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Main Index > Detailed Fish Profiles > The Cichlids > Cobalt Zebra Malawi Cichlid
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Lake Malawi



Metriaclima callainos


    The Zebra was one of the first Africans imported into the hobby. Its' striking colors, mating habits and different morphs have kept it one of the most popular fish from the great rift lakes.

Quick stats:

    Listed tank sizes are the minimum
    Size: Up to 4.75 inches (12cm)
    Tank: 48 inches
    Strata: Bottom, middle, top
    PH: 7.5 to 8.5
    Hardness: Hard to very hard
    Temperature: 77°F to 82°F (22 to 28°C)


    Note: This species has gone through many nomenclatural changes. A couple are Maylandia zebra and Pseudotropheus zebra. Metriaclima is now the excepted name.
    Order: Perciformes
    Suborder: Percoidei
    Family: Cichlidae
    Genera: Metriaclima
    Species: callainos

Common name:

    Zebra, Cobalt blue Cichlid, Zebra Malawi Cichlid

Image gallery:
    Additional species photographs


    Badmans' Forum


    Africa, lake Malawi. One of the Great rift lakes.

General Body Form:
    Its forehead looks slightly swollen and they have the characteristic thick lips. Taller and more thick set than other members of its species. The soft rays of the anal and dorsal fin are pointed. The tail fin is slightly curved in (concave).

zebra at home
M. Zebra in its' home water.
Photo from: "Cichlids from Eastern Africa, A Tetra publication.

    The coloration of the zebra can vary widely. Ranging from Blue to Albino morphs. This range of coloration is known as polychromatism. The most common morph is the Blue variety, other include the checkered varieties known as the Orange Blotch Morph (OB-morph), the light Blue Morph and the White Morph. The Blue variety has a pale Blue background with seven or eight Blue-Black bars on the body. The first two bars bend toward the front of the fish. The soft rayed part of the Anal fin has four Orange egg spots. The rear edge of the Dorsal fin has a row of less distinct spots as well.
    The OB-Morph has a light Yellow background with many Black blotches of different shapes and sizes placed randomly across the body. This morph consists mostly of females and a male OB is very rare. The males have a Bluish sheen, which becomes very distinct at breeding time.
    The other Morphs are less common and there is some thought that they may be a closely related but separate species.

OB-Morph form.
Photo from "Cichlids from Eastern Africa, A Tetra publication"

    Keeping the Zebras is not difficult as long as certain requirements are met. They should be kept in a large community aquarium with other Mbuna type fish like the species from the Labeotropheus, Melanochromis as well as others from the Pseudotropheus Genus. The minimum length of the tank should be four feet. The aquarium should try to mimic the natural rubble zone where they live. This includes extensive rockwork with caves and other hiding places that kind of divide the tank into different territories. Plants are not needed and will be constantly dug up by the fish. As noted from the stats above these fish prefer a hark alkaline water with a fairly high pH. I have maintained this by using a mixture of crushed coral as a substrate. Feeding is not a problem as all types of food are taken, weather flake or frozen, it should contain a high content of plant material. live food like earthworms and the such should be offered only occasionally as they are low in fibers and not the best choice.

    Rocky regions of the lake free of sediment..

Otter point, Lake Malawi.
Photo from "Cichlids from Eastern Africa, A Tetra publication"

    Breeding of the fish from the Rift Lakes is one of the most fascinating things a hobbyist can observe. They are known as mouthbrooders. No bonding takes place between the male and females of the species and unlike their South American cousins one female will not be enough for the male. You should have at least a ratio of three females to each male in the tank. Right after the spawning males and females go their own ways and only the mother will care for the eggs and fry. The preferred spawning site is a flat stone in a covered secluded place. The eggs are still unfertilized when the female takes them in her mouth. They are fertilized when the female follows the male with her mouth close to his anal fin. The egg spots play an important role as it is thought that the female believes these are more eggs and goes to retrieve them. At this moment the male releases his sperm and fertilizes the eggs in her mouth. The eggs are rich with yolk and take a long time to hatch. Once hatched the yolk sac takes about 20 days to be absorbed. Due to their larger size the fry can be fed finely crushed flake food or even Daphnia if you can find it. If raised in a community setting special feeding should not be needed as the fry will be able to find small left over food particles floating in the tank. One of the best things to observe is the fry retreating back into the mothers mouth when danger nears.

Your comments:


Please remember that the following comments are personal experiences and may or may not apply to your setup. Use them as guide to help better understand your fish, like us all individuals will behave differently under different circumstances.


From: Michael Taylor
I have a 4" red top in a tank with female, a 6" electric blue and 7" orange zebra. (Not sure on specific specie) The zebra is a fantastically entertaining fish that swims the entire length of my 6 foot tank regularly. Surpassingly he is much smaller than the other fish but still remains dominant yet sociable with the other fish in the tank. Never violent but assertive and extremely colourful and moody. Despite small acts of aggression towards my 4" sailfin pleco and the few clown loaches that I have, the Red Top has been an entertaining member of the tank. Aggressive enough to be entertaining and passive enough to cohabituate.
From: Kenton
My Alpha Male Zebra actually helps the female after birth by fending off the other fish. I've even seen him take the young in his mouth, carry them back to the mother and spit them out

From: Tommie
This is a nice fish to watch. It is very active and the male red top keeps everyone in the tank in line.
From: Nikki
I had a zebra, it ate 5 of it's tankmates and left one. It was extremely aggressive and temperamental. Eventually he jumped when the lid was off and has dissappeared, the cat looks happy and for the first time ever i'm not upset about seeing one of my fish "go".

From: Jamie
I own a pair of white morphs and keep them in a 2ft square tank with a native Australian Salmontailed catfish. As soon as the pair grew comfortable with their surroundings they began tunneling under the large piece of brain coral in the middle of the tank by moving one piece of gravel at a time in their mouths. The tunnel system is now quite intricate, with at least three entrances and they patrol regularly to keep the catfish(who is 7 inches long) away. They show definite signs of intelligence and can tell the difference between strangers and regular visitors to my home (especially those of us that feed them). Considering I only bought them because I couldn't find a green terror, I am very happy with them.

From: Grubbavitch
Date: 03/03/2002

An absolutely awesome fish. My Red Top Zebra is the ruler of my cichlid tank, but he is never overly aggressive with my other fish. However if he is provoked he will display with his fins upright and his mouth gaping until the other fish backs down. Very pleasant to watch, as the Zebra is always busy.







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