Yellow Lab Cichlid (Labidochromis caeruleus): Care, Size, Tank Mates, Breeding

Whether you’re standing in the local fish store thinking about a first Malawi cichlid or purchasing the next addition to an established Mbuna aquarium, the electric Yellow Lab cichlid is undoubtedly a go-to option for any African Cichlid Lovers.

Owing to its beautiful and eye-catching yellow coloration, the species is much desired by modern-day aquarists and always being in demand. Not only are they beautiful, but these fish are one of the most peaceful Mbunas in the hobby.

While Yellow Labs are beginner-friendly species, there are still a few things you need to be aware of before making the purchase. In this article, we’ll go over some essential facts about the species and what it takes to properly care for them so that they thrive in the home aquarium.

Keep reading to find out more about yellow lab cichlid!

Species Profiles

Labidochromis caeruleus

Scientifically known by the name Labidochromis caeruleus, the bright Yellow Lab Cichlid is one of the regional color variations. There are actually several naturally occurring mutations (color variations or morphs) available of L. caeruleus.

Its bold, dazzling electric yellow coloration does a great job of helping the fish earn its common names, including Yellow Lab Cichlid, Electric Yellow Lab, Lemon Yellow Lab, Yellow Labido, and Lemon drop Cichlid.

Labidochromis caeruleus is a member of the Mbuna Group and hails from the shallow rocky shores of the central western coast of Lake Malawi shoreline. As a group, it’s known as the blue streak hap, Labidochromis Yellow, Labidochromis White, yellow lab cichlid, Pearl Labidochromis, Blue-White Labido, and Labido Cichlid, depending on the color varieties.

Although L. caeruleus has various colors, the yellow morph is the most popular and widely traded in the world. Blue and white varieties are occasionally available among the aquarist community.

Yet it is worth noting that 99% of electric yellow Labs in the trade are actually bred commercially on fish farms in Singapore and the Czech Republic. In the wild, they have a much more restricted location, only found in Charo and Lion’s Cove in the lake. That is why this fish is currently listed on the IUCN Red List as Least Concern (LC).

The genus Labidochromis currently contains 18 recognized species, and most of them will hybridize with any other readily, so you’d avoid mixing them to prevent any potential hybridization.

Scientific Name:Labidochromis caeruleus
Common Name:Yellow Lab Cichlid, Electric Yellow Lab, Lemon Yellow Lab, Yellow Labido, and Lemon drop Cichlid
Care Level:Beginner
IUCN Red List:Least Concern (LC)
Origin:Lake Malawi, African
Lifespan:6 to 10 years
Max Size:5 inches (12 cm)
Temperature:73.0 to 82.0° F (22.8 to 27.8° C)
Water hardness:10 to 25 KH
Minimum Tank Size:55 gallons (48″ x 13″ x 21″)


The average Yellow Lab Cichlid lifespan is around 6 to 10 years in captivity. If looked after well, the little yellow fish can stay around for over a decade. This means maintaining a high-quality diet, providing the proper environment, and performing regular tank maintenance.

Another factor contributing to Yellow Lab Cichlids’ overall lifespan is their genetics. The quality of the captive strains varies from one fish farm to another. Purchasing from reputable retailers or breeders is the best way to ensure you get a yellow Lab with good genes.

Appearance & Popular Colors

Although the species is called Electric Yellow Cichlid, it is still found in over a dozen color variants based on their place of origin. Typically, the males have an electric yellow body with black bars on their dorsal and anal fins. However, don’t go looking for the bars as it doesn’t become visible until the fish completely matures. It appears only when the fish is full-grown. 

Other than that, the typical coloration of the body is white, again embellished with the signature vivid black stripe on the fins. Some different varieties can be observed in yellow with a white belly or blue dorsal fin. 

It’s normal to see some faint vertical bars over the body of white and blue variations, but the yellow morph usually doesn’t have any. If you find a yellow Lab with faint vertical bars covering the body, it’s likely a hybrid created by the mass-produced farms in Singapore. Those bred in the Czech Republic are often small but have better quality.

Male Vs. Female Yellow Lab Cichlid: How To Sex?

The primary difference between the males and females of Yellow Lab cichlid is that the male is bigger than its female counterpart. Even though both are vibrantly colored, the dominant males have a more prominent coloration to the point that they appear almost golden yellow when spawning.

Many owners think the black pigmentation on the dorsal fin is a male trait, but that’s not the case. Some females have it, too, even though it is more pronounced in males. The only way to be sure of the sex of your Yellow Labs is by looking at their genital papilla, which is located right behind the anal fin.

The males will have a longer and pointier genital papilla, whereas the females are shorter and rounder. Be aware that this is an expert-only method, and you must wait until they are 2-3 inches.

Yellow Lab Cichlid Size & Growth Rate

Adult Yellow Lab Cichlids will reach an average size of 4-5 inches (10-12 cm) in captivity, and some specimens can grow larger. They are typically smaller in the wild, under 4 inches (10 cm).

Like most Mbunas, Yellow Labs have a fast growth rate in the first 5- 8 months of their lives. You can expect them to grow up to 3 inches in 2-3 months. When sold in stores, they are typically juveniles that are only 1″-1.5″ long.

Author notes: It's highly recommended to purchase any Mbuna less than 2 inches (5cm). They are less aggressive and give you a better chance to establish a pecking order in your aquarium.

Care & Tank Setup

Labidochromis caeruleus is considered to be one of the most peaceful and shy Mbuna. It is not a community tank candidate that can be kept with other freshwater fish than peaceful African Rift Lake cichlids, so you should set up your tank accordingly.

Like any Mbunas, most of the difficulty with yellow lab cichlid comes from their natural aggression and ideal tank maintenance. That’s something we’ll dive into shortly, but first, let’s look at the recommended yellow Lab tank size and ideal water parameters.

Yellow Lab Cichlid Tank Size

Since these fish don’t grow large and should be kept in large groups, the recommended tank size for Yellow Lab Cichlids is 55 gallons (48″ x 13″ x 21″). 

Some aquarists say you can keep them singly or a pair in a 10 gallons tank, but we disagree.

Unlike a Betta or other large Hap, it’s rare to see people keep a single Mbuna in a small tank because they are very social creatures that establish a visible social hierarchy. Of course, you should not house one yellow lab in any Lake Malawi biotope aquarium, or else it will be bullied mercilessly.

Whether you plan to keep Electric Yellow Labs in a “peaceful” Mbuna aquarium or a species-only tank, heavy stocking is the best way to keep aggression down.

In a 55 gallons tank, you can start with quality 25-30 juvenile yellow labs or mix them with other 2-3 compatible Mbuna species. The ratio of males and females matters, but you don’t need to worry much about it as you are still younger. You should be able to add multiple females or remove males later on.

Water Conditions

Moving on, it is crucial to maintain top-notch water quality as it directly influences the lifespan of any African Cichlids.

Yellow Lab Cichlid is a hardy fish that can withstand a relatively wide range of water parameters. However, that doesn’t mean you should just aim for the middle of the road and call it a day. The closer you get to their natural habitat, the better off they’ll be in the long run.

Malawi is a Rift Valley lake where the water is alkaline with a high pH and a high hardness. Malawi Cichlids can tolerate a salinity with a specific gravity of less than 1.0002, but they can’t live in an entirely brackish water environment for an extended period.

Here are the recommended water parameters you should aim for:

  • pH level: 7.7–8.6
  • Temperature: 73.0 to 82.0° F (22.8 to 27.8° C)
  • Water hardness: 6 – 10 dGH
  • Ammonia: 0ppm
  • Nitrite: 0ppm
  • Nitrate: <10ppm

Moreover, the species will deteriorate if tank conditions are poor for long; that’s why do change 20 to 40 percent of the water every week. You can go beyond this, depending on the severity of your bioload. Regular water changes can also help with fish’s growth rate.


To give your yellow labs the best home, make a huge stony structure with abundant hiding holes and caves with a few stones to break the line of sight. Make sure the structure is well-secured, as yellow labs love to dig.

Use a crushed coral substrate because it will help maintain the pH, but Mbunas feel safe and show better coloration over the darker substrate. Therefore, the best option is a sandy substrate with caves created with honeycomb dragon stones.

Diet & Food

Although the species is an opportunistic omnivore in the wild, it primarily feeds on large invertebrates. So, they are less likely to suffer from Malawi bloat through being fed the protein-rich diet in captivity.

In the aquarium, they are not fussy fish and accept a wide variety of foods. You can feed them both meaty foods and vegetable matters.

A quality Spirulina flake or Cichlid pellets should be a staple of their diet. To maintain their yellow coloration, you can supplement their diet with live or frozen foods, such as brine shrimp, black worms, earthworms, Tubifex worms, daphnia, and bloodworms.

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Stick with a feeding schedule of 2 times a day, but give them only what they can consume in 2 minutes. If you overfeed them, it will lead to water pollution and make them susceptible to Malawi bloat.

Speaking of overfeeding, consider introducing a practice called fasting once a week. It will not only give your fish a chance to cleanse their digestive system but also enhance their cold resistance.

Yellow Lab Cichlid Tankmates

The Labidochromis caeruleus is the most adaptable and versatile Malawi cichlid that can get along with many peaceful Mbuna species. They are also compatible with other peaceful non-Mbuna fishes such as Peacocks (Aulonocara sp), Haps (Haplochromis sp), as well as catfish from lake Tanganyika.

Single-Species Aquariums

Like any other Mbunas, it’s best to keep them in large groups in a species-only aquarium.

The number of fish depends on your tank size and types of filter. Generally, try to provide at least two gallons per fish. The best number to shoot for a show tank is at least 15-20 individuals in a 55 gallons tank. While you can keep one male with five females in a 30-gallon breeder (36″ x 18″ x 12″) tank if you intend to breed.

The ratio of males and females is important; a harem of one male with at least three females is the ideal setup.

Mixed Mbuna & Lake Malawi Tank

Many Malawi Cichlid enthusiasts prefer the idea of mixing different Mbunas, Peacocks, and Haps species in one aquarium for the sake of variety. 

IMHO, you should give the single-species aquarium a second thought, as the visual display of the Electric Yellow Labs has changed a lot of minds.

No mention that a yellow lab-only aquarium is easier to maintain regarding aggression and water conditions.

If you want to create a multi-species Mbuna or Lake Malawi Tank, here are many species you should try:

Labidochromis caeruleus Breeding

Like convict cichlids, breeding yellow lab cichlids is a breeze. They might be one of the easiest Mbunas to reproduce in a home aquarium.

This species forms matriarchal communities and is an oviparous mouthbrooder. You’ll be best off obtaining one male with five females and letting them grow out together until they reach sexual maturity at 1.5-2 inches in length.

When they’re ready to spawn, the male will construct a pit on a flat surface and start to court the females. After successful mating, the female will lay 10 to 30 eggs and then immediately take them into her mouth.

At the same time, the male displays his egg spots on the anal fin, and the female mistakes them for her eggs and tries to take them into her mouth as well. This is a way to stimulate the male to release sperm into her mouth, fertilizing the eggs.

The female yellow Lab cichlid will take mouthbrooding duties and incubate the eggs for about 21 days until they hatch. Once the fry are free-swimming, she will release them and start to care for them. The fry are large enough to take brine shrimp nauplii.

Final Thoughts 

This attractive little species is beautiful to look at and easy to maintain. Majorly peaceful with a semi-aggressive nature, yellow cichlids may prove to be a delightful addition to your fish tank. 

This fish is readily available online and in fish stores. But be careful with the price. A cheap one might be a hybrid.

If you’re still on the fence about it, we advise you to go for it and see for yourself. We’re sure you won’t regret it!

Happy yellow lab cichlid-ing!

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