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Copadichromis ilesi


Cichlidae. Subfamily: Pseudocrenilabrinae


Endemic to Lake Malawi. It’s been collected at various locations including Gome, Nkata Bay and Monkey Bay.


Usually inhabits areas around rocky shores and reefs at relatively shallow depths. Here it shoals in the open water in large numbers, often alongside other species.

Maximum Standard Length

An adult male can reach around 7″ (17.5cm). 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 also essential as the males will build their nests in it. 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 wish.

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 species. 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. Not an aggressive or boisterous fish and should not be kept with Mbuna and the like. Good tankmates include Aulonocara species and peaceful Haps but avoid similarly coloured fish as these may fight. It will obviously be territorial when breeding but no damage is usually done. Keep several females per male.

Sexual Dimorphism

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


Has been bred regularly in the hobby. It’s a maternal mouthbrooder that utilises a similar breeding strategy to others in the genus. Ideally it should be spawned in a species tank, in a harem of one male and at least 3-4 females. It will spawn in a community situation, although the rate of fry survival will obviously be lower. A 48″ tank is a good size for a breeding project, and this should be furnished as suggested. Be sure to provide some cave-like structures to act as potential spawning sites. The pH should be around 8.0-8.5 and the temperature 77-80°F. Condition the fish on a high quality diet, and they should take care of “business” without further prompting.

When ready the male fish will construct a spawning site, usually underneath a rocky overhang. This is a very simple depression in the substrate from which coarse material has been removed. Displays of intense colour designed to entice passing females to mate with him will follow. He can be quite aggressive in his pursuits and it is to dissipate this that the species is best spawned in a harem. When a female is receptive, she will approach the spawning site and lay her eggs in several batches, immediately collecting each batch in her mouth. Fertilisation occurs in typical Malawi mouthbrooder fashion. 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 may carry the brood for 3-4 weeks before releasing the free swimming fry. She will not eat during this period and can be easily spotted by her distended mouth. If a female is overly stressed she may spit out the brood prematurely or eat them, so care must be taken if you decide to move the fish in order to avoid fry predation. It is 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. We recommend waiting as long as possible before moving a female unless she is being harassed. Some breeders artificially strip the fry from the mother’s mouth at the 2 week stage and raise them from that point as this usually results in a larger number of healthy young. This approach is strictly for experts only, however.

The fry are large enough to accept Artemia nauplii and crushed dried foods as soon as they are released by the mother.

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 (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. ilesi was described in 1999, and is an excellent choice for the peaceful Lake Malawi community. It was previously sold as Copadichromis “virginalis kajose”, and is certainly a close relative of C. virginalis. The two can be found shoaling together around Gome Rock, the type locality for C. ilesi. The main differences between the species are the colour of the females, those of C. ilesi being predominantly sandy brown in colour whilst C. virginalis females are more silvery. Additionally male C. ilesi grow larger than their C. virginalis counterparts, and don’t exhibit a red stripe in the dorsal fin.

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