The Marlier’s Julie is a very interesting and intelligent fish with an intriguing personality!

The Marlier’s Julie or Checkered Julie Julidochromis marlieri is a smart looking cichlid found in the northern, southern and western regions of Lake Tangayika, Africa. It has a most interesting swimming style. Being somewhat shy it will stay in the rocks more towards the back of the aquarium, darting out to retrieve food. But it moves in a determined manner up, down, and around its habitat. It will turn sideways in between the rocks or even hang upside down under rocks.

This cichlid has a nice contrast of color. It has a checkered type pattern created by horizontal rows of white spots. It also has beautiful blue highlights encircling the body. There are several slightly different color pattern variations of the Marlier’s Julie, and all are very attractive. It is very similar in color patterning to its close relative the Masked JulieJulidochromis transcriptus. However the Masked Julie is smaller and its checkered patterning will have only two rows of white spots, while the Marlier’s Julie has three or more.

The patterns of this species do vary depending upon the location in Lake Tanganyika where each specimen is collected. On some varieties the the black and white is very uniform while on others there will be more black or more white. Some patterns are more like white spots on a black background, some have all white bellies, and some have irregular sized patches of white. Other common names include Spotted Julie, Plaid Julie, and Marlieri Cichlid. Varieties are also named according their geographic distribution such as Julidochromis marlieri “Gombe”, Julidochromis marlieri “Magara”, and Julidochromis marlieri “Mboko gold”, to name a few.

This is a slender, torpedo shaped cichlid. Those from the southern regions of the lake tend to be more elongated than those from the north. It is also one of the larger Julies. They can reach up to a length of almost 6 inches (15 cm) in the wild, but they are usually smaller in the aquarium. Males typically grow to about 4 3/4 inches (12 cm). The females are slightly larger, growing to just over 5 inches (13 cm), and they tend to have a more robust body.

They can easily be kept in a smaller tank of 20 gallons for a pair. They can also be kept in a larger aquarium with other Tanganyika cichlids of similar size. Provide them with a sandy or fine gravel substrate along with lots of rock formations. Plants can also be included as they will not bother them. This fish will breed in captivity, and the plants will provide cover for the newly hatch fry.

With their small size and hardy nature, they make a great fish for the beginning cichlid keeper. They are moderate to easy to care for. Provide weekly water changes to keep the water at optimal levels and they will stay healthy. They do well in a community cichlid tank and can be kept singly, in a pair, or in a group of several pairs. It is important to keep conspecific varieties and similar species separate to help prevent hybrid strains from entering the trade, thus losing the true color forms.

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: Julidochromis
  • Species: marlieri
Marlier’s Julie – Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner
  • Size of fish – inches: 5.9 inches (15.01 cm)
  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 gal (76 L)
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 80.0° F (22.2 to 26.7&deg C)
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Marlier’s Julie Julidochromis marlieri was described by Poll in 1956. It was named after Ichthyologist Belgian G. Marlier, a collector of these types of fish from Lake Tanganyika. He was head of the research station ‘IRSAC’ in the town of Uvira in the north of the Congo. This cichlid was first exported for the aquarium hobby in 1971. These fish are typically found in the northern and southern areas of Lake Tanganyika in Africa, but another population has also been found on the western shores.

This species is listed on the IUCN Red List as Lease Concern (LC). Although it is endemic to Lake Malawi, it is widespread and has no recognized threats at present. Other common names this fish is known by include Checkered Julie, Spotted Julie, Plaid Julie, and Marlieri Cichlid. Color morphs are sometimes commonly named for the area where they come from including Julidochromis marlieri “Gombe”, Julidochromis marlieri “Magara”, and Julidochromis marlieri “Mboko gold”, to name a few.

The Julidochromis genus is a small group of cichlids in Lake Tanganyika with about 5 described species and a number of variants or possible subspecies. They are commonly known as “Julies” in the aquarium hobby. They are small to mid-sized cichlids with elongated torpedo shaped bodies. Their coloration is a yellow or whitish background with either black horizontal stripes or a checkerboard pattern. They inhabit rocky areas and mostly form monogamous pairs, though pairs can be broken with the smaller fish being driven off or even killed. These fish are
secretive bi-parental substrate spawners, mostly spawning in caves or crevices in the rocks. They are very territorial, but as parents, after a week or two they generally will neither protect nor attack their young, but small fry still gain protection by residing within their parents territory.

This genus is one of the smallest groups in the tribe Lamprologini. The Lamprologini tribe contains seven genera and nearly 100 species of African Cichlids, most of which are found in Lake Tanganyika. The Lamprologini cichlids are highly variable and are found in all kinds of habitats. They are found both at the surface and in very deep waters, but all species are substrate spawners. Like other genus in the tribe, the julidochromis will mate with females of other Lamprologini.

This species likes deep waters and are found at depths between 16 – 100 feet (5 – 30 m). They inhabit the recesses of the rocky terrain along medium drop-offs. They will not swim far from the rocky areas and will rarely come to the surface in the wild. They feed on invertebrates found in the biocover and Aufwuchs of the rocks and substrate consuming snails, small aquatic insects, sponges, microfauna, and other micro foods found in the 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: Julidochromis marlieri
  • Social Grouping: Solitary – They are primarily a solitary species, pairing up when spawning.
  • IUCN Red List: LC – Least Concern


The Marlier’s Julie has a torpedo shaped body with a continuous dorsal fin and a fan shaped caudal fin. Its mouth is slightly downward pointing for eating algae, snails, microfauna, and Aufwuchs in the wild. In the wild these fish can reach up to a 6 inches (15 cm), but are commonly much smaller in the aquarium. The females are the largest, typically reaching almost 5 inches (15 cm) in length, a more robust body. Variants from the southern regions of the lake typically have a more elongated body than those from the north. Males are smaller at about 4 3/4 inches (12 cm). This species can have a lifespan of 5 – 8 years with proper care.

They have a nice contrast of color, almost a checkered pattern. The pattern creates three horizontal rows of white or golden spots contrasted against dark black stripes. It also has beautiful blue highlights encircling the body. T, and have beautiful blue highlights encircling the body. This is the only Julie with a stripe under the eye. The fins are almost always edged with a thin light stripe and then a thin black stripe outside that.

There are slight differences in color patterning and size, depending on the region where they are found. Some of the locality variations are:

  • Julidochromis marlieri “Gombe”
    This variety was mislabeled and traded as Gombe Transcriptus in the hobby for years, mistakenly thought to be a variant of the Masked Julie Julidochromis transcriptus. It is a very popular dwarf variety that only reaches about 3″.
    It has fewer horizontal lines on the body than other variants. There are three thin black lines on the upper portion set on a cream or yellow background. The mid body line extends from the eye to the beginning of the caudal fin. Below that line is yellow. The anal and pelvic fins are a pale yellow near the body, then fading into blue, and finally a tiny pin striping in black. The face has lines from top to bottom.
  • Julidochromis marlieri “Burundi”
    The Marlieri Burundi variety is another well known Marlieri Cichlid. It is a very beautiful and graceful variety. In the wild it can range between about 4 – 6″ in length, but usually grows to 2 1/2 – 4 1/2″ inches in the aquarium. This variety has the checkered patterning but with fewer horizontal and vertical stripes, so fewer white patches. This makes checkerboard appearance much larger and bolder.
  • Julidochromis marlieri “Magara”
    The Marlieri Magara variety has a nice checkerboard patterning, but the white patches can tend to be more reduced. They are found in the northern part of Lake Tanganyika in the waters near the settlement of Magara.
  • Julidochromis marlieri “Mboko” or
    The Julidochromis marlieri “Mboko Gold” has the checkered patterning, but with less black in the alternating rows, giving a more of a jagged horizontal striped patterning. But its distinguishing trait is rather than just having some yellow markings on the belly near the pectoral fins, this variety has a yellow or golden color replacing the white throughout the body.
  • Julidochromis marlieri “Halembe”
    This variety has the same checkerboard patterning as the others but the white patches are very reduced, looking more like just spots.
  • Julidochromis marlieri “Isanga”
    This variety has less of a contrast with a tan base color and about 5 dark brown vertical bands and 2 thinner horizontal lines, forming a checkered pattern. There is a dark brown dot on the base of the tail fin. The fins are a gray/silver color with electric blue at the tips. There is also an electric blue line in the cheek area and a few speckles on the gill cover. The face also has dark brown lines that run horizontal on the head area.
  • Julidochromis marlieri “Kala”
    This variety hhas the same checkerboard patterning as the others, but the white patches can tend to be more reduced and variable in size.
  • Julidochromis marlieri “Kalambo”
  • This variety has the checkered patterning, but with less black in the alternating rows, giving it more of a jagged horizontal striped patterning.
  • Julidochromis marlieri “Karilani”
    This variety has a nice even checkerboard patterning, but like the “Mboko” variety it has a yellow
    or golden color replacing the white throughout the body.
  • Julidochromis marlieri “Katili”
    This variety has the same patterning as the others, but the white patches are very reduced
  • Julidochromis marlieri “Katoto”
    This variety has the same patterning as the others, but with less white, so much so that the checkered pattern looks more like jagged horizontal stripes and the black is mostly missing from the belly.
  • Julidochromis marlieri “Magara”
    This variety has the same patterning as the others, but the white patches very reduced
  • Julidochromis marlieri “Makobola”
    This variety has a checkered patterning but with smaller light patches on along the top, getting larger moving down towards the belly. It has a yellow to golden color replacing the white throughout the body
  • Julidochromis marlieri “Milima”
    This variety has a checkered patterning, but with light patches greatly reduced and variable in size.
  • Julidochromis marlieri “Rutunga”
    This variety has a nice checkerboard patterning, but like the “Mboko” variety it has a yellow or golden color replacing the white throughout the body.
  • Julidochromis marlieri “Sambia”
    This variety has a checkered patterning, but with light patches reduced in size and more irregular. It can have a yellow or golden color replacing the white throughout the body.

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: 5.9 inches (15.01 cm) – They grow to a length of almost 6″ (15 cm) in the wild. However in the aquarium males typically reach only about 4 3/4″ (12 cm) with the females being a bit larger.
  • Lifespan: 5 years – They have a lifespan of 5 – 8 years with proper care.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

This fish is a great choice for both the beginner and advance aquarist. It is moderately easy to care for as long it has the proper sized aquarium and the right tank mates. They are fairly peaceful, making good inhabitants for the community cichlid tank. They it will adapt to a wide range of water conditions, eat a wide variety of aquarium foods. and will readily breed. The aquarium does need regular water changes.

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

Foods and Feeding

The Marlier’s Julie is an omnivore. In the wild they feed on invertebrates such as snails, small aquatic insects, sponges, microfauna, and Aufwuchs. In the aquarium to keep a good balance give them a high quality flake food or pellet everyday. Regularly supplement these with Cyclops, water fleas, brine and mysis shrimps, or other special foods for Lake Tanganyika cichlids.

Feed 2 to 5 small pinches of food a day in smaller amounts instead of a large quantity once a day. This will help to keep the best water quality. All fish also benefit from vitamins and supplements added 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: Half of Diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Daily – Offer several small feedings a day rather than a single large feeding for better water quality over time.

Aquarium Care

Do normal water changes of 10% to 15% a week, or more frequent changes depending on the nitrite/ammonia levels and stocking numbers. The Lake Tanganyika cichlids cannot handle large water changes very well unless the new water chemistry closely matches the water they are in. If a large water change is needed, changing 15% every couple of days should bring water back to normal. This inability to tolerate large water changes is due to Lake Tanganyika being very deep and the water tends to stay stable.

  • Water Changes: Weekly – Water changes of 10-15% weekly are suggested, only do more if the water parameters are off. Be cautious of doing more frequent changes as these fish are very sensitive to new water.

Aquarium Setup

The Marlier’s Julie is active and will swim mostly in the bottom areas of the aquarium. A minimum 20 gallon tank for a pair is suggested. Provide 75 gallons or more for a community type tank. They do fine in either freshwater or brackish freshwater but need good water movement along with very strong and efficient filtration. Lake Tanganyika is a very oxygen rich lake so bubblers need to be going day and night, even if there are plants. Regularly check nitrates and ph, nitrates should be no more than 25 ppm and a pH less than 7 is not tolerated. In addition keep an eye on total hardness and carbonate hardness. Avoid overfeeding and overstocking.

Lake Tanganyika is the second to largest lake in the world, thus contributing to a low fluctuation in temperature and pH. All Tanganyika cichlids need stable temperatures kept within acceptable limits and lots of oxygen to survive. Temperatures under 72° F and over 86° F for too long is not tolerated by many of these fish. When treating for ich, a few days at 86° F is acceptable. The lake is also consistently alkaline with a pH of around 9, and very hard at about 12 – 14° dGH. In the aquarium most Tanganyika cichlids are fairly adaptable as long as conditions are close to these ideal ranges. Most important is that their water chemistry doesn’t change much over time. The water needs to be well buffered and maintained with small, regular water changes.

Salt is sometimes used as a buffering agent to increase the water’s carbonate hardness. An alternative buffering approach is to use a chemical filtration method, where the water passes through layers of crushed coral or coral sand.  Interestingly, Tanganyikan cichlids also need iodine for the thyroid to function properly to regulate growth and development, and which can be achieved by adding iodized table salt to the water. Although rift lake cichlids need hard alkaline water they are not found in brackish waters. 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.

Provide lots of porous rocks and/or whole or pieces of clay pots forming caves and crevices. They stay very close to rock structures, so the more rocks there are, the more comfortable they will be. If they don’t have enough cover and places of retreat, they may not develp their best colors and won’t spawn as frequently. A sandy or very small sized gravel must be used as the fry of this species have been known to get trapped in gravel that is too big. Plants can also be included as they will not bother them, and will provide cover for the newly hatch fry.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 gal (76 L) – A minimum of 20 gallons is suggested for a pair, with 75 gallons or more if keeping a community type tank.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: Sometimes – A 20 gallon Nano tank can accomodate a pair as a species tank, but more fish will require a much larger aquarium.
  • Substrate Type: Sand – Sand or a very fine gravel substrate should be used, they have been known to be trapped by gravel that is too large.
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 80.0° F (22.2 to 26.7&deg C)
  • Breeding Temperature: 75.0° F – Breeding temperatures range between 75 – 78.8° F (24 – 26 C).
  • Range ph: 7.8-9.5
  • Hardness Range: 10 – 13 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: Bottom – These fish will swim in the bottom areas of the aquarium.

Social Behaviors

The Marlier’s Julie does well in a community cichlid tank and can be kept singly, in a pair, or in a group of several pairs. This fish is a community cichlid that can be kept with other Tanganyika cichlids that are similar size. They are peaceful toward those of the same species, but will not tolerate adults of their own offspring. They will tolerate those of a different genus.

They will breed in the main tank and if there are enough crevices. You may want to remove a confirmed pair to a 20 gallon tank to breed, as they will aggressively protect their brood from any intruders. Once the fry are 1″ long, the parents will chase them away. Do not house with other color variations of the Marlier’s Julie to avoid cross breeding. If breeding them do not house with plecostomus as these fish will eat the fry at night.

  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Yes – They can be kept in a pair or a group of several pairs. They will not tolerate their offspring as adults.
    • Peaceful fish (): Monitor
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Safe – They tolerate cichlids of other genera.
    • Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
    • Threat
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Threat – is aggressive
    • Plants: Safe

Sex: Sexual differences

The Marlier’s Julie female has a longer genital papillae that is flatter on the end. The male’s genital papillae is shorter, more pointed, and angled toward the back. The male’s have a lump-like swelling on the neck and are normally smaller.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Marlier’s Julies are egg layers that will form monogamous pairs and a nuclear family. They are sheltered substrate spawner and prefer spawning in caves. This fish has been bred in captivity but young couples need practice to become successful parents. Do not be surprised if they eat their first clutch or two.

They are shelter spawners so provide them with caves made from rocks and/or clay planting pots and/or pieces of slate, as they adhere their eggs to the “roof” of their cave. Buy 6 to 10 juveniles and let them pair off. Once you have a pair the male will start to mark off territories. Remove the others or they will be chased off. It is best not to rearrange the rocks or move any decorations around in the aquarium once they form territories. This can stress them out and will very likely break the bond a male and female have made. The reason for this is that part of their bond is connected to the “territory” more than to each other. If stressed, one of the pair will kill the other.

The breeding tank should have moderately alkaline, medium hard water with to a pH of around 7.5 – 9.0, 12° dGH, and a temperature between 75 – 78.8° F (24 – 26 C). The male will entice the female into a cave and the spawn will be from 50 – 100 bluish green colored 1.2 mm eggs. They will spawn every 5 to 7 weeks. Make sure there are a lot of crevices for the young to hide in and do not use plecostomus in the tank, as they will eat the young during the night.

The parents are dedicated to their young, and will take turns guarding the fry while the other leaves to eat. The parents will allow the fry to stay in the area until they are 1″ long, even when new batches are hatched since they will help guard their siblings.

Although the parents do well guarding their fry, only about 10% will survive. For a higher success rate, siphon out most of the fry when they are born and put them in a separate 10 gallon tank, leaving a few in the tank for the parents to care for. Feed the fry baby brine shrimp. The fry are slow growers. It takes almost 2 months for them reach 2 cm in size. See the description of breeding monogamous cichlids in: Breeding Freshwater Fish: Cichlids.

  • Ease of Breeding: Easy

Fish Diseases

The Marlier’s Julie is susceptible to typical fish ailments, especially if water is stale and of poor quality and oxygenation. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Water changes, not overfeeding or overcrowding, and observation along with feeding your fish the proper foods (thawing frozen food and adding vitamins) will keep them in optimum health. For freshwater an optional practice is to add 1 heaping teaspoon of salt per 11 gallons of water. This is considered to be a simple and natural remedy for wounds, minor fungal infections and film over the eyes of fish in transit. Using a marine salt (used for salt water fish) will add some trace elements.

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 Marlier’s Julie is available both online and in fish stores and is moderate to moderately expensive in price, depending on size and variety. Purchase from a reputable dealer, due to hybridization it takes a trained eye to choose the correct color strain that has not been crossed.