The Trewavas Cichlid has a knack for scraping algae off the glass as well as the rocks!

The Trewavas Red-Finned Cichlid Labeotropheus trewavasae is probably the most popular and recognized of its genus. There are only two species in the Labeotropheus genus, though each has a number of subspecies. The other species is the Fuelleborn’s Cichlid or Blue Mbuna Labeotropheus fuelleborni. The Trewavas Red-Finned Cichlid can be distinguished from Fuelleborn’s Mbuna by a more slender body shape and is smaller as an adult.

Collectively these two species and all their subspecies are known as Trewavas Cichlids. They have all sorts of interesting colorations and some fascinating habits which can add intrigue and variety to the Malawi cichlid aquarium.

The Labeotropheus genus belongs to a group of cichlids from Lake Malawi, Africa 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”.

The Trewavas Cichlids are rather unique fish. In nature both species are found at the same depths, but the Trewavas is also found in much deeper waters than L. fuelleborni. It has been recorded at depths of 112 feet (34 m). These cichlids have a specialized snout with a protruding, overhanging upper jaw. It is thick and bulbous looking, sometimes described as a ‘hooked’ nose. This adaptation along with chisel-shaped teeth allows these Mbuna type cichlids to scrape algae off of rocks. The waters they inhabit are often turbulent and this specialized snout lets them to remain horizontal in these rough waters while they feed. They also feed on small crustaceans and worms.

These fish were named after Ethelwynn Trewavas, who was a taxonomist at the British Museum and had extensive knowledge of the diversity of this fish. They are found in many differing locations around the lake, which contributes to a wide diversity in color. The standard Trewavas Red-Finned Cichlid male has a blue body with the top dorsal fin being an orange to red. Other common names it is known by are the Scrapermouth Mbuna, Red-finned Cichlid, Redtop Cichlid, Redtop Mbuna, Trewavas’s Cichlid, Utaka (even though this is a Mbuna) and Yellow Tumbi.

Trewavas cichlids are also known by their locations or other colors such as Chilumba, Chlofu, Hongi Island, Maleri, Manda, Mara Rocks, Marmalade Cat, Mpanga Red, Chirwa, Ngkuyo Island, Nkhata Bay, Puulu Island, Thumbi West, and Tumbi Rocks. These variations create a colorful display, especially in a species specific tank. It is always suggested to keep regional Trewavas Cichlids from breeding with others to keep true color strains in existence.

These are great fish for both the intermediate and experienced cichlid keeper. They are truly interesting cichlids, but are considered moderate in care and suggested for an aquarist that has at least 55 gallons to provide. They are very sensitive to poor water quality and need a very clean environment. As with all cichlids, the Trewavas Cichlid can be easy to care for as long as water quality is kept high and appropriate foods are given. These fish need large amounts of vegetable matter and plenty of hiding places.

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: Labeotropheus
  • Species: trewavasae
Trewavas Red-Finned Cichlid – Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Size of fish – inches: 15.0 inches (38.10 cm)
  • Minimum Tank Size: 55 gal (208 L)
  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Temperature: 73.0 to 82.0° F (22.8 to 27.8&deg C)
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Trewavas Cichlid Labeotropheus trewavasae was described by Fryer in 1956. They are endemic to the rocky shoreline of Lake Malawi, Africa. They have numerous locations they inhabit within Lake Malawi and these many areas contribute to their diversified colors. Locations include Boadzulu, Thumbi West, Zimbawe, Mumbo, Nakantenga, Maleri, Nankoma Island, Namalenje Island, and Masinji Rocks. They are also found in areas from Chirombo Point to Nkhata Bay and then from Lion’s Cove to Chitande.

This species is listed on the IUCN Red List as Lease Concern (LC). It is endemic to Lake Malawi but is widespread with no recognized threats at present. Other common names it is known by are Trewavas Red-Finned Cichlid, Scrapermouth Mbuna, Red-finned Cichlid, Redtop Cichlid, Redtop Mbuna, Trewavas’s Cichlid, Utaka, and Yellow Tumbi. They are also also known by their locations or other colors.

They enjoy areas that range from sediment rich to sediment-free habitats. The Trewavas Cichlid males poorly defend their territories in the wild and will venture away from their territories for food. Females and young males are found alone or in small groups. They spend the day scraping algae off of the rocks and will also eat Aufwuchs. Aufwuchs refers to tough stringy algae that is attached to rocks. Aufwuchs can contain insect larvae, nymphs, crustaceans, snails, zooplankton and mites.

  • Scientific Name: Labeotropheus trewavasae
  • Social Grouping: Varies – They are found singly or in small groups.
  • IUCN Red List: LC – Least Concern


The shape of the Trewavas Cichlid L. trewavasae is a little more slender than its very similar looking cousin the Fuelleborn’s Mbuna L. fuelleborni, but the depth they are found is the biggest clue as to their accurate species name. The Trewavas Cichlid can be found in the same depths as the Fuelleborn’s Mbuna, which inhabits the top 16 feet (5 m) of water. The difference is that the Trewavas Cichlid is found from 65 -112 feet (20 – 24 m), whereas the Fuelleborn’s Mbuna is not. The Trewavas Cichlids also prefer larger rocks. Lake Malawi fish live an average of 6 to 10 years.

This cichlid has a thick snout that protrudes over a ventral mouth, looking bulbous and hooked or “nose like.” This allows them to get at algae that other cichlids are not able to reach. The jaw angles down and back at a 165 degree angle. The top part of the jaw, near the “lip” area, has teeth that are flat for scraping and the teeth at the back part of the jaw are sharp. The bottom jaw consists of just a few teeth that are parallel to the top part of the jaw.

The Trewavas Cichlid has many color variations, a few of the most colorful and popular are listed below. All males have eggs spots on their anal fin and most fish have numerous faint vertical bars that run the length of the body. Unless mentioned otherwise, all of the fins (except the dorsal) are generally the same color of the body. These are descriptions of the males, unless otherwise stated:

  • Trewavas Red-Finned Cichlid
    This cichlid is probably one of the most popular and recognized of the Trewavas Cichlids. The male’s body is blue with the top dorsal fin being an orange to red.
  • Trewavas Cichlid “Chiofu”
    This cichlid is a very light blue with the middle area being a pale yellow through the length of the body and a pale yellow dorsal.
  • Trewavas Cichlid “Chirwa”
    This cichlid is a golden yellow with the edges of all the scales tipped in light blue. The dorsal is light blue as well.
  • Trewavas Cichlid “Marmalade Cat”
    This cichlid is widely distributed, which is probably the reason for it’s coloring. The male has a base of light blue with mottling of dark blue. The fin is orange near the front and dark blue toward the back.
  • Trewavas Cichlid “Mpanga Red”
    This cichlid is located at Mpanga Rocks. The male is quite spectacular with a dark orange to red base with spattering of light blue and dark gold on some of the scales. All of the fins have light blue spines (bony part) with darker blue rays (fleshy part in-between the spines). The female is an opaque white color with the edges of maybe every 2nd or 3rd scale in the middle area of the body tipped in red. There are also a few faded black scales dotted here and there. All fins except the anal, which is orange with yellow tips, are the same color as the body.
  • Trewavas Cichlid “Thumbi West”
    This cichlid has the male in a bright blue with a faint coloring of red in the dorsal and pelvic fin, while the female is a golden rod to goldish brown color with a speckling of red in all of her fins. Her body has faded brown colored scales spattered here and there for camouflage like most females. The female can have scales that are tipped in blue as well.

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: 15.0 inches (38.10 cm) – The females grow to a length of almost 4″ (10 cm) while the males are larger, almost reaching 6″ (15 cm).
  • Lifespan: 6 years – The average lifespan for this fish is about 6 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

Though basically the Trewavas Red-Finned Cichlid is an herbivore, it is also a part time omnivore that once in a while enjoys daphnia, plankton, brine shrimp, and bloodworms (mosquito larvae). Their primary diet should contain 95% vegetable matter in the form of flakes, pellets, tablets, or even spinach, broccoli, or any other “real” veggies that your fish would enjoy.

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 – They are primarily herbivorous, so at least 95% of their diet should be vegetable based.
  • 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: Several feedings per day – 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 10% to 25% a week depending on bio load, these are very sensitive fish as far as water quality is concerned. Malawi bloat is a typical and lethal disease especially if their dietary needs are not met with quality foods.

  • Water Changes: Weekly – Water changes of 10-20% 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 minimum 55 gallons is suggested. They do fine in either freshwater or brackish freshwater but need good water movement along with very strong and efficient filtration. They can tolerate any Ph above neutral, but a ph level of 8 is best. Regular gravel for freshwater fish can be used, but their natural habitat has sand. 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 open swimming areas in the middle and bottom areas of the aquarium to mimic their natural environment. They enjoy the typical Lake Malawi set up with rocks piled to the top of the water and a sandy substrate. Some aquarists prefer a bare bottom since these fish are diggers. Plants are not needed unless breeding, and then some Anubias can help in fry survival. You will need to watch pH levels since decaying plants can lower the pH.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 55 gal (208 L)
  • 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) – Many keepers of the Trewavas Cichlid report a cooler temperature requirement of 72 to 77° F (22 – 24° C). Slowly acclimating them up to 82° F (28° C) can be done to fit the needs of the aquarist.
  • Range ph: 7.0-8.4
  • 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: Middle – These fish will swim in the middle and bottom areas of the aquarium.

Social Behaviors

This fish is not considered to be a community fish. As long as there is plenty of rockwork for the fish to hide, they can be housed with other more aggressive Mbunas. They can also be kept with a few Pseudotropheus species and the Electric Yellow Lab, Haplochromis nyererei, Malawi Eyebiter (Compressiceps), Red-Tailed Black Shark, and Plecostomus, to name a few. They do not do well with active scavengers. They should not be kept with more peaceful Malawi cichlids such as Peacocks, “Haps”, or Utaka species.

The Trewavas Cichlid is best kept in groups of one male and 4 or more females to spread out the aggression the male inflicts. They will attack and kill any other males of the same species in the tank unless the tank is large and overstocked. If overstocking is used as a form of aggression reduction, care should be taken to do several partial water changes a week. They are aggressive Mbunas and care must be taken to observe any excessive aggression which results in another fish staying at the top corner of the tank. Those fish need to be removed or will eventually be killed.

  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Yes – They are best kept in groups of 1 male with 4 or more females, and the male will attack and kill any other males.
    • Peaceful fish (): Threat
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Aggressive (): Safe
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
    • Threat
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: May be aggressive
    • Plants: Monitor

Sex: Sexual differences

Males and females are different colors. All males have egg spots on their dorsal fin while females do not. Males also tend to be larger.

Spawning pair of Trewavas Cichlids
Spawning pair of Trewavas Cichlids Photo © Animal-World:
Courtesy Frank Schneidewind

Breeding / Reproduction

The Trewavas Cichlid has been bred in captivity. This cichlid, like other Mbunas, spawn in the male’s territory. The male will display bright coloring and shimmy and shake until the female lays 1 to 10 large eggs at a time on a piece of slate that is set at an angle. The female will then immediately take the eggs into her mouth before they are fertilized.

The male flares out his anal fin which has the “egg spot patterning”. The female mistakes 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 the cloud of “milt” which then fertilizes the eggs in her mouth. She will have up to 27 fertilized eggs when finished.

It is hard to spot a spawning moment since it is done so quickly. Females will swim away when they are finished with the male sometimes in pursuit for “more.” If the female releases the eggs from her mouth due to stress, removing her from a relentless male may be a good idea for the next spawn.

Gestation is around 3 weeks, give or take a few days. The released fry are larger than most cichlid fry. They tend to stay close to the bottom of the tank after being released, but soon start swimming around at all levels. The fry can eat finely crushed flake that have a high vegetable content. The female will not harm her young and can be left in the tank, though this is not always the best idea. A prolonged absence from the main tank can make the returned female become a target of aggression as a “new fish”, to the point of causing serious harm. 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 Trewavas 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 the Trewavas Red-Finned Cichlids 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 Trewavas Cichlid is a rather rare find. Occasionally they can be found online for around ranging from moderate to slightly more. Prices vary depending on whether they are male, female, or juvenile. They are rarely found in fish stores, though may be special ordered if you are willing to wait for them if they are out of season.

When acquiring a Trewavas 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.