Fish, Tanks and Ponds

Fish, Tanks and Ponds
A comprehensive guide to fish

Labidochromis caeruleus

Yellow lab

Kissing gourami, Helostoma temminckiiKissing gourami, Helostoma temminckii
Photos by Andy Rapson


Labidochromis: Greek, labidos = pair of forceps + Greek, chromis = a fish, perhaps a perch

General Notes:

All mbuna are aggressive but fish from the Labidochromis genus are among the gentler mbuna and Labidochromis caeruleus in particular is one of the least aggressive of all mbuna. Keep one male and three or four females per tank so that the male doesn't harass the same female to much. Don't keep other Labidochromis species with them or there is a risk of producing hybrid fry. Mbuna are strange fish in that they do better if kept in slightly over crowded conditions. By keeping an extra 25% over the normal stocking level for tropical fish it seems to prevent any of the males from becoming hyper-dominant, something which would be guaranteed to happen if fewer fish were kept. The only suitable tank mates for mbuna are other mbuna and one or two Synodontis catfish although some have successfully used Ancistrus sp as scavengers with mbuna. In order to achieve this the filtration must be stepped up and tank maintenance with regard to water changes ect should also be stepped up. The word "mbuna" is an African word meaning rock dweller. Mbuna tanks should be set up with lots of rock work in order to look natural, plants aren't normally included but vallis does grow naturally in Lake Malawi. All mbuna require alkaline water without exception and they will not thrive with out it. But there is a myth about them requiring hard water. The water of Lake Malawi is surprisingly soft with a GH of 7 and a KH of 12.


Feeding yellow labs is easy, use a vegetable based flake food and fresh greens like nori, skinned processed peas, lettuce and blanched spinach with the very occasional live or frozen blood worms, cyclops or daphnia but no more than once per week. A diet high in protein could lead to a condition called Malawi Bloat which is difficult to treat.


Male yellow labs are more intensely coloured and have longer, darker pelvic fins when adult.


Well cared for Labidochromis caeruleus will spawn freely in a Mbuna community with out any special care. These fish are mouthbrooders and only the female cares for the brood. The female lays a few eggs at a time as the pair circle each other on a site chosen by the male. These eggs are immediately picked up by the female and stored in a brood pouch at the bottom of her mouth. After spawning the female will lay low and hide away in order to save energy because during brooding which lasts for about 28 days she will not eat anything at all. If left in the community tank one or two fry may make it to adulthood but in order to raise a brood the female will need a separate tank of her own. Don't transfer her immediately after spawning or she may spit the eggs out and ignore them, wait a couple of days to give her a chance to bond with the eggs and then make the transfer. The females tank needs a sponge filter and places to hide and that is all. Don't offer her any food until the fry are released after about 28 days. Once the fry are released they can be fed on crushed flake food straight away, the relatively large fry are "born" free swimming and fully independent. Broods are quite small with 20 - 30 being about average but due to their good start in life almost all of these should make it to adults. Allow the female to remain with the fry for a few days, she won't harm them and it will allow her to recover some strength before going back in to a mbuna community.

Some people prefer to strip the eggs from the female and attempt to raise them artificially. I have one question - WHY? Female Labidochromis caeruleus have been doing a pretty good job of this for thousands of years so why interfere.

Wild status

The ICUN Red List of Threatened Species list Labidochromis caeruleus as "Least Concern" the fish is very prolific although there are some possible threats to it. Over collection for the aquarium trade, sedimentation over its range and over fishing. Most Labidochromis caeruleus offered for sale now will have been  bred in captivity although there are still some imported from the wild. These wild fish will be marked as such and will be quite expensive when compared to home bred fish.

Information at a glance

pH: 7.6 - 8.4
dGH: 6 - 8
Temperature: 23 - 26°C (74 - 78°F)
Diet: Omnivore
Size: 9.5cm (3.5in)
Min tank size: 225 litres
Difficulty level: Intermediate
Aquarium type: Mbuna community
Swimming level: All levels

Distribution and habitat

distribution map for Helostoma temminckii

Origin: E Africa, Lake Malawi

Habitat: Vallis beds at the northern end of Lake Malawi


Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Perciformes
Family: Cichlidae
Genus: Labidochromis
Species: L. caeruleus 

Common name:
Yellow lab

Synonyms: None