The Bumblebee Mouthbrooder Pseudotropheus crabro is an attractive fish has definitely been named for its appearance. As a juvenile it has a striped yellow and black ‘bumblebee’ patterning. So today its commonly called the Bumblebee Mouthbrooder or Bumblebee Cichlid, but it is also known as the Hornet Cichlid.

The name ‘hornet’ as well as its scientific species name ‘crabo’ were derived from the European Hornet Vespa crabro, as both of these species are large sized and have a similar color patterning. Even before these two names though, and before it was scientifically described, it was called Pseudotropheus “chameleo” for its chameleon-like color changing ability.

This cichlid tends to change colors very rapidly, going from an almost totally black fish to a yellowish fish with bold black bars. They use this ability in their “pseudo-symbiotic” relationship with a large cave-dwelling catfish, the Kampango Bagrus meridionalis. In its gold and black barred coloring, the cichlid advertises its cleaning services and is safely allowed to pick parasites from the skin of the catfish. But on a darker note, when these catfish spawn the Bumblebee will turn almost black. Like a thief in the night, they sneakily eat the spawning catfish eggs. If it is seen, it will quickly revert back to the yellow and black color and resume its cleaning duties.

The fish is a member of a group of cichlids called Mbunas. There are 12 genera full of very active and aggressive personalities. The name Mbuna comes from the Tonga people of Malawi and means “rockfish” or “rock-dwelling”. This name aptly describes the environment these fish live in as opposed to being open water swimmers like the Utaka cichlids and other “haps”.

This is a great fish for both the intermediate and experienced cichlid keeper. It is a good sized cichild with the males reaching a length of almost 6 inches (15 cm) and females being a bit smaller at about 5 inches (12 cm). It is also an aggressive cichild so not a community tank specimen. It cannot be housed with fish other than cichlids, but is easy to moderate to care for and will eat whatever is available. It can hold its own in an aggressive tank  with other cichlids. A group can also be kept In a species tank and will breed easily. Unlike some cichlids, these females are quite attractive.

Keep this cichlid in a group of one male to six or more females. Make sure to provide rock formations with multiple hiding places to ward off brutal aggression from the male. They can also be kept in a very large aquarium of mixed Mbuna with plenty of hiding places, but this cichlid male will be dominant. Success is dependent on the aquarists willingness to do frequent water changes, have sufficient numbers and hiding places, and provide appropriate tank mates.

Scientific Classification


Bumblebee Mouthbrooder – Quick Aquarium Care

Aquarist Experience Level:Intermediate
Aquarium Hardiness:Moderately hardy
Minimum Tank Size:50 gal (189 L)
Size of fish – inches5.9 inches (15.01 cm)
Temperature:78.0 to 82.0° F (25.6 to 27.8&deg C)

Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Bumblebee Mouthbrooder Pseudotropheus crabro was described by Ribbink and Lewis in 1982. They are found in Lake Malawi, Africa at various sites in the Eccles Reef, West Reef, Chiyamwezi, Mbenji, Chinyankwazi, Maleri, Nkata Bay, and the Likoma and Chisumulu Islands.

This species is listed on the IUCN Red List as Least Concern (LC). Although it is endemic to Lake Malawi it is widespread throughout the lake with no known major recognized threats at present. Other common names it is known by include Bumblebee Cichlid and Hornet Cichlid. Before it was scientifically described it was called Pseudotropheus “chameleo” as well, for its chameleon-like color changing ability.

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. This species is currently placed in the genus, Pseudotropheus.

They live in various habitats but prefer rocks or sand-rock substrates near large boulders, and the interior of large caves. They feed on a different foods as they become available including benthic crustaceans, fry of other fish, fish eggs, and larvae. They have been seen picking the ectoparasite Argulus africanus from a large cave-dwelling species of catfish, the Kampango Bagrus meridionalis.

  • Scientific Name: Pseudotropheus crabro
  • Social Grouping: Harems
  • IUCN Red List: LC – Least Concern


The Bumblebee Mouthbrooder has a thick robust body shape. The males can grow to about 6 inches (15 cm) in length while the smaller female will reach about 5 inches (12 cm). Mbuna cichlids can live up to 10 years with proper care.

An adult dominant male is close to a black color with dark blue vertical bars. They will change to almost all black when breeding, with some males showing bright blue speckles on their flank area. Their fins are all dark blue. The female is gold with zig zaggish dark brown vertical bars that fade to gold in the belly area and one brown horizontal bar that runs all the way to the tail. The male can change from their blue/black coloring to all dark, or change to the females coloring when cleaning parasites from a large catfish in the wild. The female can go from her coloring to a black coloring.

All cichlids share a common feature that some saltwater fish such as wrasses and parrotfish have. 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: 5.9 inches (15.01 cm) – The male grows to a length of about 6″ (15 cm) with the female being smaller at about 5″ (12 cm).
  • Lifespan: 10 years – Mbuna cichlids have a lifespan of about 10 years with proper care.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

This is a great fish for both the intermediate and experienced cichlid keeper. It is a large, aggressive cichlid and 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 Bumblebee Mouthbrooder is an omnivore with a voracious appetite. In the wild they feed on a different foods as they are available including benthic crustaceans, fry of other fish, fish eggs, larvae, and parasites they pick off of a catfish. In the aquarium feed high quality flakes, pellets, spirulina, and prepared cichlid foods.

They do need more proteins than other Mbunas because of their natural diet, but they still need vegetable matter to provide fiber in their diet in order to keep their intestinal tract disease free. 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.

Do not over feed as this will result in water spoilage and even an early death. It is not wise to house this fish with other genus of cichlids that eat beef heart or other mammal meat, as these foods can cause intestinal infections and death. Of course, all fish benefit from added vitamins and supplements to their foods.

  • Diet Type: Omnivore
  • Flake Food: Yes
  • Tablet / Pellet: Yes
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet
  • Vegetable Food: Some 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. These fish eat a lot and are messy, so an established filtration system along with water changes of 20 to 40% a week depending on bioload, is needed for their health. Malawi bloat is a typical disease especially if their dietary needs are not met with quality foods.

  • Water Changes: Weekly – Water changes of 20-40% 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 50 gallon tank will work for a single fish. A 100 gallons or more, and at least 5 feet in length, will be needed if housed with other compatible fish. The Bumblebee Cichlid will do fine in either freshwater or brackish freshwater but needs good water movement along with very strong and efficient filtration.

Provide a fine gravel or coarse substrate along with lots of rocks and bogwood with multiple hiding places for sub-dominant and brooding fish. 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. Some open space is appreciated as well. Hardy fast growing plants, such as Giant Vallisneria or Cryptocoryne species can also be included.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 50 gal (189 L) – A single fish can be kept in a 50 gallon tank, but a group will need 100 gallons or more with a length of at least 5 feet.
  • 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: 8.0-14.0
  • Hardness Range: 10 – 18 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 Bumblebee Mouthbrooder is aggressive and is not considered to be a community fish. In fact, it should only be housed with other aggressive cichlids. These fish need to be kept in a group of one male to six or more females. This will help to spread out the male’s aggression. Lots of cover is needed for the females as it is not uncommon for the male to harass them to death. They dominant male will kill any rivals, including subdominant males.

They can also be kept in a very large aquarium of mixed Mbuna with plenty of hiding places, but this cichlid male will be dominant. They are not quite as aggressive as the Kenyi CichlidMaylandia lombardoi, but will not back down from a fight or be bullied. If overstocking is used as a form of aggression reduction, care should be taken to do several partial water changes a week or up to 40% a week.

Some recommend that they be kept in a species specific tank. This is due to their “cleaning” habits of removing parasites from catfish in the wild. They may sometimes remove the scales from other fish in the aquarium.

  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Yes – A group of 1 male and 6+ females can be house in a 100 gallons or more, 2 males will fight.
    • Peaceful fish (): Threat
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Aggressive (): Safe
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
    • Threat
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Threat – is aggressive
    • Plants: Monitor

Sexual differences

Males are larger and have blue markings while the females are smaller and have yellow markings. Males can take on the female coloring, so look at size as well as the anal fin. Males will have two to four clearly pronounced egg spots, females will have a rounded anal fin and only one or two egg spots.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Bumblebee Cichlid has been bred in captivity. This cichlid is a mouthbrooder that needs a harem. They should be given a tank of at least 50 to75 gallons to breed in if kept by themselves, larger if kept with other fish. They are easy to sex, but if you start with a group of several very young juveniles you need to remove sub-dominant males as the dominant male will kill any rivals.

Doing a large water change induces the breeding response. The male will darken to an almost jet black color. He will shake and circle the female to get her to a flat rock in his territory, then the breeding begins. The female will lay between 20-60 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 17 to 21 days at about 82° F, the eggs are developed. Keep in mind that the male can be so relentless at harassing the female, that she may just eat her eggs. After the male has established a “home cave”, it may help to form the rockwork in a way that he cannot see past his area so that the females can hide. If all else fails, removing her to an established smaller tank with the same water may prove more successful in getting the fry to live. Some strip the female at 18 days.

The fry grow very quickly if fed well. The fry are a “bumblebee” pattern and are very cute. The released fry can are good eaters and can initially be fed Cyclopeeze. In a short time, due to their rapid growth, you can change over to crushed flake food. They can also eat eat finely powdered dry foods and brine shrimp nauplii. The female will guard the 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 an easier time surviving until they are too big to eat. When the young become obviously male they will need to be removed as the dominant male will kill them. 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 Bumblebee Mouthbrooder, 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.


Bumblebee Mouthbrooders are usually found online or in fish stores and are moderately priced. Prices will vary some depending on size. These fish may be special ordered if you are willing to wait for them if they are out of season. It is known as a Bumblebee Cichlid or Hornet Cichlid.

While the young are really cool looking, do not purchase these fish unless you have appropriate take mates. When acquiring a Bumblebee Mouthbrooder, 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.



 Pseudotropheus Crabo Male (Image Credit: Nicolas COUTHOUIS, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 2.5 Generic)