Bumblebee Cichlid Care Guide | Diet, Habitat, Breeding, Accessories

Jul 15, 2021

Bumblebee cichlid care guide

Andrew Huff on Flickr under Creative Commons license

Bumblebee cichlids are also known as hornet cichlids and chameleon cichlids. All these three names are equally beguiling, aren’t they? Their personality is just as interesting, too. 

Natives of Africa’s Lake Malawi, these fish are found explicitly in deepwater rocky habitats of Eccles Reef, Likoma Island, Chizumulu Island, Chinyankwazi Island, West Reef, and Maleri Island. 

Here, bumblebee cichlids cohabitate with bagrid catfish in big rocky caves and occasionally steal their eggs too. 

Yes! As the moniker ‘chameleon’ gives away, these cichlids quickly turn from their unassuming ‘bumblebee’ coloration to pitch-black shade to swiftly steal the catfish eggs. After the heist, they’ll again change to their original color before the catfish sense anything fishy! 

So, without a doubt, bumblebee cichlids are one of the most interesting Lake Malawi species. However, rearing them is not suited for everyone. In their case, little knowledge isn’t just dangerous – it could be bloody and gory too! 

Introduction To Bumblebee Cichlid

Name: Bumblebee Cichlid 
Scientific NamePseudotropheus Crabro
NicknamesChameleon Cichlid, Hornet Cichlid
Care LevelEasy to moderate
BreedingEasy to moderate
DietOmnivore
TemperamentAggressive
Temperature76-82°F (24-28°C)
pH Level7.8-8.6 
Swimming RangeMiddle-bottom

Bumblebee Cichlid Lifespan

These cichlids can live for ten years and upward in a tank if their requirements are met. So, if you’re planning to bring home a bumblebee cichlid, know that it’s definitely going to be a long-term commitment. 

Interested to know more about these fantastic fish? Hop on!

Bumblebee Cichlid Appearance 

As the name suggests, bumblebee cichlids have an uncanny resemblance to bumblebees, of course! They have yellow/golden bodies with black/brown stripes running down the entire length. 

The juveniles are usually more intensely colored than their older counterparts. In contrast, as they get older, they sport darker colors. 

Like most Malawi cichlids, they come equipped with well-developed pharyngeal teeth in their throat. They also have spiny rays on their anal, pectoral, and pelvic fins. These rays help in deterring predators. 

And lastly, they have a single nostril on either side in contrast to some cichlid species with two sets. 

Bumblebee Cichlid Size 

Bumblebee cichlids grow to the maximum size of 6 inches (15 cm). They have a rather thick, stout build. 

How Do You Tell The Difference Between A Male And Female Bumblebee Cichlid?

There’s a fair bit of sexual dimorphism with these species. The males are bigger and darker than the females. An adult bumblebee male often has dark blue stripes against his dark body. Some males are also known to have bright blue speckles in the front part. 

They can change their color to pitch black during mating season. This transition is also evident when they’re angry. 

In the wild, male bumblebee cichlids are also known to change into a female’s color when removing parasites from catfish. 

An adult female bumblebee sports a combination of zigzag brown stripes against its golden body. Often, these bars fade into golden color in the abdomen area. There’s also a brown horizontal line running to her tail. 

Males have pointier dorsal and anal fins, whereas females retain the short, rounded fins. 

And lastly, a male has at least 4 clearly pronounced egg spots in its anal fins that serve an important reproductive function. . These markings are either scarce or completely missing in females. 

Bumblebee Cichlid Temperament 

Like most Mbuna cichlids, bumblebees are notorious for their short temper and a knack for picking up fights with almost anyone. The aggression is even more intense during the breeding season. If a feud ever breaks out in the tank, there could be several deadly casualties.

Bumblebee Cichlids Male To Female Ratio 

Since males are very temperamental, keeping two of them in a confined environment is a recipe for disaster. The ideal bumblebee cichlids male to female ratio is 1 male for a harem of females. 

They have polygamous relationships. So, in a tank, a single male will reproduce with many females. 

Bumblebee Cichlids Tank Mates 

Bumblebee cichlids should only be kept in an African cichlid-only tank with fish that can hold their ground when needed. Also, given their aggression, bumblebees should be housed in tanks under ‘controlled overcrowding’ to discourage fights. 

According to users of Fishlore, here’s a list of suitable tankmates for bumblebee cichlids: 

Electric yellow female male or female

  • Electric yellow labs 
  • Whitetail aceis 
  • Malawi haps
  • Red peacock cichlids 
  • Victoria cichlids
  • Tanganyika cichlids 

Since the water chemistry in Lake Malawi, Victoria, and Tanganyika are almost identical, there shouldn’t be any problem keeping cichlids from these lakes together as long as there’s no temperamental issue. 

Many aquarists have successfully raised bumblebees alongside other Mbuna fish. However, it’s important to avoid fish with similar color patterns. 

And irrespective of the number and nature of tank mates, don’t forget to add many hiding places and escape pathways. 

Habitat For Bumblebee Cichlids 

The minimum tank size required for bumblebee cichlids is 70-gallon. And it should be at least 4 feet long to house your growing cichlids comfortably. If you plan to raise multiple cichlids together, the tank size would be 100 gallons and upward, and the length would be over 5 feet. 

Tank Decorations For Bumblebee Cichlids 

Since they come from rocky habitats in the wild, it’s best to emulate similar terrain and vibe to give your cichlids the best possible life. For example, you can add several rocks and caves on a sandy bottom to create distinct territories within the tank. 

Here’s an example: Use several ocean rocks to create a sturdy structure that extends from the bottom to nearly the water surface. The crevices created in the process would give a natural feel to your tank. However, note that cichlids are known to dig and rummage at the bottom – so, you will need to secure them correctly. 

Besides rocks, you can use clay pots and driftwood for decors. As for plants, java moss and java fern could be your best bets. 

Substrate For Bumblebee Cichlids 

The laterite-based substrate would be ideal. It helps maintain the high pH level and alkalinity needed for bumblebee cichlids. Many aquarists incline towards coral sand or aragonite to keep the water hard and alkaline. However, Mbunas are known to feel much happier and show better color over a darker substrate. 

If you need to use aragonite or coral sand, you can keep it in a mesh bag and store the bad inside the external filter. 

Water Chemistry For Bumblebee Cichlids 

Water Temperature76-82°F (24-28°C)
pH Level7.8-8.6
Carbonate Hardness (KH)10-15
General Hardness 10-18 dGH
Minimum Tank Size70 gallons
Nitrate level<50 ppm
Phosphate level <0.5 ppm
Specific Gravity1.0002

Since bumblebee cichlids need to be kept under ‘controlled overcrowding’ condition, your filtration system should be topnotch to filter out all that bioload. 

As hardy as bumblebees are, they’re pretty susceptible to polluted water like most fish species. Thus, you shouldn’t be cutting corners when buying a filter. 

You should also conduct 20-40% water changes every week to ensure no harmful buildups are brewing in the tank.

Bumblebees prefer strong water movement – so, make sure to strike a balance between what’s best for bumblebees and other tankmates. 

In the wild, they live quite comfortably in alkaline and highly mineralized water. So, make sure to draw some inspiration from their original habitat when maintaining the water parameters. 

If needed, you can also add salt to increase the water’s carbonate hardness. 

While they do thrive well in high pH levels, it makes the tank more prone to ammonia spikes. So, always be mindful of the tank’s parameters. 

Here are our top recommendations for equipment for your bumblebee cichlid tank:

150-gallon Starfire Glass Aquarium 

Finnex Deluxe Titanium Tube Heater With Guard 

Fluval FX6 Canister Filter 

Bumblebee Cichlid Diet 

As omnivores in the wild, bumblebees feed on various food like critters, insect larvae, benthic crustaceans, and occasional plants. They’re also well-known for stealing catfish eggs and feast on them. 

Given that these fish eat animal protein in the wild, you should give them protein-rich food in the tank too. 

Here’s a list of food you can give your bumblebee cichlids:

  • Mosquito larvae 
  • Mysis shrimp
  • Spirulina-enriched brine shrimp 
  • High-quality flake food 
  • Granules 
  • Blanched vegetables
  • Leafy seaweed 
  • Glass worms 
  • Blood worms
  • Crickets 
  • Daphnia 

Blanched zucchini, lettuce, spinach, and cucumber are some excellent food options to give your cichlids. These foods will provide them with a good amount of fiber to keep their gut healthy. 

As for quantity and frequency, instead of giving one big meal a day, break it into 2 small meals. For example, you can give homemade food in the morning and commercial food at night. Give portions they can finish within 2-3 minutes of offering. 

Overfeeding your fish will make them sick. On top of that, it will also pollute the water. So, always channel moderation when feeding. 

Also, fasting once a week is advised for adult cichlids as it helps with regulating their metabolism. 

Breeding Bumblebee Cichlids 

Bumblebee cichlids are mouthbrooders. And they have a rather interesting mating ritual. As long as enough resources and water conditions are maintained, breeding these fish isn’t difficult. If you are keen on raising the young ones, it’s best to do so in a separate fry tank for better chances of survival. 

During mating season, the male will become even more aggressive and intolerant of his tankmates. 

For best breeding results, you should pair 1 male with 3 females. The male is responsible for selecting a suitable egg-laying site and cleaning it. He then entices the potential female by displaying to her until she gives the consent. 

The mating ritual then begins. While courting, they will frequently circle each other from head to toe several times until the female lays her eggs. Only a few eggs are deposited at a time. After laying eggs, she’ll immediately scoop them in her mouth. And at this time, the male will turn to his side while shaking and extending the anal fin to release the milt. When ready to spawn, the male turns almost pitch black. 

And at this time, the female confuses the egg spots on the male for her eggs. And as she goes to reclaim them, the male will release the milt in her mouth – effectively fertilizing the eggs. 

This ritual goes for several hours until all eggs are laid, fertilized, and scooped. The brood size for a healthy female is around 25. Some aquarists prefer removing the eggs from the mother’s mouth and keeping them in an incubator to mitigate the possibility of her dying from starvation. 

Watch this video of bumblebees spawning!

Raising Bumblebee Cichlid Fry

The mother cichlid will incubate her eggs in the mouth for up to 3 weeks before they hatch into free-swimming fry. Even after hatching, they stay in the mother’s mouth for a couple of days. You must use a sponge filter at this point so it doesn’t suck up the fry. 

Here’s our choice for a sponge filter safe for small fry yet super effective. 

You’ll also need an accompanying air pump. 

You can give them baby brine shrimp, crushed pellets, daphnia, infusoria, and spirulina. Also, note that these foods should be constantly available to them since they can’t survive on a hungry stomach for too long. 

Here are two of our commercial food recommendations for your baby cichlids: 

These fry will mature and reach their potential at around 2 years old. 

The first few weeks of the fry’s life are critical and quite tricky. The window for starvation is really slim – so, you need to prepare the food beforehand. 

As they grow, they’ll be perfectly able to eat the same diet as their parents within a couple of weeks. 

Common Diseases In Bumblebee Cichlids 

Bumblebee cichlids are vulnerable to certain medical conditions that could trigger either from an internal dysfunction, injury, poor water condition, or malnutrition. Some common diseases are Malawi bloat, gill flukes, swim bladder disease, ich, cotton wool disease, and tuberculosis. 

Let’s have a look at them at a glance! 

Malawi Bloat 

Malawi bloat is endemic to African cichlids, which manifests through symptoms like swelling, panting, appetite loss, and discolored feces. If not treated on time, this disease can very well end up affecting kidneys and liver. 

Although there’s no 100% certainty, it’s believed that Malawi bloat is caused by protozoans that live in a cichlid’s guts. Nonetheless, it can be treated successfully by dosing the tank with metronidazole. 

Just make sure to take out activated carbon from the tank filter when adding the medication. 

Swim Bladder Disease 

The swim bladder is an abdominal sac lined with epithelium that’s responsible for keeping the fish afloat. When a cichlid suffers from swim bladder disease, it will have tremendous difficulty swimming or floating. 

The reason behind this could be an internal injury, cancer, tuberculosis, or something as simple as constipation. 

You will need to vent the fish to get rid of the excess air. When the air passes, you can both hear it and see the difference in size. If it’s due to constipation, feeding fiber-rich food could help. 

Ich

Ich is caused by a protozoan parasite named Ichthyophthirius – hence, the name. Although it’s quite common, it’s easy to spot. You can see the tiny dots on the gills, fins, and other body parts. 

Besides the spots, some other accompanying symptoms are lack of appetite, lethargy, panting, and clamped fins. Ich is a contagious disease – so, if any of your fish has it, you should immediately move it to the quarantine tank. 

Some solutions to treat ich are elevated tank temperatures, salt baths, and potassium permanganate. 

Gill Flukes 

Gill flukes are caused by a parasitic infestation of flatworms in the gills. Once the parasite makes its home inside the gill, it will attack the membranes and cause them to redden and acquire slimy coats. 

Gill flukes are accompanied by symptoms like panting, rubbing the body against the tank, and fading color. 

The standard practice to treat this disease is to add a tablespoon of salt per day and increase the water temperature for a couple of days. 

Cotton Wool Disease 

The cotton wool disease presents itself as a fuzzy, cotton-like growth on the head, fins, and scales. This is most likely caused by the fungus, which is a byproduct of a polluted environment. 

The fungus develops and thrives when there’s an excess buildup of uneaten food, poop, and other gunk in the tank. That being said, stress also makes cichlids prone to fungal infections. 

Tuberculosis 

In aquarium settings, tuberculosis is highly contagious and almost always fatal. It can even be transmitted to humans through open wounds or sores. The most common signs of tuberculosis in cichlids are appetite loss, sunken stomach, white blotches on the skin, and frayed fins.

You could also notice behavioral changes like lethargy, strange swimming patterns, and hiding. 

If you suspect any of your fish is infected, remove it and euthanize it gently. As for other fish, transfer them to a new tank before treating the original habitat with melafix. 

Conclusion: Bumblebee Cichlid Care Guide

So, that’s a wrap from our side on bumblebee cichlids. These Malawi natives are just as interesting as their name. From stealing catfish’s eggs to intricately mating, there’s no doubt they pack a lot of personalities. 

If you have brought home a bumblebee cichlid or planning to, we hope that you have thoroughly gone through this guide as it packs a lot of critical information. 

After all, with the proper care, they can live up to 10 years in a tank.

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rohit gurung author at urbanfishkeeping

About Rohit Gurung

My never-ending love and fascination with Aquascaping started when I received a red-eared turtle for my 10th birthday.

Apart from researching and writing, I spend hours gazing at my 3 turtles. And yeah, I bask alongside them too.