Cichlids in the genus Pseudocrenilabrus

Pseudocrenilabrus cichlids can be found in waters from the Nile basin to southern Africa. They live in shallow, slow-moving waters or standing backwaters among the stems of water lilies and other plants. You won’t find them in the open water zones, which should be taken into account when planning the arrangement of the tank. In such an environment, water parameters such as temperature, pH or hardness fluctuate. Thanks to their great adaptability the Pseudocrenilabrus cichlids feel good in water of temperature 20 – 28oC, pH 6,5 – 7,5 and total hardness 5 – 15odH. It should be noted here that water cleanliness is very important, as these fish are extremely sensitive to nitrogen compounds dissolved in water.

Pseudocrenilabrus multicolor

The Egyptian mouthbrooder (Pseudocrenilabrus multicolor) is a fish that in the late 1990s I knew only from books. Over time, I learned from older aquarists that it was a fairly common species in the 1980s. Getting it was not difficult at all. These fish appeared from time to time in most of good stocked pet stores. Moreover, during aquarium events or mutual visits hobbyists often shared the obtained offspring. The reproduction of this species was relatively easy. It was a small fish, growing up to less than 8 cm, native to Egypt and occurring in the Nile basin. Aquarists accepted it into their tanks with great enthusiasm. Many still reminisce about these simple and graceful fish with fondness.

It should be remembered that it was one of the first cichlids brought to Europe and propagated in aquaria. It has been present in aquaristics for over a century. Due to its high tolerance to water parameters and easy maintenance it can be recommended even to beginner aquarists. I don’t know why its popularity and availability has dwindled over time. I also forgot about the existence of this kind of African cichlids for some time.

Pseudocrenilabrus victoriae

A few years ago I found on the net a short film presenting impressive looking fish with beautiful celadon-gold coloration of the trunk, blue lips, with reddish yet blue shining fins: dorsal and anal. They were very active, agile fish, swimming practically all the time, similar to Tropheus from Lake Tanganyika or cichilids from mbuna group from Lake Malawi. I wanted to have such fish in my aquarium as well. I learned that they were Pseudocrenilabrus cichlids. More specifically, they were males of Pseudocrenilabrus victoriae, a species of cichlids from Lake Victoria, surrounding smaller lakes and the rivers that feed them. These fish are slightly larger and more spectacularly colored than the above described Pseudocrenilabrus multicolor from Egypt. However, they lead a similar lifestyle.

Mission completed

After several months of searching, I thought I had acquired 6 specimens of these fish from a local importer. It was a group of two males and four females. But it only seemed so, because after acclimatizing the fish in aquarium I quickly noticed that my specimens, bought as P.victoriae and confusingly similar to those from the video, don’t present such intense and impressive coloration. It should be noted here that, as in the vast majority of Haplochromini, it is the males (especially those dominating in the hierarchy or just about to spawn) that present a beautiful palette of colors and patterns. Females, on the other hand, are not as spectacularly colored and usually their colors are limited to shades of yellow and gray glinting silver.


Within the genus Pseudocrenilabrus females of different species look very similar and even experts find it very difficult to distinguish them. Pseudocrenilabrus cichlids can interbreed, producing viable, usually fertile offspring. The gene pool from such a combination is altered and such fish should not enter the trade. This is the main reason why it is recommended to keep these fish in single-species tanks or with fish from other taxa.

I decided to wait with more precise species identification, as they were still young fish, 3 cm in size. Over time, the coloration has intensified. Black and dark blue pectoral and dorsal fins have appeared, visible especially during spawning or fights between males. However, the blue lip coloration characteristic of Pseudocrenilabrus victoriae included only the lower lip and the edges of the gill covers. There was also a difference in the amount of red color on the dorsal fin, and these fish definitely had less red in favor of blue. However, the red spot on the sharp end of the anal fin enlarged. This point probably serves a similar function to egg dummies in other Haplochromini.

My fish also differed in coloration from Egyptian P.multicolor, which I knew from photos, however in comparison with it they looked much more impressive. They strongly resembled P.philander, widely distributed in central and southern Africa, which forms many different-looking populations depending on location.

I found it extremely interesting that the females had a blue color present around the lower lip and gill lids, especially during incubation, not visible at first glance. Also, the dorsal fin coloration, although barely visible, resembled that of the dorsal fin of males in pattern. My fish presented features that were closest to a yet scientifically undescribed form of the genus, referred to as Pseudocrenilabrus sp. ‘Ruaha’ from the periodically drying Ruaha River in Tanzania.

Characteristics of Pseudocrenilabrus cichlids

They feed mainly on invertebrates and their larvae, tiny fish and to a lesser extent algae and plant matter. They do not form permanent pairs. One male may mate with multiple females, who collect the fertilized eggs in their mouths, where the eggs incubate and the larvae hatch.

With proper feeding these fish grow and mature sexually relatively quickly. They spawn readily and early under aquarium conditions. From my observations, females as young as 6 months old are able to carry and walk around their young. The maturing males become more and more pushy towards each other. In this situation only one male should be left in the aquarium. Alternatively, in a large enough tank should be arranged in a way to provide shelter for the dominant individual. Another way is to keep many more males. This spreads the aggression and has worked well for me in rearing successive generations of these fish.

Reproduction of Pseudocrenilabrus cichlids

In order to avoid the females getting tired of the pushy spawners, we keep the females separately after incubation. This will give them the opportunity to gain weight and return to their pre-breeding condition. To provoke them to spawn it’s enough to change the water, sometimes it’s necessary to raise the temperature by a few degrees. If there is more than one male in the aquarium, it is usually the dominant male that starts spawning. Then it takes on intense, bright colors and, straightening its fins, encourages the female to spawn. It lures the female over a hole previously formed from the ground, swimming back and forth like a professional dancer.

I have also observed situations when spawning took place over a flat stone, but these are less common. When the female takes the eggs she has deposited into her mouth, the male pours roe over it. Spawning can occur even before the female has a chance to catch the eggs. After spawning, the female swims away to a secluded spot and proceeds to incubate. She does not take food during this time.

Depending on the water temperature after 10 – 14 days the female releases the offspring which can swim independently. The first food can be brine shrimp nauplius, micro nematodes or even micronized artificial foods such as Pro Defence Micro Size. The fry grows relatively fast, but it very sensitive to water quality. Keep this in mind when you decide to breed this beautiful fish.


Pseudocrenilabrus cichlids seem to be gaining more and more fans, who are captivated by both the beauty and the fascinating lifestyle of these fish. Recently, exploring Africa has become increasingly accessible to the average European. This translates into more frequent research and collection expeditions, fostering the discovery of new populations and species of fish – also from this genus. The latitudinal extension of the distribution range of Pseudocrenilabrus spp., from Egypt to South Africa, allows us to assume that many more novelties and mysteries await the enthusiasts of this genus. I wish everyone a lot of joy in keeping these unusual cichlids.

Dawid Krótki

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