If there is such a thing as an underrated Rift Lake Cichlid, the Cyprichromis leptosoma is it. C. leptosoma, is sometimes known as the "cyp" (pronounced "sip") and sometimes as the "blue flash", although the latter is more often used to identify a particular variety of cyp. Sometimes it is also referred to as a "sardine cichlid", which is a reference to its streamlined shape. It is a colorful, mouth brooding cichlid from Lake Tanganyika that would make an excellent addition to many Tanganyikan tanks.
The typical color pattern for a male C. leptosoma is a bright blue, with some yellow on the fins, and either a blue or yellow tail. A male cyp in good condition can be a striking sight! Unfortunately, the females are much less colorful, primarily a pleasing beige with perhaps some yellow in the fins (depending on the variety). But, as we shall see below, even the less colorful females are not as much of a disadvantage as many other mouth brooding cichlids.
The primary benefit the cyp has as an aquarium resident over virtually all its relatives is its habitat preference. Unlike nearly every other cichlid, the cyp does not require contact with the substrate. It is a midwater swimmer, just like barbs or tetras. Since they do not compete for scarce substrate habitats, caves, or shells, the cyp can be added to many setups without hindering the substrate spawners in the tank.
Another benefit the Cyprichromis has over most Tanganyikan mouth brooders is its relative hardiness. While this is not an "industrial strength" cichlid like some lamprologines, it will not drop dead at the first missed water change, or just because you looked at it funny, as with many Tanganyikan mouth brooders. While they may show some stress if tank maintenance becomes lax, they will survive for quite a while under less than ideal conditions, allowing the situation to be rectified. Typical Tanganyikan water conditions - hard, alkaline, and clean - are ideal for cyps.
Also unlike many of their Tanganyikan mouth brooding brethren, cyps do not require an overly specialized diet. Their diet in the wild is primarily zooplankton and they enjoy small crustaceans in the aquarium. I feed mine mostly OSI flakes, frozen brine shrimp and daphnia, and freeze-dried cyclop-eeze. Basically cyps will thrive on the same diet you feed julies, shellies, and most other lamprologines.
As noted above, there are several varieties of C. leptosoma. These varieties fall within two major groupings, that probably actually represent separate species. The first grouping is the original C. leptosoma, whose most popular varieties are probably the "blue flash" (from both Malasa and Isanga), and the "Utinta". These varieties grow to a maximum length of about 3 inches, and they subscribe to the typical coloration described above, although males of the blue flash varieties also have a streak of bright blue or purple on the top front of their bodies, giving them their names.
The second grouping is sometimes described as C. leptosoma "jumbo" and, as the name implies, they can grow much larger than the first variety - up to about 6 inches in length. The most popular variety of jumbo is probably the "tri-color", and while some jumbos do show the typical color pattern, there are several significant variations - some quite beautiful, others more drab.
My own experience with cyps is with the smaller, original group, and specifically the "blue flash Malasa" variety. Although some books claim these fish need a lot of space, I keep 10 adults and several sub adults in a 55 gallon (48 inch long) tank without any problems, and with some breeding success. Based on some research on the internet, it seems that many people have success with cyps in 48 inch tanks, and often in smaller ones. My cyps have as tank mates a breeding colony of Neolamprologus multifasciatus that live in shells and about 7 Synodontis petricola catfish that live in ceramic caves. The different species generally keep out of each others' way - the multies living among their shells, the cyps taking up the mid to upper levels of the tank, and the catfish generally staying in their caves during the day. I find the combination of colorful cyps darting around, active multies taking care of their shells and guarding their young, and the occasional appearance of a beautiful catfish coming out of its cave to be a very pleasing setup. Unlike many mouth brooders, cyps are best kept in a group with about the same number of males as females. I am sure that a pure harem of one or two males with lots of females will work as well. But since the males are more colorful, and you can keep several together, you might as well. What would probably not work as well would be to keep just a pair, since the male will be overly attentive to the single female. But with multiple males to show off to, and multiple females to attend to, if you keep a group of about ten, no one female will be overly harassed by the dominant male.
So how do cyps breed? Unlike virtually any other cichlid. As previously described, the cyp can live totally independent of the substrate. The female actually lays her eggs in midwater, where the male fertilizes them, after which the female backs up to catch the newly fertilized egg in her mouth. Ad Konings shows pictures of this sequence in some of his Tanganyikan cichlid books, but I have never been fortunate enough to witness it myself. It must be a fascinating sight to watch if you are ever lucky enough to catch the fish in the act.
In any case, the female carrying her eggs will be very noticeable by the large bulge in the front of her throat. There is no need to remove her from the tank, at least if there are several other females in the tank to keep the males' attention away. After about two to three weeks of holding the eggs, you should be able to see the fry's eyes right through the stretched skin of the mother's throat. The female should release the fry after about three weeks, but in a community tank, she may not have a quiet enough spot to do so (releasing fry is the one time in the cyp life cycle where a cave typically gets used).
But fortunately, stripping her is easy enough. When she is ready to release - about 3 weeks after laying the eggs, it is often sufficient to just lift her out of the tank in a net and put her in a small container. Some of the fry are likely to be released before she even reaches the container. After a few minutes in the container, she will have likely released all her fry. But you may want to gently lift the female out of the container and put her back a few times to be sure. In any case, there is no need to manipulate her mouth in any way. Note that with cyps, once the fry are released, there is no turning back. The mother offers no more protection to the fry after she releases them, although neither she nor other adult cyps make any attempt to eat the fry.
A typical spawn will result in about 6 fry. Each is fairly large, and more than capable of eating newly hatched brine shrimp. I put my newly released fry in a breeding net within the same tank as the parents. I start out by feeding a dry powder combination of Hikari First Bites mixed with a little spirulina powder. I also feed decapsulated brine shrimp eggs (if you feed brine shrimp eggs they must be decapsulated or else they won't be digestible; of course I am sure that newly hatched brine shrimp would work at least as well). Soon they have grown enough to take Cyclop-eeze, and soon after that, frozen daphnia.
One problem I have encountered with breeding cyps occurs when I get too anxious to strip the female, and do so too early, say after 2 weeks instead of 3. In that case the fry may still have their yolk sacs attached. But as typical with cyps, this problem is easily rectified. The fry can be grown in breeder nets even with the yolk sac attached. It is just important to make sure that the adults in the main tank cannot get at the yolk, since the yolk is too much of a temptation for the adults to resist, and the fry with yolk attached is immobile at the bottom of the net. The best solution to this is to use a net within a net, so the fry is separated from the bottom of the net that the adults can pick at. Alternatively, just raise them is a separate tank.