How to Care for Kribensis Fish

A Dwarf Cichlid From Africa

Kribensis - Pelvicachromis pulcher
Tino Strauss

The Kribensis is a colorful fish that's easy to care for, and it falls into the category of dwarf cichlids. One look it all it takes to understand how it got its name, Pelvicachromis pulcher. The Latin translation of "Pelva" is belly, "chromis" means color and "pulcher" translates to beautiful, which describes the fish quite well. During the spawning season, the female sports a brilliant, cherry-red colored belly.

Breed Overview

Common Names: Kribensis, Purple Cichlid, Niger Cichlid, Palette Cichlid, Rainbow Krib, Pink Kribensis Cichlid, King Cichlid

Scientific Name: Pelvicachromis pulcher

Adult Size: 3 to 4 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
Hardness 8 to 12 dGH
Temperature 75 to 77 degrees F/24 to 25 degrees C

Origin and Distribution

Kribensis originate in the African waters of southern Nigeria at the mouth of the Ethiop River and in the coastal areas of Cameroon. They prefer shallow water with thick vegetation but are tolerant of many different levels of hardness. 

As is often the case with common names, debate exists over which species Kribensis truly is. Technically, Kribensis refers to the species Pelvicachromis taeniatus. However, in the aquarium trade, Pelvicachromis pulcher is the fish usually sold under the name Kribensis. 

P. pulcher was first imported into Germany in 1913 by Christian Bruening; from there the plot thickens. No one knows exactly which species was first introduced to the trade or when exactly that occurred. However, it's safe to say that for several decades this species has been available under various names, including Kribensis, Niger Cichlid, Purple Cichlid, and Palette Cichlid. Virtually all specimens now sold in the aquarium trade are captive-bred rather than wild-caught.

Colorings and Markings

Even when not spawning, these are an attractive fish, and they 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. These fish remain small, a trait that makes them popular with people who don't have the space for or interest in keeping large fish. Adult males reach up to 10 centimeters/4 inches, while females grow no larger than 7 centimeters/3 inches.

Albino varieties have been bred for several decades and are often offered for sale in shops. Owners have reported that even normally colored males prefer albino females, yet all females prefer normally colored males. Experts think that the red belly which is present in females who are ready to spawn acts as a powerful magnet to the male, and it shows up better on an albino 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 Angels. If other cichlids will live in the community 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 love their caves.

Habitat and Care

Kribensis is an undemanding fish when it comes to water conditions, which is another reason it's so popular. It originates from the drainage area at the mouth of the Ethiop River, 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 that feed it. For this reason, Kribensis sometimes is described as a brackish-water fish.

Water pH

The ideal way to decide upon the water pH and hardness is to match it to the parameters of the tank from which your fish was raised. Ask the store owner a few questions before purchasing your fish. If you are unable to determine its history, use the water you have available at home. That way you don't have to adjust it, and the fish will be more likely to have consistency when you perform water changes. Sudden changes in water chemistry is a stressor that contributes to fish disease.


Even if you are not planning to spawn your pets, provide them with one or two caves. Rock formations or flowerpots are the most commonly used materials. To create a rock cave, select rocks that fit well together and glue them in place with silica gel or approved aquarium glue. This creates a solid structure that will not collapse on the fish. The cave need not be large, but it should have only one entrance that allows minimal light in.

You can use clay or ceramic flowerpots to fashion a cave, however, make sure there are no chemicals on or in the pot and that the edges are smooth. If you're using a flowerpot, make a small opening in it, turn it upside down and bury it in the gravel. Even plastic pipes, coconut shells, or driftwood can be used to create suitable caves. For PVC, cut a foot long piece and secure in the gravel. Make sure all materials are clean and free of toxins. To use a coconut shell, cut off a small piece of one end to make an entrance, lay it on its side and press it down into the gravel. Do not offer loose rocks as the structure they build may collapse on them causing injury or death.


Substrate is also an important factor in creating a comfortable habitat for Kribensis. They favor fine darker gravel, which they will quickly rearrange to suit their tastes. The tank itself should be well planted with real or artificial plants. While they are generally not destructive to the vegetation, Kribensis does like to burrow and they may uproot plants.

Swimming Areas

In addition to caves and plants to provide cover, offer an area for open swimming. Like other cichlids, Kribensis are fast swimmers who can change direction in an instant and stop on a dime. They are territorial and if cramped may become aggressive, so avoid overstocking the tank.


Feeding Kribensis is easy. They 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. Keep in mind that by nature 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.

Sexual Differences

Females have shorter rounded fins and a broad yellow band across the top of the dorsal fin, are smaller than the males and have a more rounded belly that is bright red/purple when they are ready to spawn. Males are longer and thinner with fins that end in distinct points. They are less brilliantly colored than the females, especially the belly. Make sure you get the same species of fish. There are several closely related species that may look similar, and they will not spawn with each other.


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 than males), 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.

Tank Setup

It is strongly recommended that you give partners their own tank, as they become very aggressive while spawning and caring for their young. If kept in a tank with other fish, avoid bottom-dwelling fish such as plecos. A tank as small as 10 gallons will suffice, however, a 20-gallon or larger tank is ideal. This is particularly important if the fry (baby fish) is allowed to remain with the adults as they are maturing. If room allows, offer several caves so the pair can select their favorite.

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

Use fine gravel (under 3 mm) and fill the tank to a depth of at least 1.5 to 2 inches, so the spawning pair can burrow. Large 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.

Factors Known to Affect Fry Sex Ratios

Experts have noted that P. pulcher produces roughly even sex ratios at a pH of 7. Softer, more acid water often results in more females, while harder, more alkaline water tips the scales in favor of males. However, some researchers have found that because sex in cichlids is not determined chromosomally, they may in effect choose their sex long after fertilization.


Once the proper conditions exist, it takes no effort to induce spawning. 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 and are often described by their owners as cranky.

It is common to see the breeding pair moving gravel out of the cave just prior to spawning—they are busy 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. 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.

Caring for Fry

Fry development will vary somewhat based on temperature. At 29 degrees C, the young will be fully developed and able to swim outside the cave in one week. You'll have to look closely at the speckled fry dart just across the top of the gravel as they are difficult to spot. When venturing out of the cave, they will stick next to the parent like a shadow.

Once the fry is 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 or removing water or vacuuming the gravel in the area near the cave. Doing so is stressful for the fish and removes infusoria that the young feed on.

As the fry becomes more active, both parents will usually tend them. However, in some cases one parent will take over 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 parent that's not tending the young and move it to another tank to avoid fights.

In two to four weeks, the fry will reach approximately a half-inch in size and you should separate them completely from the parents. At this point, the parents are ready to mate again and will spawn if placed in their breeding tank.