Lethrinops lethrinus

Lethrinops lethrinus grows larger (20cm) in the aquarium than in Lake Malawi. They show their most beautiful colors in a species aquarium.

Lethrinops lethrinus

Lethrinops lethrinus was first described by Günther in 1894. The genus name Lethrinops consists of two parts. ‘Ops’ means ‘appearance’ and Lethrinus is a reference to the genus Lethrinus (Lethrinidae) that they somewhat resemble. Together they give the meaning that these species have the appearance of the genus Lethrinus. The species’ name also refers to this genus of fish.


Lethrinops lethrinus males can reach a maximum total length of about 20 centimeters. The females remain somewhat smaller at 15 centimeters. Dominant colored-up males get a blue metallic color on the head which runs away to greenish metallic towards the tail. The dorsal, pelvic, anal, and caudal fins are mottled dark red. The anal fin has a number of egg spots. A large number of vertical slightly dark stripes are vaguely visible on the flank.

Females are grey/brown. On the flank, they have a broken black stripe from the eye to the caudal peduncle. Above this stripe, there are two broken lines consisting of dark spots.

Lethrinops lethrinus wild-caught male and female from Mazinzi Reef
Lethrinops lethrinus wild-caught male and female from Mazinzi Reef
The male can be seen below, and the female above.

Lethrinops coloring in the wild

Lethrinops are inhabitants of the sandy plains in the wild. Here they live in the safety of groups. The predatory fish always try to focus on one prey. Selecting prey in a group that all looks the same is very difficult. Therefore, in the wild, Lethrinops often look dull and similar silver in color. The males only get their brilliant colors during the spawning season.

Lethrinops colouring in the aquarium

In the aquarium, Lethrinops are very gentle fish. They are soon suppressed and then lose their color. If you keep them in an aquarium with other Malawi cichlids, it will quickly become too crowded. To bring out the color of the Lethrinops, it is best to keep them in a species aquarium. One or more males and several females.

They are still Malawi cichlids. The males impress each other to determine their ranking. They normally do not chase each other. They spread their fins wide and with open mouths, they argue a little. They swim in front of or next to each other to determine who is the dominant male.

The colors of the males show best without other fish species around. If you still want to keep other fish species with Lethrinops, try calm Aulonocara or Copadichromis. Even then there is a chance that the Lethrinops will not come to colour.


This species prefers shallow water from 0 to 20 meters in depth. They mainly reside around the mouths of rivers that flow into Lake Malawi. They also occur in Shire River and Lake Malombe.


Like all Lethrinops species, Lethrinops lethrinus forages in the sand. They take some sand in their mouth and filter it through their gills. They search for insect larvae and other invertebrates.

In the aquarium, you can feed them with live food such as mosquito larvae, snails, brine shrimp and the like. After some getting used to them, they usually also eat frozen food, but also pellets and flake food.

The Aquarium

We recommend an aquarium from 200 centimeters in length for this relatively large cichlid. Set up the aquarium with sand on the bottom. They can then show their natural behavior by flushing the sand through the gills.

Place some large rocks between which you make holes, cracks and crevices. The females can hide between them from the attention of the males. Just make sure that there is more than enough swimming space and sand left.

It is best to keep them in a group. Keep more females than males. Preferably without additional fish species so that they can get a good color.

Breeding Lethrinops lethrinus

The breeding of Lethrinops lethrinus is quite simple. The male chooses a place where he wants to spawn. He shows his most beautiful colors. Its fins are set wide. With trembling movements, he shows his flank and the splendor of colors to the female.

When she comes along to the spawning ground, the spawning begins. The couple circles around each other. The female lays a few eggs. He fertilizes the eggs using the egg spot method. He rubs his anal fin over the sand. The female thinks they are eggs and wants to take them in her mouth. The male releases some roe, which fertilizes the eggs in the female’s mouth.

The eggs hatch after a few days. However, the young remain in the female’s mouth for a total of about 3 weeks and live on their egg yolk sac. After three weeks, the female releases the young fish. In the event of imminent danger, they can hide in the female’s mouth for one or two weeks more. After that, they really have to take care of themselves completely.

In the aquarium, you can raise the young fish with freshly hatched brine shrimp and crushed flake food.



John de Lange

Copyright images

Carsten Jensen GisselFacebook
Alexandra TyersCC BY-SA 2.0


Back to Nature Gids voor Malawi Cichliden – Ad Konings

Additional information








Chromis lethrinus, Tilapia lethrinus

First described by

Albert Günther


Social behaviour

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