 1975)

Julidochromis dickfeldi Julidochromis dickfeldi in the aquarium. Photo by Philippe Burnel.

Is Julidochromis dickfeldi really a Julie? Found in only the rocky habitats in the southwest part of the lake, and feeds like Chalinochromis popelini. It has a different body shape from the other Julies, and a more of a pointed nose. It has a wonderful blue sheen in the body as well as blue fringing on the dorsal and tail. The dorsal fin appears larger than in the other Julies while the 3 horizontal stripes are more intense than in ornatus. Dickfeldi seem to fall in between the giants and the dwarfs and usually grows around 10 cm (4 inches); the males are typically larger than females.

Julidochromis marlieri (Poll, 1956)

Julidochromis marlieri Julidochromis marlieri from Burundi in the aquarium of Jennifer Price, Texas, USA. Photo by Jennifer Price.

It is very similar to J. transcriptus in its coloring, however, it does not have the white belly. The vertical and horizontal stripes melt into each other all the way onto the abdomen. It has a variety of different markings in the tail, depending on the location. The stripe under the eye is a distinct marking that separates this species from other Julies. There seems to be many different patterns that have been found in the lake, including a dwarf form, J. marlieri "gombe". The most desirable are with a distinct black and white color in their pattern. Stay away from patterns that are beginning to look washed out and muddy. Marlieri is not considered a dwarf, they are sometimes called giant Julies and are around 12.5 - 15 cm (5 - 6 inches).

Julidochromis regani (Poll, 1942)

Julidochromis regani Julidochromis regani in the aquarium. Photo by Juan Miguel Artigas Azas.

This giant Julie is around 12.5 - 15 cm (5 - 6 inches) in length, and is flanked with a series of horizontal lines from top to bottom, making it appear even more elongated, the unpaired fins are fringed in white. The sandy colored body with the dark brown stripes lets this cichlid blend in well with rocks and sand in the intermediate habitat. Regani is found throughout the lake and some locations have a beautiful yellow in the pectoral fins and belly. While it is a rock dweller, it appears to venture out on to the sand, away from the rocks more than its counterparts.

References (1):


Chin, Pam. (Jul 27, 2008). "Julidochromis". Cichlid Room Companion. Retrieved on Mar 02, 2024, from: