Callochromis melanostigma

Scientific name: Callochromis melanostigma
Trade name:  
Natural habitat: Sandy environments near rocks
Food in the lake: Small crustaceans and insect larvae picked from the upper layer of the sand.
Food in the aquarium: Small frozen food, quality flakes and small pellets or grains can be fed. Avoid overfeeding, mammal meat and bloodworms.
Behaviour in my aquarium: Must be kept in a very large tank in a large group of about 8 fish as the dominant males are very aggressive towards other Callochromis. In a too small tank females and subdominant males can be chased with dead fish as a result.
Tankmates: Xenotilapia, Cyprichromis, Cyatopharynx and other peaceful Tanganyika species. The very robust Petrochromis or Tropheus have to be avoided.
Maximal size: Grows to about 14 cm.
Aquarium: A very large tank with a very large open space, preferably 60cm x 200cm, covered with fine sand, pH about 8.5, temperature about 25°C

 Picture above: The largest Callochromis melanostigma in my aquarium. I bought this fish at a relative large size of 9cm, but I'm certain that it has NOT been raised in optimal conditions. The eyes are too large compared to the body what can be caused by a of low amount of food, a bad quality of it, or a combination of both. Also poor water quality due to too few water changes and too cold temperatures can cause a retarded growth. Despite this minor comment I must admit that I like this fellow very much! 
Picture below: You see a younger male with a more normal eye/body size ratio and dominant coloration setting in.

Personal notes:

Most people who visit MCH on a regular basis know that I love sand dwelling cichlids, and their nest building in particular. I had very nice experiences with Copadichromis azureus from Lake Malawi, but this was nothing compared with the two species from Lake Tanganyika that I keep for a while now. My Cyathopharynx furcifer "Cape Kabogo" males have already built very impressive crater nests in my kitchen tank, and the Enantiopus sp. kilesa males also made a funny circular pattern of sand heaps to attract the females. I wanted more though. I became interested in Callochromis melanostigma, another beautiful Lake Tanganyika cichlid with extended nest building skills. I don't remember exactly where or when I decided that I wanted to keep them, but I first took the time to gather as much information as possible about them. One very strong point of consideration is their aggression. These cichlids really need a large tank, as the dominant males will exclusively chase other Callochromis females and subdominant males. Other Tanganyika cichlids are left alone though. Many hobbyists keep these fish in a too small tank with casualties as a possible result. Enough said about the negative aspects of this Callochromis now. I finally made up my mind and bought 15 of them from 2 different shops, and they were temporarily put in a 200L tank. There I already noticed that one male claimed the filter compartment inlet as his territory! time to look for a bigger place to live then!

At arrival: the small fish with no colour at all... who would buy a cichlid looking like this in the aquarium shop?

After my "killer" Fossorochromis were donated to the zoo, the large cellar tank was almost empty. All the remaining Malawi cichlids were moved into the 800L tank, so I had a wealth of space for the Callochromis and some other Tanganyika cichlids. All these little fish were transferred and it took me some time to get used to their smaller size. The Callochromis didn't disappoint me though and they made me rapidly forget the previous inhabitants. One week after their transfer I noticed the first attempt to build a nest and breeding colours on the dominant male. These fish really seemed to enjoy the available room!!!

First colours and a first attempt to build a nest. This certainly looked promising for a start! 

After a while the dominant males found a permanent location for their territory where they built nests that became larger and larger. Unless they were females ready to spawn, all other Callochromis were furiously chased far into the aquarium. This way the females and subdominant males stay together in a group close to the surface at the opposite side of the territory of the dominant male. This is why I don't think they would be happy in smaller tank. Of course they would have to accept the limits of such a smaller aquarium, but with much more harassment of the weaker fish as a consequence in my opinion.

Here the actual nest of the largest male. If it doesn't impress you all that much, please look at the next picture.

The dominant male completely disappears in his nest. Of course I can't show a picture of that, as "not seeing a fish" would be completely pointless.

Another picture of the male descending in his nest for the necessary daily maintenance.

Click for a larger image.

Click for a larger image.

Click for a larger image.

Of course the nests were not built just like that. They're big business in the reproduction ritual! No worries though. In the meantime the Callochromis melanostigma indeed have spawned. I've seen holding females and just recently I found a juvenile swimming completely alone near the front window, so I took it out and transferred it into a raising tank. There was no trace of other fry, but I suspect other fish ate them. After all, 3 full grown Altolamprologus Calvus are also in this tank, and they won't refuse the opportunity of grabbing the juveniles...

Male and female spawning in the nest.

More spawning...

A shot of the nest from above which shows the size of it as compared to the fish. Click for a larger image.

A holding female. It's obvious that the fry in the mouth are quite large!

A 1.5cm juvenile that was released overnight. I found it swimming near the front window, so it was very easy to catch.

Text and Photos by Frank Panis /MCH

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