Pelvicachromis subocellatus

Pelvicachromis subocellatus "Matadi" pair

Pelvicachromis subocellatus is a beautiful dwarf cichlid species from western Africa. It’s uncommon in the hobby but makes an excellent community fish. In an aquarium, they are peaceful, easy to care for, and not too difficult to breed. Females are especially noted for their spectacular breeding colors.

Pelvicachromis subocellatus General Information

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

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First described by the British ichthyologist Albert Günther in 1871, this species has been in the hobby since at least the turn of the century. Despite this longevity, they are never common, and remarkably little is known about their exact distribution and habitats. They are among the most colorful of the Pelvicachromis species but in most respects are very typical of the genus. Males grow to about 3 1/2 – 3 3/4″ and females remain up to an inch shorter. They are deeper in the body than most species in the genus but this is likely only noticeable to those experienced in the genus.

The species is usually pretty easy to identify. They typically have a bright yellow face which has led to the common name “Yellow Face Krib” or “Yellow Cheeked Krib”. Sexually mature females are usually easy to identify because of their distinctive body coloration. A yellow face followed by a black or dark violet band around the body. This is followed by a vivid red belly topped by a shiny silver patch that runs into the dorsal fins and becomes an iridescent band. Finally, the rear section of the fish is once again a very dark violet-to-black color. Once you’ve seen these distinctive colors you will likely remember them.

Pelvicachomis subocellatus Matadi pair
The female in this pair of Pelvicachromis subocellatus “Matadi” shows the distinctive black – red – black body colors. Both fish show the brilliant yellow face area that provides the common name “Yellow Face Krib”..

Pelvicachromis subocellatus Varieties

Female Pelvicachromis subocellatus “Moanda” in neutral colors

There are two named forms of P. subocellatus, the “Moanda” and the “Matadi” and each is named for its collection area. The males of these forms look very similar but there are obvious color differences between the females. In both forms females exhibit brilliant red bellies that are banded by iridescent silver which runs into the dorsal fin. The females of each form also have yellow faces and cheeks. In the Matadi form the body behind the gills is banded in jet black with a very distinctive black band running completely around the front portion of the fish. The black band gives way to the silver-highlighted bright red belly which is sandwiched by the jet-black rear section of the fish. The black-red-black body makes a wonderful display of color and a courting female in full dress is a spectacular fish.

The Moanda form has similar dark front and rear body sections. However, they tend to be washed out in neutral coloration and more of a dark purple color in breeding dress. In the Moanda form, the silver surrounding the red is often a much larger patch that might stretch nearly into the head.

In addition to the two recognized varieties of P. subocellatus, the species Pelvicachromis silviae was called Pelvicachromis sp. aff. subocellatus until it was described as a separate species in 2013. For decades it was considered to be a sub-species of P. subocellatus and It has a lot of similarities to P. subocellatus. However, it’s found in Nigeria, far from the native waters of P. subocellatus.

Pelvicachromis subocellatus in the wild

Pelvicachromis subocellatus “Moanda” adult pair.

Pelvicachromis species inhabit the rivers that run off central west Africa into the Atlantic with a progression of species ranging from north to south. and Pelvicachromis subocellatus is the species found furthest south. They range from Gabon to the western edge of the Republic of the Congo where they are found in coastal streams ranging roughly from Libreville, the Capital of Gabon, in the north to the Congo river in the south. Linke & Staeck report that they inhabit the Luali, Lundo and Luculla rivers which all flow into the Atlantic between the Congo and the Ogooue River to the north. They are not found in the Congo River.

Specific information about the conditions at collection sites is rather scarce but reports indicate they are found in smaller rivers and streams. Collection reports universally report very soft water, almost always below 2 dGH. pH values varied considerably from below 6.0 to 7.3 or so. Water temperatures are generally in the upper 70° F range.  

Pelvicachromis subocellatus in the aquarium

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

P. subocellatusare generally easy to care for in an aquarium. The males can grow to 3 1/2 ” or slightly larger so they need a tank that is big enough. I think a minimum is a 24″ tank but 30″ is better. Set the tank up as described for the genus. Try to have open areas and sections of dense cover created by thickets of plants, driftwood, or rockwork. Provide soft to very soft water (below 5 dGH) that is slightly acidic (6.0 – 7.0) at a temperature of about 77°F. They are easy to feed as described for the genus. Provide a properly set up tank, good water, and good food and they should be happy.

P. subocellatus are usually more peaceful than other species. They can be kept in small groups without much trouble unless a spawning pair emerges and wants a tank to themselves. They tend to form strong pair bonds and when possible, the female will select that male to be her mate. However, its normal for any male and female placed together in a tank to become a pair although it might not happen quickly. Generally, they are a fairly long lived dwarf cichlid that does well in a community tank with tetras, small barbs, killiefish, or gouramis. I avoid catfish as they compete for floor space on the bottom of the tank.

For many years I maintained the Matadi form of this fish through multiple generations and always enjoyed keeping them. In the late 1990’s I passed on my stock of these beauties and didn’t keep them until I acquired a pair of the Moanda form around 2008. Unfortunately, these wild fish never fully acclimated to life in my aquariums and I lost the pair after about a three-week struggle to bring them around. I’d be happy to have them in my fishroom again.

Adult pair of Pelvicachromis subocellatus "Matadi"

Breeding Pelvicachromis subocellatus

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

Young male Pelvicachromis subocellatus
Young male Pelvicachromis subocellatus

There’s not much to say about breeding this beauty. They are typical of the genus and I’m not going to provide details here. Just refer to the article linked above for more info. Basically, they are fairly easy to breed. Give them good habitat, good water, and good food. and they will usually do the rest. Some individuals may be slow to come into spawning condition so you might have to be patient. Stick with a varied diet of quality foods and regular water changes. If I’m really trying to encourage them I’ll do 30 – 40% changes at least twice a week. It can also help if you turn the temperature up a couple of degrees to about 80°F.

After a prolonged courtship period which includes site selection and repeated site cleaning, the female will lay her rows of eggs on the ceiling of her chosen cave. While the ceiling is most common she may use any vertical hard surface. After spawning, the female will usually spend almost all of her time in the cave with the eggs and then the larval fray. After 8-9 days the fry will be free -swimming and the female will bring them out into the tank. At this point, the male will typically join in to help with joint care of the fry. They are relatively large and can eat most tiny foods immediately. They will graze constantly on the surfaces of anything in the tank picking off microscopic bits of food. They grow quickly and can be raised on a diet that only consists of prepared foods. However, feedings of baby brine shrimp are always appreciated. The parents will care for the fry for 4 – 8 weeks before they gradually lose interest. They will tolerate the juveniles in the tank but will quit caring for them.

Buying Pelvicachromis subocellatus

While it’s really unusual to find them in a pet store, you will sometimes find P. subocellatus 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 seem unaware of what an excellent resident it can be. Consequently, it’s not always stocked by suppliers and it may take some time to find them. However, P. subocellatus is worth looking for and waiting for. If you ever have an opportunity to keep these rare beauties you’ll 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.