Kribensis Cichlid Fish Species Profile

Characteristics, Origin, and Helpful Information for Hobbyists

Kribensis - Pelvicachromis pulcher
Tino Strauss

A dwarf cichlid, the kribensis is a colorful fish that's easy to care for. Its Latin name translates to "fish with a beautiful belly." During the spawning season, the female sports a brilliant, cherry-red colored belly. Kribensis fish originate in the African waters of southern Nigeria and the coastal areas of Cameroon. They prefer shallow water with thick vegetation but are tolerant of many different levels of water hardness. 

Species Overview

Common Names: Kribensis, purple cichlid, palette cichlid, rainbow krib, pink kribensis cichlid, king cichlid

Scientific Name: Pelvicachromis pulcher

Adult Size: 3 (female) to 4 (male) inches

Life Expectancy: 5 years


Family Cichlidae
Origin Africa
Social Peaceful
Tank Level Bottom dweller
Minimum Tank Size 20 gallon
Diet Omnivore, eats most foods
Breeding Egglayer
Care Easy
pH 6.5-7.0
Hardness 8 to 12 dGH
Temperature 75 to 77 F (24 to 25 C)

Origin and Distribution

As is often the case with common names, debate exists over which cichlid species truly is the kribensis. Technically, kribensis refers to the species Pelvicachromis taeniatus. However, in the aquarium trade, Pelvicachromis pulcher as well as other fish in this genus are sold under the name kribensis. 

The fish originates from the drainage area at the mouth of the Ethiope River in the Niger Delta, where a variety of water conditions exist. The water of the low-lying blackwater streams is acidic and very soft, while the delta waters are slightly brackish, more alkaline, and far harder than the streams feeding into it. For this reason, kribensis is sometimes described as a brackish-water fish, but it can live in a variety of water conditions, although sudden changes in water chemistry can stress fish and contribute to disease.

P. pulcher was first imported into Germany in 1913 by Christian Bruening. For several decades this species was available under various names, including kribensis, niger cichlid, purple cichlid, and palette cichlid. Now, it is mostly sold under the name kribensis cichlid. Virtually all specimens in the aquarium trade are captive-bred rather than wild-caught.

Colors and Markings

Even when not spawning, these are attractive fish that can be found in a variety of color morphs such as yellow, red, green, and blue, in addition to the albino variety, which has been bred for several decades. The wild-color fish has a black longitudinal stripe running from the mouth to the caudal fin, with a white area above that and a dark stripe along the dorsum. The fins are orange and yellow. The gill cover is yellow or red, with a red abdomen that intensifies during breeding, especially in the female.


P. pulcher is often kept in a community tank, however, take care in choosing tankmates. Although they are a peaceful fish, they may nip the fins of slow-moving fish such as angelfish. If other cichlids are to live in the tank, choose a species that is not bottom-dwelling so they won't compete for the same territory. Avoid keeping them with another cave-dwelling species, as kribensis are territorial about caves.

Kribensis Habitat and Care

Even if you are not planning to spawn them, provide each fish with one or two caves. Stable rock formations or flowerpots laid on their sides are the most commonly used materials. The cave need not be large, but it must be structurally secure and have only one entrance that allows in minimal light. Ensure that the edges of the opening are smooth.

When using half-round clay or ceramic flower pots, make sure there are no chemicals on or in the pot's material that could leach out. Even plastic pipes, coconut shells, or driftwood can be used to create suitable caves. To use a half of a coconut shell, cut off a small piece of one end to make an entrance, and press it down into the gravel.

The tank itself should be well-planted with real or artificial plants. While they are generally not destructive to vegetation, kribensis does like to dig and they may uproot plants. They favor fine, dark-colored gravel, which they will quickly rearrange to suit their needs. In addition to caves and plant cover, offer an area for open swimming. Kribensis is an undemanding fish when it comes to water conditions, which is another reason for its popularity.

Kribensis Diet and Feeding

Kribensis are omnivorous and will accept flake or pellet foods, frozen brine shrimp, freshly hatched brine shrimp, daphnia, mosquito larvae, bloodworms, and even vegetables such as zucchini. To maintain their good health, feed them a variety of foods. They are bottom dwellers, so provide some foods that will sink, such as sinking pellets. When conditioning fish prior to breeding, provide plenty of live foods.

Gender Differences

Females have shorter rounded fins and a broad yellow band across the top of the dorsal fin. They are much smaller than the males and have a more rounded belly that is bright red/purple when they are ready to spawn.

Males are larger, longer, and thinner with fins that end in distinct points. They are less brilliantly colored than the females, especially on the belly. Make sure to get the same species of fish; there are several closely related kribensis cichlid species that look similar.

Breeding the Kribensis

If you want to breed P. pulcher, finding an established nesting pair makes the process relatively simple. However, you can select your own pair, as they are pretty easy to mate. Choose young specimens that are healthy and robust. P. pulcher reaches sexual maturity in as little as six months (females mature faster), so ask if the store owner knows the age of the fish. Once a pair has been established, do not introduce another fish into the tank. Males will invariably fight, and even two females will quarrel for the attention of the male.

A breeding pair should have the tank to themselves, as they become very aggressive while spawning and caring for the young. If kept in an aquarium with other fish, avoid bottom-dwelling fish such as plecos. A 20-gallon or larger tank is ideal. This is particularly important if the fry (baby fish) are allowed to remain with the adults as they are maturing. Offer several caves so the pair can choose the best location.

Slightly soft water at a pH of 6.5-7.0, usually yields fry in a relatively even ratio of males/females. The ideal water temperature is around 76-80 degrees for breeding. Lower or higher temperatures can affect the size of the clutch and even the sex ratio of the fry.

Use fine gravel (under 3 mm) and use a depth of at least two inches, so the spawning pair can dig a burrow. Larger diameter substrate will hamper the pair from burrowing and also put the tiny fry at risk of dropping through spaces in the gravel and subsequently perishing.

As you condition the pair by feeding them a generous diet that includes live foods, their colors will intensify as they prepare to spawn. Generally, the female will initiate breeding by showing off her brightly colored abdomen. To entice the male she will arch her body, curl her fins, and vibrate her body in a courtship display. Females ready to spawn can be quite aggressive.

It is common to see the breeding pair moving gravel out of the cave just prior to spawning—they are preparing the cave for the young fry. Once the pair has prepared their nest, spawning will take place within the cave, where 200 to 300 eggs will be laid on the inside surface of the cave. From the time the eggs are laid until the fry are free swimming, the female will remain in the cave, coming out only very rarely to eat. The male will patrol around the cave fastidiously, protecting the female and their brood. The speckled fry darting just across the surface of the gravel are difficult to spot. When venturing out of the cave, they will stick next to the parent fish like a shadow.

Once the fry are free-swimming, feed them freshly hatched brine shrimp, very finely crumbled flake food, or one of the commercially available fry foods. Offer small quantities of food several times daily. Frequent water changes are critical given the multiple feedings as well as the waste produced by the growing young. If not performed, the toxins can damage or kill the fry. However, take care to avoid adding water, removing water, or vacuuming in the area near the cave. Doing so is very stressful for the fish and removes the infusoria that the young feed on.

As the fry become more active, both parents will usually tend to them. However, in some cases one parent will take over care of the young and not allow the other parent near, even going so far as to attack the non-custodial parent. When this occurs, promptly remove the secondary parent to another tank to avoid fights.

In two to four weeks, the fry will reach approximately a half-inch in size and should be separated from the parents. At this point, the parents can be relocated to another aquarium and conditioned for breeding again by feeding them live or frozen foods. When they are ready to mate again, they will repeat the process using the caves for breeding and raising their fry.

More Pet Fish Species and Further Research

If kribensis fish appeal to you, and you are interested in other parental cichlids, read up on:

Check out additional fish species profiles for more information on other freshwater fish.