Pelvicachromis roloffi

A male and female pair of Pelvicachromis rolloffi

Pelvicachromis roloffi is a dwarf cichlid species from western Africa. It’s uncommon in the hobby but makes an excellent community fish. Unfortunately, compared to their brightly colored relatives, P. roloffi is rather plain which is the main reason they aren’t too popular. In an aquarium, they are peaceful, easy to care for, and not too difficult to breed.

Pelvicachromis roloffi General Information

Pelvicachromis roloffi is very typical of all the species in the genus. Read our Guide to the genus Pelvicachromis for comprehensive information about P. roloffi and its relatives.

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This young male Pelvicachromis roloffi is very typical for the species.

P. roloffi is the smallest of the Pelvicachromis species. Males are less than 3 1/2″ at maximum growth and females rarely exceed 2 3/4″. Male P. roloffi have a deeper body shape than other members of the genus. Females are much the same as the other members of the genus. They are quite stout and get very round when they are in good health. They get especially round when approaching spawning.

Most male Pelvicachromis roloffi are rather drab with a gray/brown base color and a dark lateral stripe. Individual males may exhibit attractive blue-spangled highlights on their caudal (tail) fin.

Pelvicachromis roloffi female. The broad black stripe down the side of the body is present in both sexes.

By contrast, female P. roloffi are very pretty in a subdued fashion. They exhibit a yellow face and a warm purple abdomen whose colors intensify during spawning. Female P. roloffi may sport several yellow-rimmed dark spots at the base of their dorsal fin.

In an aquarium, P. roloffi 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. roloffi prefer planted aquariums with sand or small gravel on the bottom. They normally make good community residents when kept with suitable tankmates

Pelvicachromis roloffi Varieties

While an occasional import will have the name of the collection location attached to it, there are really no consistently identifiable varieties of P. roloffi. However, there are differences as some forms have small roundish black spots at the base of their dorsal or caudal fin. In some local varieties, the female will develop very dark, almost black ventral fins when breeding.

Pelvicachromis roloffi in the wild

Originating from small rivers and streams in coastal Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia system they come from a variety of habitats and are quite adaptable to a range of water conditions..

Linke and Staeak describe the native habitats as “Small pond-like water-bodies and partly gently flowing water-courses in plantain areas, bushland, and forested regions.” Various collection reports all note very soft water. Always under 2 dGH and often less than 1 dGH. The collection reports are also consistent in reporting temperatures of 77 – 80° F. However, pH measurements varied from 5.9 to 7.1. These conditions are similar for other Pelvicachromis species. They are all found in very soft water but the pH can fluctuate significantly.

Pelvicachromis roloffi in the aquarium

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.  

Pelvicachromis roloffi are generally mild-mannered compared to many cichlids. However, they are capable of significant fighting if not properly housed. As with all dwarfs, I suggest a complex habitat and keeping the fish in either small breeding groups or large flocks. Try to avoid keeping just a few fish together unless they are a breeding pair/group. In small numbers, the most dominant fish will quickly eliminate the less aggressive ones unless the tank provides plenty of cover.

Breeding Pelvicachromis roloffi

Male Pelvicachromis roloffi

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

Pelvicachromis roloffi tend to form a fairly strong pair bond and morally a random male and female can be placed together in a “forced pairing”. They may not take to each other immediately but over time they should bond.

After a prolonged courtship period which includes site selection and repeated site cleaning, the female will be ready to spawn. She will select a cave or other secretive place and will lay her eggs in a tight grouping on the ceiling or the hard sides of her selected site. I strongly recommend spawning caves that have small openings of an inch or less. The female really prefers this type of cave and spawning success is usually higher when good caves are available.

The female exclusively cares for the eggs and larval fry care. She will spend most of her time in the cave tending the spawn while the male stays in close proximity. After the free-swimming fry emerge the male will ordinarily assist in brood care.

P. roloffi fry are fairly large compared to many other dwarf cichlids. They emerge hungry and constantly graze on all surfaces looking for food. They will easily take newly hatched brine shrimp and other small foods. With good food and frequent water changes, they will grow quickly. Take Note! These are not popular aquarium fish and it can be very easy to raise more than there is a market for.

Buying Pelvicachromis roloffi

While it’s really unusual to find them in a pet store, you will sometimes find P. roloffi from the specialty fish sellers listed in our guide to where and how to buy dwarf cichlids. However, there is not a lot of demand for this species as most hobbyists are interested in more colorful varieties. Consequently, it’s not always stocked by suppliers and it may take some time to find them. That said, P. roloffi makes a great resident in a community tank and is an interesting dwarf cichlid. If you ever have an opportunity to keep these rare fishes you will enjoy them greatly.


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.