• Species: Altolamprologus calvus

  • Species: Neolamprologus leleupi

  • Species: Buccochromis rhoadesii

  • Species: Champsochromis caeruleus

  • Species: Enantiopus melanogenys

  • Species: Labidochromis caeruleus

  • Species: Neolamprologus caudopunctatus

  • Species: Neolamprologus brevis

  • Species: Neolamprologus marunguensis

  • Species: Neolamprologus tretocephalus

Stock list review: Amwell Aquatics Epping

06 August 2017


Amwell Aquatics at Thornwood Common in Essex is an aquatics superstore stocking hundreds of different tropicals, marines, corals and pond fish, alongside all the hardware and dry goods you'll need to keep them properly. Although particularly well known in freshwater fishkeeping circles for their Malawian and Tanganyikan cichlids, Amwell Aquatics is a good place to find South American cichlids and tetras, oddballs, and all sorts of catfish.

In this stock list review, we'll look at some of the rare or unusual cichlids in stock at Amwell Aquatics, and describe what you need to know to keep them. While this article is correct at the time of writing, and indicative of the range of livestock you're likely to see on any given day, if you want a particular species discussed here we'd recommend getting in touch with Amwell Aquatics at Thornwood Common directly before making a long journey.

Malawian Cichlids

The Yellow Lepturus, Buccochromis rhoadesii, is one of the bigger commercially traded Malawian cichlids, with a reputed maximum length of well over 30 cm, though aquarium specimens tend to remain a little smaller. Even so, these are big cichlids that will need an aquarium measured in the thousands of litres, making them fish more for the advanced hobbyist than anyone else. Apart from their large size, Buccochromis rhoadesii are actually pretty straightforward fish to keep. Like most other haplochromines, sexual dimorphism is obvious, the males being metallic blue with beautiful yellow markings on their dorsal fins and numerous off-white egg dummy spots on their anal fins, whereas the females (and juveniles) have fewer egg dummies, and are more yellowy-grey in overall colouration.

Aggression between males can be an issue, but the males tolerate the females well, to the extent that pairs can be kept successfully if given a reasonable amount of space. In the wild these fish occur in large groups, so the ideal situation would surely be to keep them in a group of six or more specimens. Dissimilar fish are ignored provided they are not obviously bite-sized. As well as pieces of white fish fillet, these fish will happily consume all the usual invertebrate prey items such as earthworms, snails, cockles and shrimp, and once settled will take good quality flake and pellet too.

Another jumbo-sized predator available at Amwell Aquatics is the famous Malawi Trout, Champsochromis caeruleus. With a maximum length of about 35 cm, the streamlined body shape of this beautiful metallic blue fish clearly indicates its need for a tank with plenty of swimming space. Rockwork isn't important, though tall plants such as Vallisneria could be used to help create obvious boundaries around the edge of the tank.

As with other 'haps', the males are mutually antagonistic in confined spaces, but a small harem or even a pair is certainly possible. Sexual dimorphism is relatively slight, both sexes having similar colouration but males having longer unpaired fins. While peaceful by cichlid standards, they are powerful predators, and tankmates should be chosen with care -- docile cichlids or catfish of similar size are best. Breeding is uncommon in aquaria, but follows the usual maternal mouthbrooder pattern seen among 'haps'.

At the other end of the size range are Labidochromis, members of the rock-dwelling Mbuna cichlid group, but smaller and more peaceful than most of the other Mbuna, making them among the best species for aquarists looking to set up a trouble-free Malawi community. The most famous species is of course the Yellow Lab, Labidochromis caeruleus, but several other species and varieties have been described, some of which are currently in stock at Amwell Aquatics. Among the species in stock are Labidochromis caeruleus 'kakusa F1', Labidochromis chisumulae 'chizumulu', Labidochromis sp. "hongi Sweden" and Labidochromis sp.'blue/white Tanzanian'.

F1 Yellow Labs, Labidochromis caeruleus 'kakusa F1' are the offspring of wild-caught Labidochromis caeruleus and consequently have much more intense colouration than the farmed fish commonly traded. Both sexes are intense yellow with black and white markings on their dorsal, anal and pelvic fins. Sexing is hard, but males tend to be more belligerent, especially the dominant male, and males also tend to have slightly longer unpaired fins and, usually, more intense colouration at breeding time. Get a group though and the fish will sort themselves out, and like most other Mbuna, breeding will occur with little effort on the part of the fishkeeper.

While the Yellow Lab is the most familiar member of the genus, the Chismulu Clown,
Labidochromis chisumulae, is another small Mbuna with plenty going for it. Getting to the same 8 cm or so as the Yellow Lab, this species is blue rather than yellow, with only the male developing the dark blue stripes running across its forehead and flanks. Compared to the males, the females are lighter blue, and whereas the males have dark blue on their pelvic fins, those of the female are basically white. In all other regards these lovely cichlids are very similar to Yellow Labs, but we would not recommend mixing them. Not because they'll fight, but because all Labidochromis hybridise easily, and the resulting offspring would be worth much less than pure-bred Labidochromis of some specific variety or species.

The Hongi Red Top, Labidochromis sp. "Hongi Sweden" is a species that is as-yet undescribed by science, but eagerly sought after by discerning aquarists. It's a little bigger than the Yellow Lab, males getting to about 9 cm in length, and the males are also a little more territorial and aggressive, but it is nevertheless one of the easier Mbuna to keep and generally causes few problems when kept among other mild tempered Malawians such as Iodotropheus spp. Colouration is variable, not just with mood but with collecting site, but the males are some shade of purple-blue with darker blue bars and vivid orange or red markings on their face, forehead, dorsal fins and anal fins. Oddly enough, while the females are normally less intensely coloured, when breeding their colours can change dramatically, displaying dark vertical bars similar to those seen on the males.

Last but certainly not least, Labidochromis sp. 'Blue/White Tanzanian' is one of the rarer Labidochromis in the trade, so their appearance at Amwell Aquatics is noteworthy. While basically similar to Labidochromis sp. Hongi in terms of size, behaviour and care, these fish are brilliant silvery-white in colour with pale blue fins. The two sexes are rather similar, but males are a little bigger and have longer fins, and usually have more yellow egg spots on their anal fins than the females.

Tanganyikan Cichlids

The Pearly Compressiceps, Altolamprologus calvus, is one of the best-known Tanganyikans thanks to its good looks, peaceful if predatory behaviour, and the existence of several different varieties or morphs. Two varieties are in stock at Amwell Aquatics, the standard issue pearly-pink form, and the dark brown-black form known as the Black Calvus.

Both these forms gets to about 12 cm in length, and needs the well-oxygenated, alkaline, spotlessly clean water conditions that Tanganyikans need generally, but they do have slightly different habitat preferences. Both appreciate rocks with plenty of vertical caves that they can use as resting places, but the Black Calvus will develop its optimal colouration in a shady tank with plenty of robust vegetation and a black sand substrate. The standard form doesn't need the black sand, and will be perfectly happy with the usual coral sand. Choosing plants well suited to the preferred Tanganyikan water chemistry may be tricky, but things like Java Fern and Anubias should do well if securely attached to rocks or pieces of driftwood. Although predators, these cichlids do not need live food, though they have little interest in flake or pellets; instead offer them a variety of frozen and fresh foods, including krill, cockles, strips of white fish fillet, etc.

While schools of Ectodine cichlids are abundant in the shallow water parts of Lake Tanganyika, as a group they are not well known to aquarists. That's a shame because they are sport some unusual behaviours and often very striking colouration. One species in stock at Amwell Aquatics is Xenotilapia melanogenys (formerly Enantiopus melanogenys), a good candidate for a single-species set-up tailored to its needs, and a perfectly reasonable introduction to this interesting group of cichlids.

To start with, as schooling fish you'll need space enough for at least a half dozen, so a tank upwards of 250 litres is required. On top of that you need to understand that these are sand-sifting cichlids with no interest in rocks, so decoration should be kept to a minimum. About the only decor that makes sense would be clumps of Vallisneria, common enough plants in Lake Tanganyika and a good source of shelter for the females should the males harass them too much. All the Ectodine cichlids are highly sensitive to poor water quality, so clean, clear water with lots of oxygen is essential, which means robust filtration and high water turnover rates will be needed. Other than that, these colourful fish are easy to keep. They have a vaguely goby-like shape, with large heads well adapted to sifting sand. The males are strikingly patterned with patches of blue, black and orange on their fins and flanks, whereas the females are smaller and less colourful. They are a maternal mouthbrooding species, but brood sizes are small, and the species extends no care to fry once they leave the mother's mouth, so if you want to rear these fish in decent numbers, it's essential to remove any fry you find sheltering among the plants otherwise they're likely to be eaten.

Choosing tankmates for Ectodine cichlids can be tricky because they combine poorly with other cichlids that swim about the bottom of the tank. The most authentic companions are Sardine Cichlids (Cyprichromis and Paracyprichromis) or Lamprichthys tanganicanus killifish. At a pinch, any active, surface swimming livebearer or killifish might do, assuming they were of suitable size.

Neolamprologus are among the best known Tanganyikan cichlids, with several species being regular sights in aquarium shops, notably the dwarf shell-dweller Neolamprologus multifasciatus and the beautifully coloured Lemon Cichlid Neolamprologus leleupi. Both of these are in stock at Amwell Aquatics, as are Neolamprologus brevis 'ikola', Neolamprologus marunguensis, Neolamprologus sexfasciatus "Gold", and Neolamprologus tretocephalus, but the species we're going to round off our article with is Neolamprologus caudopunctatus 'kapampa', a medium-sized species that resembles Neolamprologus multifasciatus in looks and will spawn in large shells as well as caves, but is much more outgoing, even becoming somewhat aggressive at times, when compared to those little shell-dwellers.

Male and female Neolamprologus caudopunctatus 'kapampa' look very alike. Both are pinkish-brown with rows of bright blue spots and orangey-yellow dorsal fins, but males tend to be a little bigger and have longer unpaired fins. Pairs work well in tanks upwards of 80 litres, but the species also works well in Tanganyikan communities alongside other robust species of similar or slightly larger size. Neolamprologus are carnivores of course, with a preference for zooplankton, and this species is no exception. Fortified frozen brine shrimp makes a good staple, but they will happily take good quality flake and pellets as well.