The Red Fin Kadango Copadichromis borleyi (previously Haplochromis borleyi) is a fish with many desirable traits as an aquarium pet. One of its greatest assets is that it is relatively peaceful, only becoming territorial during spawning time. This makes it an especially good fish for the aquarist who wants to house different types Lake Malawi cichlids.

They are Utaka cichlids from Lake Malawi, Africa. Utaka are fish that live in the open water and feed on zooplankton, tiny planktonic crustaceans drifting on slight currents in the water column. The Utaka is currently comprised of only two slightly varying genera, the Copadichromis and the Mchenga, both of which share this distinctive feeding ecology. These are one of the largest Utakas and are found in both shallow or deep waters.

One of the most interesting things about these fish is that they will form large shoals. These are one of the largest Utakas and are found in both shallow or deep waters. The Haplochromis Borleyi Redfins mostly live near large boulders or near rocky islets set on the sand. The shoals can contain just a few fish or thousands of fish, and are often made up of more than one species.

This shoaling behavior is distinctly different than the Mbuna, or rock-dwelling cichlids, that are aggressively territorial of their piece of rock. These fish are often found over the same rock piles as Mbuna cichlids, but they are larger than the Mbuna, They were once categorized as Haplochromis. Other closely related open-water cichlids include the Haplochromine cichlids like the favorite Haps of the Haplochromis genus and the pretty Peacock Cichlids of the Aulonocara genus.

With their nice personality they will also school in the community cichlid aquarium. They are easy to care for as long as the tank is large enough. The water does need to be kept clean and the aquascaping also needs to be correct. The males are not as hard on the females as other Malawi cichlids can be. They are actually very gentle if there are at least 3 or more females kept in the tank. Though they are easy to breed, avoid cross breeding with similar cichlids to keep the strains pure.

They are available in several color varieties, which provides lots of choices to compliment your collection. They are called “Red Fin” because the females and juveniles have red or orangish fins that contrasted with their dark silver bodies. But the colors vary naturally depending on the geographic region they originate from. In all cases the males are more brightly colored than females.

Borleyi Red Kadango

Scientific Classification


Red Fin Kadango – Quick Aquarium Care

Aquarist Experience Level:Beginner
Aquarium Hardiness:Moderately hardy
Minimum Tank Size:75 gal (284 L)
Size of fish – inches6.7 inches (16.99 cm)
Temperature:73.0 to 82.0° F (22.8 to 27.8&deg C)

Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Red Fin Kadango Copadichromis borleyi (previously Haplochromis borleyi) was described by Iles in 1960. They occur in the Africa rift lake area and are endemic to Lake Malawi. This species is listed on the IUCN Red List as Lease Concern (LC) because although it is endemic to Lake Malawi, it is widespread throughout the lake. It is seen on just about every rocky shore habitat with the exceptions of Likoma and Chizumulu Islands and there are no major recognized threats at present.

Other common names for the Haplochromis Borleyi Redfin include Kadango, Kadango Red Fin, Red Fin Borleyi, Yellow Fin Borleyi. Haplochromis Goldfin, Redfin Hap, Goldfin Hap, Chakhuta, Happy, and Utaka. A few names related to location are Kadango, Liuli, Sambia Reef, and Gold Fin.

They swim near shore in rocky areas over large boulders, or in open waters. They occur at depths between 10 – 65 (3 – 20 m) but usually prefer the shallower waters at depths of about 10 – 16 feet (3 – 5 m). They will usually school In small numbers near rocky islands over a sandy substrate. However the shoals can contain just a few fish, or they can be comprised of thousands of fish, and are often made up of more than one species. They feed on zooplankton, tiny planktonic crustaceans drifting on slight currents in the water column.

  • Scientific Name: Copadichromis borleyi
  • Social Grouping: Groups – They can be in schools of just a few fish, or shoals comprised of thousands of fish.
  • IUCN Red List: LC – Least Concern


The Haplochromis Borleyi Redfin has the classic, gracefully curved cichlid body. Its general shape is like that of the Peacock cichlids but with a few variations. They have a protrudable mouth designed for a specialized suction feeding action. They are moderate in size reaching up to 6 or 6 1/2 inches (15 -17 cm) in length, though are sometimes larger in the home aquarium. Lake Malawi fish live to an average of 7 to 10 years.

There are several color varieties. They are commonly called “Red Fin” because the females and juveniles have red or orangish fins. But the colors vary naturally depending on the geographic region they originate from. In all cases the males are more brightly colored than females.

The most commonly known variety is the “Gold Fin” with the male being red in the body, blue face and blue fins. Female is silver with orange anal and pectoral fins and a tipping of orange on the top of the dorsal fin. They have several very faint vertical lines from the head to the caudal area. Other color descriptions of the Haplochromis Borleyi Redfin depend on location within Lake Malawi.

Here some descriptions of a few of the Copadichromis borleyi varieties:

    • Kadango or Red Fin Kadango: The male is blood red to maroon in the body area with a blue face, and dark fins tipped in blue. The female is silver with orange fins. The dorsal and caudal are just outlined in orange with the anal and pectoral fins being all orange with a trim of silver.

    • Liuli: The male has a blue face, dorsal and tail fin. The anal fin is gold with mottling of blue and the pectoral fin extends the entire length of the body. The pectoral fin is gold in the area close to its body and light blue in the last 2/3rds. The body is gold with the scales being edged in blue and it has 3 dark spots; one on the top middle of the back, one just above the middle area of the anal fin, and one right in the middle of the caudal peduncle.

  • Sambia Reef: The male is all dark blue with a light blue trim on the top of the dorsal. The tail fin is dark with light blue tips on top and bottom parts of the fin. 2/3rds of the anal fin is dark where it touches the body with the remainder being yellow. The pectoral fin is dark with light blue trim, almost extending the length of the body.

All cichlids share a common feature that some saltwater fish such as wrasses and parrotfish have. 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: 6.7 inches (16.99 cm) – These fish grow to a length of 6 to about 6 1/2″ (15 -17 cm) in nature, and sometimes larger in home aquaria.
  • Lifespan: 7 years – They 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 easy to care for, easy to feed, and relatively undemanding aquarium residents. They are also fairly peaceful, making good inhabitants for the community tank, and will readily breed. The aquarium does need regular water changes. They are susceptible to Malawi bloat as well as the typical diseases that effect all freshwater fish if the tank is not maintained.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner

Foods and Feeding

The Red Fin Kadango is an omnivore that is primarily a planktivore and will readily accept prepared foods with a lot of protein. This species diet must be high protein but make sure the diet includes some vegetable foods. They will eat spirulina flake, brine shrimp flake, and pellet food is good for the larger fish.

If housing with cichlids that eat primarily a vegetable diet, be sure those fish do not consume the diet for this Utaka. Feed once a day when young and 5 to 6 times a week when adults unless they are breeding. Avoid the desire to feed this fish more often than it needs, as this will keep the water quality higher over a longer time.

  • Diet Type: Omnivore
  • 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: Daily – Feed juveniles once a day and adults 5 – 6 times a week.

Aquarium Care

Malawi Cichlids will deteriorate under poor water conditions. As these are messy fish, do water changes of 20 to 50% a week depending on bio load. Malawi bloat is a typical disease especially if their dietary needs are not met with quality foods.

  • Water Changes: Weekly – Water changes of 20-50% weekly are suggested, depending on the bio load.

Aquarium Setup

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 75 gallons and 5 feet long is suggested. They do fine in either freshwater or brackish freshwater but need good water movement along with very strong and efficient filtration. Malawi Cichlids will deteriorate under poor water conditions. Keeping the ph above neutral is important. Sand used for saltwater fish or freshwater can be used, and if these fish are kept 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. A very slow acclimation to different pH levels can sometimes be achieved. Keeping a higher pH however, means that ammonia is more lethal, so regular water changes are a must for these fish.

These cichlids prefer low to moderate light levels with places to hide. They like rocks for comfort but enjoys open swimming areas as well. Provide some rock work that is placed to provide a areas for retreat but leaves plenty of open areas. Plants can be added as well, as these fish are not big on digging, just make sure the plants do not get in the way of open swimming areas.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 75 gal (284 L) – A minimum 75 gallon tank with a length of 5′ is suggested.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Substrate Type: Sand
  • Lighting Needs: Low – subdued lighting
  • Temperature: 73.0 to 82.0° F (22.8 to 27.8&deg C)
  • Range ph: 7.7-8.6
  • Hardness Range: 6 – 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: Top – These fish will swim in the top and middle areas of the aquarium.

Social Behaviors

This fish is not considered to be a community fish. The Haplochromis Borleyi Redfin rarely shows aggression to other tank mates except during mating when the male defends his territory. Even then, the male is more “bark” than bite. They should not be housed with aggressive cichlids or Mbunas. They can be housed with peaceful Lake Malawi cichlids such as Aulonocara and other peaceful Haps.

Avoid keeping fish of similar size and color to keep aggression to a minimum, they are said to fight with any blue colored fish in the tank. They are best kept in groups of one male and 3 or more females. The males are very gentle with the females and they will even school together if there is a larger group. Since the male is not overbearing, other male cichlids of similar shape such as Peacocks may try to breed with his females. To avoid hybridization, do not mix species.

  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Yes – They are best kept in groups of one male with 3 or more females.
    • Peaceful fish (): Monitor
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Safe – Avoid keeping fish of similar size and color to keep aggression to a minimum.
    • Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
    • Threat
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Threat – is aggressive
    • Plants: Safe

Sexual differences

Males are larger and more colorful. Males have extremely elongated pelvic fins with eggs spot and white to blue on the edges of the dorsal and pelvic fins. Females are silver with three black spots on the side and typically have orange on at least some of their fins.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Haplochromis Borleyi Redfin form a matriarchal family and are mouth brooders. This species has been bred in captivity. The male is ready to breed at about 1 year. He will defend a spawning area, which seems to change from spawn to spawn. He will pick an area next to a rock and spawning will begin. Once he has attracted one of the females, they will spawn on the vertical part of a large boulder or use fine sand on top of a boulder.

The female is a mouth brooder and can carry up to 60 eggs. The eggs take a little longer than the typical 21 days. They can take just over 3 weeks to hatch. The fry are dark gray with yellow or orange fins, depending on location your Utaka was captured from. The young are slow to grow. See the description of how cichlids breed in: Breeding Freshwater Fish: Cichlids.

  • Ease of Breeding: Easy

Fish Diseases

Haplochromis Borleyi Redfins 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 Red Fin Kadango, also called Red Fin Borleyi or Yellow Fin Borleyi, are often found online and are moderately priced for juveniles. 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 Haplochromis Borleyi Redfin, with all the different hybrids that have formed in captivity, there is no way to tell exactly what you are getting unless it is from a reputable dealer.



Featured Image Credit: Henner Damke, Shutterstock