Pelvicachromis kribensis – A Beautiful West African Dwarf Cichlid

adult pair of Pelvicachromis kribensis "Moliwe" which was previously known as Pelvicachromis taeniatus "Moliwe"

The varieties of Pelvicachromis kribensis are among the most colorful of the West African dwarf cichlids. In fact, they are among the most colorful of all aquarium fish. P. kribensis was introduced to aquarists as Pelvacachromis taeniatus and they remained under this name until 2014. While the correct name is usually used today, any information published prior to the past few years will call them P. taeniatus. P. kribensis is colorful, relatively peaceful, mostly undemanding of water conditions, and generally an excellent aquarium fish. However, they are not common and you will have to seek them out.

Pelvicachromis kribensis General Information

Pelvicachromis kribensis is very typical of the species in the genus and our Guide to the genus Pelvicachromis has comprehensive information about P. kribensis and its relatives.

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P. kribensis is a true dwarf species with males reaching less than 4″ in total length and females being at least an inch shorter. Males are relatively slim for their length while females can be the opposite. When in pre-spawn condition females get exceptionally round and almost take on a football shape. They show marked sexual dimorphism in body size and shape and in coloration and markings. There are a number of well-established geographic varieties, each coming from a separate river system.

Pelvicachromis kribensis "Moliwe" male previously known as Pelvicachromis taeniatus "Moliwe"
Female Pelvicachromis kribensis "Moliwe" previously named Pelvicachromis taeniatus "Moliwe"

These photos show the dramatic difference in size, body shape, color patterns, and markings between a male (left) and female (right) Pelvicachromis kribensis “Moliwe”

P. kribensis are normally undemanding aquarium residents. They stay near the bottom and are generally not aggressive to other species unless they are spawning. They can tolerate a range of water conditions and are undemanding to feed. P. kribensis prefer planted aquariums with sand or small gravel on the bottom. They normally make good community residents when kept with suitable tankmates

Pelvicachromis kribensis was first described in 1911 by the Belgian-British zoologist George Albert Boulenger. In 1974 it was named a synonym of Pelvicachromis taeniatus and the use of the name P. kribensis was discontinued. However, influential aquarists, ichthyologists, and others questioned this grouping and In 2016, the paper “Revision of the Pelvicachromis taeniatus-group (Perciformes), with revalidation of the taxon Pelvicachromis kribensis (Boulenger, 1911) and description of a new species” revised P. taeniatus and the species from Nigeria and Benin were determined to remain as P. taeniatus while the species found in Cameroon were placed into the revived species Pelvicachromis kribensis.

Pelvicachromis kribensis Varieties

All along the Cameroon coastline, a series of rivers run into the Atlantic Ocean and each of these rivers or streams has its own distinctive variety of Pelcivach’romis kribensis. They are all named for either the river they come from or the town that’s closest to the collection site. Many of these varieties were first identified as forms of Pelvicachromis taeniatus and are long established in the hobby. Unfortunately, many of the forms are very similar and there is a lot of variation between individuals in a population. Consequently, Unless you know the exact collection location it can be impossible to tell the variety for sure.

While I’ll discuss a couple of forms below, this is not the place to look for specific information about P. kribensis varieties. At this time, I think the best resource is this issue of Amazonas Magazine Nov/Dec 2019 – Exploring Pelvicachromis. There is a wealth of information about all of the Pelvicachromis species and there is an article that specifically discusses a number of named varieties. There is also some good information available in the article Collecting Pelvicachromis Species in Cameroon by Ted Judy.

The best-known variety of P. kribensis comes from the region of Moliwe near the coastal city of Limbe. P. kribensis “Moliwe” is considered to be one of the most attractive varieties. It’s generally available and easy to breed making it the most common form in the hobby. Males of the Moliwe population grow larger than those in other populations.

Pelvicachromis taeniatus “Dehane” males exhibit a red cheek stripe and typically have very red fins and few if any tail spots.

Several populations of P. taeniatus are found in and around the Kienke River in which the males show a few large ocelli in their caudal fins. The Kienke flows into the Atlantic in the city of Kirbi and this is where the first described P. taeniatus were captured which gave rise to the krib part of kribensis. Dehane and Kienke varieties are very similar in appearance but the Dehane varieties always have a red stripe on their cheek.

The P. taeniatus from the Lobe system differs in that males usually don’t have any ocelli in their dorsal or caudal fins. Instead, these fins are edged in bright red or orange. P. kribensis “Lobe”, P. kribensis “Nyete” and other populations of P. taeniatus found in and south of the Lobe watershed have caudals lacking ocelli.

Pelvicachromis kribensis in the wild

The native habitats of Pelvicachromis kribensis vary significantly. Some are found in fairly large rivers while others are in streams so small it’s hard to find the water. One characteristic that all sites seem to have in common is very soft water, 2 dGH or less. pH values vary from about 6.0 to 7.3 and water temperatures are often near 80°F.

Here are a few specific habitat descriptions taken from Ted Judy’s article Collecting Pelvicachromis Species in Cameroon.

The habitats vary greatly, from medium-size streams in the Kienke system to small streams (so small it is hard to believe there are cichlids in them at all) in the Dehane and Lokoundje areas.

The streams in Moliwe flow faster, have clearer water, and are very rocky. The rocks are all volcanic in origin and fill the bed of the stream. The stream at Moliwe is much narrower, so there is less accumulation of sediment along the edges. Most of the marginal plants grow out from the shore over the water and create the microhabitat where the P. taeniatus are found.

Lobe River system. This is a blackwater river with relatively slow-flowing streams. Even though the water contains a lot of tannins and is slow moving, the pH was still 7.0.

Pelvicachromis kribensis in the aquarium

These two male Pelvicachromis kribensis “Dehanewere raised together and frequently engaged in mock fights including locking jaws. They would “fight” for hours but never did any damage to each other.

Pelvicachromis kribensis are often easy aquarium residents. They aren’t particularly aggressive, they are very colorful, they have interesting behaviors, and they can be spawned without extraordinary effort. A bonded pair makes a great addition to a community tank and in a single-species aquarium, they provide hours of fascinating behavior and colorful displays.

Aquarium care is standard for the genus and rather than repeat the information here, I suggest you read our Guide to the Genus Pelvicachromis for more information about care and breeding.  

In brief, start with an aquarium of 24″ or more in length. Add a sand substrate and some hard structure – rocks or driftwood. Add some dense planting of live plants. Provide clean water that is soft and neutral to slightly acidic (pH 6.5 – 7.0). Provide a varied diet that includes substantial vegetative material. These are the basics of setting up for success.

Breeding Pelvicachromis kribensis

This pair of Pelvicachromis kribensis “Kienke” works together to usher the school of fry around the tank. The Kienke variety is very similar to the Dehane type but Dehane males all have a red stripe on their cheek.

Breeding Pelvicachromis kribensis follows the same general guidelines as presented in our guide to the Pelvicachromis genus which you should read for complete information.

P. kribensis usually form strong pair bonds and generally a random male and female can be placed together to force a pair. They might take some time in bonding but it will usually happen. Always be prepared when you attempt this type of forced pairing and make sure there are multiple areas with secure hiding places so a bullied fish has a place to flee into. Aggression is much more likely if you try to force a pair in an aquarium without enough cover. If the tank is mostly a single open swimming area the dominant fish easily claims the entire tank. Make sure to break up your aquascape so there are areas that can’t easily be seen into from the main clearing.

P. kribensis can be quite slow in becoming sexually mature. While some fish will spawn at less than a year, others may take several years before the spawning urge is triggered.

Females will typically lay 40 – 80 eggs which she places on the ceiling of her selected cave. In the wild, she will use a crevice in the rocks, a hole in the substrate, or another cave-like site. In the aquarium, she will prefer a cave with a small opening. She will like it best if the opening is nearly too small to fit through. Unfortunately, the best caves don’t allow you to look in to see what is happening!

The female will stay in the cave tending the eggs and then the larval fry for about 9 days until the free-swimming fry are ready to start eating. At this point, the male will join in helping to tend the school and partnering with the female to care for the young.

The growing fry will take most frozen and prepared foods but be sure their diet contains a significant amount of vegetable matter. Although they relish live foods they will benefit greatly from vegetables in their diet. With good feeding and plentiful water changes, they will mature into sexable young adults within 6 months or so.

A cautionary tale

When we’re able to secure a rare fish and get it to breed it’s easy to be really excited. That’s what happened to me in 2004 with P. kribensis. I secured a pair of wild P. kribensis “Dehane” which I exhibited in the fish show at the ACA convention in Denver. I was unsure of the variety name and was thrilled when Dr. Anton Lamboj (the world’s leading expert on west African cichlids) visited with me in front of the show tank and gave me the correct identification. The fish went on to take first place in the division and I was excited to have them in my fish room. I soon had success breeding them and they presented me with a healthy brood of about 75 that all survived to become young adults.

This is part of the P. kribensis “Dehane” group that I raised from a single spawn. They lived together peacefully and were a very colorful tank of fish.

This is where the trouble began. I couldn’t find an outlet for the fish! I live in a rural area and there aren’t many pet stores. The ones we had didn’t have any interest in these unusual beauties. The most common response from pet stores was along the lines of “We can get kribs any time from our wholesaler and they don’t sell well for us.” A few pairs went out the door to stores but not much action.

This was when the internet was still in its infancy and we didn’t have good connections for marketing fish online so I didn’t have any options there. Consequently, I ended up feeding and caring for more than 50 of these beauties until they all gradually died of old age. I think that today the connections the internet provides for distributing fish might still not be enough of an outlet for distributing a large spawn. It’s pretty unusual that I see anyone seeking Pelvicachromis species and I suspect the market is probably pretty small. Keep this in mind if you succeed in a breeding effort – it’s really easy to flood the market.

Buying Pelvicachromis kribensis

While it’s really unusual to find them in a pet store, it’s generally pretty easy to find some variety of P. taeniatus from the specialty fish sellers listed in our guide to where and how to buy dwarf cichlids. The problem comes in if you are seeking a specific variety. While they are all beautiful, each aquarist has their own favorite and you might want a specific variety. In that case, you need to contact the sources we list and see if you can order the variety you are seeking. Pelvicachromis don’t sell nearly as fast as Apistogrammas and dealers are usually reluctant to stock more than one or two varieties. While they might not list much, they often have access to more varieties so ask if there is something you are looking for.


Most of the information I provide on this website comes from books and websites. While I don’t provide specific citations, these are the sources for most of my information.
South American Books:
Mergus Cichlid Atlas Volume 1 & Volume 2 by Dr. Uwe Römer
South American Dwarf Cichlids by Rainer Stawikowski, I. Koslowski and V. Bohnet
Die Buntbarsche Amerikas Band 2 Apistogramma & Co. by Ingo Koslowski, Translation by Mike Wise
South American Dwarf Cichlids by Hans J. Mayland & Dieter Bork
American Cichlids I – Dwarf Cichlids by Horst Linke & Dr. Wolfgang Staeck
West African Books:
The Cichlid Fishes of Western Africa by Anton Lamboj
African Cichlids I – Cichlids From West Africa by Horst Linke & Dr. Wolfgang Staeck
Apisto sites – the home page of Tom C – Global authority for identification and classification of apistogrammas – An excellent international forum with expert members who gladly share their knowledge.
Much more information is available in our complete exploration of dwarf cichlid information resources.