The dazzling Electric Blue Hap is one of the most popular Lake Malawi Cichlids in the hobby!
The Electric Blue Hap Sciaenochromis fryeri has long been a favorite among African cichlid keepers because of its intense electric blue coloring. It comes from Lake Malawi, Africa, and is found in many color morphs through the lake, but all have the intense blue coloring. However it has an amazing history of repeated ms-identification. it was first imported for the aquarium hobby as Haplochromis jacksoni. This was quite confusing since these are two totally different species. Then it was attributed a couple other names, until finally it was officially described by AD Konings in 1993.
This fish is a Haplochromine cichlid endemic to Lake Malawi. It is one of four species in the genus Sciaenochromi, but it is the best known of the group. Other common names it is known by are the Electric Blue and Hap Ahli. The Hap cichlids are different from the Mbuna or rock-dwelling cichlids, as they are open water dwellers occurring in areas where the rocks meet the sand. Though not as aggressive or territorial as a Mbuna, this cichlid still prefers being around rocky areas where it can hide in caves or cracks looking for small fish to eat.
This is an ideal fish for the beginning cichlid keeper. The silver colored female may not seem like this is the best fish for a pet, but the brilliant blues of the male more than make up for the lack of color of the females. The females are handsome fish in their own right as well, in fact some females can eventually develop a faded light blue coloring when mature. In the aquarium this fish is moderately aggressive and predatory. It will eat any fish small enough to consume, but is easy to care for as long as it’s not overfed. It does need good water conditions and a tank set up that is to its liking.
Provide a minimum 55 gallon aquarium that is at least 4 feet long (though 6 feet long is best). Keep one male with several females, 4 or more to prevent spawning stress. They can be housed with other Haplochromis and with peaceful Mbunas. They cannot be kept with Peacock Cichlids (Aulonocara species) because they are too similar in color and shape. The male will kill all Peacock males and hybridize with the females.
Confusion can arise because of the term “Electric Blue” used in its common name. There is another favorite African cichlid that has this term in its common name. It is the Electric Blue JohanniMelanochromis johannii which is a much different type of cichlid. It is a Mbuna and so one of the more aggressive rock dwelling cichlids. Also be careful not to mix up this fish with its very close relative, Sciaenochromis ahli. The S. ahli is also commonly called ‘Electric Blue Hap’ as well as Ahli and Haplochromis Electric Blue. The male coloring of these two species is very similar in appearance but the S. ahli gets much larger. While the species described here reaches about 6″ in length, the S. ahli reaches almost 8″ (20 cm) and will require a bigger aquarium.
When obtaining any of these fish, it is best to know the scientific name as well as the common name to make sure you get the species you want. The Electric Blue Haps are ready breeders and the fry are easy to raise. Consequently there are many varieties that have been developed in captivity and they are not often found in their pure form. There may be no way to tell exactly what you are getting unless it is from a reputable dealer. Try and keep the different species blood lines pure.
For Information on keeping freshwater fish, see:
Freshwater Aquarium Guide: Aquarium Setup and Care
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Actinopterygii
- Order: Perciformes
- Family: Cichlidae
- Genus: Sciaenochromis
- Species: fryeri
- Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner
- Size of fish – inches: 6.1 inches (15.49 cm)
- Minimum Tank Size: 55 gal (208 L)
- Temperament: Semi-aggressive
- Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
- Temperature: 73.0 to 82.0° F (22.8 to 27.8° C)
- My Aquarium – Enter your aquarium to see if this fish is compatible!
Habitat: Distribution / Background
The Electric Blue Hap Sciaenochromis fryeri was described by Konings in 1993. They occur in the Africa rift lake area and are endemic to Lake Malawi. It has an amazing history of repeated ms-identification. It was first described by Trewavas 1935, and then imported for the hobby as Haplochromis jacksoni (now called Copadichromis jacksoni). This was clearly and error as these are two totally different species. It went through a couple more now defunct descriptions, and then finally it was correctly identified and officially described by AD Konings in 1993.
This species is listed on the IUCN Red List as Lease Concern (LC). It is endemic to Lake Malawi but is widespread throughout and there are no recognized threats at present. Other common names it is known by are Electric Blue and Hap Ahli.
They inhabit the rocky coasts of Lake Malawi as well as rock clusters and reefs down to depths 82 feet (25 m). They are fish eaters, piscivores that prey mainly upon the fry of Mbuna as well as the young of other Haplochromine cichlids. They hide in the caves or cracks of the rocks looking for small fish to eat.
- Scientific Name: Sciaenochromis fryeri
- Social Grouping: Varies – This fish is never found in very large numbers, but probably comes together, forming harems, to breed.
- IUCN Red List: LC – Least Concern
The Electric Blue Hap has the classic cichlid shape with a stocky and elongated body. They reach up to about 6 inches (15.5 cm) in length, and sometimes a bit bigger in the aquarium. Cichlids from Lake Malawi generally live from 7 to 10 years..
All males are electric blue with some variations depending on location, and have 9 to 12 dark vertical bars. They all have yellow, orange or red in the anal fin. Southern populations of Lake Malawi differ in having the top of the dorsal fin trimmed in white. Northern populations of Lake Malawi lack this white accent, unless they are very large. Males can take up to a year to develop the intense blue coloring. Females are silver, but mature females can at times have hints of light blue. Juveniles are generally similar to females. Developing immature males are a light blue.
All cichlids share a common feature that some saltwater fish such as wrasses and parrotfish have and that is a well-developed pharyngeal set of teeth that are in the throat, along with their regular teeth. Cichlids have spiny rays in the back parts of the anal, dorsal, pectoral, and pelvic fins to help discourage predators. The front part of these fins are soft and perfect for precise positions and effortless movements in the water as opposed to fast swimming.
Cichlids have one nostril on each side while other fish have 2 sets. To sense “smells” in the water, they suck water in and expel the water right back out after being “sampled” for a short or longer time, depending on how much the cichlid needs to “smell” the water. This feature is shared by saltwater damselfish and cichlids are thought to be closely related.
- Size of fish – inches: 6.1 inches (15.49 cm) – These cichilds grow to a length of about 6″ (15.5 cm), and are sometimes larger in home aquaria.
- Lifespan: 7 years – They can have a lifespan of 7 to 10 years with proper care.
Fish Keeping Difficulty
These cichlids make a great choice for the beginning cichlid keeper and are appealling to the advanced aquarist as well. They are moderately aggressive cichlids, but not a community tank specimen that can be kept with fish other than cichlids. The aquarists must be willing to do frequent water changes and provide appropriate tank mates. They are susceptible to Malawi bloat as well as the typical diseases that effect all freshwater fish if the tank is not maintained. In the proper setup they will easily adapt to prepared foods, breed readily, and the juveniles are easy to raise.
- Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
- Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner
Foods and Feeding
The Electric Blue Hap is carnivorous In the wild they prey primarily on the fry of other cichlids. In the aquarium they will eat any fish small enough to be consumed. They should be fed a quality cichlid pellet, occasionally supplemented with frozen krill, mysis or brine shrimp.
Fry can be fed crushed flake and crushed protein pellets. Generally feed several times a day in smaller amounts, though feeding them everyday is not always necessary as they have a tendency to overeat and this can contribute to Malawi bloat. All fish benefit from adding liquid vitamins to dry foods.
- Diet Type: Omnivore – They are primarily piscivores that feed mainly on small fish, and on rare occasions may nibble on some vegetation.
- Flake Food: Yes
- Tablet / Pellet: Yes
- Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet
- Vegetable Food: Some of Diet
- Meaty Food: Most of Diet
- Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day – Generally feed several times a day in smaller amounts, but use caution as they have a tendency to overeat.
Malawi Cichlids will deteriorate under poor water conditions. Water changes of 10% to 20% a week depending on bio load. Malawi bloat is a typical disease especially if over fed.
- Water Changes: Weekly – Water changes of 10-20% weekly are suggested, depending on the bio load.
The streams that flow into Lake Malawi have a high mineral content. This along with evaporation has resulted in alkaline water that is highly mineralized. Lake Malawi is known for its clarity and stability as far as pH and other water chemistries. It is easy to see why it is important to watch tank parameters with all Lake Malawi fish.
Rift lake cichlids need hard alkaline water but are not found in brackish waters. Salt is sometimes used as a buffering agent to increase the water’s carbonate hardness. This cichlid has some salt tolerance so can be kept in slightly brackish water conditions. However it not suited to a full brackish water tank. It can tolerate a salinity that is about 10% of a normal saltwater tank, a specific gravity of less than 1.0002.
A minimum tank size is 55 gallons and at least 4 feet in length, but to be most successful provide them with a 6 foot long tank. They do fine in either freshwater or brackish freshwater but need good water movement along with very strong and efficient filtration. Keeping the ph above neutral is important. A very slow acclimation to different pH levels can sometimes be achieved. Sand used for saltwater fish or freshwater can be used and if keeping them with a higher ph, the saltwater sand can help keep the ph up. Crushed coral or aragonite sand can also increase the water’s carbonate hardness, and tend to dissolves easier than salts. Keeping a higher pH however, means that ammonia is more lethal, so regular water changes are a must for these fish.
Having a decor with some rock work and wood to provide hiding places is necessary, but they need open space for swimming at the bottom and middle areas of the tank. Plants may be included, but only robust types such as Java ferns should be used. They may occasionally nibble on them and can uproot them as they dig in the sand to create pits for spawning.
- Minimum Tank Size: 55 gal (208 L) – A minimum of 50 gallons is the suggested, with a length of at least 4′, but for best success provide a 6′ long aquarium.
- Suitable for Nano Tank: No
- Substrate Type: Sand/Gravel Mix
- Lighting Needs: Moderate – normal lighting
- Temperature: 73.0 to 82.0° F (22.8 to 27.8° C)
- Range ph: 7.7-8.6
- Hardness Range: 5 – 10 dGH
- Brackish: Sometimes – Salt is not found in their natural environment, but they do have a slight tolerance, keep levels below 10% – a specific gravity of less than 1.0002.
- Water Movement: Moderate
- Water Region: Middle – These fish will swim in the middle and bottom areas of the aquarium.
The Electric Blue Hap is a fairly aggressive cichlid, so not considered to be a community fish. They can be housed with other Haplochromis and peaceful Mbuna, but do not house with male and female Aulonocara (Peacock Cichlids). They will kill the male Peacocks and hybridize with the females..
They are best kept in groups of one male and 4 or more females. Fewer females will have limited spawning ability of only a year or so due to stress. Larger tanks, 6 feet in length or so, make things a little less stressful. Males tend to mellow out with age though they can be very aggressive if they are the “boss” of the tank. They will attack and kill any other males of the same species in the tank. Males also have a liking for female Peacocks and will kill the male to mate with them. If overstocking is used as a form of aggression reduction, care should be taken to do several partial water changes a week.
- Temperament: Semi-aggressive
- Compatible with:
- Same species – conspecifics: Yes – They are best kept in groups of 1 male with at least 4 females to prevent breeding stress. The male will attack and kill any other males.
- Peaceful fish (): Threat
- Semi-Aggressive (): Safe
- Aggressive (): Monitor
- Large Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
- Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
- Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Threat – is aggressive
- Plants: Monitor
Sex: Sexual differences
Males are larger and all electric blue with a yellow, orange or red anal fin. Females are silver with faint vertical bars, though they can be a very faint blue when mature.
Breeding / Reproduction
The Electric Blue Hap has been bred in captivity. It is suggested to get a group of at least 6 to 8 juveniles and let them grow up together. This should yield at least one male and 4 or more females. In captivity they will spawn every 2 months from May to September if the water is of high quality. Only a small area is chosen to spawn and they spawn easily, even in a crowded tank.
The male’s coloring becomes intense, with the vertical bars becoming darker along with an intensity of the anal fin coloring (yellow, orange, or red). The male will build up an area of substrate close to a large rock and encourage the female to come in and mate. The female will lay her eggs, then the water movement pushes them toward the male. He catches them with his anal fin and fertilizes them, after which the female picks them up in her mouth.
The female will carry the eggs for 2-3 weeks, though after releasing 15 to 70 fry, she does not really care for them. Some aquarists who want more control over the process will net the female, which causes her to release the eggs. The eggs are then put in their own tank to incubate and grow. See the description of how cichlids breed in: Breeding Freshwater Fish: Cichlids.
- Ease of Breeding: Easy
The Electric Blue Haps are susceptible to typical fish ailments, especially if water is stale and of poor quality and oxygenation. Malawi bloat is a typical disease especially if their dietary needs are not met with quality foods. One common problem is Ich. It can be treated with the elevation of the tank temperature to 86° F (30° C) for 3 days. If that does not cure the Ich, then the fish needs to be treated with copper (remove any water conditioners). Several copper based fish medications are available for Ich. Copper use must be kept within the proper levels, so be sure to follow the manufacturers suggestions. A copper test also can be used to keep the proper levels. You can also combine increasing the temperature with an Ich medication treatment.
As with most fish they are susceptible to skin flukes and other parasitic infestations (protozoa, worms, etc.), fungal infections, and bacterial infections. It is recommended to read up on the common tank diseases. Knowing the signs and catching and treating them early makes a huge difference. For information about freshwater fish diseases and illnesses, see Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments.
The Electric Blue Hap are usually found online and are moderately to a bit more expensive. The price is dependent on whether they are male, female, or juvenile. They are usually found in fish stores, though may be special ordered if you are willing to wait for them if they are out of season.
When acquiring a Electric Blue Hap, with all the different varieties that have formed in captivity, there is no way to tell exactly what you are getting unless it is from a reputable dealer.
- Animal-World References: Freshwater Fish and Plants
- Dr. Rüdiger Riehl and Hans A. Baensch, Aquarium Atlas Vol. 3 , Voyageur Press, 1996
- George Zurlo, David Schleser, Cichlids (Complete Pet Owner’s Manual), Barron’s Edu Series, 2005
- Richard F. Stratton, The Guide to Owning Cichlids, T.F.H. Publications, Inc., 2002
- David E. Boruchowitz, The Guide to Owning Malawi Cichlids, T.F.H. Publications, Inc., 2003
- Mark Phillip Smith, Lake Malawi Cichlids, A Complete Pet Owners Manual, Barron’s Educ Series, Inc. 2000
- Sciaenochromis fryeri (Konings, 1993), Fishbase.org
- Sciaenochromis fryeri, The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
- Marc Elieson and Brett Harrington, “Sciaenochromis fryeri”, Cichlid-Forum.com, Referenced online, 2007
- “Sciaenochromis fryeri (Electric Blue Hap)”, Malawi Cichlid Homepage, The Art and Science of Fishkeeping. Referenced online, 2007