The Demanson’s Cichlid is a fish with a curious nature that is sought after for its bright colors and crisp patterning!

The Demanson’s Cichlid Pseudotropheus demasoni is an extremely sharp looking African cichlid. It comes from Lake Malawi and is a more recent addition to the aquarium hobby. It was first described and brought into the hobby in 1994 by Ad Konings and was named after his good friend Laif Demason. It is also known by the common names Demasoni Cichlid and Midnight Demasoni.

This is a dwarf Mbuna that only reaches about 2 1/2 to 3 inches (6.4 to 7.6 cm) in length. It is a pretty cichlid that has a very inquisitive nature with lots of personality and spunk. It is an interesting fish to watch as it follows the contours of the rocks, swimming along at odd angles to the point of being upside down. The body pattern consists of crisp alternating stripes that are dark blue (almost black) and light blue. On the dorsal fin the stripes angle back with the lighter ones being thinner than the dark ones. The upper and lower fins, as well as the tail fin, are edge in a light blue.

The Demanson’s Cichlid is sometimes confused with the Pseudotropheus minutus, being similar in size and color. Differences are that on the P. minutus, the lines stop before the tail fin and are less distinct. Also the Demanson’s Cichlid males have an egg spot.

This is zebra-type cichlid is a member of a group called Mbunas. There are 13 genera full of very active and aggressive personalities of Mbuna cichlids. 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. Although its a lively little cichlid, it is moderate to hard to care for and is very aggressive. This is not a community tank specimen to be housed with fish other than cichlids. Because of its small size, it can be housed in a bit smaller tank than what is typical for Mbuna, but of course bigger is better.

No matter what size the aquarium is they should to be kept in a group of twelve or more to help disperse aggressive behavior. This helps keeps the dominant male from exhausting females and others as a result of constant chasing, by spreading the “love” out. Make sure the aquarium has ample rock formations that provide lots of hiding places, as this will also help ward off brutal aggression between them. Piles of rocks can be arranged to create multiple caves and passageways.

They can also be kept in a large aquarium of mixed Mbuna species, but again there must be plenty of hiding places. Success is dependent on the aquarists willingness to do frequent water changes, have sufficient numbers and hiding places, and provide appropriate tank mates. The Mbuna’s have been bred in captivity and with all the different hybrids that have been formed, there is no way to tell exactly what you are getting unless it is from a reputable dealer. Try and keep the different species blood lines pure.

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

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Family: Cichlidae
  • Genus: Pseudotropheus
  • Species: demasoni
Demanson’s Cichlid – Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Size of fish – inches: 3.0 inches (7.67 cm)
  • Minimum Tank Size: 40 gal (151 L)
  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately Difficult
  • Temperature: 75.0 to 82.0° F (23.9 to 27.8&deg C)
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Demanson’s Cichlid Pseudotropheus demasoni was described by Konings in 1994. Its species named is in honor of his good friend Laif Demason. They are endemic to Lake Malawi, Africa and are found at a location called Pombo Rocks and Ndumbi reef, which are off the Tanzanian coast.

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 has been placed in the genus, Pseudotropheus.

This species is listed on the IUCN Red List as Vulnerable (VU). Although it is endemic to Lake Malawi it has a very restricted range, found in only the two locations of Pombo Rocks and Ndumbi reef, but there are no major recognized threats at present. Other common names it is known by are Demasoni Cichlid and Midnight Demasoni.

They inhabit rocky areas in large groups. They pick at algae for food which may contain Aufwuchs. Aufwuchs refers to tough stringy algae that is attached to rocks. “Loose” Aufwuchs can contain insect larvae, nymphs, crustaceans, snails, mites and zooplankton. The Demanson’s Cichlid is considered to be in the ‘dwarf’ category due to its size.

  • Scientific Name: Pseudotropheus demasoni
  • Social Grouping: Groups
  • IUCN Red List: VU – Vulnerable


The Demanson’s Cichlid has the typical Mbuna elongated ‘torpedo’ body shape. They only grow to about 2 1/2 to 3 inches (6.4 to 7.6 cm) in length. It is considered to be in the ‘dwarf’ category due to its size. Mbuna cichlids can live up to 10 years with proper care.

They have alternating vertical bars that are dark blue, almost black and light blue. There are six dark and five light, starting with a dark stripe behind the gill cover and ending with a muted dark stripe at the base of the tail fin. On their head they have three light blue stripes alternated with the two dark ones. One of these dark stripes is between the eyes and the other one runs across the forehead, where it sort of intersects with the very first vertical bar just behind the gill cover. Their “chin” is a medium blue coloring. On the dorsal fin the stripes angle back with the lighter blue ones being thinner than the dark. The tail fin has very thin “horizontal” lines of dark and light blue and the edge is ‘outlined’ in the light blue and underlined with a dark blue.

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: 3.0 inches (7.67 cm) – They only grow to about 2 1/2 to 3 inches (6.4 to 7.6 cm) in length. It is considered to be in the ‘dwarf’ category due to its size.
  • 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 an aggressive cichlid, and although it’s smaller then is typical for Mbuna, it is 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 Difficult
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate

Foods and Feeding

The Demanson’s Cichlid is an omnivore that needs mainly herbivorous foods. Their diet should consist of vegetable matter. An all purpose, high quality cichlid formula can be used as a basic diet. Including vegetable supplements to their diet will help with overall health. This food has fiber which keeps 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. 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.

  • 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. Along with an established filtration system; doing water changes of 30% a week (up to 50% with a crowded system) is needed for their health. 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 30-50% 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 40 gallon tank will work for a single fish, but 100 gallons or more will be needed for a group or a mixed mbuna tank. The Demanson’s Cichlid should always be house in numbers of 12 or more to help alleviate extreme aggression by the dominant male towards females or others. They do fine in either freshwater or brackish freshwater but need good water movement along with very strong and efficient filtration.

Sand is the preferred substrate, but some aquarists have also used crushed coral or a mix of gravel and crushed coral. A substrate of crushed coral or sand used for salt water tanks can help keep the pH up. They also 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.

They need caves and rocks to explore as they are very curious little fish. Having several niches will help them have their own territory, which is also better for the subdominant females and males. Moving rocks around every so often may also help with an overly aggressive fish.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 40 gal (151 L) – A minimum of 40 gallons for a single fish, with 100 gallons or more for a group.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Substrate Type: Sand/Gravel Mix
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate – normal lighting
  • Temperature: 75.0 to 82.0° F (23.9 to 27.8&deg C)
  • Range ph: 7.6-8.6
  • 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 areas of the aquarium.

Social Behaviors

The Demanson’s Cichlid is aggressive and is not considered to be a community fish. In fact, it should only be housed with other aggressive Mbunas. Only keep them in a community Mbuna designed tank with lots of rock structures. They are very territorial, even a 1/2 inch male will chase away a medium size fish from his territory.

Do not house them with ANY fish that has the same hue or other fish that have bars, including a yellow with dark bars. Do not house with similarly colored species, especially species like the Dogtooth CichlidCynotilapia afra or Kenyi CichlidMaylandia lombardoi. You can house them with a yellow Mbuna that does not have bars and they will be fine. Some examples of appropriate tank mates are a yellow species of Electric YellowLabidochromis caeruleus, the Red ZebraMaylandia estherae, and the Cobalt Zebra Maylandia callainos.

This fish is best kept in a group of 12 or more. The male to female ratio can vary, but there should be more than one male. You may need to experiment with your fish’s temperament to determine how many males you can keep. In the wild they live in large groups, but the reason for the large grouping in a captive environment is that this larger number will prevent the dominant male from focusing his aggression on just a few fish, thus leading to their death. With a large number, the subdominant females and males are ‘lost in the crowd’. If the numbers are too low, such as 5 or 6, a male will systematically kill the others until he is alone. There will be a dominant male in the group, and once he has established himself, the other Demanson’s Cichlids will avoid fighting with him. If you cannot provide the needed room, it is best to leave this one at the store.

  • Temperament: Aggressive – Should only be housed with other aggressive Mbunas.
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Yes – They are best kept in a group of 12 or more. The male to female ratio can vary, but there should be more than one male.
    • Peaceful fish (): Threat
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Aggressive (): Safe
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
    • Threat
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Threat – is aggressive
    • Plants: Monitor

Sex: Sexual differences

For the first couple of months juveniles of both sexes are the same size and shape. This makes sexing next to impossible unless you vent them. As they get older, the males will develop elongated ventral fins and an egg spot.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Demanson’s Cichlid has been bred in captivity. This cichlid is a mouthbrooder that needs to be in numbers of 12 or more. At one inch a female will start to brood but the number of fry will be low. Once the dominant male decides to breed, he will become severely aggressive and pummel to death any other male in the tank if the tank is too small, or if there is a lack of hiding places for the other fish. Like other mbunas the males coloring will change. He will shake and circle the female, moving her to a flat rock in his territory, then the breeding begins.

The female will lay between 5 – 15 eggs and then immediately takes 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 her mouth. In seven days, at about 80° F, the eggs hatch. The fry are free swimming in another two weeks.

Feed the fry crushed flake, Cyclopeeze and freshly hatched artemia. Even the fry are aggressive and will pick on each other. Older siblings don’t think twice about eating the newborns if they can fit them in their mouth. 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 Demanson’s 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.


Demanson’s Cichlids are usually found online or in fish stores as about two inch specimens. They are a bit more expensive than other zebra type cichlids. Juveniles are only occasionally available, and will be more moderate in price. They are also called the Demasoni Cichlid and Midnight Demasoni.

These fish may be special ordered if you are willing to wait for them if they are out of season. When acquiring a Demanson’s Cichlid, 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.