Protomelas kirkii was first described by Günther in 1894. The genus name Protomelas can be broken down into two ancient Greek words. Protos means “the first” and melas or melanos means “black”. The species kirkii is in honor of Dr. John Kirk, David Livingstone’s travel companion on his second trip to Malawi.
This species belongs to the Cichlid family (Cichlidae). In Lake Malawi alone, this family has more than 500 species. In total, this family includes about 250 genera and more than 1700 species.
Protomelas kirkii males can reach a total length of about 18 centimeters. Females stay a little smaller at 14 centimeters. The males become blue/greenish in color. In English, they are therefore also called Green Similis. Behind their head, the scales can be edged red. This red color can also be seen in the male caudal fin and dorsal fin in red spots. The male’s anal fin shows egg spots.
The females are much less colorful. They are silver/brown in color. A dark horizontal stripe that actually consists of two parts runs across the flank. Faint vertical stripes are also visible in juveniles and females. The horizontal stripe is barely visible in adult-dominant males.
The character of this species is mildly aggressive because they are somewhat territorial. They are only territorial towards conspecifics or strongly similar species. They usually leave other species completely alone. Usually, their overall behavior is calm and peaceful.
A number of species that are very similar have been described within the genus. The local name for these species is Kambuzi. Protomelas kirkii is distinguished from the other species by the longer snout and the broken dark line on the flank. The other types and characteristics within this group are:
- Protomelas labridens: smaller mouth and heavy pharyngeal jaws.
- Protomelas similis: larger mouth and a continuous dark stripe along the flank.
- Protomelas marginatus: much larger mouth and eye.
- Protomelas pleurotaenia: two thin horizontal lines and the dorsal fin is edged with a thin red border.
You can find this species along all coasts of Lake Malawi. They generally inhabit the shallow waters above sandy bottoms in sheltered bays. The shallow sandy areas of one to five meters contain some plants such as Vallisneria.
They are not only found in Lake Malawi. They also occur in the Shire River up to Kapachira Falls, but also in Lake Malombe.
In the wild, Protomelas kirkii mainly feeds on small invertebrates found in the sand. In addition, they search in the Vallisneria fields for small snails of the species Gabbiella stanleyi. These snails grow up to 5.5 x 3.5 millimeters.
In the aquarium you can feed this carnivore with, for example, krill, brine shrimp, cyclops. They are not difficult eaters, so flakes and granules are also eaten.
The aquarium should be decorated as usual for Malawi cichlids. Use (filter) sand as a substrate. Place some rocks so that they form a pile. Make sure that cracks and holes form between the rocks. The Protomelas kirkii males are territorial and need a large aquarium. For a harem of one male and two or three females, you need an aquarium about 180 centimeters in length. As mentioned, the male is territorial. We therefore recommend keeping only one male with several females. If you keep two males, they will keep fighting until only one remains. Keeping multiple males ensures the male will have to divide his attention between the females. This way he won’t exhaust them too much with his attention.
The aquarium may have a temperature between 22 and 26 degrees with a pH between 7.5 and 8.5. Change part of the water regularly to ensure optimal conditions.
Breeding Protomelas kirkii
In the wild, the male makes a sandcastle. This is a shallow hole which he digs out. He lures a female into the pit to mate. He does this by expanding his fins wide and showing his most beautiful colors. He lures the female with trembling movements. When she is willing to mate, they circle each other. The female lays eggs in the sand, the male turns around and fertilizes the eggs. After this, the female takes the eggs in her mouth.
After a few days, the eggs hatch in her mouth. The young Protomelas kirkii still live on their yolk sac for quite some time. In total, the fry stay in the protective mouth of the female for about three weeks. During this time, the female does not eat at all.
After three weeks, the female spits out the fry. They then look for small food. In the wild, they seek shelter in the shallow parts of the lake between the Vallisneria. In the aquarium with other adult fish, they are usually eaten quickly.
Raising the fry
If you want to raise Protomelas kirkii fry in the aquarium, you can catch the female after about 18 days. Place her in an aquarium with some stones or rocks between which she can take shelter. After she has released the fry, she does not eat them immediately. You then have a few hours to calmly catch the female and return her to the large aquarium.
You can raise the young fish with brine shrimp, other small frozen or live food and finely crushed flakes.
John de Lange
Günther, Albert C. L. G. 1893. “Second report on the reptiles, batrachians, and fishes transmitted by Mr. H. H. Johnston, C. B., from British Central Africa”. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London. (4); pp. 616-628
Hemitaeniochromis brachyrhynchus, a new species of cichlid fish from Lake Malaŵi, with comments on some other supposed members of the genus