Melanochromis parallelus – The Parallel Striped Mbuna
Burgess & Axelrod (1976)

The common name of this Malawian cichlid is a good example of why the fish got its scientific name.  Parallelus is taken from the Greek “parallelos”. Taking the meaning of parallelos further, it’s literally from “para allelois” which means ‘beside one another’ (para "beside" + allelois "each other,"). Females and juveniles of this fish have 2 symmetrical black horizontal lines running down the length of its body. The bottom line runs approximately at mid-body and the top stripe is almost at the top of the body.
  All of the unpaired fins are edged in black (though the markings on the tail are not continuous).  The body colour itself is generally white. Males seem to almost reverse their colouration, except in that the females are black and white, the males are black and blue. Where the female is black, the male is blue. Where the female is white is the male shows black. Adults range in size from 11-13 cm (4 ½-5”).

This cichlid occurs on the northwestern part of the lake from Kande Island to Mpanga Rock; from Mara Point to Lutura reef; Likoma Island and Chizumulu Island in Lake Malawi. It’s been introduced to Cape Maclear, Lake Malawi. They tend to occupy a niche 2-28 m.(6-92’) deep.

Melanochromis parallelus is omnivorous in the wild, generally dieting on invertebrates but on occasion unusual feeding habits appear. This is remarked by Ad Konings in one of his books and I’ve quoted it to fully explain the behaviour.

M. parallelus and M. vermivorus are both found in the sediment-free rocky habitat and show distinct sexual dichromatism. These two species, although more numerous than the previous one, are likewise omnivores which feed primarily on invertebrates but nip from the biocover as well. When plankton is abundant they also join with other mbuna in feeding in the water column. A diver may attract several of them when debris is stirred up by his fins. Both species feed opportunistically, but I have observed another, most remarkable type of feeding behaviour in M. parallelus. Eccles and Lewis (1976) describe the cleaning behaviour of juvenile Docimodus evelynae which feed on the fungus and parasites attached to larger haplochromines. After the rainy season, which is an important breeding period for many species, several larger haplochromines have damaged fins or scales. These wounds are covered with fungus which prevents rapid healing. On several occasions I have observed adult females of M. parallelus picking fungus from larger haplochromines. In all instances the wounded fish approached the cleaner and made clear, by lying on its side or hovering in a slanting, head-up position, that it would like to have a treatment. In all cases the dorsal fin was presented first. The female Parallelus then picked vigorously at the fungus and tore it off. Although it visibly hurt the client it remained in the typical position. When all its wounds were cleaned, which might take more than a minute, the larger haplochromine would resume its normal position and disappear. Cleaning stations, as seen in marine fishes, were not observed: after the job was done the female Parallelus would disappear from the scene as well. George Turner (pers. comm.) once found a juvenile M. auratus with a cleaning station based around a small rock at the edge of a breeding colony of a Copadichromis species. Several utaka and rock-dwelling species have been observed being cleaned, but in all instances these were large haps, never mbuna. — Konings, A. 2001. Malawi cichlids in their natural habitat. 3rd ed. . Cichlid Press page 99.

Aquarium keeping of M. parallelus is not too difficult if a few things are kept in mind. This fish is NOT for beginners to Malawian cichlids.  You will need a large tank that has a lot of hiding places in it. It is highly aggressive, especially to its own kind. Even the
females can be very aggressive to each other. For this reason, you should keep a fairly large group (5-6+) of these cichlids together. The best arrangement is 1 male and all the rest female. Dominant males will chase and harass subdominant males.

I received these young fish from Spencer Jack at the 2005 ACA in Chicago. I purchased 10 juveniles that were around 2” SL long.  I originally kept them in a small tank to get some size on them. Once they reached about 3” SL I felt they were big enough to go into my large 225g cichlid tank. They fit into the tank quite well. Even at this size there was no differentiating any sexes on these fish.  I expected some sort of colour change soon since my M. johannii had gone through their transformation at around this size. 

I kept waiting for signs of what sexes I had. Instead all they did was chase each other around and all kept looking like females. It took over a year before I noticed any colour changes in them. I suspect it was the fact that they were the smallest fish in the tank rather than anything else that kept their colour change from happening any earlier.  Finally I started seeing a few of the parallelus showing hints of blue on their sides. This process seemed to take forever as well. From the day I started noticing a little bit of blue on a couple of fish until I noticed a completely obvious male there was no gradual colour change on the males. One day it seemed was a white and black fish with blueish tints on it, the next a blue and black fish!
I was excited now since I knew for sure that I most likely had both sexes available in the big tank. Now it was just a matter of waiting. And wait aga
in I did…..

Finally about 2 years from when I got them I got a good-sized spawn of fry. I stripped the first female that I saw holding. Within days of that event there was another female holding. Since I already had more than enough fry from the first female, I did not bother saving the fry from the other female. These fry were placed into a 10 gallon tank to start their life. They were kept with a few Haplochromis sp. ‘blue back’ fry and some King Tiger plecos I’m growing out. I was a bit worried about the Hap fry b
ut so far they’ve been safe (even with the size difference). They were fed crushed flake mainly along with treats of bbs and microworms. They grow fairly quickly. I have placed them into larger quarters until I can pass around the fry. I enjoyed these fish even if they did take forever to spawn. They are a very distinctive colour and you cannot miss them in their tank.  If you have the room, and have a little experience with Malawians, why not give them a try?

© Copyright Lisa Boorman
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Suggested Reading:

Malawi Cichlids in their natural habitat - 3rd edition Ad Konings

Fishkeepers Guide to African Cichlids by Paul Loiselle

The Cichlid Aquarium by Dr. Paul Loiselle

Success with Cichlids from Lake Malawi & Tanganyika by Sabine Melke, U. Erich Friese

Baensch Aquarium Atlas vol. 2 by Dr. Rüdiger Riehl & Hans A. Baensch

Guide to Malawi Cichlids (Back to Nature) by Ad Konings

Enjoying Cichlids by Ad Konings (editor)

Offshore Cichlids of Lake Malawi by George F. Turner

To see more references on cichlids:

Cichlid Book List

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