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Pseudocrenilabrus philander

Southern Mouth-Brooder




Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Angola, Namibia, Zambia, Tanzania, Botswana, Mozambique, Swaziland.


It is found in a wide range of biotopes, including streams, lakes, ponds and sinkholes. Some populations exist in slightly brackish conditions.

Maximum Standard Length

3″ (7.5cm) – 5.2″ (13cm), depending on locality.

Aquarium SizeTop ↑

48″ x 12″ x 12″ (120cm x 30cm x 30cm) – 110 litres.


The tank should contain plenty of hiding places. Clay pot caves, roots and pieces of driftwood can all be used. Plants are not essential but the fish will appreciate the additional cover. A sand or fine gravel substrate is best as the male will dig when spawning.

Water Conditions

Temperature: 72-77°F (22-25°C)

pH: 6.5-7.5

Hardness: 5-12°H


Will accept most foods. A good quality cichlid pellet can be fed as staple, but ensure the diet is varied with regular feedings of live and frozen foods.

Behaviour and CompatibilityTop ↑

Can be aggressive towards other species inhabiting the lower reaches of the aquarium. If you wish to keep it with other dwarf cichlids, catfish, loaches etc. you will need a large tank. In smaller aquaria, good tankmates include larger African tetras, rainbowfish and surface dwelling species such as hatchetfish. Male fish are very aggressive towards one another and only one should be kept and maintained in a harem situation with several females. If more than a single male is kept, only one dominant fish is likely to form a territory and spawn with the available females unless the tank is very large.

Sexual Dimorphism

The male is larger and much more colourful than the female.


Quite easy. Maternal mouth-brooder. The breeding aquarium should be set up as suggested above and a minimum of 48″ in length. The fish will breed over a fairly wide range of water parameters. Aim for a pH of around 7.0 and a temperature of 75°F and you should be fine. Try and purchase a single male fish and 3-4 females. If this is not possible, get a group of 6-8 young fish and allow things to develop naturally. The addition of target fish in the form of larger tetras or rainbowfish is recommended. If the fish are conditioned on a high quality diet of frozen and live foods, they should come into breeding condition quite quickly.

The male will form a large territory of around 3 feet in diameter. When inbreeding condition, he will excavate a shallow pit in the substrate. From here he will display to females, attempting to entice them to spawn with him. The male can be very pugnacious towards unreceptive females and this is why it is preferable to spawn this species in a harem with an additional shoal of target fish. This ensures that the male’s attention is divided.

When a female is willing, she will follow the male to his pit, where spawning occurs. The act itself is preceded by a display of circling by both fish. The male will nuzzle the vent of the female, and it may be this that triggers her to release the eggs. As the eggs are laid, the female immediately picks them up with her mouth and then mouths the vent of the male, who releases some milt directly into the mouth of the female. Sometimes fertilisation occurs before the female picks up the eggs, as the fish circle quite quickly. The male has an orange spot on his anal fin and it has been hypothesised that this may act as a kind of ‘dummy egg‘ to attract the female to his vent. However, if the fish are watched closely, it appears this is not the case, as the vent of the male is not actually very close to the ‘egg spot‘ and the female tends to mouth the vent itself. This sequence is repeated until the female is holding 5-100 eggs in her buccal cavity. During the spawning act conspecific fish may be observed rushing in and stealing eggs before the female has a chance to pick them up. They hold these for a short time before eating them.

Carrying females tend to attract rough attention from the male so it may be wise to remove the female to a separate tank at this point. She will hold the brood for around 10 days, at which point the free swimming fry are released. During this period, she adopts a different colour pattern which makes her less conspicuous. In nature, large shoals of carrying females exhibiting this colour pattern can be found in shallow water away from male territories.

The fry can be fed brine shrimp nauplii, microworm and powdered dried foods from the day of release. The mother will continue to guard them for a few days if she is left in the aquarium, but this is not necessary and is a matter of personal preference.

NotesTop ↑

This species is not often seen in the hobby, which is a pity as it is a stunning fish with interesting behaviour. If you do manage to get some, be sure to provide the best possible conditions from the start, as they appear to travel quite badly and losses are common.

There are currently 3 subspecies, Pseudocrenilabrus philander philander, P. p. dispersus and P. p. luebberti. However, recent studies suggest as many as 11 distinct populations exist, differing in location, colour, patterning, behaviour and egg size. These should not be mixed in aquaria as hybridisation may occur.

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