Copadichromis azureus was described in 1990 by Ad Konings. Before that, it was traded under the name Haplochromis chrysonotus Mbenji and Maleri. In Ad Konings’ books, they can also be found as Copadichromis sp. “Nkatae”.
Etymology: Azureus refers to the azure blue color of the males in their breeding color. Copadichromis consists of 2 words borrowed from Greek: Copadi means shoal of fish and chromis means color but in this context refers to cichlids. A reference to the habit of this genus to forming shoals.
This species is one of the most beautifully colored fish from Lake Malawi. The Copadichromis azureus male in breeding colors gets an azure blue color. Only the pectoral fins are transparent. The outer edge of the dorsal fin is trimmed with a white stripe with yellow tips. On his flank, you can find a number of black stripes, and depending on his mood, the 3 black dots from his juvenile dress. When he is full of color he also shows a green iridescent sheen on his head, belly, and pectoral fins. Copadichromis azureus has a large number of geographical variants, all of which have a slightly different color and/or pattern. The variant of Nkhomo Reef and Mbenji color is the most beautiful blue.
The sexual dimorphism is clearly visible in adulthood. The females are a somewhat dull grey/brown like almost all Copadichromis females. 3 black dots are clearly visible on their flank. The females grow to about 12 centimetres in the aquarium, the males get a bit bigger with their 16 centimetres.
The behavior of this species can generally be described as calm (with some exceptions). In the wild, it is a shoaling fish, except when breeding. However, in the confines of an aquarium, there is usually not enough space for an entire school. It is then better to keep only 1 male with 3 or more females unless it is a very large aquarium of more than 3 meters in length. If the aquarium is too small, the males can be quite intolerant of each other.
To bring out the best colors in Copadichromis azureus, it is best to combine them with other calm Utaka or Aulonocara.
These fish inhabit the open waters in the vicinity of the rocky coasts and reefs, the transitional biotope. They reside around the rocks that border the sandy plains. You can find the Copadichromis azureus in the south of the lake around Mbenji Island, Maleri Island, Nkhomo Reef, and Eccles Reef.
In the wild, Copadichromis azureus mainly eats plankton in open water. In the aquarium, this is not a picky eater. It is sufficient to give them a varied diet of frozen or live food such as krill, brine shrimp, mysis, cyclops, finely chopped shrimps, etc. To keep them healthy they also need some green food. This can be, for example, high-quality spirulina flakes and blanched spinach leaves.
Given the length of the male, this Azure-colored Malawi cichlid needs an aquarium of at least 150 centimeters in length, which comes down to an aquarium of at least 400 liters. In any case, there must be sufficient swimming space with rocks on the sides. At the bottom, use sand as substrate as the male builds his territory and nesting pit in it.
Breeding aquarium and conditioning
The breeding of Copadichromis azureus is not too difficult. Although a large special aquarium with a school creates an ideal situation where a female is always ready to mate, an aquarium with a mixture of species with a trio of Copadichromis azureus is also fine.
Next to or under a rock, the dominant male makes a nest which he digs by taking sand in his mouth and spitting it out outside the rim of the crater.
From his shallow crater, the male tries to seduce the female. It flares its fins and shows its most beautiful colors. Because they persistently pursue the females, several females are necessary to prevent the exhaustion of the females.
When a female is ready to spawn, the laying tube becomes visible. This makes the dominant male even more active and will keep other fish as far away from his spawning site as possible, especially the males of the same species. Once the female is ready, she follows the male to the nest. They circle each other first. The turning slows down and with trembling movements, he tempts the female to lay the eggs. While spinning around each other, the female lays the eggs that she immediately takes in her mouth and the male releases his sperm so that the female picks it up together with the eggs, thus fertilizing the eggs.
Raising the fry
The female keeps the eggs in her mouth for about 21 days. During this time the eggs hatch and the fry continue to live on their yolk for some time.
The fry are large enough after 21 days and independent enough to be released. The female does not take the fry back after letting go. Copadichromis azureus fry can take care of themselves immediately after release. If you provide enough hiding places in the form of some rocks, they will find a safe shelter themselves until they are big enough to swim around more. In this way, even in a mixed aquarium, usually, a few fry will survive.
If you want to raise a larger batch, it is advisable to remove the female around day 15 and set it aside in an aquarium without other fish. She does not eat for the first few hours after releasing the fry, but possible tankmates see the fry as a tasty snack. If you have a school in the aquarium, we recommend that you do not remove the female from the group for too long, otherwise, she will lose her place in the pecking order.
The fry can be fed with freshly hatched brine shrimp and finely crushed dry food. As they grow, you can supplement this with other live or frozen food, depending on the size of the food and their mouth.
This calm beautifully coloured Malawi cichlid will be an asset to your Malawi aquarium. Especially if you keep it together with other peaceful and calm species. With a well-decorated and sufficiently spacious aquarium, you can enjoy a true spawning spectacle!
John de Lange