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

Jul 19, 2021

demasoni cichlid care guide

Image credits: Lee Nachtigal on Flickr under Creative Commons license

Demasani Cichlids are among the most underrated and lesser-known dwarf mbunas in the fishkeeping scene. After all, these beautiful and petite fish were identified and described only in 1994. 

Reaching just about 2.5 to 3 inches in length, these beautiful Malawi fish can be mixed with other Mbunas in the tank for a beautiful explosion of color. 

However, don’t forget that these fish pack a lot of personalities. As a result, they can be a handful in inexperienced hands. 

So, are demasoni cichlids the right choice for you? Or have you already brought one home? 

Keep reading to find answers to your questions. But first, let’s start with a quick introduction! 

Introduction To Demasoni Cichlids 

Name Demasoni Cichlid 
Scientific Name Pseudotropheus demasoni 
Other Names Demason’s Cichlid, Midnight Demasoni 
Temperament Semi-aggressive
CareModerate
BreedingModerate
DietOmnivore
Temperature 75-82°F (24-28°C)
pH Level7.6-8.6
LightingModerate
Minimum Tank Size40 gallons

Demasoni cichlid is named after well-known fishkeeper Laif Demason, credited for introducing exotic cichlid varieties to the West. Demasonis are natives of areas called Pombo Rocks and Ndumbi Reef in Lake Malawi. 

This zebra-type cichlid is best suited for intermediate to experienced fishkeepers, as it requires moderate to hard care and is on the quite aggressive side. 

IUCN has listed demasoni cichlids as ‘vulnerable’ on their list. However, since their first introduction in 1994, they’re now readily available across the States and Europe for a relatively moderate price. 

And why should you get a demasoni cichlids? They’re petite, both male and female sport vibrant colors, and they will make aesthetic additions to your Mbuna tank. 

How Long Do Demasoni Cichlids Live?

Demasoni cichlids can live for up to 10 years in a tank with the proper care and diet. 

Demasoni Cichlid’s Appearance 

Demasoni Cichlid's Appearance
Image credits: Lee Nachtigal on Flickr under Creative Commons license

Demasonis are dwarf cichlids, reaching only up to 2.5 to 3 inches (6.4 to 7.6 cm) in length. They have an elongated ‘torpedo’ style body shape typical of Mbunas. 

The body has alternating vertical stripes that are either dark blue, black-blue, or light blue in colors. Usually, there’s a combination of six dark and five light lines – beginning from a dark stripe right behind the gill cover and ending with another muted dark stripe at the tail fin’s base. 

The head sports three light blue stripes alternating with 2 dark ones. What’s striking is one of the dark lines is positioned right between the eyes while the other extends across the forehead, where it overlaps with the first dark bar behind the gill cover. 

The chin has medium blue coloration. The stripes on the dorsal fin angle back, with the lighter ones being thinner than the dark ones. And the tail fin has very fine horizontal lines in dark and light blue. Its edge is outlined with light blue and outlined with a darker blue shade.

Their anal, dorsal, pectoral, and pelvic fins are lined with spiny rays to protect them against predators. However, the frontal part of these fins has a soft texture that helps with effortless swimming. 

Demasonis also have a well-developed set of pharyngeal teeth in their throat in addition to the regular teeth. And lastly, they have one nostril on each side as opposed to 2 sets that most other fish have. 

Sexual Dimorphism In Demasoni Cichlids 

Male demasoni cichlids are considerably larger than females. They’re also more richly colored and have egg spots on the anal fins missing in females. And lastly, they have pointier and longer anal and dorsal fins compared to a female’s rounder and shorter fins. 

However, as juveniles, male and female demasoni cichlids look almost identical. So, it can be quite challenging to sex them unless you resort to venting. 

Demasoni Cichlid’s Diet 

Demasoni cichlids are omnivores, but they have a strong inclination towards a herbivore diet. The reason could be their compromised hunting ability due to their small stature. In the wild, they feed on aufwuchs and tiny invertebrates that come along. 

In captivity, you can give them the following food: 

  • Blanched vegetables 
  • Brine shrimp 
  • Blackworms 
  • Cichlid flake/pellets 
  • Spirulina algae 
  • Aufwuchs 
  • Small crustaceans 
  • Zooplankton 
  • Mites 
  • Snails 
  • Insect larvae 
  • Nymphs 
  • Dried seaweed 

Although many meaty foods have made this list, it’s best to primarily feed a vegetable-based diet. You can further supplement the diet with an all-purpose cichlid formula. 

Food rich in fiber will help to keep the gut healthy, whereas those rich in spirulina algae will enhance the fish’s coloration. And naturally, your demasonis will benefit from having additional vitamins and supplements in their diet. 

Don’t house your damasonis with cichlids that need to consume beef heart or any other mammal meat as they cannot digest it, which could pose some serious risks. 

As for feeding frequency, give 2-3 small meals a day instead of giving one big meal. Give them an amount they can devour in about 3 minutes. These practices will help keep the water cleaner for a longer time. 

For adults, occasional fasting is also recommended to regulate their metabolism. 

Demasoni Cichlid’s Temperament 

Don’t go by the size. These cichlids can be highly aggressive if their requirements aren’t met. So, it’s safe to say they’re not well suited for a community tank. 

These fish also have a curious side to them. While swimming, they love to follow the rock contours, moving at odd angles and even swimming upside-down sometimes. 

Males are usually even more aggressive and territorial during the breeding season when looking for a suitable spawning site. Even a 1.5-inch long male is capable of chasing a fairly medium-sized fish away. 

If the tankmates are suitable, the tank is big enough, and there are enough resources, demasoni’s aggression can be kept under check for most parts. 

Make sure the tank has tons of hiding places and conduct routine water changes to curb some aggression. 

Best Tankmates For Demasoni Cichlids 

Demasoni cichlids can be kept in a big aquarium with other fellow Mbuna species, provided that there’s plenty of hiding options. However, it only fares well with other aggressive Mbuna species that can hold their ground during any tension. 

Also, make sure the tankmates have small bodies and have a pattern other than dark and light blue stripes. 

Some suitable tankmates include: 

Credits: calwhiz on Flickr under Creative Commons license

Aggressive species to avoid: 

Credits: David Midgley on Flickr under Creative Commons license

  • Melanochromis cichlids 
  • Labeotropheus cichlids
  • Metriaclima like lombardoi and crabro 

Similar-looking species to avoid:

Credits: calwhiz on Flickr under Creative Commons license

How Many Demasoni Cichlids Should You Keep?

You should keep at least 12 demasoni cichlids together to disperse hostile behavior. Doing so will help keep the extent of harassment each female and docile male receive from the dominant male low. 

In the wild, these fish live in large colonies. However, in captivity, the reason behind keeping a big school is to disperse and spread out the bullying the dominant male exerts on others. This way, the hostility won’t be focused on just a few fish. 

If you keep a small school of demasoni, the dominant male will bully all of the fish to death one by one until he is alone. 

What’s The Ideal Male To Female Ratio In Demasoni Cichlids?

There should be at least 3 to 4 females for one male. These fish practice polygamous relations where a male mates with several females. Keeping the number of females on the higher side will also result in more fry later. 

Demasoni Cichlid’s Natural Habitat 

Although endemic to the big Lake Malawi, demasoni cichlids have a somewhat restricted range. They’re only found in two locations: Pombo rocks and Ndumi reef. They usually inhabit rocky areas in large groups. 

The streams that flow into this lake have high mineral content. Likewise, the water chemistry doesn’t change too much. So, although it’s impossible to completely emulate the exact parameters, it’s essential to consider these factors when setting up the tank for your demasoni cichlids. 

Minimum Tank Size For Demasoni Cichlids 

The minimum recommended tank size for demasoni cichlids is 40 gallons for a single fish. However, since you’ll need to keep a school of these fish, it’s best to invest in a 100+ gallon tank. 

The tank should be broad, tall, and at least 90cm/36″ in length to ensure there’s plenty of room for swimming, decoration, and breeding sites. 

Best Substrate For Demasoni Cichlids 

Sand is the preferred substrate demasonis, but you could also opt for crushed coral or a mix of gravel and crushed coral. Using sand or substrate used for saltwater tanks could help to maintain higher pH levels as they dissolve quicker than sand. 

However, a higher ph level also means a higher ammonia level in the tank. So, don’t forget to conduct frequent water changes. 

Decorations For Demasoni Cichlids 

Demasoni cichlids need to be kept in tanks with lots of rock structures. This is because these fish are naturally curious and aggressive. Thus, positioning decorations strategically may help to curb boredom and hostility in the tank. 

You can arrange the piles of rock to create multiple passageways and caves. This will help the fish carve out their own distinct territories, which is quite beneficial for females and docile males. 

Constant distractions like moving rocks here and there may also help a hostile male channel anger harmlessly. 

However, ensure all decorations are safely secured to the substrate so the fish doesn’t topple them.

Water Parameters For Demasoni Cichlids

Temperature75-82°F (24-28°C)
pH Level 7.6-8.6 
Water Hardness 10-18 dGH
Water Movement Moderate
Nitrate Level <25 ppm
Phosphate Level <0.5 ppm
Specific Gravity 1.0002
Water Region Middle

Water parameters in Lake Malawi, or any other lake for that matter, are highly stable. So, demasonis aren’t too fond of sudden changes to their environment. 

You should conduct around 30% water change every week. If the tank’s crowded, aim for a 50% weekly water change. 

Likewise, the lake’s water is highly mineralized and alkaline. So, you could use salt as a buffering agent to increase the water’s carbonate hardness. These fish are perfectly capable of handling a certain level of salt tolerance – thus, they can be kept in slightly brackish water. 

To be specific, these fish can endure salinity that is around 10% of a standard saltwater tank

Given their small size, demasonis don’t produce an excessive amount of bioload. However, you still need to invest in a sturdy filtration mechanism. We recommend getting 2 external filters or getting a single powerful filter. 

The pH should clock in somewhere between 7.6-8.6.

Also, also note that they don’t thrive well in temperatures below 75°F and above 82°F. However, if you’re treating your fish for ich, you could raise the temperature by a notch for a few days. 

And lastly, you should also get an air pump or air stones to keep the water fresh and well-oxygenated at all times – even more so if you’re overstocking to curb aggression. 

Our Pick Of Top Equipment For Demasoni Cichlids 

Although these fish are small in size, they do demand a certain level of care and upkeep. Bigger the tank, the better it is to keep aggression under control. Likewise, the filtration and heating system should also be sound and robust since they don’t take too well to dirty water and sudden temperature changes. 

150-Gallon Starfire Glass Aquarium 

Cascade Canister Filter For Up To 200 Gallons 

Hygger 800 Watts Submersible Heater 

Breeding Demasoni Cichlids 

Credits: Lee Nachtigal on Flickr under Creative Commons license

Breeding demasoni cichlids is quite identical to breeding other fish from the genus. These fish are mouthbrooders, practice polygamy, and have a matriarchal family. If you’ve decided to breed them, it’s best to set up a separate breeding tank to increase the survival rate of the fry. 

Once ready to spawn, the male will transform into a darker shade. He will also become very intolerant of other males in the tank. He can even bully a perceived competition to the death. Likewise, he will also lash out at bottom dwellers on his quest to find a suitable mating spot. 

On the other hand, the gravid female will have a more rounded and swollen appearance. She’ll also receive a lot of male attention – you can see the males circling her, hovering above her and so on. 

If you’re keen on breeding them, don’t forget to add flat rocks in the tank that could serve as egg-laying destinations. Often, feeding a protein-rich diet and conducting large water changes triggers spawning. 

After the male has found a suitable mating spot, he will try to lure the potential female towards it. Then, the male will shake and circle around the female for courting – occasionally also nipping and bullying. 

The consenting female will then go to the egg-laying spot and lay her eggs. Depending on the female’s age and health, she could lay anywhere between 5-15 eggs. 

Next, she will transfer the eggs into her mouth. At this point, the male flares out his anal fin and shows off the egg spots. The female will assume it’s her eggs and go behind the male to retrieve them. 

At this point, the male will release sperm (milt cloud) into the female’s mouth, which will fertilize the eggs. 

The female will then incubate the eggs for around a week at a tentative temperature of 80°F. However, the fry will stay inside the mother’s mouth for a week or so after hatching. 

You can give them brine shrimp, daphnia, crushed flake, cyclopeeze, and freshly hatched artemia. However, note that these fish are inherently aggressive. The older fry will readily consume the newborns. 

If you are transferring the brooding fish to the new tank, make sure that you channel the ultimate delicacy. These cichlids are known to spit out the eggs prematurely when stressed. 

Also, it’s wise to transfer the shrimp as late as possible – that’s because if your female cichlid is absent from the main tank for too long, she will lose her territory and fall down on the pecking order. 

How To Strip Eggs From Demasoni Cichlids?

Sometimes, aquarists prefer stripping eggs from the cichlid’s mouth and incubating them separately. This is mainly done if the female cichlid tends to accidentally consume her own eggs. 

Start by turning off the lights in the main tank. Also, take out some water and fill a small container halfway. Next, give its inhabitants around 30 minutes to get used to the new normal. 

After that, gently take out the fish using a net and transfer it into the container. Using your index finger and thumb, slowly open the fish’s mouth, so she spits out the eggs into the container. Once she’s all done, put her back into her tank. 

Now, transfer the eggs into the rearing aquarium. You should make sure the rearing tank’s water parameter should be identical to the last tank. 

And it’s crucial to have powerful air stones that can rotate the eggs and prevent any fungal buildup. 

Health Issues In Demasoni Cichlids 

Demasonis are especially prone to Malawi bloat if their dietary requirement isn’t met. This condition is often accompanied by a bloated tummy, panting, loss of appetite, and thin, white feces. Therefore, you need to ensure the fish’s diet is well-enriched to prevent this. 

Like most fish, demasonis are also susceptible to ich. Thus, it’s essential to keep the water pristine and safe at all times. You can raise the water’s temperature to around 86°F (30°C) for a few days to treat ich. If it doesn’t work, you will need to resort to a copper-based treatment. But make sure that you remove all water conditioners first and strictly stick to the manufacturer’s guidelines. In my experience, increasing the temperature and using the copper treatment simultaneously give the best result. 

And lastly, we cannot rule out the probabilities of skin flukes, parasitic infestations, bacterial infections, and fungal infections. However, all of these could be avoided if the water parameters and diet are well-maintained. 

Conclusion: Demasoni Cichlid Care Guide 

So, it’s a wrap for demasoni cichlids from our side. We’ve made sure to include absolutely everything that you need to know about these fierce little fish to make informed decisions. 

The size is small, but the personality is quite big. Even the newborn fry are hostile and competitive. So, you’ll need to get certain things right, like getting a spacious tank and suitable tankmates, to avoid tragic endings! 

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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.