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Labidochromis sp. "perlmutt"

Pearly Labidochromis


Cichclidae. Subfamily: Pseudocrenilabrinae


Endemic to Lake Malawi. So far it’s only been found around Higga Reef and in Mbamba Bay, incuding areas around Mbamba Bay Island.


Inhabits rocky zones in deeper water than most other members of the genus. It’s most common at depths of around 30 metres or more.

Maximum Standard Length

A mature male can reach 4″ (10cm). Females are a little smaller, at around 3″ (7.5cm).

Aquarium SizeTop ↑

A small group would need a tank measuring at least 36″ x 18″ x 15″ (90cm x 45cm x 37.5cm) – 160 litres.


Keep it in a typical Malawi setup, with much of the tank filled with piles of rock arranged to form lots of caves and crevices. Ideally use sand as substrate. Lighting can be quite dim with this species as it lives in deep water in nature, although if you’re keeping it with other Mbuna you can use the usual bright lighting with no adverse effects. As with all Rift Lake species, filtration and tank maintenance should be excellent as it’s sensitive to poor water quality.

Water Conditions

Temperature: 75-82°F (24-28°C)

pH: 7.5-8.5

Hardness: 10-25°H


As it inhabits depths at which algae doesn’t grow densely due to lack of light, it has evolved to feed primarily on aquatic crustaceans. Unlike most Mbuna, it can therefore tolerate a high amount of meaty foods such as Artemia, bloodworm or Daphnia in the diet, without any effect on its health. It will however do perfectly well on a more ‘standard’ Mbuna diet consisting mainly of algae-based foods, with only occasional meals of higher protein fare. Either way try to ensure it receives at least some vegetable matter in the diet. Regular offerings of a good quality dried product containing Spirulina will suffice.

Behaviour and CompatibilityTop ↑

Fairly aggressive but less so than many other Mbuna. It can be housed successfully with similarly-sized Mbuna, and can even be kept with peaceful tankmates such as Aulonocara or Copadichromis. In fact, the diet of these latter species resembles that of L. sp. ‘perlmutt’ closely and they make good companions. If it’s kept in a Mbuna community, the tank should of course be overcrowded to reduce aggression and territory formation.

Males are territorial towards conspecific rivals and a large tank is required if more than one is to be kept. Several females should be kept per male in order to avoid any particular fish being singled out for excess attention.

Sexual Dimorphism

Males are larger and generally more intensely coloured than females. All juvenile individuals possess a series of vertical bars along the flanks. As they mature males tend to lose these, taking on an almost solid pearly white colouration. Females however retain the bars to some extent.


Has been bred regularly in the hobby since its introduction in the late 1990s. 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 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 flat rocks, and leave some areas of open sand 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 the rest.

When in condition, the male will proceed to clean a spawning site of his choosing. 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 should be 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 Mbuna 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. Numbers are usually quite low, with 10-15 being the average.

The female will carry the eggs 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. 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. Wait as long as possible before moving a female, unless she is being harassed constantly. 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 take Artemia nauplii and crushed dried foods from the moment they’re released by the mother.

NotesTop ↑

This ‘species‘ was only discovered in 1995, and remains undescribed to science. The common name ‘perlmutt’ is the German word for ‘mother of pearl’, and refers to the beautiful pearly white colouration of adult fish. It’s sometimes sold with the alternative trade name of Labidochromis sp. ‘yellow bar‘.

Konings has hypothesised that the Mbamba Bay Island population so closely resembles L. caeruleus that it may turn out to be a geographical variant of that species. Certainly, the two can hybridise freely, and they shouldn’t be kept in the same tank for this reason.

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