The White Spotted Cichlid is a fanciful spotted youth that turns into a gorgeously banded adult!

The White Spotted Cichlid Tropheus duboisi goes through an outstanding color transformation as it grows. Watching this fish change from its juvenile to adult coloring is really awesome, with the adult looking like a totally different fish.

Hobbyists are often inspired to obtain Duboisi Cichlids because of their striking appearance when young. As juveniles, they are so adorable, being all black with white to bluish polka dots that seem to run in vertical rows. But as adults they are also very attractive. The adults have a bluish head, an overall dark slate to almost black body and fins, and a bold contrasting yellow band around their middle, hence the name Blue-Faced Duboisi Cichlid. There are several variations of the mid section stripe depending on where the fish is collected. It can be narrow, broad, or wide and can be yellow or white in color. So they may also be referred to as a Narrow Band Duboisi, Wide Band Duboisi, or Broad Band Duboisi.

The Tropheus species became a big hit when first introduced in Germany in the mid 1970’s and then into the United States, and are still very popular today. The White Spotted Cichlid was one of the first Tropheus to be introduced into the United States. The personality of this fish is a definite plus, they are very active and have individual behaviors. Tropheus have a really interesting social structure that is built upon a colony of consistent tank mates. Having an extremely aggressive nature, they are best kept in a species specific tank in groups of at least 10.

The White Spotted Cichlid is said to be less aggressive than their cousins, but this can vary depending on the personalities of individual fish. Do not add a new fish to an already established colony as this will cause an upset and death. They may also be kept in a larger aquarium with other herbivorous rock dwelling African cichlids along with some Synodontis catfish species. Do not keep them with slow moving fish or carnivores. Dither fish can help distract the males aggression on females when breeding. The larger the tank and the more hiding places you have (except when breeding), will help with aggression.

The White Spotted Cichlid is a bit easier to care for than its cousins. This hearty cichlid can be easy to moderate to keep as long as attention is paid to its diet and mandatory water changes are done, and difficult if they are neglected. Provide a sandy substrate, strong lighting to encourage algae growth, and several rock piles along with rocks formed into caves. Truly a rewarding fish for the aquarist who is willing to provide the necessary care.

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: Tropheus
  • Species: duboisi
White Spotted Cichlid – Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Advanced
  • Size of fish – inches: 4.8 inches (12.19 cm)
  • Minimum Tank Size: 75 gal (284 L)
  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately Difficult
  • Temperature: 73.0 to 81.0° F (22.8 to 27.2&deg C)
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The White Spotted Cichlid Tropheus duboisi was described by Marlier in 1959. These fish are endemic to Lake Tanganyika, Africa. This species is listed on the IUCN Red list of Threatened Species as Vulnerable (VU) as subpopulations have been recorded from only four areas in the northern part of the lake.

They are also commonly known as the Duboisi Cichlid and the Blue-Faced Duboisi Cichlid. But they are also named for their area of origin along with a corresponding name that relates to the width of the central vertical band found on the adults of that subpopulation.

  • Tropheus duboisi “bemba” – This subpopulation is also known as Wide Band Duboisi. It is found in a small area just over 1/2 mile (1 km) long around Cape Munene, where the now extinct village of Bemba previously was.
  • Tropheus duboisi “kigoma” – This subpopulation is the largest group, found an area that’s about 62 miles (100 km) along the coastline between Tanzania and Burundi, south of Nyanza Lac, to the Malagarazi River.
  • Tropheus duboisi “Maswa” or Tropheus duboisi “Malagarazi” – This subpopulation is also known as the Broad Band Duboisi or Wide Yellow Band. It occurs around the Malagarazi River delta but its full range is not yet determined.
  • Tropheus duboisi “Karilani” – This subpopulation is also known as Narrow Band Duboisi and karilani cichlid, and it occurs around Karilani Island, Tanzania.

The White Spotted Cichlids are closely related to the Blunthead Cichlid Tropheus moorii, but are found at a greater depth and have a different behavior. They inhabit rocky coastal areas at depths between 9 to 49 feet (3 – 15 m), but have been recorded as deep as 98 feet (30m). They are very specialized feeders which restricts their habitat to rocky areas with good algae growth. They are found over solid rock, interlocking rubble, or sandstone slabs but do not prefer loose rubble or sandy areas.

Their diet mostly consists of filamentous algae, but they also consume microorganisms. They are specialized aufwuchs feeders that spend much of their time searching and pecking at algae on the rocks. Aufwuchs refers to tough stringy algae that is attached to rocks. “Loose” Aufwuchs can contain insect larvae, nymphs, crustaceans, snails, mites and zooplankton. Unlike other Tropheus species they do not tend to stay in groups but rather swim singly or in pairs.

  • Scientific Name: Tropheus duboisi
  • Social Grouping: Varies – Unlike other Tropheus species they not found in groups, usually occurring singly or in pairs.
  • IUCN Red List: VU – Vulnerable


The White Spotted Cichlid is a stocky fish that seems to have a larger head in proportion to their body, and the body narrows as it forms the tail. The caudal fin is fan shaped.

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. All cichlids share a common feature that some saltwater fish such as wrasses and parrotfish have; a well-developed pharyngeal set of teeth that are in the throat, along with their regular teeth.

Juvenile White Spotted Cichlid, Tropheus duboisi
Juvenile White Spotted Cichlid

Adults have a blue to blue-gray head, an overall dark slate to almost black body and fins, and a bold contrasting band around their middle. The juveniles are very attractive with a black body covered with white to bluish spots that seem to run in vertical rows.

The change from juvenile to adult coloring is really awesome. As they get older the black fades and the band that wraps them starts to appear as a faded out yellow or white. Gradually the spots on their body disappear and their head starts to turn blue, though still having some spots. The spots on the body start to form into irregular stripes, then they also fade to a solid color once they are mature.

There are four geographic variations of the Tropheus duboisi, each with a slightly different mid section band encircling the body:

  • Tropheus duboisi “Karilani”Narrow Band Duboisi, karilani cichlid
    This variety is from Karilani Island, Tanzania and has a narrow white mid-section band.
  • Tropheus duboisi “Kigoma”
    This variety is from Kigoma, Tanzania and has a broad white mid-section band, but not as wide as on the variety from Bemba.
  • Tropheus duboisi “Maswa” or Tropheus duboisi “Malagarazi”Broad Band Duboisi, Wide Yellow Band Duboisi.
    This variety is from Cape Kabogo, Tanzania and has a broad yellow mid-section band..
  • Tropheus duboisi “Bemba”Wide Band Duboisi
    This variety is from Bemba, Congo and has a wide white mid-section band.

The White Spotted Cichlid will generally grow to a length of about 4 3/4 inches (12 cm) in the aquarium. They will generally live for about 5 – 8 years but have been know to live 10 years or more if well cared for.

  • Size of fish – inches: 4.8 inches (12.19 cm) – This species can reach a length of about 4 3/4″.
  • Lifespan: 5 years – They generally live for 5 – 8 years, but may live 10 years or more with proper care.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

The Duboisi Cichlids are suggested for more experienced aquarists. The Tropheus species are rather expensive fish, and initial attempts to keep them often met with difficulty until aquarists became familiar with their rather specific, though uncomplicated needs.

They are rather demanding to keep due to their susceptibility to certain infections of the intestinal tract such as “bloat.” They must have diligent attention given to their requirements of diet and habitat and they have a highly aggressive nature. They can be moderately easy to keep if it properly cared for, but difficult if not.

The aquarists must be willing to do frequent water changes and provide appropriate tank mates. They do best in a species tank, or if the aquarium is large enough they can be kept with other herbivorous types of cichlids.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately Difficult
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Advanced – These highly aggressive fish require attention to diet, diligent tank care, and are susceptible to “bloat” if stressed.

Foods and Feeding

The White Spotted Cichlid is an omnivore, but much of its diet consists of herbivorous foods. In the wild they are specialized aufwuchs feeders, aufwuchs which refers to tough stringy algae that is attached to rocks. They feed on algae scraped from the rocks along with microorganisms it contains.

In the aquarium they need to be fed a spirulina based flake and pellet. They should have spinach or romaine at least once a day. Only include foods that are high in fiber. If you use pellet, hold it underwater for a few moments before the fish eat it, that may prevent air released from the pellet from getting trapped in the belly. A small amount live foods can be offered occasionally as a treat. The best live protein supplements are Cyclops and Mysis, it is best to avoid soft or slimy foods as well as Tubifex, brine shrimp, beef heart, and mosquito larvae.

Feed proteins sparingly and avoid housing them with fish that need protein. Some aquarists say protein may cause bloat though others report no problems with it. Some have fed their fish frozen brine and plankton will no ill effects, while according to one author brine shrimp and insect larvae should be avoided. Stick with the same varieties of food and if you do switch, do it a little at a time, again because this may cause bloat. Rick Borstein, a writer on care of many cichlid fish, suggests HBH Graze and Dainichi Veggie Deluxe brand foods for the Tropheus. The ratios of vegetable matter in these products are good.

They have a long intestinal tract and should not be over fed, as overfeeding may contribute to bloat. Feed 3 times a day with small pinches of food instead of a large quantity once a day. This will keep the water quality higher over a longer time. All fish benefit from vitamins and supplements added to their foods. (See information about African Bloat in the table below.)

  • Diet Type: Omnivore – Although these fish are omnivores, their diet consists primarily of herbivorous foods.
  • Flake Food: Yes
  • Tablet / Pellet: Yes
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet – Proteins should be fed sparingly.
  • Vegetable Food: Most of Diet
  • Meaty Food: Some of Diet – Proteins should be fed sparingly.
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day – Generally feed 2-3 small feedings a day rather than a single large feeding for better water quality.

Aquarium Care

The Duboisi Cichlids need diligent maintenance for good water quality. Regular partial water changes are very important and removing any uneaten foods will help prevent disease. Do water changes of 15% twice a week or 30% weekly, depending on 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 15% twice a week or 30% weekly are recommended.

Aquarium Setup

These are active swimmers that will utilize all areas of the tank, and they have an aggressive, territorial nature. Because White Spotted Cichlids are very aggressive a minimum 4 foot, 75 gallon tank is suggested for an established adult group of 10 or more, with one male in the group. Two 2 males in a group of 15 to 20 will need 125 gallons or more. They 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.

For Tropheus cichlids the water needs to be well buffered and maintained with small, regular water changes. They do fine in either freshwater or brackish freshwater. 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.

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. Salinity must be less than about 10% of a normal saltwater tank, a specific gravity of less than 1.0002.

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. Tanganyika 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. Be very careful to not add too much salt as this may cause bloat. Using a marine salt (used for salt water fish) will add some trace elements..

Provide a sandy or very small sized gravel substrate, strong lighting to encourage algae growth, and several rock piles with the rocks formed into caves. Plants may be included, which can help the fry have a higher survival rate, however these fish may eat them. Some hardy species include Swordplants that are the larger variety along with Anubias, Water Fern and Java Fern. These can be placed in the background or middle ground.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 75 gal (284 L) – A tank that is 48″ long and about 75 gallons will be needed for a group.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Substrate Type: Sand/Gravel Mix
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate – normal lighting – Normal lighting is okay, but stronger lighting will help with algae growth.
  • Temperature: 73.0 to 81.0° F (22.8 to 27.2&deg C)
  • Range ph: 8.0-9.5 – They can be adjusted closer to neutral if done slowly.
  • Hardness Range: 10 – 15 dGH
  • Brackish: Sometimes – Can tolerate a low salinity, but must be less than 10% of a normal saltwater tank, 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 White Spotted Cichlid is an aggressive cichlid. This fish does not always “play will with others” and it is best kept in a species specific tank. They are said to be less aggressive than their cousins, but this can vary depending on the personalities of individual fish. They need to be kept in groups (community) of at least 12 or more, with a single male in the group. Two 2 males in a group of 15 to 20 will need a larger tank. Many females are needed to spread the aggression of the male. Do not add a new fish to an already established colony as this will cause an upset and death.

They may be kept in a larger aquarium with other herbivorous rock dwelling African cichlids. Some fish types, like the Sardine CichlidsCyprichromis leptosoma, Eretmodus species such as the Tanganyikan Goby CichlidEretmodus cyanostictus, and Upside-Down CatfishSynodontis species are known to have a calming affect on aggressive cichlids.

Adding dither fish like Rainbowfish will help distract the males aggression on females. The larger the tank and the more hiding places you have (except when breeding), will help with aggression. If breeding them do not house with plecostomus as these fish will eat the fry at night.

Do not keep them with slow moving fish or carnivores. The Tropheus cichlids are voracious eaters that will eat anything that enters the tank, and will rarely let food get to the bottom. Providing more food in an attempt to feed the non-tropheus tank mates can cause the Tropheus cichlids to overeat, and that can lead to bloat.

  • Venomous: No
  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Yes – Can be in groups of 12 or more, with 1 male. Multiple females will help dilute the male’s aggressiveness.
    • Peaceful fish (): Threat
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor – Other herbivorous Tanganyika cichlids fish can be kept if the tank is large enough with plenty of decor providing multiple hiding places.
    • Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
    • Threat
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: May be aggressive
    • Plants: Monitor

Sex: Sexual differences

The sex of the White Spotted Cichlid is difficult to determine. There are some subtle differences in growth rate and body shape, but that is not always reliable. For example males tend to be a little larger than females and can have a deeper body, a more prominent upper lip, and a more upturned nose. The females do not grow as fast as the males and their coloring is less bold. However the best method is to examine the genital papillae of the fish, it is pointed in the male and rounded in the female.

Breeding / Reproduction

The White Spotted Cichlid has been bred in captivity. Get a group of 10 to 12 juveniles for a 75 gallon tank or 15 to 20 juveniles for a 125 gallon, and a harem should form. Do not add new individuals to an existing colony. If obtaining a grouping already raised together, get one male and 9 or more females or two males in a larger colony. A large numbers of females is needed for the best success. This keeps the aggression of the males divided and you are less likely to lose females.

Females can be hard to bring into breeding condition. The male will always be ready to spawn and are constantly trying to coax the females to spawn whether they are ready or not. The female takes fertilized eggs into her mouth. Removing the female may be necessary while she is carrying to prevent her from being harassed by the male. If keeping her in the same tank, one successful breeder suggests hanging 4 – 5” pieces of PVC pipe from the edge of the tank with monofilament to give the brooding females protection.

The female will carry them in her mouth, and when released the large fry will be healthy and ready to feed. Because they are pretty big when they are born they can be fed crushed spirulina flake. Within a week they will be scrapping with each other. The female will eat during the time she is holding the fry in her mouth, but with smaller bits consumed by the larger fry as she eats.

The adults in the community leave the fry alone if there are plenty of places to hide, but if you have other types of fish in the tank you may choose to remove the fry. Breeding a wild caught specimen with captive bred fish helps to keep the lines healthier. See more information on breeding cichlids in: Breeding Freshwater Fish: Cichlids.

  • Ease of Breeding: Moderate

Fish Diseases

Tropheus cichlids are relatively hardy as long as diligent attention is paid to maintaining their environment and diet. These fish are susceptible to typical fish ailments, especially if water is stale and of poor quality and has low oxygenation. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Water changes, not overfeeding, providing adequate hiding places, and observation along with feeding your fish the proper foods will keep them in optimum health.

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. You can also combine increasing the temperature with an Ich medication treatment. A copper test also can be used to keep the proper levels.

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 fish diseases and illnesses, see Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments.

Dr. Jungle says…”What’s up with African Bloat or ‘Malawi Bloat’?”

The Tropheus species are very susceptible to African Bloat, also called Malawi Bloat. There seems to be no explainable rationale as to its cause. Though It is not certain what this disease is, it is generally believed to be caused by a protozoal parasite complicated by bacterial infection.

The most common cause of this disease is stress and the first sign if illness is not eating. Stress can be caused by such things as transport, netting, poor water quality, insufficient diet, over feeding, and a lack of hiding places. Other causes, that are easily remedied, are an improper diet and adding too much salt to the water.

The first sign of ‘bloat’ is loss of appetite which is then followed by swelling of the abdomen, labored breathing, listlessness, reclusiveness, possible red striations on the body, and stringy white feces. A fish that is not eating must be treated immediately or it can quickly become incurable and die.

Prevention is of utmost importance, and It is possibly to cure a fish if treated right away. Following are some techniques aquarists use:

  • Any new specimens you obtain can have bloat or will often soon develop it. When you first acquire them try to provide them with the same food that the dealer was feeding, and then wean them onto a good vegetable based diet; Spirulina flake and pellet.
  • Some will soak the food in dissolved metronidazol and feed them that for the first few days when first obtained. Seachem makes a metronidazol that can be bound to food when used with their Focus product.
  • A good vegetable based diet is important.
  • A healthy group of fish will eat with gusto. But even though they can be very active feeders it is important to not overfeed them. Keep an eye on them, and if one is not eating with vigor some aquarists will then treat the tank with Clout.
  • One author says that they will segregate an ailing fish the second they see signs of not eating, and then will do water changes every day for 5 days in the main aquarium.
  • Metronidazol is considered the most reliable cure and some use Clout as another cure, but do not use them together.


The White Spotted Cichlid is sometimes available online or in fish stores. They can be special ordered if you are willing to wait. These cichlids are relatively costly for fry, it varies depending on variety and adults usually more. Make sure you examine them for spinal defects before purchase.

For the best success buy 12 to 15 fry and let them grow up together. If buying adults only buy an established group. Get 10 or more adults for a 75 gallon tank with one1 male in the group, or 15 to 20 for a 125 gallon with two males in a group. Adding adults from different colonies will result in death due to stress.