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Maylandia estherae

Konings 1995


M. estherae B-male and O-female.
Distribution and variants: Endemic to Lake Malawi, at Chiluca reef, Gome, Meponda, Metangula, Minos reef and Nkhungu point. The populationen at Metangula probably is not natural, but a result of human interference. Almost every fish in the trade originates from the population at Minos reef, which has a very high percentage of O- females, with an unusually deep orange color.
Size:

Male: 10-13 cm. Female: 8-11 cm.

Sexual differences: The male grows larger, and has pointier fins than the female.
Natural diet: Primarily aufwuchs, but also occasionally plankton.
Biotope and common behavior: M. estherae lives in the sediment free zone of the rocky coast, where they mingle with other Mbuna species. The males defend territories from other males, and try to lure females to a chosen nesting site.
Breeding behavior:  Maternal mouth brooder, with fertilization of the eggs after pickup by the female. Breeding is typical for Mbuna, taking place at a fairly secluded spot, to which the female has been lured by the male, displaying a variety of postures and waving of fins. The female releases the eggs 1-2 a time, during a circle dance, where the fish moves head-to-tail on each other. Immediately after release, the female pick the eggs up, and only then they are released. This happens when the female reacts to the egg spots displayed on the male`s anal fin, and tries to pick the "eggs" up and ingest the released sperm. The females carries the eggs/fry for 20-23 days, where they are released and the parental care is over. A typical brood is 10-30 fry.
Temperature and water:

23-26 deg. Celsius. PH 7-8,5/DH 12-30

Feeding: Allround- and vegetable dry food, frozen cyclops, shrimp mix. Colour enhancing food, like e.g. shrimp mix is very effective on this species, especially for the O and OB varieties.
Aquarium size: Min. 325L/130 cm. Ideally the tank should be at least 150 cm long.
Best kept as: Group, with more females than males. At least three males should be present, or only one.
Tank decoration: The aquarium is best decorated as a typical Mbuna-aquarium, with lots of caves and crevices, but still free space. A good water circulation (4-5 times the aquarium size/hour) is necessary for the well-being of the fish.
Behavior and breeding: M. estherae are neither very peaceful nor very aggressive for a Mbuna, and will fit in with almost any Mbuna combination that does not comprise species they might hybridize with. They breed easily and regularly, and in an environment without dedicated carnivores, some of the fry will almost certainly survive, but if You wish to have a large amount of fry, it is necessary to remove the holding female, ideally 18-20 days after breeding, and put it in a tank of its own. The fry will eat the same food as their parents, as long as it is crushed, but food with a higher percentage of protein is better.
Suggested tank mates: M. estherae will fit into almost any combination of Mbuna, as long as they are not at risk of interbreeding. The most obvious examples of these, are M. callainos, M. mbenji and M. greshakei. Contrary to many Mbuna species, M. estherae show good colour, even in presence of larger and dominating fish, adding to the positive list of this easily kept and strikingly beautiful fish.

MC variants of M. estherae. Males of OB, are usually called MC. The fish shown above, are from two different aquarium strains.
Extra information

M. estherae is one of the many African cichlids occurring in different colour forms at the same location (polychromatism), which is not the same as local variants. Actually this species is the obvious poster-child for this phenomenon, being the most widespread, and also one of the most variable of them all! There are basically three forms; B (blue), O (orange) and OB (orange Blotch), which both males and females may have. Here is a quick tour:

B: This is the colour that might be described as "normal". The females are uniformly grey-blue, with a few egg spots in the anal fin. The males are bright blue, shifting towards white when they are excited, with numerous egg spots in both the anal and caudal fins, an orange pattern in the caudal fin, as well as an orange seam. Blue males are fairly common in the trade, whereas the females are very rare.

The fin pattern are common to all forms, as are the shift towards a lighter colour in the males, when they are excited or just dominant.

O: Females are more or less bright orange. The males show a lighter colour, which may be described as "salmon flesh colour", shifting to almost white when they are excited. The most widespread aquarium strains, are of this form.

OB: The females are orange with black spots, spread all over their bodies and fins. Usually the orange colour is not as strong as on the O-form. Males have the same pattern, but with the spots both black and blue. Aquarium strains of this variant may vary quite a bit.

These variants are all found at the same location, and interbreeds in nature, so it is perfectly natural to keep them together in a tank. This will off course not do, if the goal is to make a clean strain of one variant. On the other hand, if You are willing to let nature take its course, You can have a quite varied display, just with this one species.

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