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Pseudotropheus crabro
Hornet (Bumblebee) Cichlid

 Age of Aquariums > Freshwater Fish > Bumblebee Cichlid - Pseudotropheus crabro

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Pseudotropheus_crabro_2.jpg (30kb)
Photo Credit: Michel Lalonde

Name: Pseudotropheus crabro
Size TankpHTemp
Origin: Lake Malawi (Africa)
15 cm 150 L 8.2 28C


Many beginners buy this fish because the juveniles sport the attractive barred "bumblebee" pattern and, indeed, they are mighty cute. Fish this aggressive should not be sold to beginners, certainly not to those keeping a community tank. This fish should only be kept with other aggressive cichlids. The coloration for adult, dominant males is near black and appear almost totally black when breeding. There are a variety of geographic variants of this fish; some males in breeding dress show several bright blue sparkles on their flanks which can be very pretty. One thing the aquarist will notice with these fish is that they change color rapidly! Interestingly, males can change color to look almost exactly like the females and, in fact, females can quickly change color to a murky black.

Why would this fish adopt this color changing ability? I found my answer in Ad Koning's book "Malawian Cichlids in the Natural Environment". Pseudotropheus crabro inhabits caves in the lake that are also home to a very large catfish with which it shares a pseduo-symbiotic relationship. While in the gold and black barred configuration, this large catfish tolerates Pseudotropheus crabro which picks parasites from the skin of the catfish. Interestingly, the catfish are also cave spawners, exuding thousands of eggs which make a tasty snack for Pseudotropheus crabro. When the catfish spawns, both male and female quickly change to a murky black color to steal the eggs. They then quickly change back to the "safe" barred configuration, somewhat like a cat burgler putting on black before entering a home! These caves are found from 10 to 40 meters deep in the lake. This fish has been collected in water with a pH range 8.5 to 9.2 and GH range of 8.0 - 14.0.

Pseudotropheus crabro doesn't present any problems, but it is quite an aggressive cichlid. It will quickly dominate less aggressive tankmates. Do not underestimate this fish, since it has a very bad attitude. Dominant males will quickly take care of sub-dominant males (by "take care of" I mean kill). Dominant males will also severely harass females and even kill them, so provide plenty of cover. Like all cichlids, regular partial water changes are critical. I changed approximately 40% of the tank volume on a weekly basis. In the lake, Pseudotropheus crabro feeds on fish parasites and variety of planktonic fare. My fish ate just about everything, including Tetra Cichlid Sticks, Cichlid Flake, Aquadyne Duraflakes, pellets and more. Typically, I recommend obtaining six or more juveniles and growing them up together.

Since this fish gets pretty big, I would recommend at least a 200 liter tank for these fish when mature. My fish bred frequently, but I often didn't have successful spawns. My dominant male harassed the other fish in the tank relentlessly and females would often eat the eggs rather than holding them to term. I eventually was successful by providing an increased amount of rockwork in my 470 L tank. I realized that if the male couldn't see the females, then maybe he'd leave them alone. With this in mind, I built a large file of rocks in the center of the tank that contained one large cave at the bottom. This pile extended almost to the top of the tank. The male quickly made his house in the cave at the bottom of the pile and could only see the other sides of the tank with great effort. Thus, he spent a lot less time bullying other fish. The fish breed in typical mouthbrooder fashion in the T position. Males will darken to almost jet black and begin courting females after a water change. Males shake and circle to attract a female to a flat piece of rock where breeding ensues. Pseudotropheus crabro females will hold about 18 to 21 days in ideal conditions. I stripped my female at 18 days and got about 16 fully-formed fry that looked just like their barred mother. The fry grow incredibly fast, by the way! I started mine off on Cyclop-eeze!

Contributed by Ivan Rusnjak

Bumblebee cichlids are best kept with 1 male and several females, they grow large-up to 20 cm for males and slightly smaller for females. In the wild they are known to clean large catfish of lice and the odd scale, they are also known for preying on the catfish eggs as well! Having a bumblebee in a typical mbuna setup can be a rather hit and miss adventure, on the one hand if housed with suitably robust, equally aggressive species, the bumblebee poses little problem. However if bought as an unoffensive looking small fish, and housed with typical mbuna, they quickly grow, will easily dominate lesser rivals and quickly rise to king of the tank. Dominant males turn almost completely black, and this is usually when they are most aggresive. Mine became very aggresive at just over 8 cm and I had to remove it from my mbuna tank. Also worth mentioning is the fact they scavenge fish lice in the wild would lead one to assume that they may require a diet higher in protein than most vedgie mbuna. A striking, robust fish that should be housed with equally robust africans in a spacious tank.

Contributed by Simon Cooper

I have raised several of these over the last 7 years or so. I have only had them one at a time because of their large adult size. They are only mildly aggressive compared to my elongatus and OB zebras. The most impressive "color changer" I have ever had. All of them that I have raised have had the ability to turn SOLID BLACK at will! They also seem to show stripes or not, depending on mood, much like other africans do. A very hardy fish, and also quite tolerant of my other african cichlid species.

Contributed by Brian G.

I have one of these in my 160-litre cichlid tank, aptly named Bumbles. He quickly became leader of the pack, but very rarely attacks any of the other cichlids. The tank is set up with lots of rocks and a few terracotta pots for caves - one thing I can say is that he seems to think every single cave is his and always swims in to push whoever is in them out, just to swim off again to the next cave. He's always first to the food, especially liking frozen cichlid food from the petshop. He'll come up and nip at your fingers if you entice him to as well. He's always very animated in the tank, and not overly agressive to other tank mates. A cool addition to any African tank.

Contributed by Craig Munro

I have had my bumblebee for almost 3 years now in a 170 L tank. He has outlived every species I have ever had. He is also the largest cichlid in the tank at 20 cm. He is very mellow in general, but he can go jet black and be aggressive in a nanosecond. He loves bloodworms and frozen brine.

Contributed by Sherry Poage

I had purchased an auratus and a bumblebee at the same time and same size. The auratus grew faster and was larger for a few weeks. Then the bumblebee blew up and is now larger than the auratus. It's a very active and hungry fish. Will fight my larger fish such as firemouth's, severum's, even punks a larger red jewel. When it eats it's stomach and throat gets dark black and he attacks his food. Good with other cichlids, but will injure gouramis. A definite fun fish to watch swim around and eat.

Contributed by Chris

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