Buccochromis heterotaenia

Buccochromis heterotaenia from Lake Malawi is not only large because of its 40 cm length, but also because they grow high and wide. A truly massive predator!

Buccochromis heterotaenia

Buccochromis heterotaenia was first described in 1935 byDr. Ethelwynn Trewavas.

The genus name Buccochromis can be divided into two words. Bucca is Latin for mouth or mouthful. Chromis comes from the ancient Greek Chroma and means color, in this context it refers to perch-like cichlids. So in full reference to the large mouth that fish in this genus have.

This species is part of the cichlids or the Cichlidae family. This large family includes about 250 genera and over 1700 species. New varieties are added every year. The genus Buccochromis contains seven species.


With a total length of about 40 centimeters, Buccochromis heterotaenia is a large fish. The females stay a bit smaller and grow to a maximum of about 35 centimeters. Adult males develop a blue head with the typical large mouth that characterizes this genus. They have a black stripe on their flank. It extends obliquely from almost the beginning of the dorsal fin to the caudal peduncle. If the male is completely in color, you will no longer see this stripe. The flank is blue with very faint vertical dark stripes. The male’s fins become yellow/orange in color.

The Buccochromis heterotaenia females are brown/gray colored. They also have the oblique stripe on the flank. In the females, this stripe is always visible, as well as the vertical dark stripes.

Compared to the other Buccochromis species, this species grows quite tall and wide. This makes it appear much larger and more massive than, for example, the more torpedo-shaped Buccochromis nototaenia.


You can find this species throughout Lake Malawi. Males choose a rock around which they hold a territory. They use this top of a rock to lure females and to mate. They live at greater depths, from about 30 to 80 meters.


Buccochromis heterotaenia diet mainly consists of fish. It is not really a chase hunter but does go after young fish.

In the aquarium, it is not a difficult eater. They take most of the food without any problems. Feed them alternately with juvenile fish, shrimp, mysis, granulate, etc.

The aquarium

Adult males can get a bit aggressive. Therefore, a large aquarium is needed from about 300 centimeters in length and a depth of about 80 centimeters. Buccochromis heterotaenia should only be kept with other large and robust species to prevent victims. It goes without saying that you cannot keep them together with small species. These are seen as food and quickly disappear in the big mouth.

You can only keep one male in the aquarium. If you have more than one male, they will keep fighting until only one is left. A harem with one male and two or three females works best. The male must then divide his attention among the females. If he only has one female at his disposal, he will continue to pursue her, which causes a lot of stress to the female.

Breeding Buccochromis heterotaenia

Like many other Malawi species, Buccochromis heterotaenia is a maternal mouthbrooder. The eggs are laid by the woman in the sand or on a rock. The man fertilizes the eggs, after which the woman takes the eggs in her mouth to hatch.

The eggs hatch in her mouth but are not released immediately. The fry still live on their yolk sac for quite some time. Only after about three weeks does the female release them from time to time. Until this time, the female does not eat at all. After they are released for the first time, the young fish return for some time in the mouth of the female to seek protection and sleep.

You can feed the fry with newly hatched brine shrimp, small frozen food, and, for example, finely crushed flake food.

Note on the photos

Stan calls his fish on his FB channel Buccochromis atritaeniatus….he knows this is not correct. Buccochromis atritaeniatus is only known from the strong water type specimen. Live specimens have never been seen. Yet he calls his fish Buccochromis atritaeniatus so that he is the only one who has them:

Buccochromis atritaeniatus - Malawi Stan
Buccochromis atritaeniatus – Malawi Stan



John de Lange

Copyright images

Malawi Stan


Ethelwynn Trewavas D.Sc. (1935) VI.—A synopsis of the Cichlid Fishes of Lake Nyasa, Annals and Magazine of Natural History, 16:91, 65-118, DOI: 10.1080/00222933508655026
Malawicichliden in hun natuurlijke omgeving 3e oplage – Ad Konings – bladzijde 146.

Additional information








Buccochromis atritaeniatus, Cyrtocara heterotaenia, Haplochromis heterotaenia

First described by

Ethelwynn Trewavas


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