Kribensis (Pelmatochromis, aka Dwarf Rainbow Cichlid)

Kribensis Is Great for a Community Aquarium

Kribensis Dwarf Cichlid Fish, A Tropical Freshwater Fish
Jerry Young / Getty Images

The Kribensis has been one of the anomalies of the Tropical Fish World for generations! It was first discovered in 1871 and named Pelmatochromis sbocellatus, then the same Biologist Dr. Günter discovered it again in 1871 but a slightly different version and called it Pelmatochromis subocellatus subocellatus Günter. Dr. Boulenger thought he discovered a whole new species in 1901 and called it Pelmatochromis ansorgei. However, the evidence indicates that the three “species” do occur side by side in the same water, a situation which does not necessarily imply that they are indeed three true species.

The first specimens were brought to the United States from Belgium, where they had been successfully bred in captivity by M. Van de Wear, a well-known importer of rare fish at the time, in 1953 by Derek McInerny a well known US breeder of rare Tropical fish. From this initial shipment, most of the Kribensis we have available to us in stores today have been bred. Said Derek McInerny in Aquarium Magazine:

Nearly every aquarist who saw them gave advance bookings for young when bred. The species has proved to be one of the most popular dwarf cichlids to date, and It can safely be predicted that it will always remain in favor. It is peaceful, does not tear out plants, eats any food it is offered, and breeds easily. So gorgeous is the coloring that it has been chosen to illustrate the cover of many books and magazines already in its young life in the hobby. Moreover, it is one of those species in which both sexes are equally brilliant; if anything, the female at spawning-time is the prettier.

Despite modern revisions, the taxonomic situation of Pelvicachomis is still - still very unclear. For some time, we have not been sure if we are talking about very variable species or if the individual color varieties are species in their own right. The fact is that there are up to 5 different “species” that all look slightly different than the picture and description here, but all breed exactly as I describe below, read on.


The General body color is a golden-green, though the back is an olive-brown. The lower portion of the gill-plates and throat is a brilliant blue. A red patch appears in the belly of the male. His ventrals and anal fins are edged with peacock blue; the dorsal has a blue-green border. In adult males, the top half of the tail is tinted with orange, and clear black spots numbering from one to seven appear in this region. The female is similarly colored, but the reddish area in the abdomen spreads nearly to her back. Her dorsal has a golden edge, and 1,2 or 3 black spots appear in the rear portion of this fin. The ventrals are bluish-red, but her tail remains almost clear.

Determining Gender in Early Development Is More Difficult

Sexing adults is obvious even for the novas. However, in young fish as small as one inch, sex is much harder to distinguish. This is because, for some strange quirk of nature, the female shows the black spot in the rear part of the dorsal fin that distinguishes the male in sexual maturity. At this stage the corresponding fin of the males is clear. In a few weeks he will develop these dorsal markings, but, as if to avoid confusion, he simultaneously shows the arching orange area in the upper half of the tail. Though at first, this is faint, it is unmistakably there. Females never bear this orange area in their tail.

Determining Gender in Adults is Easier

The male is more slender, bigger and has a broader forehead than the female. On the edge of his dorsal fin there is a silvery, gold-tinted stripe which ends in a point. In the upper part of the tail fin, there are one to five round dark spots which are edged in light yellow, the fins are violet or bluish in color, the female has one large wine-red patch, more distinct and larger than the male, on each side of her body.

Breeding Kribensis

It is best when first attempting to spawn a pair of Kribensis, to keep the male and the female separated in different tanks, feeding high protein diets, the standard line. But really folks, these fish are so easy to breed it is not uncommon to walk in your local pet store and see them breeding right there in the selling tank, fending off 50 other fish, defending their area, putting up with hundreds of kids banging on the tank, these fish are troopers! The ideal spawning spot for these guys is a flower pot with a notch knocked out of the rim turned upside down on the bottom of the aquarium. You can do this is a private tank, and if you do, you stand a good chance of raising all the young to maturity, or right in your community aquarium, they are good parents, you may get one or two all the way to maturity.

When the Kribensis pair are mated and ready to breed, there will be a great deal of activity, the male will begin carrying out great mouthfuls of gravel from inside the upside-down flowerpot. This may go on for days, until one day both the male and the female will disappear! You may or may not see one or the other pop out of the flowerpot once or twice for a second over the next few days, but then a funny thing happens, the much smaller female begins to forcibly eject the much larger male from the pot. She chases and bites him, farther and farther from the pot. If you are doing this project in an isolated tank, remove the male or he may get hurt at this point, the female takes complete responsibility for the fry from this point on. If you are letting this happen in a community aquarium, the male and any other fish that wander too close to the pot will get the message soon!

Once the Fry Hatch

The young will be hatching when she rejects the male, they will be wiggling for an additional 3 days and will then be free swimming. When you see the female leading her brood out of the flowerpot it is time to feed the youngsters. At this point, you can play it safe and remove the female because the youngsters can take care of themselves, or you can keep the female with them and watch her herding her brood and keeping them in a close group. The gamble here is that she could suddenly turn on her own young and eat them at any time. The hardboiled yolk of a chicken egg, squeezed through a cloth, makes a good starter food if not fed too generously. Freeze-dried fry food is better. In a few days, they will be able to consume newly-hatched brine shrimp. From here on it is just a matter of keeping their little bellies filled.

Exception to Many Rules

With the Kribensis we have the ultimate exception to the rule, the total anomaly to science, the square peg in a round hole. In a study that likes to categorize everything in its nice neat sub-category, we have as many as 8 “species” claims listed, all with credible claims, and all probably the same fish. For just as the Snakeskin fantail guppy differs from the common guppy, looks can be deceiving when it comes to classification.

Then the little Kribensis breaks another rule, it is an African Cichlid that is, yes this is true, a great community aquarium fish, calm and able tank mate, eats anything and survives a wide range of conditions. Finally, an exception to the rule #3, the female is smaller than the male, more colorful than the male and the female beats up the male! All and all the Kribensis is a pretty special little fish; I suggest you try a pair!