Size, Tank Mates, Diet & Setup

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Yellow lab cichlids are eye-catching freshwater fish that many aquarists dream about owning one day.

But there’s a lot of misinformation out there that can be discouraging.

This guide will teach you everything you should know about yellow lab cichlid care so you can decide if this species is right for you. We get into their temperament, diet, tank setup, lifespan, size, tank mates, and more!

Species Summary

The yellow lab cichlid (Labidochromis caeruleus) is a vibrantly colored freshwater fish that thrives in captivity. These fish are one of more than 500 different species in the cichlid family. This particular species is an African cichlid.

In the wild, the yellow lab cichlid lives in the famous Lake Malawi in Eastern Africa. They join many other exotic cichlid species native to that body of water. 

An adult yellow lab cichlid

Of course, you can also find them in aquariums around the globe! This species is popular in the trade. While not the easiest fish to take care of in terms of temperament, yellow lab cichlids are resilient and surprisingly adaptable.

Author Note: You don’t need years of fish-keeping experience to provide excellent yellow lab cichlid care. As long as you follow the recommended guidelines, these fish can provide you with years of beauty and whimsy.

Appearance

Let’s start with the most common appearance. 

As the name would imply, most of the specimens you’ll encounter in the trade are bright yellow! The color is reminiscent of a school bus. It’s vibrant, eye-catching, and easy to keep your eye on as the fish zips back and forth in your tank.

Like other African cichlids, this species has a slender but muscular body. It has a rounded head, large eyes, and a wide, non-forked caudal fin. The dorsal fin is expansive, stretching from the gills to just shy of the tailfin.

Many yellow lab cichlids have a defined black stripe on the long dorsal fin, creating an eye-catching contrast. It matches perfectly with the dotted iris.

Author Note: Look closer, and you’ll notice that some fish have gray accents. The gray vertical shapes are one of the ways you can distinguish males from females. Males have subtle gray markings, while females don’t.

Another telltale sign that you’re looking at a female is the pale ventral and anal fins. For the ladies, these fins are noticeably subdued in color compared to the bright fins of the male.

Yellow lab cichlids have an appropriate name for some specimens. But despite the name, not all fish of this species are yellow! In fact, there’s more variety than most aquarists realize.

You’ll find these fish in a few different colors based on what part of Lake Malawi it comes from.

The fish from Undu Point have white bodies. A small accent of blue appears on the dorsal fin. The yellow lab cichlids from Nkhata Bay are a similar white color, but all of their fins are blue.

If the fish comes from Lundu Island in Lake Malawi, it’s usually all white. Meanwhile, those living in Lion’s Cove have yellow bodies and white bellies. Finally, we have the Kakusa yellow lab cichlids. They’re sporting vibrant yellow bodies with blue fins.

The variation also exists in captivity, but most aquarists think of the yellow color morph as the “standard.”

Lifespan

The yellow lab cichlid is a surprisingly long-living fish. It has a longer lifespan than most fish its size.

The average yellow lab cichlid lifespan is between six and ten years. This gives you plenty of time to enjoy its beauty!

Remember that it’s impossible to guarantee life expectancy. All fish can experience genetic predispositions that shorten their lifespan. When given poor care, they can also succumb to diseases that cut their lives short.

Average Size

The average size of a yellow lab cichlid living in captivity is about four inches in length. That’s a bit bigger than the average of fish living in the wild. In Lake Malawi, these beauties usually max out at 3.2 inches.

Author Note: The size difference is likely due to the survivability of life in captivity. While cichlids are known aggressors, they still have plenty of natural predators in the wild. That’s not the case in your aquarium, allowing the fish to get bigger and potentially live longer.

Yellow Lab Cichlid Care

Are you considering yellow lab cichlids for your tank? If so, you have a moderately challenging but fully rewarding experience ahead. These fish aren’t particularly difficult to raise, but they do have unique needs you must meet.

Follow these guidelines to provide excellent yellow lab cichlid care and give your new pets the best life possible.

Tank Size

Yellow lab cichlids must live in an aquarium that’s at least 30 gallons. However, most seasoned aquarists recommend going even bigger, aiming for a tank size of at least 40 to 50 gallons.

Why do you need that much room? It’s not that the fish is large. The tank size requirements are primarily due to the fish’s semi-aggressive nature.

They do best when they have open swimming space. The species is active and will want to explore its enclosed habitat. When you put these fish in a small aquarium, they quickly get violent.

A larger tank will also allow you to utilize more line-of-sight blocks. Issues arise when yellow lab cichlids see others they deem a threat. When you have an environment filled with decorations that block the view of other fish, you can keep yellow lab cichlids with others without any issues.

Water Parameters

One of the most important aspects of yellow lab cichlid care is to replicate the water conditions of their natural habitat. Even if you buy fish that have never lived in Lake Malawi, those conditions are the perfect model for your tank.

Lake Malawi has mineral-rich water that leans on the alkaline side of the pH spectrum. These fish can adapt to many environments but prefer alkaline water. The species is also keen on warm waters with modern to high hardness ratings.

As with any fish, stability is the most important thing. Yellow lab cichlids can adapt to environments that aren’t quite right but close enough. However, they can’t handle sudden fluctuations. Extreme changes in the water chemistry can lead to stress, shock, and eventual death.

Here are some baseline water parameters for setting up your yellow lab cichlid tank.

  • Water temperature: 72 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit
  • pH levels: 7.2 to 8.8 (7.8 and higher is ideal)
  • Water hardness: 10 to 20 GH

Tank Setup

Now comes the fun part. Decorating your tank is a chance for you to get creative! While yellow lab cichlids can certainly survive in more whimsical surroundings, a natural setup mimicking the look and feel of Lake Malawi is always the best course of action.

These fish are rock dwellers. They prefer to live in caves and rocky environments throughout the African lake. They don’t always venture to the bottom of the tank, but when they do, they prefer to have a mix of sand and gravel.

Labidochromis caeruleus in a freshwater tank

A sand and gravel substrate mix offers a nice balance between enrichment and safety. Cichlids are notorious diggers that like to move things around as they get comfortable. Smooth gravel and sand facilitate that behavior while minimizing the chances of injury.

Next, include driftwood, rocks, caves, and other natural-looking formations. Anything big enough for the fish to swim through is ideal. Yellow lab cichlids love to explore caves and see zip in and out of holes in wood.

You can purchase premade rock formations or create your own. If you go the latter route, anchor pieces directly to the glass and lay your substrate around them. With how much cichlids move substrate, there’s a genuine risk of rocks tumbling and damaging the glass.

Author Note: Use a strong fish-safe adhesive and anchor everything down to avoid problems.

It’s fine to add plastic plants if you want. They can be great line-of-sight blockers when placed strategically around the environment. However, don’t be surprised if they don’t last.

This species loves to uproot plants. Live plants are out of the question, but you might see success with properly secured plastic or silk plants.

For equipment, you’ll need a robust filter. Yellow lab cichlids can produce a substantial amount of waste. You must keep ammonia and nitrate levels below 40 ppm. Otherwise, the fish’s health will suffer.

A good canister filter will do the job. However, do your best to diffuse the flow of inlet tubes. These freshwater fish don’t like strong currents, so you must minimize water flow as much as possible.

Finally, don’t forget about the lighting. Yellow lab cichlids prefer low to moderate lighting. It more closely mimics the diffused lighting of the rocky depths in Lake Malawi.

Common Possible Diseases

Yellow lab cichlids aren’t immune to health problems. They can encounter all of the same freshwater diseases that other popular species can potentially experience.

That includes Ich. 

Ich is a contagious disease caused by an external protozoan parasite. When fish live in substandard conditions, they become stressed. That stress suppresses the immune system, allowing the disease to take over.

Before you know it, your precious yellow lab cichlids are covered in visible white spots. Ignore the problem, and the disease spreads to the rest of the fish in the environment and starts causing them to die. Ich is not something you want to ignore!

Fortunately, it’s easy to treat. You can quarantine affected fish, administer treatment, and address the tank conditions that caused stress to be an issue in the first place.

Another problem that plagues this breed is Malawi bloat. As you can guess from the name, it’s a condition affecting fish from Lake Malawi. It’s common among African cichlids and other endemic species.

Malawi bloat is a digestive issue. It usually occurs when you feed yellow lab cichlids more protein than they need. We’ll get into the details of the fish’s diet soon, but these beauties need a mix of plant-based foods and proteins.

Leaning too heavily on the meat causes bloating, skin sores, and more. Consult with a vet for appropriate treatment options.

Finally, there’s hole-in-the-head disease. It’s another parasitic disease. However, this one manifests in pits and physical holes all over the body.

Usually, fish suffer from this disease when they live in poor conditions. Improper water parameters, too-small tanks, and high ammonia and nitrate levels cause pits and holes to form.

Food & Diet

In the wild, yellow lab cichlids are almost exclusively carnivorous. They primarily feed on bugs, larvae, small fish, invertebrates, and more. That diet is acceptable in the wild because the fish has to work for their food.

But in captivity, it can cause problems. Experts recommend providing a 50/50 mix of protein-rich foods and plant-based foods.

The easiest way to do that is through commercial flakes or pellets. There are countless nutritionally rich options on the market today. Choose one that focuses on coloration or balanced nutrition, and you’re good to go.

Alternatively, you can provide blanched vegetables and frozen/freeze-dried foods. 

Author Note: Feed your yellow lab cichlids three times a day to keep them healthy. For each feeding, provide only enough food they can eat in one minute (and remove any excess food that remains in the tank).

Behavior & Temperament

Believe it or not, yellow lab cichlids are considered by many to be one of the more peaceful cichlid species. But make no mistake: They can get aggressive.

One interesting thing about this species is that it targets fish of a similar size and color. For this reason, you must be extra careful about choosing suitable tank mates.

It’s not a particularly territorial fish, but it will attack fish that are too close to its appearance. It’ll even attack its reflection! That’s why breaking the line of sight is essential to this fish’s health and well-being.

Yellow Lab Cichlid Tank Mates

Because of its known aggressive behavior, you must be wary about the tank mates you choose for your yellow lab cichlid.

If you want to play things safe, you can keep them alone. They do fine in solitude. Alternatively, you can keep male and female pairs.

Author Note: Avoid male-only pairs. Violence is bound to happen.

These freshwater fish also do well with other cichlids and fish of a similar temperament. However, be wary of keeping any similarly sized or colored species. They will only enrage the fish and cause aggression.

Here are a handful of yellow lab cichlid tank mates worth considering:

Breeding

Yellow lab cichlids are mouthbrooders, and they often spawn without human intervention. Properly paired fish will breed on their own accord. But you have some options if you’re interested in encouraging yellow lab cichlid breeding.

To start, you can set up a breeding tank with identical water conditions to give the fish fewer distractions.

When the male is ready, he’ll dig a small pit in the sand or find a flat rock to perform his mating ritual. These fish have unique mating dances to attract females.

After she lays her eggs, the female will scoop them up in her mouth. She incubates the eggs for as long as 40 days. During that time, she won’t eat a thing!

The mother continues to hold the babies after they hatch. The youngsters absorb the egg sac for a few days before they become free-swimming. That’s when she releases the fry into the open waters.

You can provide baby brine shrimp, infusoria, and powdered algae to keep the fry healthy as they grow.

Wrapping Up

While their aggression and energy levels are obviously something to consider, we still believe that yellow lab cichlid care can be handled by anyone. As long as you have a realistic expectation of what these fish need (and are prepared to provide them what they need), you should do just fine!

If you have questions about this species and how to help them thrive, don’t hesitate to send us a message. We’ll help you out if we can!


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