Breeding Protomelas taeniolatus “Red Empress”

By Dave Gauthier



The male of this species is absolutely one of my favorite cichlids, able to show a wide array of color.  The females stay silver with a horizontal black bar.  They are found in Lake Malawi and are usually found in sediment-free rocky habitats.  This is one of the non-mbuna species to occupy this area, although it does share the area with various mbuna species.


I purchased a trio of these fish from a gentleman in Green Bay last January at about 3.5” in size.  The male was just starting to show color when I got them.  I put them in a 30 gallon aquarium by themselves to let them grow a bit.  Not ever having kept these fish before, I wasn’t sure at what size they would spawn.  But with the male starting to show color, I assumed it wasn’t too far off.  I kept them in the 30 gallon for a couple of months until they started to get bigger.  The tank was kept at 76°F filtered with an undergravel filter and powerhead, with a substrate of the usual gravel and crushed coral mix with the pH around 8.2.  A couple of rock piles were added for territory and a 50% water change was done once a week.  They were fed flake food, frozen brine shrimp, mysis shrimp and krill.  After a couple of months, the male had spawned with one of the females.  In an attempt to move her to a different tank, she spit the eggs out only to have the remaining two fish eat them.  They were now starting to outgrow the 30 gallon so I moved them to a 60 gallon setup at the end of February with the same temp, filtered with a Magnum 250, a Hydro 5 sponge filter, and the same substrate as the 30 gallon they were originally in.  I did not test the pH, but would guess that it is in the low 8’s.  They were fed the same foods and the same water change frequency.  This is when things got interesting.


After a few weeks in the new tank the male became hyper-aggressive and killed one of the females while I was at work, and started to do damage to the remaining female.  I removed her for a few days and when I returned her to the tank, I also added 5 female P. greshakei of the same size to try and curb his aggression.  This seemed to work pretty well.  I intentionally added greshakei females, with no other males in the tank besides the male Empress; I knew if any of the greshakei wound up with a mouthful of eggs they would be a hybrid, which I would have stripped and fed to smaller fish.  It never happened anyway, so nothing to worry about there. 


After 3 months of feeding and changing the water religiously every week, the pair of Empress finally spawned.  I did not actually witness the spawning but would guess it is no different than any other mouth breeding cichlids.  I let the female hold the eggs for a week and did not feed the tank at all.  I was worried that the introduction of food would cause the holding female to either spit the eggs, or eat them.  After a week, I stripped 19 eggs with eyes and tumbled them in the same tank for about 2 more weeks until they were free swimming and then moved them to a 10 gallon bare bottom tank to grow out.  They took to crushed flake food right away and continued to grow.


In conclusion, the Red Empress are really not that difficult to spawn, but the aggressive nature of the fish can make it a little more challenging.