The Electric Yellow Lab Cichlid Labidochromis caeruleus is one of the most popular African cichlids because of the beautiful yellow coloring. It is usually seen in its golden phase, thus its common names also include Yellow Lab Cichlid, Electric Yellow Lab, Yellow Labido, Lemon Yellow Lab, Banana Cichlid and Lemon drop Cichlid.
This strikingly yellow morph is only one variety of this fish however, there are actually about a dozen naturally occurring color morphs. As a group this species is known as the Blue Streak Hap as well as Labidochromis Yellow, Labidochromis White, Pearl Labidochromis, and Blue-White Labido. Blue morphs as well as white varieties are occasionally available to the hobbyist.
Blue Streak Haps are widespread throughout Lake Malawi, but the yellow variety is found only in the Nkhata Bay between the Islands of Charo and Mbowe. Author Marc Elieson gives a fascinating overview of the the discovery and introduction of this color morph to the hobby in his article entitled “Labidochromis caeruleus“. He describes how this color morph was first found and collected by Stuart Grant and his divers around 1980. They were then bred in large quantities by Pierre Brichard in his fish facility in Burundi, Africa, located on Lake Tanganyika. Brichard began offering the offspring for sale in 1986, which caused a great deal of confusion because he initially called them “Labidochromis tanganicae“. Fortunately has all been sorted out as they are not Tanganyika cichlids, but rather a xanthic variation of L. caeruleus.
These fish are members of the Mbuna group. Mbunas are small, dynamic rock-dwelling cichlids from Lake Malawi, Africa. There are 13 genera full of very active and aggressive personalities of Mbuna cichlids. The African word “mbuna” comes from the Tonga people of Malawi and means “rockfish” or “rock-dwelling”. This name aptly describes the environment these fish live in as opposed to the open water swimmers like the Utaka cichlids and other “haps”.
The Electric Yellow Labs are a most interesting African cichlid. They stand out with their brilliant coloration but also because they are one of the most peaceful of the Mbuna species. As an omnivore and being somewhat shy, they are very versatile and adaptable to all sorts of cichlid setups. They can live singly or in pairs. They are not territorial but they will be aggressive towards other fish that are similar in body shape or color. Other peaceful Mbunas as well as Peacock Cichlids, Featherfins, and Lamprologus species can make good tankmates.
These truly attractive fish are ideal for the beginning cichlid keeper. They can be maintained in an aquarium as small as 30 gallons, though 50 gallons or so is ideal, and they are generally easy to care for. They are most comfortable in an aquarium with lots of rocks and caves that provide hiding places for it to dart in and out of. They like a sandy bottom and if you provide plants they will not burrow or in any other way disturb them. They are very durable and less susceptible to Malawi Bloat, which is an affliction that many African cichlids are prone to if the herbivore aspect of their dietary needs are not closely managed.
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Actinopterygii
- Order: Perciformes
- Family: Cichlidae
- Genus: Labidochromis
- Species: caeruleus
For Information on keeping freshwater fish, see:
Freshwater Aquarium Guide: Aquarium Setup and Care
Electric Yellow Cichlid – Quick Aquarium Care
- Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner
- Size of fish – inches: 3.2 inches (8.10 cm)
- Minimum Tank Size: 30 gal (114 L)
- Temperament: Semi-aggressive
- Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy
- Temperature: 75.0 to 79.0° F (23.9 to 26.1° C)
Habitat: Distribution / Background
The Blue Streak Hap Labidochromis caeruleus was described by Fryer in 1956. They are endemic to the rocky shoreline of Lake Malawi, Africa. Their distribution within Lake Malawi is on the west coast between Ruarwe and Nkhata Bays and on the east coast from the waters of southern Tanzania to northern Mozambique. This distribution contributes to a diversity of color, mostly in variations of whites and yellows. Electric Yellow Cichlid has a much more restricted location. They are found only on the western side in Nkhata Bay between the Islands of Charo and Lion’s Cove.
This species is listed on the IUCN Red List as Lease Concern (LC). It is endemic to Lake Malawi but is widespread with no recognized threats at present. Other common names it is known by are Labidochromis Yellow, Labidochromis White, Pearl Labidochromis, Blue-White Labido, Labido Cichlid, and Utaka (even though it is a Mbuna). The Electric Yellow Cichlid described here is also known as the Yellow Lab Cichlid, Electric Yellow Lab, Electric Yellow Labido, Lemon Yellow Lab, Yellow Labido Cichlid, Banana Cichlid, Lemon drop Cichlid, and Yellow Prince.
This Mbuna cichlid occurs above rocky areas as well as in sections vegetated with Vallisneria aethiopica. They occur at the greatest depth of all the species in the Labidochromis genus, found at depths between 35 – 100 feet (10 – 30 m). They are rarely found at depths less this. The Electric Yellow Cichlid is generally found at a depth of 70 feet (20 m).
In the wild they live either singly or in pairs and are a mouthbrooder species that forms a matriarchal family. Depending on their individual habitats, they feed primarily on lithophile (stone loving) invertebrates, mollusks and snails, but also eat fish and insects.
- Scientific Name: Labidochromis caeruleus
- Social Grouping: Varies – In nature they are found either singly or in pairs.
- IUCN Red List: LC – Least Concern
The body of the Labido Cichlid is stocky and rather elongated. This cichlid grows a bit over 3 inches (8.1 cm) in length in the wild, but can grow larger in the aquarium, up to a length of almost 4″ (10 cm). Lake Malawi fish live an average of 6 to 10 years.
There are about a dozen color morphs found in this species, depending on where they originate from. The normal coloration is white with a vivid black stripe running along the dorsal fin just inset from the edge. Males grow a bit larger than females and during breeding time develop a bluish coloration.
The Electric Yellow Cichlid, as its name suggests, has a bright yellow body also with a black stripe on its dorsal as well as black on the anal fins, though it will often not show this vivid black striping until it is mature. This is the most popular in the hobby but there are other color variations, especially blue, that are occasionally available. Some of these varieties are:
- Yellow with a blue dorsal: The color morph is from Kakusa
- Yellow with a whitish belly: This is another color morph from Lion’s Cove
- White: The white color morph is from Lundu Island
- White with blue fins: This is a color morph that is becoming very popular and is from Nkhata bay.
- White with a dark blue stripe on the dorsal fin: This is a color morph from Undu Point.
- Size of fish – inches: 3.2 inches (8.10 cm) – These fish reach a length of about 3″ (8.1 cm) in the wild, but can grow up to almost 4″ (10 cm) in the aquarium.
- Lifespan: 6 years – The average lifespan for this fish is about 6 to 10 years with proper care.
Fish Keeping Difficulty
They are are generally easy to care for and are excellent cichlids for the beginner. They are moderately aggressive so not a community tank specimen that can be kept with fish other than cichlids. The aquarists must be willing to do frequent water changes and provide appropriate tank mates. In the proper setup they will easily adapt to prepared foods, breed readily, and the juveniles are easy to raise as well.
- Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy
- Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner
Foods and Feeding
Although its diet is primarily carnivorous in the wild, the Electric Yellow Cichlid is an omnivore. In the aquarium it is not picky about its fare and will generally eat all kinds of live, fresh, and flake foods. To keep a good balance provide them with both plant and animal foods in about equal proportions. They do need some vegetable matter to help prevent Malawi bloat, but they are not as susceptible to this disease as other African cichlids.
They will accept most prepared foods such as high quality flake foods, pellets, and freeze dried foods as well as natural proteins like brine shrimp and blood worms (either live or frozen). A carotene based food is also suggested to keep their colors bright, color enhancing commercial foods are readily available. Vary their diet and they will reward you with beautiful coloring. It is always better to feed them small amounts several times a day instead of one large feeding. This keeps the water quality higher for a longer period of time. Of course, all fish benefit from added vitamins and supplements to their foods.
- Diet Type: Omnivore
- Flake Food: Yes
- Tablet / Pellet: Yes
- Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet
- Vegetable Food: Half of Diet
- Meaty Food: Half of Diet
- Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day – Offer several small feedings a day, what they can eat in about 3 minutes or less, rather than a single large feeding.
Malawi Cichlids will deteriorate under poor water conditions. Have an established filtration system along with water changes of 10% to 20% a week depending on the bio load.
- Water Changes: Weekly – Water changes of 10-20% weekly are suggested, depending on the bio load.
The streams that flow into Lake Malawi have a high mineral content. This along with evaporation has resulted in alkaline water that is highly mineralized. Lake Malawi is known for its clarity and stability as far as pH and other water chemistries. It is easy to see why it is important to watch tank parameters with all Lake Malawi fish.
Rift lake cichlids need hard alkaline water but are not found in brackish waters. Salt is sometimes used as a buffering agent to increase the water’s carbonate hardness. This cichlid has some salt tolerance so can be kept in slightly brackish water conditions. However it not suited to a full brackish water tank. It can tolerate a salinity that is about 10% of a normal saltwater tank, a specific gravity of less than 1.0002.
They can be maintained in a minimum 30 gallon aquarium, though 50 gallons or so is ideal. They do fine in either freshwater or brackish freshwater but need good water movement along with very strong and efficient filtration. They can tolerate any ph above neutral, but a ph level of 8 is best. A substrate of crushed coral or sand used for salt water tanks can help keep the pH up. Crushed coral or aragonite sands also tend to dissolves easier than salts. Keeping a higher pH however, means that ammonia is more lethal, so regular water changes are a must for these fish. A very slow acclimation to different pH levels can sometimes be achieved.
They are most comfortable in an aquarium with lots of rocks and caves that provide hiding places to dart in and out of along with some open swimming space. They spend the day moving around the rocky inclines looking at the ceilings, cracks and crevices for small food tidbits. If you provide plants they will not burrow or in any other way disturb them.
- Minimum Tank Size: 30 gal (114 L) – A minimum of 30 gallons is the suggested, with 50 gallons being ideal.
- Suitable for Nano Tank: No
- Substrate Type: Sand/Gravel Mix
- Lighting Needs: Moderate – normal lighting
- Temperature: 75.0 to 79.0° F (23.9 to 26.1° C)
- Range ph: 7.2-8.8
- Hardness Range: 10 – 20 dGH
- Brackish: Sometimes – Salt is not found in their natural environment, but they do have a slight tolerance, keep levels below 10% – a specific gravity of less than 1.0002.
- Water Movement: Moderate
- Water Region: All – These fish will swim in all areas of the aquarium.
The Electric Yellow Cichlid is not considered to be a community fish. They are not a territorial cichlid and they are among the most peaceful Mbuna found on Lake Malawi. They are very versatile and adaptable to all sorts of cichlid setups. They can live singly or in pairs. They are not territorial but they will be aggressive towards other fish that are similar in body shape or color. Other peaceful Mbunas as well as Peacock Cichlids, Featherfins, and Lamprologus species can make good tankmates.
- Temperament: Semi-aggressive
- Compatible with:
- Same species – conspecifics: Yes – As adults they can be kept singly or in pairs.
- Peaceful fish (): Monitor
- Semi-Aggressive (): Safe
- Aggressive (): Threat
- Large Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
- Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
- Slow Swimmers & Eaters (): Monitor
- Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Threat – is aggressive
- Plants: Safe
Sex: Sexual differences
The male Labido Cichlid is slightly larger than the female. At breeding time they are more colorful and will develop a bluish color.
Breeding / Reproduction
The Electric Yellow Cichlids are egg layers. They are ovophile mouth brooders and form matriarchal families. This is one of the easiest mouthbrooders to breed. It is suggested to obtain 5-6 young fry and raise them together. Sexual maturity is reached at 6 months when they are about 1 1/2 ” in length. Feed 2 times a day to condition them to breed.
Typical of Mbuna breeding, they like a like a flat tone or slate to inspire them to spawn. Depending on the size of the female, she will lay between about 10 to 30 eggs and then immediately take them into their mouths before they are fertilized. The male displays by flaring out his anal fin, which showcases the “egg spot patterning” on the fin. the female mistaken the eggs spots on the male’s anal fin as her own eggs and tries to take them in her mouth as well. In doing so, she then stimulates the male to discharge sperm (milt cloud) and inhales of cloud of “milt” which then fertilize the eggs in her mouth.
Females are generally good “holders” and will refuse food for up to 4 weeks while holding the young. According to a report by Scheuermann (1974) in Das Aquarium 8, 439-441: the young leave the mouth of the mother after 25 days at 27-28° C (81-82° F) or after 40 days at 23-24° C (73-75° F).
The mother continues to care for the young for about a week after they leave her mouth. The released fry can eat finely powdered dry foods and brine shrimp nauplii. Provide plenty of hiding places so the young will have a easier time surviving until they are too big to eat.
- Ease of Breeding: Easy
The Electric Yellow Cichlids are very durable and less susceptible to Malawi Bloat, which is an affliction that many African cichlids are prone to if the herbivore aspect of their dietary needs are not closely managed. They are susceptible to typical fish ailments, especially if water is stale and of poor quality and oxygenation. One common problem is Ich. Follow this link for Ick treatment and other information.
Although Malawi bloat is a typical disease for many African cichlids when their dietary needs do not include enough vegetable matter, but fortunately this cichlid is much less prone to it. As with most fish however, they are susceptible to skin flukes and other parasitic infestations (protozoa, worms, etc.), fungal infections, and bacterial infections. It is recommended to read up on the common tank diseases. Knowing the signs and catching and treating them early makes a huge difference. For information about freshwater fish diseases and illnesses, see Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments.
The Electric Yellow Cichlid is readily available in pet stores and they are moderate in cost.