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Copadichromis chrysonotus


Cichlidae. Subfamily: Pseudocrenilabrinae


Endemic to Lake Malawi. It’s collected between Karonga and Monkey Bay.


It inhabits areas of quite deep, open water.

Maximum Standard Length

An adult male can top 6.2″ (16cm). Females are a couple of inches smaller.

Aquarium SizeTop ↑

It’s particularly active and really shouldn’t be kept in tanks measuring less than 60″ x 18″ x 18″ (150cm x 45cm x 45cm) – 303.75 litres.


As it’s an open water species it needs plenty of swimming space. A substrate of sand is best. Add some rock piles to provide variation and hiding places. These will also be important if you want to keep any rock dwelling species in the tank. It won’t harm plants, and you can use a few bunches of hard water tolerant species such as Vallisneria, Anubias or Sagittaria if you like.

Water Conditions

Temperature: 77 to 84°F (25 to 29°C)

pH: 7.5 to 8.5

Hardness: 10 to 25°H


Copadichromis are specialised zooplankton feeders, although they usually prove to be unfussy in captivity. Offer a good mixture of small live, frozen and dried foods. Artemia nauplii are particularly good. Ensure also that the fish receive some vegetable matter, such as blanched spinach or a good quality Spirulina flake.

Behaviour and CompatibilityTop ↑

A generally peaceful fish. It won’t do well when kept alongside rowdy or belligerent tankmates and certainly should not be combined with Mbuna. Also avoid similarly-coloured fish, as these may provoke an aggressive response. Other Copadichromis should not be included either, as they can hybridise with one another. Better tankmates include most Aulonocara species and peaceful Haps such as Cyrtocara moorii.

It’s a shoaling species by nature, although rival males need space to develop their individual territories. In most setups it’s best to keep a single male alongside a group of 3 or more females, so that no particular female is singled out for excessive male attention. In bigger tanks several males (with a correspondingly larger group of females) can be kept.

Sexual Dimorphism

Males are larger, far more colourful and have longer fins than females.


It will often spawn in the community tank, but if you want to raise a good number of fry keep it in a species setup. A pH of 8.0-8.5 and a temperature of 75-78°F are ideal. Buy as big a group as the tank will support, with a few females to each male. Allow around 18″ x 18″ x 18″ for a single male territory.

Males form 3-dimensional breeding territories in the open water. Other species and females are allowed to pass through this territory at any time, while rival males are chased away. If a ripe female passes through the male will chase and display at her. If interested she will follow him into the centre of his territory. Spawning then occurs in mid-water, with the female catching the eggs in her mouth as they are laid. Fertilisation occurs in more typical Malawi mouthbrooder style. The male has ‘egg spots’ (egg-shaped spots of colour) on his anal fin and the female is attracted to these, thinking they are eggs she has missed. When she tries to add these to the brood in her mouth the male releases his sperm. The female then lays her next batch of eggs and the process is repeated until she is carrying the full brood.

The female carries the eggs for 3-4 weeks before the fry are released. She will not eat during this period and can be easily spotted by her distended mouthparts and characteristic ‘chewing’ action as she moves the eggs around. If a female is overly stressed she can spit out the brood prematurely or eat them, so care must be taken if you decide to move her. It’s also worth noting that if a female is away from the colony for too long she may lose her position in the pecking order of the group. Unless a brooding female is being harassed it’s best to leave her where she is. Some breeders artificially strip the fry from the mother’s mouth at the 2 week stage and raise them artificially. This usually results in a larger number of fry, but is not an approach for the beginner.

The fry will take newly hatched brine shrimp and crushed dried foods from the day they are released by the mother. They can be left with the adults and will not usually be harmed.

NotesTop ↑

Together with the recently erected genus Mchenga, Copadichromis species form an exclusive group of Malawian cichlids commonly referred to as “Utaka” (prounounced “ooh-taw-kuh”). They’re specialised to a pelagic lifestyle, and can be found living in huge numbers throughout much of Lake Malawi. Some tend to remain in the proximity of underwater reefs or rocky shorelines, while others occur mainly in more featureless, sandy habitats. Here they face the oncoming current, using their large eyes to spot planktonic organisms drifting by. The upper jaw is highly protrusible and is rapidly extended when the fish spots an item of food. Simultaneously the gill covers are clamped shut. This creates a split second of negative pressure, causing the prey to be sucked in to the tube formed by the extended mouth.

While all representatives of the genus share this feeding behaviour, the breeding strategies employed can vary considerably depending on species. All are maternal polygamous mouthbrooders but some spawn on rocky surfaces, some build nests in the sand, while others spawn in the open water (most notably C. chrysonotus) in a similar fashion to the Cyprichomis of Lake Tanganyika. Additionally some species spawn all year round while others are triggered by seasonal factors.

C. chrysonotus is not seen all that often in the hobby, with most batches of fish imported with the name turning out to be C. azureus being sold as “Haplochromis chrysonotus“. Luckily these two can be distinguished fairly easily simply by looking at the patterning. C. chrysonotus males are clearly paler on the dorsal surface, while those of C. azureus are more of a uniform blue colour. As with others in the genus, females of the species are virtually indistinguishable from one another.

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