The spunky Pseudotropheus Barlowi, though only occasionally available today, has actually been around for quite some time!

The Pseudotropheus Barlowi or Golden Fuscoides Maylandia barlowi (previously Pseudotropheus barlowi) is a pretty zebra-type cichlid from Lake Malawi, Africa. Though not scientifically described until 1986, it was previously sold in the hobby under the names Pseudotropheus ‘Zebra Fusco’, Pseudotropheus Fuscoides, and Pseudotropheus Fuscus. It was a popular Mbuna in years past and then demand for them waned, but they are now gaining popularity again.

This cichlid is believed to have been available since the mid to late 1970’s. When finally described, it was named after George Barlow, an American ichthyologist, and both its scientific and common name became Pseudotropheus Barlowi. More recent revisions split the Pseudotropheus genus into three sub-genera with this fish being placed in the sub-genus Pseudotropheus Maylandia. It is currently considered valid as Maylandia barlowi, but this is after much debate on the naming of this sub-genera. Consequently three names are commonly used for this fish in the hobby including Pseudotropheus barlowi, Maylandia barlowi, and Metriaclima barlowi.

This fish is a member of a group of cichlids 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”.

Growing to only four or five inches in length, the Pseudotropheus Barlowi is a big personality in a little package. Their coloring is dependant on location, but in general the males are all a golden yellow with the anal fin being blue and having one yellow egg spot and the female is brown. They are not demanding and their bright yellow coloring is a great addition of color to the Mbuna tank. With their spunky personality they can hold their own.

These fish are not community tank specimens, but can be housed with other cichlids. They are great fish for both the intermediate and experienced cichlid keeper. Because of their smaller size they are a moderate to care for, but the males are aggressive toward the females. A male needs to be kept with three or more females to help dampen the aggression. Keeping them in a large aquarium with other Mbuna species and arranging the rocks in a manner to make “territories” will also help ease aggression.

Provide a deep sandy bed and lots of caves and rocks for them to explore and to hide in. This is especially important when the male is abusing the females. 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

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Family: Cichlidae
  • Genus: Maylandia
  • Species: barlowi
Pseudotropheus Barlowi – Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Size of fish – inches: 4.9 inches (12.50 cm)
  • Minimum Tank Size: 40 gal (151 L)
  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Temperature: 75.0 to 79.0° F (23.9 to 26.1&deg C)
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Pseudotropheus Barlowi or Golden Fuscoides Maylandia barlowi was described by Mckaye and Stauffer in 1986. They are found in Lake Malawi, Africa at the Marleri Islands, Mbenji Island, Thumbi West Island at Cape Maclear, Mazinzi Reef, Chidunga Rocks or Chipoka, Nkhundzi and the Eccles Reef. This species is listed on the IUCN Red List as Least Concern (LC). Although it is endemic to Lake Malawi it is widespread in the southern part of the lake with no known major recognized threats at present.

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.

Other common names this fish is known by are Pseudotropheus ‘Zebra Fusco’, Pseudotropheus Fuscoides, Pseudotropheus Fuscus, Metriaclima barlowi and Pseudotropheus Barlowi (now considered invalid scientific names but often still used in the hobby), and of course Mbuna.

They inhabit rocky areas in large groups. They enjoy depths of around 32 feet (10 m) in areas of sediment-rich, intermediate habitats of rocky areas and sandy spots between rocks. Males are territorial and will stay close to the rocks to protect a pit dug in the sand beneath a rock that he will use as a nest. Males primarily 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. Females are usually found higher up in the water column feeding on plankton.

  • Scientific Name: Maylandia barlowi
  • Social Grouping: Groups – They are found in rocky areas in large groups.
  • IUCN Red List: LC – Least Concern


The Pseudotropheus Barlowi has the typical elongated, muscular Mbuna cichlid body. In nature they typically reach about 4 inches (10 cm) in length, but are often larger in the home aquarium, attaining lengths up to almost 5 inches (12.5 cm). This cichlid can live up to 10 years with proper care.

Their coloring is dependant on location, but in general the males are all a golden yellow with the anal fin being light blue to blue and having one yellow egg spot. Juveniles and females are brown. For the males, here are some differences according to location:

  • Maylandia barlowi “Chidunga”
    This variety has has a blue dorsal and anal fin. The tail fin is yellow with back part of the tail fin having blue as well.
  • Maylandia barlowi “Luwala”
    This variety has a blue anal fin and the tail fin is yellow with the back part of it being blue..
  • Maylandia barlowi “Maleri” and Maylandia barlowi “Mbenji”
    These varieties have a light blue anal and dorsal fin that has a yellow edging along the top. The tail fin is all yellow..
  • Maylandia barlowi “Nakantenga”
    This variety has has a blue anal fin, and a mix of light blue and yellow in the dorsal along a darker tail fin.

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: 4.9 inches (12.50 cm) – In the wild Maylandia barlowi is recorded at a maximum length of 3.94″ (10 cm), but in the aquarium they can attain lengths up to 4.92″ (12.5 cm).
  • Lifespan: 10 years – This cichlid can have a lifespan of up to 10 years with proper care.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

This is a good fish for both the intermediate and experienced cichlid keeper. It is an aggressive cichlid, and not a community tank specimen. It cannot 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 Pseudotropheus Barlowi is an omnivore. In the wild the feed on algae but also ingest plankton as well as aufwuchs, which contain tiny bentic organisma including crustaceans, invertbrates and some zooplankton. In the aquarium they can be fed a good quality cichlid flake or pellet along with spirulina. At times they can be fed mysis and cyclopeeze. They need vegetable matter, so having algae growing in the tank is one great way to supplement their diet.

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: 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. Along with an established filtration system, a water change of 25% or more a week, depending on the bio load, 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 25% or more each week 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 a 5′ tank of 125 gallons or more will be needed to keep more than one or 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. Provide a deep sand bed which will allow them to dig under the rocks to make a tunnel for breeding. A sand used for salt water tanks can help keep the pH up. Keeping a higher pH however, means that ammonia is more lethal, so regular water changes are a must for these fish.

They need lots of caves and rocks for them to explore and to hide in, especially when the male is abusing the females. Arranging the rocks in a manner to make “territories” will help ease aggression.. Some open space is appreciated as well.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 40 gal (151 L) – A minimum of 40 gallons is the suggested for a single fish, but to keep more than one or a mixed Mbuna tank provide a 5′ tank of 125 gallons or more.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Substrate Type: Sand
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate – normal lighting
  • Temperature: 75.0 to 79.0° F (23.9 to 26.1&deg C)
  • Range ph: 7.4-8.5
  • Hardness Range: 12 – 16 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

This zebra-type Mbuna is aggressive and is not considered to be a community fish. In fact, it should only be housed with other aggressive Mbunas. Keep them in a community Mbuna designed tank with lots of rock structures. Do not house them with similarly colored species that are the same size and shape.

This cichlid needs be be grouped with one male and at least 3 or more females. They are very aggressive toward the females and will kill any rival males in the tank. Keeping them in a large aquarium with other non-similar Mbuna species will help ease aggression.

  • Temperament: Aggressive – They should only be house with other aggressive Mbunas.
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Yes – They are best kept as one male with 3 or more females. They are very aggressive toward the females and will kill any other males in the tank.
    • Peaceful fish (): Threat
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Aggressive (): Safe
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
    • Threat
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Threat – is aggressive
    • Plants: Threat

Sex: Sexual differences

Male Golden Fuscoides are yellow and females are brown.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Pseudotropheus Barlowi has been bred in captivity and is a mouthbrooder. The male will dig out a tunnel under a rock in the sand. Females will enter the male’s tunnel to spawn. The female will lay between 20 to 40 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 this 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 7 days at about 80° F, the eggs hatch and the fry are free swimming in another 2 weeks. The female will protect the fry in her mouth for 3 to 4 weeks. Feed the fry crushed flake, Cyclopeeze and freshly hatched artemia. 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 Golden Fuscoides 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 Golden Fuscoides of Pseudotropheus Barlowi are only rarely found in fish stores or online, though may be special ordered if you are willing to wait for them if they are out of season. When acquiring a Mbuna, 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.