Pelvicachromis pulcher – a Guide to Krib Cichlids

Pelvicachromis pulcher male

Pelvicachromis pulcher, commonly known as the krib, rainbow krib, or kribensis, has been a favorite aquarium fish for many years. This delightful dwarf cichlid from West Africa has it all; it’s colorful, suitable for a community aquarium, easy to spawn, undemanding of water and food, and they exhibit fascinating behavior. Pelvicachromis pulcher are widely available from pet stores where it will almost always be called a kribensis or krib cichlid.

Pelvicachromis pulcher General Information

Usually called krib or kribensis, Pelvicachromis pulcher is one of the classic all-time favorite aquarium fish. This popular dwarf cichlid can be found in the tanks of many if not most pet stores. There are various color forms for serious breeders but most hobbyists keep this fish in a community tank or as a prelude to the rarer or more difficult Pelvicachromis species. In most respects, P. pulcher is similar to the other members of the genus and you will find a lot more information about them on our page about The Genus Pelvicachromis

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Often called krib or kribensis, Pelvicachromis pulcher is closely related to but not the same as the fish introduced to the hobby as “kribensis”. The true “kribensis” is a regional variety of Pelvicachromis kribensis from Cameroon. which is a similar but different West African species. However, the name kribensis has been applied to this fish worldwide for so long that it has become the accepted name in English-speaking countries.

Pelvicachromis pulcher are brightly colored fish that show dramatic differences in appearance between the sexes. Males grow to a maximum of about 4″ while females are at least an inch shorter. However, males have a relatively slim body shape while females are much rounder, often sort of football-shaped. Females have a round caudal fin whale in a male it can be round, rhomboid, or possibly have a slightly extended upper lobe. Males and females both typically have a dark stripe running the length of the body but this is variable between varieties, Below the line, males are usually brightly colored with a throat, breast, and belly that can be a range of colors – yellow, blue, red, or green.

Pelvicachromis pulcher Varieties

Quite a few different color forms of Pelvicachromis pulcher are found in the wild including red, blue, yellow, and green as well as combo colors such as “red-blue”. When available, these color varieties are sold as Pelvicachromis pulcher with the color variety in quotes. P. pulcher “Ndonga” is a recognizable variety found in Cameroon that Ted Judy writes is “rich chocolate browns over most of their body with creamy yellow stripes down their sides”.

Male rainbow krib cichlid, pelvicachromis pulcher
This male P. pulcher shows the broad black stripe across the body that is typical of the species. This male has a red belly but yellow, green, and blue colors are common. It’s easy to understand the common name “rainbow krib cichlid”.

There has been some scientific discussion that Pelvicachromis pulcher may actually have two significant color forms that occur within the same population. In one form the male has a yellow operculum and will only mate with a single female in a bonded pair. Males of the other form have red operculum and tend toward harem breeding where a single dominant male services several females in a large area. Both color forms are said to develop from each spawn while the percentage of red to yellow males will vary. One possibility is that the different breeding strategies will allow for more or less success depending on environmental conditions. so that no matter the condition there will be successful spawning. This is a very simple explanation of a complex subject that is fully discussed in Water pH during early development influences sex ratio and male morph in a West African cichlid fish, Pelvicachromis pulcher

In addition to the various wild varieties and color forms, kribs have been tank raised for many generations and there are some very colorful commercial varieties. Finally, there is an albino variety that breeds true and is often available.

Pelvicachromis pulcher in the wild

Pelvicachromis pulcher are primarily found in Nigeria but they do range into the western end of Cameroon. They are found in a wide variety of water types ranging from tiny streams to large rivers. They are found in the still water of ponds, in gently flowing currents, and in areas with significant water flow. In some places, a thick forest canopy shades the stream but other areas are exposed to full sun,

One common habitat type finds them inhabiting pools and slow-moving small streams with gravelly bottoms. These waters have dense plant stands of Vallisneria and Nymphaea species, especially along the margins and P. pulcher are observed selecting for vegetated areas. In faster-flowing waters, P. pulcher are found in or on the edges of plant thickets where they can find shelter in the thickets and maintain territories in the natural open areas in the plant thickets.

As with their habitat types, they are also found in a range of water conditions although a few parameters seem to be constant. They are generally from clear waters that may be stained dark with tannins. The water is always very soft with almost undetectable hardness, usually below 1 dGH. Temp[eratures are generally in the high 70° range. However, pH values can vary widely from 5.0 or lower to as high as 7.5. The pH of any given site can often vary significantly over the course of the year as wet and dry seasons impact the values. It seems that pH plays a significant role in determining the sex ratio and even the behavior of the species. More info is in Water pH during early development influences sex ratio and male morph in a West African cichlid fish, Pelvicachromis pulcher

Pelvicachromis pulcher in the aquarium

a group of krib cichlid adults

Kribs make great aquarium fish and they have been successfully kept and bred by hobbyists for many decades. Since they come from such a wide range of native conditions, they are very adaptable to life in an aquarium. I prefer to use aquariums at least 24″ long but I’ve successfully kept pairs in tanks as small as 10 gallons.

A substrate of sand or gravel is fine and the tank bottom should have open spaces and some areas of dense cover which add a sense of security to the fish. They are a cave-spawning species so you need to offer a couple of possible spawning caves. Understand that these caves are for spawning and they won’t spend time in the caves unless they are guarding eggs. In fact, they prefer more open areas as long as they have cover to dart into if threatened. Keep them in soft water that is slightly acidic at a temperature of about 76° F.

As noted above, in their native waters they are strongly associated with aquatic plants and I encourage you to add live plants to your aquarium. There are a lot of options for suitable plants for the P. pulcher tank. They generally don’t dig or harm plants so be sure to add them to your layout. We have a complete guide to Live Plants for the Dwarf Cichlid Aquarium.

Breeding Pelvicachromis pulcher

P. pulcher are considered to be one of the easier cichlids to spawn. They tolerate a wide range of water conditions and easily form strong pair bonds. This can be a problem in a community tank where they can be peaceful inhabitants until spawning time when they terrorize the entire tank. Keep this in mind and, if possible, give them a tank of their own for breeding.

While the fish will pair off naturally when raised in a group, most often you will have a random male and female put together in a “forced pairing”. Fortunately, for most P. pulcher this is not a problem and they will usually accept each other without much conflict. There is often a long courtship leading up to the spawning and the sight of a female krib curled sideways displaying her red swollen belly is a great fish-keeping experience. Pairs tend to form tight bonds and after spawning the male stays near the entrance to the spawning cave. The female typically guards the eggs and larval fry.

A group of adult pelvicachromis pulcher showing females and males
Pelvicachromis pulcher are generally pretty peaceful, especially if kept in a larger-sized group like this. mixed group of females and male.

During the pre-spawn phase, the female will select the site for her eggs. This will usually be inside a dark cave with a small opening. In fact, she will prefer an opening she can barely fit through and will often move gravel to block the cave entrance. The eggs are laid in careful rows, usually on the ceiling of the cave. The female takes primary care of the eggs inside the cave while the male guards an outer territory. Some females will spend quite a bit of time outside the cave while others will seal herself in with the eggs. It’s not unusual to be worried about the female when you haven’t seen her for more than a week then she shows up parading around her fry.

Once the fry are free swimming the male becomes actively involved in the rearing and the parents shepherd the school around the tank while they graze constantly on everything. The young fish will immediately take newly hatched brine shrimp and will take many prepared foods. These are generally easy cichlids to keep and breed and many experts suggest Pelvicachromis pulcher as a first for cichlid spawning. I suggest that if you have never kept these beauties you ought to give them a try.

Buying Pelvicachromis pulcher

You will often find P. pulcher for sale in independently owned pet stores. They are popular fish and if your local store doesn’t have them they can usually order them for you.

Wild varieties and other Pelvicachromis species are available from some of the specialty fish suppliers that we have listed in our Guide to Purchasing Dwarf Cichlids.

Learn more about kribs:
Collecting Pelvicachromis Species in Cameroon
Keeping Kribs: The Culture of Pelvicachromis Cichlids


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.

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