The Pseudotropheus Ice Blue is a beautiful African cichlid with a contrasting orange dorsal fin over an icy blue body!

The Pseudotropheus Ice Blue Maylandia greshakei, also known as William’s Mbuna, is a pretty zebra-type cichlid from Lake Malawi, Africa. It has a very appealing coloration of an ice blue body contrasted with a bright orange top fin. It makes a great fish to add variety in a Mbuna cichlid Tank.

This cichlid has been in the hobby since the early 1980’s. Prior to being scientifically described they were sold as the Pseudotropheus “Red Top Ice Blue”. It was first described by Meyer and Foerster in 1984 as Pseudotropheus greshakei and then several other common names evolved. This cichlid may be found as William’s Mbuna, Ice Blue Zebra Cichlid, Red Top Ice Blue Zebra, Red Top Cobalt, Ice Blue Malawi, Ice Blue Cichlid, Ice Blue Red Top Zebra, Pseudotropheus sp. “Makokola”, and Greshakei Zebra.

This fish is zebra-type 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”.

In more recent taxonomical revisions the Pseudotropheus genus has been split into three sub-genera with this fish being placed in the sub-genus Pseudotropheus Maylandia. After much debate between the naming of this sub-genera Maylandia or Metriaclima, this species is currently considered valid as Maylandia greshakei. Yet in the aftermath there are still three scientific names commonly used for this fish in the hobby, including Pseudotropheus greshakei, Maylandia greshakei, and Metriaclima greshakei.

This cichlid is also sometimes mistaken for its very close relative, the Pseudotropheus “Red Top Zebra Mbenji”, which is not yet scientifically described. These two fish have very similar physical and behavioral traits, however the Pseudotropheus Ice Blue has only been found in the southeastern arm of Lake Malawi near Makokola, while the other is from the Mbenji Islands.

The Pseudotropheus Ice Blue is only moderately aggressive compared to other Mbuna. It is not a community tank specimen to be kept with fish other than cichlids, but it can be kept in a tank with similarly tempered Mbunas. Do not house with fish of the same color and shape though, as the male will look at these others as trespassers and attack them.

For the aquarists who is willing to do frequent water changes and provide appropriate tank mates, the Pseudotropheus Ice Blue is easy to care for. It will quickly adapt to prepared foods and is readily bred if not kept with overly aggressive tank mates. To house one male and two to three females, a minimum sized tank of 48″ long with a lot of hiding places is needed for success. A much larger tank is needed for mixing Mbunas.

Scientific Classification


Pseudotropheus Ice Blue – Quick Aquarium Care

Aquarist Experience Level:Intermediate
Aquarium Hardiness:Moderately hardy
Minimum Tank Size:55 gal (208 L)
Size of fish – inches4.7 inches (11.99 cm)
Temperature:73.0 to 78.0° F (22.8 to 25.6&deg C)

Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Pseudotropheus Ice Blue Maylandia greshakei was described by Meyer and Foerster in 1984. They are found in Lake Malawi, Africa and are endemic to Makokola, in what is called the southeast arm area of Lake Malawi. They occur at two reefs south of Boadzulu Island, Makokola reef and Crocadile reef.

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 from two restricted locations of Makokola reef and Crocadile reef in the southeastern arm of the lake, but there are no major recognized threats at present. Other common names this fish is known by are William’s Mbuna, Ice Blue Zebra Cichlid, Red Top Ice Blue Zebra, Red Top Cobalt, Ice Blue Malawi, Ice Blue Cichlid, Ice Blue Red Top Zebra, Pseudotropheus sp. “Makokola”, and Greshakei Zebra.

They enjoy depths of around 49 – 115 feet(15 – 35 m) and are commonly found near rocky areas of the reefs where the rocks have a layer of sediment on them. Males are territorial, protecting caves between the rocks and feeds on the biocover of the rocks known as 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 and non-breeding males will occur singly or in groups in the open water where they feed on phytoplankton.

“What’s the deal with the 3 scientific names?”

The question brings up a baffling problem that the scientific community has been working to resolve. Today Maylandia greshakei is recognized as the valid name for the Pseudotropheus Ice Blue or William’s Mbuna. But both of the names Metriaclima greshakei and Pseudotropheus greshakei are used in some circles.

Here’s a quick overview of its nomenclature history:

  • When first discovered the original name for the Red Zebra was Pseudotropheus estherae. The Pseudotropheus genus (Regan 1922), contained a subgroup group of closely related fish described as the ‘Zebras’.
  • In 1984 to put this group of ‘Zebras’ in their own genus, a new name came forth, Maylandia. This genus name was derived from the name of a well known ichthyologist, Hans Mayland. But there is a problem with this name because it was said to not conform with the ‘rules of the Code’ for scientific description. So the genus name was pronounced a nomen nudum and therefore invalid. However this was an ongoing debate.
  • Then in 1997 the name Metriaclima was put forth as a correct descriptive genus name. However this too had problems. The protocol for a name change was not followed. There is an “official” channel that has to be gone through to contest and change a scientific name. So though Metriaclima is a descriptive genus name, if there is any “disagreement”, the rules are that the name reverts back to the original name.
  • Today the latest resolve is that Maylandiais the recognized “valid” genus name of the Pseudotropheus Ice Blue or William’s Mbuna.
  • Scientific Name: Maylandia greshakei
  • Social Grouping: Varies – Males will be solitary defending a territory while females, juveniles, and non-breeding males will be seen singly or in small groups.
  • IUCN Red List: VU – Vulnerable


The Pseudotropheus Ice Bluei has the typical elongated, muscular Mbuna cichlid body. In nature they typically reach about 4 3/4 inches (12 cm) in length, but are often larger in the home aquarium, attaining lengths just over 5″ (13.4 cm). Most Mbunas can live up to around 10 years with proper care.

The males are more colorful than the females. Males have an overall ice blue color with very faded vertical bars on the body. The dorsal fin and the top half of the tail fin are orange and there are several egg spots on their anal fin. This coloring makes them easy to identify. Females are a drab color of brown-gray, with slightly more obvious vertical bars. Sometimes the females can be a pink coloring with a hint of the blue on their sides.

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: 4.7 inches (11.99 cm) – They attain a length of about 4 3/4″ (12 cm) in the wild, but can grow larger in the aquarium reaching up to 5.28″ (13.4 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 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. 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 Ice Blue is an omnivore that in the wild feeds on auwfuchs and phytoplankton. In the aquarium it can be fed a good quality cichlid pellet or flake. They can occasionally be given krill or artemia, but no mammal meat as this can eventually cause intestinal distress and death. They will easily become overweight, so be careful to not over feed. Also too much protein and fat leads to Malawi Bloat, which is fatal.

The algae growing in the tank is something they eat, so supplementing with that natural food makes them less costly than caring for a carnivorous cichlid. Of course, all fish benefit from added vitamins and supplements to their foods. 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.

  • 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. Do water changes of 30% a week depending on bioload and vacuum the substrate every 2 weeks. It is also suggested to change the rock work around once a month if aggression is shown. 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 about 30% 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 55 gallon tank with a minimum of 48″ (122 cm) in length is suggested, though a larger tank would be required if keeping a mixed cichlid tank. 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.  A very slow acclimation to different pH levels can sometimes be achieved. Keeping a higher pH however, means that ammonia is more lethal, so regular water changes are a must for these fish.

This cichlid needs lots of passageways and caves formed with piles of rocks. This will lessen aggression and give everyone a place to call their own. Arranging the rocks in a manner to make “territories” will help ease aggression. Some open space is appreciated as well. They like to dig so make sure the rocks sit on the bottom of the aquarium not on the substrate.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 55 gal (208 L) – A 55 gallons tank is suggested with a minimum length of 48″ (122 cm) is suggested, and a larger tank is needed for a mixed group of Mbunas.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Substrate Type: Sand
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate – normal lighting
  • Temperature: 73.0 to 78.0° F (22.8 to 25.6&deg C)
  • Range ph: 7.5-8.5
  • 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 Pseudotropheus Ice Blue is only a moderately aggressive cichlid, but is not considered to be a community fish. They can be kept with other less aggressive, similarly tempered cichlids from Malawi. But do not put them with other Mbuna of similar shape and size as they will attack them and/or interbreed, which is not suggested. Do not house with Haplochromis as this cichlid, like other Mbunas, are too aggressive towards them. Also do not house with fish that eat mammal meat, as this is dangerous for your Mbuna to eat.

They are best kept in a group of one male with two or three females. They will not tolerate other males of the same color, and especially no males that are the same species. They are not particularly hard on their females like some cichlids are, which adds to the joy of owning this pretty little fish.

  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Yes – They are best kept in groups of 1 male with 2 or 3 females. They will not tolerate any other male of their same species nor any similarly colored males of other species.
    • 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 an orange dorsal and egg spots on the anal fin. The females are smaller and drabber in color.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Pseudotropheus Ice Blue has been bred in captivity. Obtain six to eight young fry and once mature, feed two times a day to condition them to breed. If they will not spawn, then that usually means there is a very aggressive fish in the tank. Removing that aggressive fish will prompt a more relaxed atmosphere and encourage spawning.

The male will dig a pit down to the bottom of the glass. He will then chase the females around shaking and extending his fins, showing exaggerated colors to attract them. He does not single out a female and rough her up, but waits until a female becomes gravid with eggs and willingly follows him to the pit. They will swim in a tight circle and the female will then deposit her eggs at a rate of one or two at a time and then picks them up in their mouth. The male will lay at an angle exposing the egg spots on his anal fin. The female, seeing the “eggs” will think she forgot a few and will try to pick them up. The male then releases milt which is taken into the mouth of the female, fertilizing the eggs. The female continues this routine until her mouth is full of fertilized eggs. This is one of the safest ways for a fish to spawn. It keeps the eggs safe from predation, which in Lake Malawi is brutal.

Do not interrupt or feed the tank at this time as that will disturb their spawning. Once the egg sac of the fry has been absorbed, you may feed them food for fry fish. 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 Pseudotropheus Ice Blue cichlids, 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.


Pseudotropheus Ice Blue or William’s Mbuna are sometimes found online or in fish stores, and are fairly inexpensive. They may be special ordered if you are willing to wait for them if they are out of season. When acquiring a Pseudotropheus Ice Blue, 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: Blaj Gabriel, Shutterstock