Image source: Brent M.

Bumblebee Cichlids – Tank setup, size, lifespan, and care guide

Native to Lake Malawi in Africa, the Bumblebee Cichlids are so-called because of the colorful pattern they share with the flying insect. It is also called by other names like Pseudotropheus crabro, Hornet Cichlid or Maylandia or Mbuna as called by the Tonga people of Malawi. It translates into “Rock Fish”.

Since Lake Malawi is a vast expanse of water that houses several hundred species of fish, the Bumblebee Cichlid is native only to the rocky shores of Chinyankwazi Island, Chiyamwezi, Eccles Reef, West Reef, Nkata Bay, Maleri Island, Likoma Island and Mbenji Island.

The Bumblebee Cichlid lives in rocky caves that it shares with the Bagrid Catfish, these two have a symbiotic relationship that we will get to later in this article.

The care level for these sneaky cichlids is moderate which means that some experience is required before taking on the Bumblebee Cichlid. Their aggressive and sneaky nature paired with careful monitoring of water parameters make them a handful for newcomers to the hobby.

Read on to learn more about how to care for the Bumblebee Cichlid and set up its tank.

Scientific NamePseudotropheus crabro
OriginLake Malawi, Africa
Size5-7 Inches
Aquarium Size50 Gallons
Lifespan10 Years
Ease of CareModerate


The Bumblebee Cichlid has an elongated body, featuring rayed fins, especially a pointed dorsal fin. The tail fin is large and prominent along with the anal fin, their size helps the fish maneuver itself in the water and the pointy edges help fend off predators.

They have swelled up lips that appear to display a smooth rubber like texture and inside their mouth they have rows of teeth leading down to the throat (a common cichlid trait) so they can easily gobble up their prey.


Bumblebee Cichlids are underwater chameleons and are known to change their color to fend off predators or suspecting prey. They normally feature a yellow body and caudal fin with black bars going from top to bottom until the caudal peduncle (they give them the Bumblebee and Hornet names). The dorsal and anal fins are completely black with light shades of grey at their edges. The mouth displays a dull grey coloration from the lips till the gills.

It should be noted that juveniles are brightly colored and their color intensity decreases with age. However, these fish are known to change color at will, for example how they change into a full black color to deceive the Bagrid Catfish.

In this symbiotic relationship, the Bumblebee is not seen as a threat while it displays yellow coloration and the catfish allows it to feed on parasites on its body but as soon as the catfish lays eggs inside the cave. The Bumblebee changes its entire body color to black and feeds on the eggs before reverting to its original color, leaving the catfish clueless as to who ate its eggs.

Fish Size:

Males grow to a length of 6 inches and females hardly cross the 5 inch mark. These grow into large fish, having thick and robust bodies so the aquarist must prepare accordingly before housing them in the aquarium.

Difference between male and female:

Bumblebee Cichlids display sexual dimorphism, the males tend to turn full black during breeding season or when they are feeding on catfish eggs, males are also known to display bright blue coloration on the fins and near the edges.

READ  A Compete Care Guide About Cichlids (CICHLIDAE)

The females feature a gold body with zigzag brown lines that fade into a gold underbelly and they also feature a dark horizontal bar that runs all the way to the tail.

It should be noted that the ability to change color is possessed by both males and females, they can both change into a dark brown or black color.

Life Span

They can live for up to 10 years but that depends entirely upon their diet and tank water parameters.


Bumblebee Cichlids are omnivores, in the wild they feed on fish eggs, parasites, larvae and insects. In captivity they also eat vegetables. It is recommended to feed them a balanced diet, one that is rich in protein. The following food items are preferred by most aquarists:

·         Good quality flakes

·         Granules

·         Frozen Mysis shrimp

·         Frozen brine shrimp enriched with vitamins and spirulina

·         Frozen mosquito larvae

·         Vegetables, such as blanched spinach, Romaine lettuce and cucumber.

Vegetables play an important role in their diet (unlike most Mbuna) because the fiber content helps keep a healthy digestive tract, free from disease. There are some food items that the Bumblebee Cichlid is sensitive too, items like mammalian meat. If fed too much of that, they can get sick and succumb to Malawi Bloat.

Like any other cichlid, Bumblebee Cichlids will keep on eating if you keep supplying them with food, they will never stop. So it is wise to regulate feeding periods for them. We would advise 3 small meals per day, which would not only help keep them healthy but it will prevent destabilization of water parameters due to the waste they produce post feeding time.

Behavior and Temperament

The Bumblebee Cichlid is an aggressive fish and is known to go wild during breeding season. For this reason, experts recommend you keep 6 females for 1 male in a 100 gallon tank so that they stay busy and do not attack other fish.

They are sneaky feeders, which is clearly displayed in their act of feeding on the eggs of the fish they share a habitat with, this makes them opportunistic.

They will normally stick to rocky caves, because that is where they live in the wild, as their name Mbuna suggests, which translates literally into “Rock Fish”.

Aquarium and Water Parameters

Bumblebee Cichlids are quite sensitive to water parameter changes. The aquarist should regularly monitor pH and ammonia levels because even a slight increase can prove fatal for these Mbuna. These freshwater fish are more suited to a brackish environment. Crushed coral helps maintain a high pH when it dissolves but care should be taken not to let that level go too high because it will result in an increased level of ammonia.

To be on the safe side, 20-30% water changes per week are recommended for Mbuna tanks.

PH Level7.5-8.5
Water Hardness160-230 ppm
Temperature75-79 F

Tank Size:

For one Bumblebee Cichlid, a 4 feet long, 50 gallon tank is recommended because these are large fish, but if you want to house a community of Bumblebees, then we would recommend a 5 feet long, 100 gallon tank.


The aquarist should ensure that the exact habitat of a Bumblebee Cichlid is mimicked so they can feel right at home.

READ  15 Amazing Types of Goldfish - The Complete Guide

In their natural habitat, the substrate is dark in color because they occupy rocky caves, where it is mostly dark. They will only display their coloration over a dark substrate so for this reason the use of coral or aragonite is not recommended. However, a crushed bag of coral can be used in the filter as a buffer to maintain pH levels.

The aquarium should house an ocean rock structure piled atop each other with several crevices in them for the Bumblebees to hang around in, since they love caves. The ocean rocks should be firmly placed because cichlids love to dig around and redecorate the tank.


These are large fish and will make quite a mess after feeding or when they dig around out of curiosity. For this purpose, a high quality filter is recommended.

A state of the art water parameter monitoring equipment is also advised, to keep a check on ammonia and pH levels.

Tank Mates

Bumblebee Cichlids are quite aggressive and have specific water parameter requirements. For this purpose, not many fish can inhabit the tank with them, save for the African Cichlids of Lake Malawi.

To ease their aggression, experts recommend keeping the male to female ratio to 1:6 because this will significantly mitigate aggression during breeding season. Along with this, the recommended tank size also helps give them breathing room by providing every fish with its own territory, suppressing territorial spats.

Any small, peaceful fish will either die by stress or get eaten by Bumblebees if you keep it in a tank with them. So for this reason we would recommend that you only keep cichlids native to Lake Malawi with Bumblebees.


Male Bumblebee Cichlids require a harem for breeding, if there is a single female, she will be continuously harassed to the point of aggression, at which point the male can kill her.

During mating season, the male develops a dark brown or black coloration and decides upon the mating site, usually a flat rock surface. He then attracts a female and they both perform a mating ritual, where they swim around in a circle from each other’s head to tail. The female keeps laying an egg or two at a time (total 25-60 eggs will be deposited) and immediately puts them in her mouth (mouthbrooder), while the male lays to his side and shakes his anal fin, displaying egg spots. The female mistakes them for eggs and draws closer to hold them in her mouth, at this point the male sprays his milt in her mouth, fertilizing the eggs.

The eggs will take 25 days to hatch after incubation at 82 F temperature, they will stay in their mother’s mouth for a further few days till they can swim freely. Once the 25 or so baby Bumblebees start swimming freely, they can be fed freshly hatched baby brine shrimp, crushed flake food and daphnia.

It should be noted that Bumblebee Cichlids can get quite aggressive during mating season, so it would be ideal to shift a male and his harem to a breeding tank to prevent them from killing off contenders and other tank mates.

Common Problems

Along with the common freshwater ailments, Bumblebee Cichlids are prone to a number of illnesses:

Swim Bladder Disease:

As the name suggests, this disease relates to a fish’s swim bladder. An organ inside the abdomen, an epithelium lined sac that controls buoyancy. The symptoms include a fish not being able to dive down and being stuck on the water’s surface.

READ  Celestial Pearl Danio | A Complete Care Guide

It can result from a poor diet intake, mainly a lack of fibers. Constipation and bloating are common causes for this disease.

Malawi Bloat:

A common disease among African Cichlids. Something that causes a loss of appetite, discolored feces, rapid breathing, swelling up of the abdomen and staying at the bottom of the tank (lethargy). This problem can aggravate quite quickly and can lead to kidney and liver damage if care is not taken. After this stage, the fish dies in a matter of days if left untreated.

The cause is a protozoan parasite that occupies their intestines. When the fish suffer stress due to unhealthy water conditions and unstable tank parameters, these protozoan parasites reproduce and trouble ensues.

It can be cured by doing large water changes and subjecting the tank to the Metronidazole medication. However, care should be taken to remove activated carbon from the filter before treating your tank with this medicine.

Cotton Wool Disease:

Symptoms are a white fuzzy growth on the scales and fins of fish. It is a fungal infection caused by a naturally occurring fungus inside the tank due to poor water conditions.

This is relatively easy to treat by administering anti-fungal medication and making sure the water inside your tank remains clean.

Gill Flukes:

Symptoms include difficulty in breathing, rubbing body against objects inside the aquarium and fading color. This is caused by a parasitic flatworm called fluke, hence the name.

The worm attaches itself to the gills membranes, creating a layer of slime that results in inflammation. The remedy for this is adding one tablespoon of aquarium salt per day and slowly raising the temperature of the water.

Hole in the Head:

Also known as Hexemita, this disease is common in freshwater fish, especially large ones like cichlids. Symptoms include poor appetite, weight loss and a hole in the head.

The causes for this are mainly thought to be poor water conditions and a parasite called Hexemita. It is not easy to reverse but further damage can be prevented by keeping water parameters stable and ensuring that no foreign object infects your tank water. Antibiotic treatment and a healthy and balanced diet go a long way in protecting your tank inhabitants.


Symptoms include tiny white spots on the fish’s body, fins and gills along with lethargy, poor appetite, difficulty in breathing and rubbing itself with different objects inside the tank.

This is a common freshwater fish disease that is caused by an aggressive protozoan parasite called Ichthyophthirius multifiliis. It is a highly infectious disease that fortunately has an easy remedy. It can be cured by the use of malachite green and acriflavine or it can also be treated by salt baths and raising the water temperature.


Q: How aggressive is Bumblebee Cichlid?

It is a very aggressive fish, which will even harass its mate to death if not provided with a harem.

Q: How big can a Bumblebee get?

Males grow to a length of 6 inches and females hardly cross the 5 inch mark


The Bumblebee Cichlid can be a handful for anyone without any cichlid experience. These fish require stable water parameters and will barely tolerate any shift. Changes will only invite a plethora of illnesses they are prone to.

We hope that this article proved fruitful to you but if you still have any further queries regarding cichlids or any other fish in general. Explore our website because we can guarantee that you won’t be disappointed and will be able to find information of your intrigue.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.