The Blue Daktari from Africa is also known as the Doctor’s Fish, because in Swahili the term ‘daktari’ is said to mean ‘doctor’!

The Blue Daktari Pseudotropheus sp. “daktari” is a delicately colored African cichlid that is becoming more readily available. The male Blue Daktari is a beautiful bright yellow color with some having a bit of blue, and the female is more of a pinkish tan. But both have black trim on the top and bottom edge of the tail fin, lending to the descriptive name of “Scissor Tail Cichlid”.

This fish is one of the cichlids from Lake Malawi that are called Mbunas. The Tonga people of Malawi named these fish Mbuna, as that term means “rockfish” or “rock-dwelling”. This name aptly describes the environment these fish live in. They inhabit rocky areas full of cracks and crevices, as opposed to being open water swimmers like the Utaka cichlids and other “haps”. There are 13 genera full of very active and aggressive personalities of Mbuna cichlids. Other common names this fish is known by includes Doctor’s Cichlid, Metriaclima Daktari, Pseudotropheus Daktari, as well as Metriaclima sp. “daktari“, and of course Mbuna.

It is one of the smaller Mbuna but with the typical elongated, muscular body shape. In the wild Daktari males only reach about 4 inches (10 cm) and females are smaller still at about 3 inches (8 cm), but they can grow slightly larger In captivity. Being a smaller cichlid makes it easier to house. This cichlid also has a decent temperament if kept in a properly set up and maintained aquarium. With its striking color and ease of breeding, it is a great addition to a Mbuna cichlid tank.

Though easy to moderate to care for, the Blue Daktari is not a community tank specimen. It should notbe housed with fish other than cichlids. A minimum sized tank of 50 gallons that is at least 36″ long,willbe suitable forone male and several females.Adecorproviding many hiding places as well as open space for swimmingis needed for success. Multiple passageways and caves can be formed with piles of rocks.

Like other Mbunas, they may dig so make sure the rocks sit on the bottom of the aquarium not on the substrate. Arranging the rocks in a manner to make “territories” will help ease aggression, as will keeping them in a larger aquarium with other Mbuna species. Success is dependent on the aquarists willingness to do frequent water changes, have sufficient hiding places, and provide appropriate tank mates.

For Information on keeping freshwater fish, see:
Freshwater Aquarium Guide: Aquarium Setup and Care

Metriaclima sp. Daktar

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Short and simple view of a Blue Daktari swimming and hiding amongst the some rocks.

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Family: Cichlidae
  • Genus: Maylandia
  • Species: sp. daktari
Blue Daktari – Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Size of fish – inches: 3.9 inches (10.01 cm)
  • Minimum Tank Size: 50 gal (189 L)
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Temperature: 78.0 to 82.0° F (25.6 to 27.8&deg C)
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

Although these fish began to be collected a couple of decades ago, the Blue Daktari is not yet scientifically described. It is currently known as Pseudotropheus sp. “daktari”. They are found in Lake Malawi, Africa inhabiting the southern part between the Undu Reef and Liutche.Its species status is not yet evaluted on the IUCN Red List, though like most Mbuna itcould be either ‘Vulnerable’ or of ‘Least Concern’. Other common names this fish is known by includes Doctor’s Cichlid, Metriaclima Daktari, Pseudotropheus Daktari, as well as Metriaclima sp. “daktari“, and of course Mbuna.

The genus Pseudotropheus was formerly used quite broadly for the large variety of Mbuna species in Lake Malawi. Recent revisions have split the genus Pseudotropheus into three sub-genera: Pseudotropheus Pseudotropheus, Pseudotropheus Tropheops, and Pseudotropheus Maylandia. These then became recognized as their own genera of Pseudotropheus, Tropheops, and Maylandia. There is some debate on the naming of this last genus, so some of these fish may be found described as either Metriaclima or Maylandia.

These fishlike the areas between the sand and rock, yetnear boulders where they feed on auwfuchs and other vegetation. Aufwuchs refers to tough stringy algae that is attached to rocks. “Loose” Aufwuchs can contain insect larvae, nymphs, crustaceans, snails, mites and zooplankton.

  • Scientific Name: Maylandia sp. daktari
  • Social Grouping: Harems
  • IUCN Red List: NE – Not Evaluated or not listed


The Blue Daktari has the typical Mbuna muscular, elongated ‘torpedo’ body shape. In nature males will reach up to about 4″ (10 cm) in length, with the female being smaller at about 3″ (8 cm). They can be larger in the home aquarium. This cichlid can live up to 8 years with proper care.

The male is a beautiful yellow color with an orange-yellow coloring along the back. There are some populations that also have blue in the body. They can have a few light blue scales here and there. The fins are a bright yellow, with the tail fin having black trim on the top and bottom edges. The anal fin has a black edge at the bottom with egg spots at the area closer to the body. The eyes are not yellow, but a silver color with a black center. The female has the same black edging on the the top and bottom of the tail fin, but she is a pinkish tan to tan-gray color. Juveniles are a pinkish tan color.

All cichlids share a common feature that some saltwater fish such as wrasses and parrotfish have and that is a well-developed pharyngeal set of teeth that are in the throat, along with their regular teeth. Cichlids have spiny rays in the back parts of the anal, dorsal, pectoral, and pelvic fins to help discourage predators. The front part of these fins are soft and perfect for precise positions and effortless movements in the water as opposed to fast swimming.

Cichlids have one nostril on each side while other fish have 2 sets. To sense “smells” in the water, they suck water in and expel the water right back out after being “sampled” for a short or longer time, depending on how much the cichlid needs to “smell” the water. This feature is shared by saltwater damselfish and cichlids are thought to be closely related.

  • Size of fish – inches: 3.9 inches (10.01 cm) – Males are about 4″ (10 cm) in length in the wild, with females at about 3″ (8 cm), but they can get slightly larger in captivity.
  • Lifespan: 8 years – They have a lifespan of about 8 years with proper care.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

This is a great fish for both the intermediate and experienced cichlid keeper. It is a moderately aggressive cichlid, but not a community tank specimen that can be kept with fish other than cichlids. The aquarists must be willing to do frequent water changes and provide appropriate tank mates. It is susceptible to Malawi bloat as well as the typical diseases that effect all freshwater fish if the tank is not maintained. In the proper setup it will easily adapt to prepared foods, breed readily, and the juveniles are easy to raise as well.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate

Foods and Feeding

The Blue Daktari is an omnivore that in the wild feeds on auwfuchs and other vegetation. In captivity they need vegetable matter which provides fiber in their diet to keep their intestinal tract disease free. Feed a high quality flake, pellets, spirulina, and other preparations for herbivore cichlids.

It is always better to feed them small amounts several times a day instead of one large feeding. This keeps the water quality higher for a longer period of time. Of course, all fish benefit from added vitamins and supplements to their foods. It would not be wise to house this fish with other genus of cichlids that eat beef heart or other mammal meat, as these foods will cause intestinal infections and death in these fish.

  • Diet Type: Omnivore
  • Flake Food: Yes
  • Tablet / Pellet: Yes
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet
  • Vegetable Food: Most of Diet
  • Meaty Food: Some of Diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Daily – Offer several small feedings a day, what they can eat in about 3 minutes or less, rather than a single large feeding.

Aquarium Care

Malawi Cichlids will deteriorate under poor water conditions. Have an established filtration system along with water changes of 10% to 20% a week depending on the bio load. Malawi bloat is a typical disease especially if their dietary needs are not met with quality foods. It is caused by too much protein matter.

  • Water Changes: Weekly – Water changes of 10-20% weekly are suggested, depending on the bio load.

Aquarium Setup

The streams that flow into Lake Malawi have a high mineral content. This along with evaporation has resulted in alkaline water that is highly mineralized. Lake Malawi is known for its clarity and stability as far as pH and other water chemistries. It is easy to see why it is important to watch tank parameters with all Lake Malawi fish.

Rift lake cichlids need hard alkaline water but are not found in brackish waters. Salt is sometimes used as a buffering agent to increase the water’s carbonate hardness. This cichlid has some salt tolerance so can be kept in slightly brackish water conditions. However it not suited to a full brackish water tank. It can tolerate a salinity that is about 10% of a normal saltwater tank, a specific gravity of less than 1.0002.

A minimum 50 gallons that is 36″ in length is recommended for a species specific tank, with a 100 gallons or more for a mixed Mbuna tank. They do fine in either freshwater or brackish freshwater but need good water movement along with very strong and efficient filtration. Gravel makes a good substate and the addition of crushed coral can help keep the pH up. A very slow acclimation to different pH levels can sometimes be achieved. Crushed coral or aragonite sands do tend to dissolves easier than salts. Keeping a higher pH however, means that ammonia is more lethal, so regular water changes are a must for these fish.

Provide lots of passageways and caves formed with piles of rocks. Some open space is appreciated as well. Like other Mbunas, they may dig so make sure the rocks sit on the bottom of the aquarium not on the substrate. Arranging the rocks in a manner to make “territories” will help ease aggression.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 50 gal (189 L) – A minimum of 50 gallons is the suggested for a species tank, with 100 gallons or more for a mixed group of Mbunas.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Substrate Type: Any
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate – normal lighting
  • Temperature: 78.0 to 82.0° F (25.6 to 27.8&deg C)
  • Range ph: 7.8-8.6
  • Hardness Range: 10 – 25 dGH
  • Brackish: Sometimes – Salt is not found in their natural environment, but they do have a slight tolerance, keep levels below 10% – a specific gravity of less than 1.0002.
  • Water Movement: Moderate
  • Water Region: Middle – These fish will swim in the middle and bottom areas of the aquarium.

Social Behaviors

The Blue Daktari is semi-aggressive and is not considered to be a community fish. However it can be kept in a community cichlid aquarium under the right conditions. It is best kept in groups of one male and several females, six or more females are suggested to spread out the male’s aggression. Provide a lot of hiding places for the females.

They can be kept with other less aggressive cichlids from Malawi that are not similar in coloring or shape. They are aggressive toward similar looking males of a different species. If overstocking is used as a form of aggression reduction, care should be taken to do several partial water changes a week. One author reports housing a harem of Blue Daktari with six Ishmael’s Cichlid Haplochromis ishmaeli and six Blue MooriiCyrtocara moorii.

  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Yes – They are best kept in groups of 1 male with 6 or more females, 2 males will fight.
    • Peaceful fish (): Threat
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
    • Threat
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Threat – is aggressive
    • Plants: Threat

Sex: Sexual differences

Males are bright yellow with black edging on their tails, are larger, and have egg spots on the anal fin. Females have the same tail pattern, but are a pink-tan color.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Blue Daktari has been bred in captivity. It is a mouthbrooder that needs a harem. They should be given a tank of at least 50 gallons to breed in if kept by themselves, larger if kept with other cichlids. Start with 6 to 8 fry, and in 10 to 12 months the dominant male will color up and take over. They breed like other mouthbrooding Mbunas and the females are very good at holding their young. Mbunas spawn in the male’s territory. The male changes his color to an intense exaggeration of his original coloring that almost looks like a double exposed picture.

The Blue Daktari female will lay between 10 – 60 eggs and then immediately take them into her mouth. The male will then flare out his anal fin which has an ‘egg spot’ patterning. The female mistakes the patterning for her own eggs and tries to take them in her mouth as well. This stimulates the male to discharge sperm (milt cloud) and the female inhales the cloud of ‘milt’, thus fertilizing the eggs.

In 14 to 21 days at about 82° F, the eggs are developed. The released pinkish-tan fry are good eaters and can be fed Cyclopeeze. In about 5 days you can change over to crushed flake food. They can also eat finely powdered dry foods and brine shrimp nauplii. The female will guard her young for a few days, even taking them into her mouth if there is a perceived threat. As long as you have plenty of hiding places, your young will have a easier time surviving until they are too big to eat. See the description of how cichlids breed in Breeding Freshwater Fish: Cichlids.

  • Ease of Breeding: Easy

Fish Diseases

Malawi bloat is a typical disease for the Blue Daktar Cichlid, especially if their dietary needs are not met with quality foods. They are susceptible to typical fish ailments, especially if water is stale and of poor quality and oxygenation. One common problem is Ich. It can be treated with the elevation of the tank temperature to 86° F (30° C) for 3 days. If that does not cure the Ich, then the fish needs to be treated with copper (remove any water conditioners). Several copper based fish medications are available for Ich. Copper use must be kept within the proper levels, so be sure to follow the manufacturers suggestions. A copper test also can be used to keep the proper levels. You can also combine increasing the temperature with an Ich medication treatment.

As with most fish they are susceptible to skin flukes and other parasitic infestations (protozoa, worms, etc.), fungal infections, and bacterial infections. It is recommended to read up on the common tank diseases. Knowing the signs and catching and treating them early makes a huge difference. For information about freshwater fish diseases and illnesses, see Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments.


The Blue Daktari is usually available online and is sometimes found in fish stores. They are moderately priced, depending on size. These fish may be special ordered if you are willing to wait for them if they are out of season, and can sometimes be obtained from members of the Greater Chicago Cichlid Association. When acquiring a Blue Daktari, with all the different hybrids that have formed in captivity, there is no way to tell exactly what you are getting unless it is from a reputable dealer.