Protomelas labridens, photo copyright © by M. K. Oliver
Protomelas labridens, a living individual (subadult male) fresh from the lake, showing the small mouth and typical brassy ground coloration of this species.
This specimen (now YPM 14519) was collected 7 August 1980 over a sand bottom with Vallisneria and Potamogeton beds, by chasing it into a ½-inch mesh gillnet
in 2-3 meters of water about 20 meters off the sand beach west of Chembe, Nankumba Peninsula, Malawi by M.K. Oliver, K.R. McKaye, and T.D. Kocher. I had at first
identified this specimen as P. kirkii, but P. labridens is correct based on the mouth size and shape, and the broad yellow anal-fin band. Photo copyright © by M.K. Oliver

Protomelas labridens (Trewavas, 1935)

by Michael K. Oliver, Ph.D.

The brassy little cichlid in the photos above and below is Protomelas labridens, one of the endemic Lake Malawi cichlids with a midlateral horizontal stripe and a less prominent stripe on the upper flank.
Protomelas labridens, photo copyright © by M. K. Oliver, Ph.D.
Protomelas labridens, another specimen better showing the color pattern of two dark stripes. Specimen now in USNM 265528, collected
17-18 Aug 1980, experimental gillnet and trammel nets set overnight over sand in 1-3 meters of water off the swamp at northeast end
of Chembe, Nankumba Peninsula, Malawi, by M.K. Oliver, K.R. McKaye, and T.D. Kocher. Photo copyright © by M.K. Oliver

Protomelas labridens is a snail-eating species of sandy shores. Its snout is rather short and steeply angled, especially in larger individuals than the subadults shown in the photos on this page. Its jaws are short, the mouth small and with relatively few teeth. Its pharyngeal teeth are somewhat enlarged, as expected in a molluscivore.

This species is known mostly from the southern end of the lake, but has also been collected in the north (Chilumba). It lives primarily in shallow water over sand.

In life, the coloration of breeding males is similar to that described for P. kirkii, according to Eccles & Trewavas (1989), except that in P. labridens males the anal fin base is dark and there is a "broad yellow band distally on which are superimposed small whitish spots." A color photo of a male in breeding coloration, showing the yellow anal fin band, was published in Lewis, Reinthal, & Trendall's (1986) guide to the fishes of Lake Malawi National Park. The subadult male P. labridens in my photo at the top of this page already shows the yellow band, although the small white spots (egg dummies?) are not yet developed.

So far as I know, P. labridens has not been exported to the aquarium trade except, perhaps, for occasional individuals in mixed shipments. It could be an intriguing subject for a "species" tank or a Malawi community aquarium.

Protomelas labridens has also not been a subject of much scientific study. Since the revision of Eccles & Trewavas (1989), a few papers have included it among tabulations of fish catch statistics for lakes Malawi and Malombe (e.g., in the proceedings of the Lake Malawi Fisheries Management Symposium: Weyl & Weyl, 2001), and Erlandsson & Ribbink (1997) listed it in their table of sexual size dimorphism patterns.


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The Cichlid Fishes of Lake Malawi, Africa:

Page first posted: 1 December 2013
Web Author: M. K. Oliver, Ph.D.
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