Breeding Limnochromis staneri, a new species in the hobby.
Name: Limnochromis staneri
Maximum size: 20 cm.   Number of eggs: 200 +   Egg size: 1 - 1 ¼ mm.Diet: Snails, invertebrates.  

Feeding strategy: Invertebrate browser.   Breeding strategy: Biparentel mouthbrooding.
Sexual differences: Visible on the vent openings and colour scheme before and during breeding.
L. staneri in nature. Limnochromis staneri is a very rare cichlid in Lake Tanganyika (and endemic to that lake), limited in distribution to the southern half of the lake, along the Zambian coastline. It is found exclusively on muddy substrate and only at deep areas. The fish are normally spotted as singles with a lot of distance between the individuals. According to an article by the Dutch author Evert Van ammelroy from 2008, Limnochromis staneri is in nature breeding in muddy holes. Evert personally, during a dive to app. 45 – 50 meters depth in 2008, observed a pair going into a hole dug in the muddy bottom. This was the first time such a phenomenon was observed from this species in nature. The mud have a gelatinous consistence, which make it possible for L. staneri, L. auritus and T. otostigma to dig tunnels without risk of collapses.
L. staneri in the hobby. In the hobby, L. staneri is fairly new, as the first examples arrived in Europe around 2002 ot 2003. These were imported by Airfish in Germany and erroneously sold as Limnochromis Abeeli. This small first group were never reproduced. The very first export from Africa was probably a single specimen, which fell into the hands of the american Mark Smith as far back as the eighties. At the time, nobody knew what it was Mark has acquired (Personal commentary, T. Andersen 2010). Until the beginning of 2009 only about a dozen specimens were captured and exported. As of now There is no track record of how many fish is exported, but according to T. Andersen, small numbers have reached The Netherlands, France and Germany. Thomas also believes that they are now exported to USA.
L. staneri in Denmark. Here is a little information about keeping these fish in the tank. I will refrain from going into filtering or water chemistryI, since L. staneri and similar species requires the same high water quality and optimal filtering as the sanddwellers from Lake Tanganyika, and plenty of information about this is available on the internet.

In captivity it is best to let the fish pair off naturally, which means starting with a small group of 4-5 fish if possible.
Limnochromis staneri and species like it, i.e. Limnochromis abeeli, Limnochromis auritus, Gnathochromis permaxillaris, Triglachromis otostigma, Reganochromis calliurus, Greenwoodochromis Christy and more, are generally difficult to reproduce in aquariums. The demand maximum peace in their surroundings, disqualifying living room tanks or any other tank with much traffic in front of it. They will also largely be impossible to breed in the company of any other fish, with possible exceptions for extremely large tanks.
If reproduction is not a consideration, these species will under normal circumstances do fine with other carnivorous specis. Even if
L. staneri will do fine with smaller tankmates, these may be at risk if an established  staneri-pair decides to breed after all. That is why I would prefer more robust tankmates, like Cyphotilapia gibberosa and C. frontosa, or some of the Lepidolamprologus species.

In 2008 Thomas Andersen acquired 3 pair of
Limnochromis staneri. One pair was from Poland while the remaing two came from Germany. For a long time I tried to persuade Thomas to sell a pair, and at last He caved, since He had got hold of some other rare species and had to free up space.
In the end of April 2009 I was in this way lucky enough to own  one male and one female of these rare fishes from the depths of Lake Tanganyika. At the time of purchase, they had a length of app. 13 cm. The pair was installed alone in a 300 liter tank.
The tank was decorated with 6 clay tubes (old drain tubes) with a length of app. 40 cm each. Also a couple of large rocks were placed in the tank, which, along with the tubes, created a couple of caves. The substrate was fine sand in a layer of 2 cm. The lighting was dim. Moving these fish from one tank to another, normally does not represent any problems, since the species is apparently very hardy. They try to attack the net when You attempt to catch them, making it very easy to get out of the tank. Moving to other surroundings does not seem to bother them either, and a couple of days later, they acted like they were born there.

Limnochromis staneri had at that time never been reproduced in captivity, so naturally I had to make a serious attempt at making a "world premier breeding".

The following is a description of the experiences I have had with this beautiful fish.

At first the pair fed eagerly, and I served a lot of food, in order to get them in good condition to breed.
L. staneri can easily consume large amounts of food, and as a natural consequence of their size it is easy to be tempted to feed them plenty, like One would normally do with large fish like e.g. Cyphotilapia. I soon discovered though, that if the fish are fed large amounts of food over a prolonged period of time, they may suddenly stop eating for a period of 1- 4 weeks. This refusal to eat may result in losses, which unfortunately was what happened to My male, after 5 months. It is not easy to get a feeling for how to correctly feed a WC pair. Dosage of the food is fortunately the only problem I encountered with this species. Limnochromis staneri is a very calm fish, that will not move around much, presumably accounting for the relatively small requirement for food.
Around one month before the mentioned loss, I had an opportunity to acquire a single male as a backup in case of mishaps, a very lucky brak as it turns out.
I had now, the hard way, learned to feed the fish correctly. I feed the
staneri-pair a couple of shrimps once or twice a week in addition to Artemia, cyclops, daphnia, black mosquito larvae, mysis and dry flakes almost every day, but in small amounts. Sometimes they are fed a couple of snails, which they eagerly crush with their strong jaws; they eat snails in the wild. Malay snails are too hard though. Even if  L. staneri is a calm and comparatively slow moving cichlid, they are very fast when occasion demands and I have little doubt that they are easily able to catch small fish, shrimps and suchlike on the muddy banks in the lake.

After losing My male, I moved the female to a 660 liter tank, which already housed a group of 17 young
Cyphotilapia gibberosa.
I then introduced My now single female to the new male, and it was apparently love at first sight. She raised her fins everytime she passed Him and displayed keen interest for Him. There were absolutely no problem at all. For a short period the newly formed pair shared the tank with the group of young Cyphotilapia gibberosa. The Staneri pair vehemently defended a cave, made from a clay tube, and as before, showed great interest in each other; much more than the previous male had ever participated in. The new male was app. 19 cm in length, while the females had now reached a length of 18 cm.
  The following is a breeding report based on the notes I have made during the spawning ..
5/12-2009. The female seems to be in good shape, with a well-rounded belly and the pair is really active – I will remove the pair to a tank for themselves in a couple of days.
7/12-2009. The pair is installed in another aquarium containing 660 litter’s (160 cm long, with a width of 75 cm and a height of 55 cm), with only three adult Lamprichthys tanganicanus as company. As usually they felt at home in no time. 2/3 of the bottom is filled with smaller and larger rocks, and the substrate consists of an eight cm thick layer of sand and gravel.

Temp. = 24°

NO2 = 5

NO3 = 25

Karbonathårdhed = 18

 pH-værdi = 7,8.


18 watt marineblå lysstofrør.

The filter is run by a small power head, resulting in a slow circulation of the water. The only light is a marine blue fluorescent of only 18 watt, which means dim light conditions. Water parameters: 24 degrees, (No2) 5,
  (No3) 25, carbonate hardness 18 and a pH value of 7,8.  

Great activity from both the male and female; when swimming past each other they raise their fins and gills, and from time to time they make some small jerks with their bodies, leaving no doubt that courting between the two has started. The male has chased the three Lamprichthys into a corner.    
9/12-2009. Both female and male participate in building a large nest at the bottom using all the sand and gravel right in the front of the aquarium. In the back of the aquarium I have built two large caves using larger and smaller rocks; the caves have been filled with sand and gravel, but these caves does not seem to attract any interest at all!


At the end of the day the nest was 20 cm deep, 30 cm wide and 10 cm high. The genital papillae could be seen on the female; it was very small being only 2 mm.
Closeup of the female genital papillae.
In nature Limnochromis staneri live in caves made in the mud-floor at depths with almost no light (van Ammelrooy 2008); under aquarium conditions it actually seems as if they enjoy the small amount of  light available.
10/12-2009 (day 0). Unfortunately I had to go to work, so I did not see the pair spawning; in the afternoon the female carried all the eggs, she did that all the time this first day. It seemed, as there were a lot of eggs in her mouth.
11/12-2009 (day 1). Today both the male and the female participates in mouth brooding the eggs, sometimes just the male, sometimes just the female… when only one parent is brooding, the other one is transporting sand away from the nest.
both are constantly looking for eggs that has not yet been picked up when exchanging the brood. The eggs are approximately 1 – 1 ¼ mm of size and from what I can tell with the dim light conditions, the eggs are cream white coloured.
14/12-2009 (day 4). The pair are still brooding the eggs, and they still dig in the sand. They exchange the eggs two to four times each day. I only feed them once a day with a single tablet targeted at the fish that does not carry the eggs, this is to prevent the other fish (carrying the eggs) from being tempted to eat.
15/12-2009 (day 5). It seems like the male is carrying the eggs most of the time now. The female is still digging and making the nest larger; it is now 20 cm deep, 50 cm. wide and 20 cm high. It does not seem to bother the fish when I am in the room, studying them.
21/12-2009 (day 11). The time between exchanges of eggs seems to decrease, the larvae is now almost fully developed.
22/12-2009 (day 12). The female is now brooding most of the time – her mouth is a little bit more open than usually, it can’t be long before the eggs hatch; a few minutes before midnight they are still exchanging often. I observed the female going to the bottom of the nest emptying her mouth for about 150 small fry.

The male is very quickly when collecting them, it takes 5-7 seconds, although he is very gentle. The fry are 6-7 mm and they almost make no moves in the few seconds that they are released out in the open.

As they have almost used their yolk-sack now, I tried feeding with flakes for the first time, and the male slowly approached and immediately took a few pieces into his mouth - very gently of course.
23/12-2009 (day 13). Reproduction is a fact! In the morning all the fry were swimming around in a big swarm, approximately 50 cm in diameter - what a wonderful sight!  In this picture you can see the male guarding the fry.

The male moves around very quiet, making no quick movements at all. He is standing right in the middle with the female positioned just outside the swarm. The fry are constantly moving higher and higher up in the water, but as they reach the surface the male gets worried and with a few small jerks he signals the fry to move down in the water again.

If some of the fry moves too far away from the swarm the male immediately collects them and spits them back. It seems that the male is still the more active of the two adults in the care taking of the fry, just as he was when they were brooding; I guess that he carried the eggs 70-80 % of the time.

At midday I fed the small ones for the first time using high quality flakes that were pulverized (the flakes contains molluscs, crustaceans, spirulina etc.). Just before midnight
I saw the first excrements hanging from the fry. Their stomach still looked like half an egg and half a normal silvery stomach.

The parents do not seem to be bothered at my observing them at all, they even allow me to move in close and shoot some pictures using flash. It is quite a fascinating sight to see the large amount of fry move around!
25/12-2009 (day 15). The fry has expanded their territory – they now occupy about one meter to the sides and 30 – 40 cm in height. They have already grown a little more than 1 mm. in size in these first 2 days.  

I only feed them once a day, I have not observed any dead fry at present. The parents still try to keep them from the surface. I tried to count the fry; my guess is that there is about 170.
27/12-2009. (day 17). The fry are now almost spread out in the whole aquarium. Sometimes they are gathered into the nest by the parents, only to go out foraging again. They are now 1 cm in size, and they are eagerly devouring the food; I have increased feedings to twice a day (morning and evening) using flakes and very small Cyclops.
28/12-2009 (day 18). The fry develops very fast. Today they occupy the entire aquarium, but they never go into the two caves. It seems like the parents have realized that there are no threats to the fry at all – the fry may do as they like. They are no longer gathered in the nest during the day.
When the light turn off late in the evening, the fry quickly gathers in the bottom of the nest, then the male or the female slowly collects them all – this takes about 10 minutes. When all are collected, the parents moves into one of the caves and stay there until the light turns back on in the morning, this is the only time I have observed the parents in the cave.
This is a picture taken in the morning just after the light turn on. It is very hard to imagine that there are more than 200 fish living in this tank! After 5–20 minutes, the parents come out with the fry in their mouths. When the fry are released they move directly to the bottom and are then spread out all over the tank.
12/01.2010 (day 33). The parents still collect the fry during the night. The fry have now almost doubled their size from 6 – 7 mm to 11 – 12 mm; they really grow fast! They swim a lot faster now, and still eat well. It now requires both of the parents to hold the entire swarm in their mouths.
24/01.2010 (day 45) The parental care is evidently at its end; the male has begun to chase the fry from time to time. His colouration is a little bit darker now and his temper is rising – tomorrow I will remove the parents from the fry (The fry have not grown much in length the last 14 days, but has increased their volume).
08/02.2010 (day 60). From one of my pictures, I have counted the fry. There are more than 200 individuals in this first clutch, and not a single one is lost at present. They have grown to a length of 1.5 cm.
  This was the highlights from the report.

I can guarantee you one of the greatest experiences you can have with Tanganyika cichlids if you succeed on breeding this species or any of the other species from tribe Limnochromini. It is fish that requires large amounts of patience, and they are not as easily reproduced as many other Tanganyika cichlids, but They are really worth the effort. I hope that the pictures and description here, have given an indication of what a great experience they have been for me. Off course it only added to the excitement, that I have had to gain My own experiences regarding feeding of the fry, brooding time and so forth, since no information was yet available when I started out.

Finally I will point out, that
Limnochromis staneri are not suited for tanks smaller than 500 liter for an adult pair. If any attempt of keeping them in smaller tank should be made anyway, the tank should be decorated with holes that allows the female to hide in safety from the male, but even so, it is really not advisable.
Limnochromis staneri would be able to thrive in a group remains to be seen, as they have not yet been available in sufficient numbers to test this. It may work if the group is large enough, but as far as I can see, any attempt of breeding will require a pair to be isolated.

I wish You good luck if You should be tempted to try your hand at one of these  deep-dwelling species. They are in My opinion some of the most exciting experiences You can get from the cichlids of Lake Tanganyika.
Michael Andersen, Randers may 2010

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nd images are copyrighted, and may under no circumtances be copied without consent from the author.

Translation Kim Jakobsen June 2010