The Electric Blue Johanni is very appealing and will definitely add ‘spark’ to a cichlid aquarium!

The Electric Blue Johanni Melanochromis johannii (previously Pseudotropheus johannii) is a real beauty that offers pizzazz to the African cichlid aquarium. The coloring of both the male and female is very appealing, and they almost look like two separate species. The male has a brilliant blue body with darker blue striping, but the dark colors “bleed” onto the lighter blue creating a checkerboard effect. The female and juveniles are a bright yellow-orange.

This fish belongs to a group called Mbuna cichlids. This group has 13 genera 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 rocky environment these fish live in as opposed to being open water swimmers like the Utaka cichlids and other “haps”.

Confusion can arise because of the term “Electric Blue” used in its common name. There is another very popular African cichlid that has been known by this name for a number of years. It is the Electric Blue HapSciaenochromis fryeriw which is a much different type of cichlid. It is a Hap and so one of the more peaceful open water swimmers. Some other common names M. johannii is known by are Johanni Cichlid, Blue Johanni, Bluegray Mbuna, and Blue Mbuna.

The male of this species is also very similar in appearance to its close relative the MainganoMelanochromis cyaneorhabdos and these two Mbuna species can easily be confused. The Maingano is sometimes called the Electric Blue as well, which adds to the confusion, but it is a separate and distinct species. The male of the M. johannii and both sexes of the Maingano have dark blue to black horizontal bands that runs across the back, but on the M. johannii they are often broken up with spots of light blue. Both these cichild species have also been bred in captivity and there are many captive strains. When obtaining either of these fish, it is best to know the scientific name as well as the common name to make sure you get the species you want.

Both the male and the female Electric Blue Johanni are very attractive African cichlids, and having opposite coloring makes keeping both sexes in the aquarium desirable. Though still not a community tank specimen with fish other than cichlids, they are some of the least aggressive of the Melanochromis species. They are very easy to breed and the juveniles are easy to raise as well.

This is a great fish for both the intermediate and experienced aquarists. It can be moderate to hard in care, depending on the aquarists willingness to do frequent water changes and provide appropriate tank mates. Small quarters and inappropriate tank mates lead to very aggressive behavior by the dominant male. To house one male and several females in a specimen tank, the minimum recommended tank size is 30 to 40 gallons and 36” long. Lots of rockwork providing plenty of hiding places is needed for success. A much larger tank is needed for a mixed African cichlid tank.

Scientific Classification


Electric Blue Johannii – Quick Aquarium Care

Aquarist Experience Level:Intermediate
Aquarium Hardiness:Moderately Difficult
Minimum Tank Size:30 gal (114 L)
Size of fish – inches3.0 inches (7.49 cm)
Temperature:73.0 to 82.0° F (22.8 to 27.8&deg C)

Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Electric Blue Johanni Melanochromis johannii (previously Pseudotropheus johannii) was described by Eccles in 1973. This species is listed on the IUCN Red List as Vulnerable (VU) because it is endemic to Lake Malawi, Africa, and occurs in a very limited range. They inhabit areas around Masinje Rocks and Cape Ngombo. Other common names it is known by include Johanni Cichlid, Blue Johanni, Bluegray Mbuna, and Blue Mbuna.

They are commonly found at depths of about 16 feet (5 m) near small and medium sized rocks, but where the rocks meet the sand. Feeds from both rocky and sand substrate as well as on suspended matter in the water column They feed from both the rocks and sandy substrate as well as foods in the water column. Their diet consists of zooplankton, small benthic invertebrates, and Aufwuchs. 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: Melanochromis johannii
  • Social Grouping: Varies – This is a polygamous species that forms mixed harems with one dominant male and several females. Other non-breeding males, females, and juveniles may be found alone or in small groups.
  • IUCN Red List: VU – Vulnerable


The Electric Blue Johanni have a body that is torpedo shaped. It is elongated with a rounded snout and continuous dorsal fin. They reach just under 3″ (7.5 cm) in length in the wild, but can get a bit bigger in the aquarium reaching just under 4″ (10 cm). They can live up to to around 12 years.

They have a coloration that is completely different between male and female. The males are a lighter blue with a dark blue to black horizontal band that runs across the back, and often broken up with spots of light blue. There is also a medium shade of blue that runs through the middle of the body horizontally. This mid band periodically seems to “leak” into the area above and below, almost causing a checkered pattern. There is a dark blue to black edging on all the fins which is “tipped” in a light blue. The male also has egg spot patterning on his anal fin.

The female and juveniles are a golden-orange coloring with the female having an indistinct dark horizontal band that runs the length of the body, starting in an area behind the eyes. Due to similarity in coloration, males can be mistaken for their close relative the Maingano Melanochromis cyaneorhabdos.

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: 3.0 inches (7.49 cm) – This cichlid grows to a length of just under 4″ (10 cm) in the aquarium, but in the wild only grows to just under 3″ (7.5 cm).
  • Lifespan: 12 years – They have a lifespan of about 12 years with proper care.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

This is a great fish for both the intermediate and experienced cichlid keeper. It must be kept in a quality environment, and is susceptible to Malawi bloat as well as the typical diseases that effect all freshwater fish if the tank is not maintained. 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. In a proper setup and maintained aquarium it will adapt to prepared foods, breed readily, and the juveniles are easy to raise.

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

Foods and Feeding

The Electric Blue Johannii is an omnivore in nature, feeding on zooplankton, small benthic invertebrates, and Aufwuchs. In the aquarium it will accept frozen or live brine shrimp, mysis, high quality flake, pellets, spirulina, and other preparations for omnivore cichlids. Foods like beef heart are to be avoided as they can promote digestive problems, also proteins from mammal may contribute to the disease “Malawi bloat”.

 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.

  • 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 be pale and deteriorate under poor water conditions. Malawi bloat is a typical disease especially if their dietary needs are not met with quality foods. As these are messy fish, do water changes of 20 to 50% a week depending on bio load. If overstocking is used as a form of aggression reduction, care should be taken to do several partial water changes a week.

  • Water Changes: Weekly – Water changes of 20-50% weekly are suggested, depending on the bio load. If overstocking is used to reduce aggression then several partial changes a week may be necessary.

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 30 or 40 gallon aquarium, with a minimum of 36″ (91 cm) in length, is suggested for a single fish or a species tank with one male and several females. A larger tank of 100 gallons or more would be required if mixing these cichlids with other Malawi cichlids. They do fine in either freshwater or brackish freshwater but need good water movement along with very strong and efficient filtration.

Their natural habitat has  sand. A marine sand 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: 30 gal (114 L) – A 30-40 gallon tank with a length of at least a 36″ is the suggested minimum for a single fish or species tank, with 100 gallons or more for a mixed group of Mbunas.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Substrate Type: Sand/Gravel Mix
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate – normal lighting
  • Temperature: 73.0 to 82.0° F (22.8 to 27.8&deg C)
  • Range ph: 7.7-8.6
  • Hardness Range: 6 – 10 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: All – These fish will swim in all areas of the aquarium.

Social Behaviors

The Johanni Cichlid is a semi-aggressove cichlid but is not considered to be a community fish. They do best in a species specific tank, kept in groups of one male and several females. Although they are a little mellower than other Melanochromis species they are aggressive toward similar looking males of a different species. They can be kept with other less aggressive cichlids from Lake Malawi that are not similar in coloring/shape.

Tank mates can include cichlids such as the Cobalt Zebra, Red Empress, African Butterfly PeacockAulonocara jacobfreibergi, Electric YellowLabidochromis caeruleus, Kenyi Cichlid Pseudotropheus lombardoi, and the Lemon CichlidNeolamprologus leleupi. They can also be housed with the Cuckoo catfish Synodotis multipunctatus. Do not put with other Melanochromis as they will attack and/or interbreed, which is not suggested.

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

Sexual differences

The male is light blue with dark blue to black horizontal bands. The female is golden-orange in color.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Electric Blue Johannii is polygamous in nature with a male attending several females, and they form a matriarchal family. This cichlid has been bred in captivity and like other Mbunas, they spawn in the male’s territory. When spawning the male changes his color, it becomes an intense exaggeration of his original coloring that almost looks like a double exposed picture.

The females lay 10 to 60 eggs and then immediately take them into their mouths before they are fertilized. The male flares out his anal fin, which has “egg spot patterning” so the female mistaken the eggs spots on the male’s anal fin as her own eggs and tries to take them in her mouth as well. In doing so, she then stimulates the male to discharge sperm (milt cloud) and inhales of cloud of “milt” which then fertilize the eggs in her mouth. In 14 to 21 days at about 82° F, the eggs are developed.

The released fry can 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, the young will have an easier time surviving until they are too big to eat. Electric Blue Johannii young start to show their colors within a few weeks and are ready to breed at 1.5″. See the description of how cichlids breed in Breeding Freshwater Fish.

  • Ease of Breeding: Easy

Fish Diseases

Malawi bloat is a typical disease for the Johanni Cichlid, especially if their mostly herbivorous 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 typical fish ailments, especially if water is stale and of poor quality and oxygenation. are prone 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 Electric Blue Johanni cichlids are sometimes found online and are moderately priced, but prices vary depending on whether they are male, female, or juvenile. They are sometimes found in fish stores, and they may be special ordered if you are willing to wait for them if they are out of season. When acquiring this fish, 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.



Featured Image Credit: Darko Cvetanoski, Shutterstock