Cichlid Room Companion

Breeding Neolamprologus caudopunctatus, a dwarf cichlid from the Zambian shores of Lake Tanganyika

By , 1997. image

Classification: Captive maintenance, Lake Tanganyika.

Neolamprologus caudopunctatus male Neolamprologus caudopunctatus male. Photo by Peter A. Lewis.

During the course of my profession I have to travel to many of the major cities throughout the United States. As a hobbyist l have been keeping tropical fish for more than 30 years. A dilemma I am always faced with is can I afford to visit one of the many shops I pass by during my trips outside of Cincinnati. Normally I resist the urge, since I know how difficult it can be to combine business with my hobby and try to lug even a few bags of tropical fish with me in my briefcase as I head for home or, worse still, have to conduct business prior to returning home. One day in March of 1995 I broke down and visited an aquarium shop on Van Ness Boulevard in San Francisco where I was seduced by a tank of a very attractive, yellow finned, blue-eyed cichlids advertised as Neolamprotogus caudounctatus. I watched the tank for several minutes and noted two fish that were keeping to themselves, one of the two driving off any conspecifics that came near. I gambled that these were a pair and proceeded to buy them and go through all the requisite inconveniences and discomfort involved in taking bags of fish on an airline flying between Cincinnati and San Francisco. I sympathize with those hobbyists that actually travel from outside the country and try to bring fish back in their baggage.

Nevertheless, the trip was successful, and I arrived home with two healthy Nelamprologus caudopunctatus. Next I consulted my library of cichlid books only to find that "little is known about the breeding of these cichlids since captive breeding reports are not at all available." Well, mine have spawned and I would like to share the experience through the pages of this publication with my fellow hobbyists.


Neolamprotogus caudounctatus (Poll 1978), the specific "spotted tail," deriving from the very distinctive blue spangled spots that are present in the tail of both male and female.


Endemic to Lake Tanganyika, found in the southern area of the lake from Kapampa along the entire Zambian shoreline.


Neolamprologus caudopunctatus Neolamprologus caudopunctatus, male, showing pattern of annoyance or when wanting to conveyt a sense of urgency to the fry. Photo by Peter A. Lewis.

A dwarf Lake Tanganyikan cichlid with a distinct, gold-yellow dorsal and blue eye, underscored with a vivid pastel blue line and a golden-cream colored body. The caudal, anal and pectoral fins are speckled with small blue spots that become more intense as the fin nears the fish's body. A red-brown striped or hatched pattern is also apparent toward the rear edge of both anal and caudal fins.

When annoyed or displaying to their fry, both fish are capable of rapidly assuming a distinct striped pattern where the otherwise clear, cream colored body becomes crossed vertically with a series of dark brown stripes. When at home in an aquarium N. caudopunctatus seems to forever be displaying all its fins in an erect and demonstrative manner such that its true beauty is always on exhibition. A color morph is also found in the wild that lacks the brilliant yellow in the dorsal.

N. caudopunctatus should not be confused with N. leloupi, a cichlid with a similar body shape but which grows slightly larger and which has a pronounced yellow-orange body color when maintained on the correct diet and under the correct water conditions. In the wild the populations of these two cichlids overlap along the lake shoreline near the village of Kapampa, this is also the region where N. caudopunctatus is always characterized by its bright yellow dorsaL

Sexual dimorphism

The most distinctive feature of a mature pair of N. caudopunctatus, apart from their size difference in that a full-grown male will be 3.5 inches (9 cm) standard length while his mate is likely to an inch (2.5 cm.) smaller at 2.5 inches (6.25 cm) in length, is the fact that a mature male will show a distinct red color to the upper, outer edge of its caudal fin. Additionally the colors of the male may be just slightly more intense than those of the female. From a behavioral viewpoint the male is definitely the more aggressive of the pair, except once eggs or fry are produced in which case the male is likely to be banished to some obscure corner or cave in the aquarium as the female diligently assumes her role of maternal protector.

Natural Habitat

N. caudopunctatus lives in waters over a substrate of fine sand punctuated by rocky islands or outcrops. It is found at depths from 3 to 75 ft (1 to 25 m). The lake temperature remains stable year round at an average of 80°F (26.5°C) with barely a variation of 4°F around this mean. Their natural food is small invertebrates and zooplankton. In captivity N. caudopunctatus will relish a feeding of Cyclops, Daphnia or live brine shrimp as a supplement to a diet of proprietary flake and freeze dried foods.

Water preference

Clean, well-aerated aquarium water at a temperature of 78° to 82°F (25.5° to 28°C) is ideal with a pH between 7.8 and 8.8. Hardness can vary from 500 ­ 600 ppm TDS and can be achieved by the addition of Epsom salts, magnesium sulphate, to the aquarium. Water changes amounting to 25% of the aquarium every 10 to 14 days are appreciated, a change of water in excess of this quantity or at more frequent intervals is not likely to be appreciated and can cause undue stress on the fish.

Spawning Method

An appropriate description of the breeding characteristics of N. caudopunctatus, in the aquarium, is that of a monogamous maternal substratum spawning cichlid. In the normal course of events this involves the female caring for both the eggs and free swimming fry while the male is banished to the point where he spends his time in hiding or defending their territory from fry from an earlier spawn or other inhabitants of the tank. Owing to the size of this attractive Tanganyikan cichlid a 20-gallon (75-liter) is perfectly adequate to house a selected pair. Apart from some none to serious rearrangement of the gravel around the spawning site N. caudopunctatus makes no attempt to excavate gravel from the substratum. Consequently, a planted tank is appropriate for the spawning pair since a strong growth of plants such as Java fern and selected Cryptocorynes will provide security and shelter for both adults and fry. Essential to the spawning tank is the provision of rockwork, driftwood or similar furnishings arranged so as to provide several small caves in which the female may spawn.

The first indication that the fish are preparing to spawn is the beginning of the locking, typical of many of the larger cichlids, does not appear part of this routine. A pair can be conditioned on the usual good quality flake foods in addition to several feedings of such small live foods as newly hatched brine shrimp, filtered Daphnia and Cyclops.

As courtship proceeds the female will begin to remove gravel from the spawning site, often piling this gravel around the entrance to restrict the size and access to the cave. Spawning is a secretive affair and generally takes place on the roof of a cave or in the confines of an earthenware flowerpot. The signal that the spawning is over comes when the male is banished from the spawning site as the female assumes the role of hygiene provider, fanning the eggs, removing any that are fungused and keeping any unwanted snails away from the egg plaque.

Hatching occurs after 72 hours at 80°F (26.5°C) and the fry are free swimming some four to six days later. Often the first sign of the fact that the pair has spawned is the sight of several 0.2 inch (5mm), 6 day old fry in the mouth of the chosen refuge. A typical batch of fry is probably no more than 45 young, although reports in the literature regarding observations of N. caudopunctatus in the wild suggest a spawn can be as large as 150 fry. Their growth is slow, even when fed as varied a diet as newly hatched brine shrimp or sifted Daphnia as a supplement to microscopic fry food or pulverized, freeze-dried krill. Owing to the confined area in which the female deposits her eggs, it is most likely that fertilization is extremely efficient and since both parents guard their territory against predation at all times. The survival rate of the fry is high indeed, once they survive the apparently critical 14-day post spawning period. Sexual maturity takes 12 to 15 months to achieve, at which point the mature males should have grown to 2.5 inches (6.35 cm), the females being almost 0.5 inch (1.2 cm.) smaller.

[fig=image|file=a072-03.jpg|align=right|subject=Neolamprologus caudopunctatus|caption=Neolamprologus caudopuctatus, female, leaving flowerpot in which egg plaque has been placed. Photo by Peter A. Lewis} [fig=image|file=a072-04.jpg|align=right|subject=Neolamprologus caudopunctatus fry|caption=The fry at edge of entrance to flower pot are barely visible at 7 to 8 days old. Photo by Peter A. Lewis}

The first time my pair spawned, the site chosen was a small, inverted earthenware flowerpot with the drain hole enlarged to such an extent that the female had easy access and egress to this artificial cave. Over the course of a week, the female would be seen entering the flowerpot, only to emerge at once with a piece of gravel in her mouth which would be unceremoniously ejected outside the opening. The male did not try to enter the flowerpot at this time. A courtship dance ensued, consisting principally of fin flaring and body quivering, that lasted about two days after which time the male was allowed to enter the flowerpot. Although I did not witness the spawning, I was hopeful that such an event had taken place since the male now spent his time lurking under a piece of driftwood, overgrown with Java moss, away from the attention of the female. Some seven to eight days later, very tiny fry were seen at the mouth to the flowerpot cave. The fry were small, no larger than 4 mm (0.16 inches) total length. As a result of the size of these newly hatched fry I added one gallon (3.785 l) of "green water," from a rain barrel I had out- side of my home, to the breeding tank every day for the first seven days after the fry became free swimming. This I supplemented with sifted Daphnia and Cyclops, obtained from a local pond, and newly hatched brine shrimp. Here disaster struck since I inadvertently added Hydra with the live food from the pond and the Hydra immediately began to prey upon the minute fry. After more than 30 years in the hobby you would think I should know better.

Five fish survived from this initial spawn which I left to grow with their parents in the breeding tank. Harmony existed for some five months, by which time the young had grown to 1 inch (2.5 cm) and looked as attractive as their parents as they patrolled the tank with fins erect. However, it became apparent that the adults were about to spawn again since the female was doing minor excavation of gravel from a cave in the rocks and both parents were keeping the five remaining young to one quarter of the tank. Rather than remove the young, disrupt the tank and interrupt the spawning ritual, I left the five to fend for themselves, assuming that they would not be killed but only warned if they came too close to the spawning site.

Such was the case as within two weeks I was rewarded by the sight of the female leading a cloud of fry out of the cave one morning as I went to my fish room to feed my fish. Now, however, the attentive female was vigorously pursuing both the male and the five young should they approach too close to the new spawning. Thus I thought it prudent to remove the young from the previous spawn, leaving both parents with the second spawn. This was most successful, as both parents now were able to assume their earlier roles, with the female defending the fry and the male lurking in the background. This time I fed the fry finely powdered, freeze dried brine shrimp and krill as their first food, staying away from any pond caught live food, which would have been impossible anyway in Ohio in December since the pond was frozen solid. During the time I spent observing the parental care I noticed on more than one occasion that the female would take flake food into her mouth, masticate the food and then spit the food into the cloud of fry, thus providing very finely divided food for her charges. This time it took less than six weeks for the spawning urge to again strike the adult N. caudopunctatus as one evening I noticed the female was losing her patience with the cloud of fry constantly following in her wake and was actually attacking the fry if they came too near. My action this time was to remove the adults, which were easier to catch in a planted tank than a batch of six week old fry, and to place them in an equivalent aquarium, heavily planted and furnished with several caves from rockwork and driftwood. As I write this article, the adults are again getting ready to spawn, only 8 weeks since their last spawning. Fry from the first spawning were given to Charlie Grimes of Indianapolis since he expressed his desire to spawn this appealing cichlid. Fry from the second spawn, which numbered 36 fish, are busy growing to adulthood on their own in a well-planted aquarium.

Key to Successful Spawning

Water condition is not critical but should be in the middle of the range preferred by the fish. A suitable starting point would be water at 78°F (25.5°C) with a pH of 7.8 and a dGH of more than 8°. An essential is provision of adequate caves and rockwork to provide a choice of spawning sites and security. A light growth of algae on the rocks appeared beneficial as the fry would browse on this growth on a regular basis. It appears N. caudopunctatus will continue breeding until the tank is saturated with offspring, provided the territory is large enough to allow parents and young to coexist in harmony. In this respect N. caudopunctatus is similar to N. brichardi, another lamprologine from Lake Tanganyika. Spawning can often be initiated by a water change coupled with an increase in temperature by two or three degrees above the aquarium norm. A significant point I observed when the fry were only two weeks old is that they had different colored eyes, one group had eyes that were distinctly silver while the other group had eyes which were both silver and gold. As the fry grew it became obvious that this was an extremely early sign of sexual dimorphism that became less noticeable with time as their eyes increased in size.

Special Requirements

The water should be clean and well aerated using an appropriate air operated sponge filter in the tank corner. While water changes are appreciated, they should not be too large, some 20% to 25% being changed every 14 days is appropriate. Remember to match the chemistry of the fresh water to that of the breeding tank, especially with regard to the pH and hardness.

Neolamprologus caudopunctatus Young Neolamprologus caudopunctatus five months after becoming free swimming. Photo by Peter A. Lewis.

References (5):


Lewis, Peter A.. (Nov 30, 1997). "Breeding Neolamprologus caudopunctatus, a dwarf cichlid from the Zambian shores of Lake Tanganyika". Cichlid Room Companion. Retrieved on Oct 04, 2023, from: