Pseudotropheus Saulosi Care Guide: Diet, Habitat, Breeding, Accessories

Nov 1, 2021

Pseudotropheus saulosi

Credits: Lisa Brown (Creative Commons license)

Pseudotropheus Saulosi, also known as Chindongo Saulosi, are beautiful dwarf cichlids from Lake Malawi in Africa. These dwarf fish boast interesting history, stunning colors, and a friendly personality – basically, ticking all the right boxes. 

If you just brought home saulosi cichlids or plan to do so, this is just the right article for you. In today’s blog, I am going to tell you all there’s to know about these magnificent little mbunas. 

So, fasten your seatbelt. It’s going to be a long ride!

NameSaulosi Mbuna
Scientific NamePseudotropheus Saulosi
FamilyCichlidae 
OriginLake Malawi
Size3-4 inches
Lifespan5 years
TemperamentAggressive 
Care LevelModerate
BreedingEasy
Temperature73-80°F (23-27°C)
Minimum Tank Size55 Gallons 

Pseudotropheus Saulosi: Origin And Distribution 

Credits: Marco Derksen (Creative Commons license)

Saulosi cichlids are classified as dwarf mbunas from the great African rift lake, Malawi. What’s interesting is that this species was discovered by accident. 

Back in 1989, when famous ichthyologist Ad Konings was exploring along a reef called Taiwan (not to be confused with country Taiwan), he was holding onto a reef at 7 meters as he waited for his ears to clear so he could travel deeper.

It was here, as he struggled to hold his own against strong currents that he came across schools of brilliant yellow fish swimming effortlessly against the current. 

So, it wouldn’t be wrong to say these fish were discovered by one in a million chances. 

When Konings described these mbunas as Pseudotropheus Saulosi, he named them in honor of one of the local guides who helped him discover them, Saulos Mwale. 

Saulosi cichlids come from the sediment-free, rocky habitats of the Taiwan Reef. They are usually found at the depths of 7-15 meters. 

Big schools roam the rocky waters of the reef, foraging for food among the algae growing on the rocks. 

Pseudotropheus Saulosi Lifespan 

Pseudotropheus saulosi fish have a pretty average lifespan. They live for around 5-6 years in captivity. However, with proper care and diet, it’s very much possible to extend their age by a couple of years. 

IUCN Classification 

Saulosi cichlids are described as critically endangered in the wild. Their population has been dwindling swiftly over the last decade or so. 

In 2014, conservationists were able to only count 55 of these fish in their native home. 

Luckily, efforts are underway to restock the Taiwan reef with saulosi mbunas. 

Pseudotropheus Saulosi Sale: How Much Do They Cost?

Saulosi cichlids cost anywhere between $12-25. Of course, the price varies depending on whether you buy juveniles, adults, or breeding pairs. 

Pseudotropheus Saulosi Appearance 

Saulosi female
Credits: Nardo26 (Creative Commons license)

Male saulosi cichlids are a dazzling shade of shimmery powder blue with dark blue vertical stripes running across the body (not the head and tail). The fins and tail are dark, too, with silver highlights at the ends that give a nice contrast. 

Don’t confuse them for Pseudotropheus Demasoni cichlids that have dark stripes on their heads too. 

On the other hand, females come in rich yellow colors from top to bottom. In addition, the fins and tail are translucent with yellow outlines. 

The fish with the most vibrant and intense colors is usually the dominant male. 

Also, all fry are born yellow and retain the same colors as juveniles too. The males will only transform into blue colors once they approach sexual maturity. 

Although tiny, saulosi cichlids have an elongated body shape – almost like a torpedo. 

They have pharyngeal teeth in their throat, in addition to regular teeth. And they have one nostril on each side, unlike most fish that have 2 sets. 

The fins in both male and female saulosis have spiny rays that discourage predators. However, the front part of these fins is soft and smooth, helping the fish glide effortlessly in the water. 

Pseudotropheus Saulosi Size 

Saulosi cichlids are dwarf mbunas that grow only 3-4 inches long. However, the males are slightly bigger than their female counterparts. 

Pseudotropheus Saulosi Coral Red 

Coral red saulosi aren’t naturally occurring variants. They’re man-made. And as the moniker suggests, they are a brilliant shade of coral red, almost like a goldfish. 

The fins and tail are a darker shade of orangish-red, offering a beautiful contrast to their body. 

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Pseudotropheus Saulosi Temperament 

Saulosi cichlids, like any other rock-dwelling mbuna, are on the aggressive side. Don’t go by the size. These fish pack a lot of personalities. Primarily, males are highly territorial and competitive, so you need to ensure there’s plenty of space in the tank for everyone. 

In contrast, females are known to be a lot more friendly and calm. In the wild, they usually school in great numbers to support and look after each other. And this behavior can be seen in the tank too. 

Interestingly, subdued and weaker males will often change their colors and retain the female’s yellow shades to protect themselves from the dominant male. 

However, the alpha fish cannot be easily fooled. So one way or another, he’ll know about the transition and chase them quite relentlessly. 

A male saulosi’s aggression is amplified by many folds during the breeding season. He will chase and bully any fish he perceives to be a threat or a competition. Therefore, we recommend limiting the number of males in the tank. 

Another tried and tested strategy popular with aggressive mbunas is overstocking. By knowingly and strategically adding more fish in the tank, the aggression is spread out, so there’s not just one scapegoat. 

It becomes challenging for the dominant fish to single out and bully only one fish. 

But this method isn’t entirely free of shortcomings. You need to amp up your filtration game and be on your toes when maintaining the water quality. 

When researching for this article, I came across a hobbyist who shared that his saulosi cichlids took a lot of beating when kept with bigger Mbuna species. 

Now, that’s something to think about when selecting tankmates for saulosi cichlids. 

Also, the aggressive males can be surprisingly lenient with each other if there’s enough space for everyone to claim their tiny territory. 

Pseudotropheus Saulosi Tankmates 

Red zebra cichlid
Credits: Dynen (Creative Commons license)

Some suitable tankmates for Saulosi cichlids include:

  • Electric Yellow Labs (Labidochromis caeruleus)
  • Red Zebras (Maylandia estherae)
  • Acei Cichlids (Pseudotropheus elegans)
  • Maingano Cichlids (Melanochromis cyaneorhabdos)
  • White Top Haras (Cynotilapia sp hara)
  • Red Top Albino Zebras (Metriaclima pyrsonotos)
  • Malawi Golden Cichlids (Melanochromis auratus)
  • Other Tropheops and Labidochromis species 

Sorry to disappoint you, but Saulosi cichlids are not community fish. Therefore, you can only successfully house them with other aggressive Mbunas. 

It’s also essential that you don’t house them with other fish with similar colors or patterns. 

Similar-Looking Fish To Avoid Are:

Also, avoid large, aggressive fish that can dominate or injure them, like Melanochromis, Labeotropheus, and Metriaclima cichlids. 

Pseudotropheus Saulosi Male To Female Ratio 

In the wild, pseudotropheus saulosi live in big groups. In the tank, it’s best to pair one male with a harem of females. If you keep them in a 1:1 ratio, there’s a strong chance that the females and weaker males will be bullied to death. 

Also, saulosis are best kept in a group of at least 12 or more. This will prevent the alpha male from channeling his aggression on just a few fish.

If you keep just 4-5 fish, the dominant male will one by one bully all of them to death. 

Pseudotropheus Saulosi Diet 

In the wild, saulosi cichlids feed mainly on aufwuchs. Aufwuchs refers to the tough, stringy algae that attach itself to the rocks. They often contain snails, crustaceans, nymphs, insect larvae, mites, and zooplankton. 

Since these fish have a big appetite for algivorous food, you should primarily raise them on a herbivore diet. We recommend feeding spirulina and spinach. And occasionally treat them with protein-rich food. 

They will also feed on the tank’s algae but not enough to control the algae outbreak in the tank. Actually, their teeth are made for scraping algae.

Here’s a list of food you can give them:

  • Spirulina 
  • Blanched spinach
  • Blanched romaine lettuce 
  • Cucumber 
  • Blanched zucchini 
  • Bloodworm
  • Krill 
  • Mysis 
  • Daphnia 

Food To Avoid

  • Live fish 
  • Pellets 
  • Mammal meat 

Saulosi is not finicky and accepts a wide variety of food, unlike other members of the Pseudotropheus family like Demasoni. However, it doesn’t mean you should go on a feeding spree and feed just about anything you find. 

For their good health and longevity, it’s best to pivot around a plant-based diet and supplement it with occasional protein-rich treats. 

As for feeding frequency, feed them 3-4 times a day, an amount they can finish within 30 seconds. This style helps to soothe a cichlid’s aggression over resources. 

If you are interested to know more about this topic, here’s an article where I’ve covered the right feeding frequency for cichlids in depth. 

Water Parameters For Pseudotropheus Saulosi

Temperature 73-80°F (23-27°C)
pH 7.4-8-4
General Hardness 160-320 PPM
Carbonate Hardness 180-240 PPM
Water Region Top, Middle, and Bottom
Water Flow Moderate
Ammonia 0 PPM
Nitrate Below 20 PPM
Nitrite 0
Phosphate Below 0.5 PPM

Saulosis are natives of Lake Malawi, where the water parameters are incredibly pristine and stable. Although they are pretty forgiving of the wrong water chemistry, it can invite long-term complications in the future. 

To maintain the water quality, conduct 30-50% water change weekly, depending on your stocking number and the amount of bioload produced. 

We recommend using the API Freshwater Master Kit to measure the water parameters weekly, so you’re always on top of it. 

These fish need hard water to thrive. And there are quite a few methods you can use to raise the water’s pH. 

The first one is to use aragonite sand. The second method, which I use, is adding the Seachem Malawi/Victoria buffer. 

Use six grams (one level teaspoon) for 10-20 gallons of water each day until you achieve the desired pH level. After that, you can use it as needed to maintain pH but no more than once every two to three weeks. 

Here’s a link if you are interested:

These fish have a slight tolerance of salinity. Therefore, they can be easily kept in slightly brackish conditions too. But be sure the specific gravity is less than 1. 0002. 

Your fish will also benefit from an air pump as they originally come from highly oxygenated water. 

Ideal Tank Size For Pseudotropheus Saulosi

The minimum recommended tank size for Saulosi cichlids is 55 gallons. However, if you’re planning on raising a group, we recommend getting a 100-gallon tank or larger.

Although these fish are small in size, you need to invest in a bigger tank since they’re aggressive and need plenty of space to swim around. 

And don’t forget to put a sturdy lid on your tank as Saulosis are known to jump out of water every now and then. 

Substrate And Decorations For Psuedotropheus Saulosi 

Sand is the most commonly preferred substrate for Saulosi cichlid. Their beautiful colors come out the best when kept on a dark substrate. 

But you can also use crushed coral or aragonite as substrate, which will help maintain the water’s pH level. But these both substrates come in light shades. 

So, you can wrap them in a mesh sack and place them in the filtration system around the outflow. This will impart the same buffering effects! 

Saulosi cichlid’s natural habitat is characterized by a sediment-free area and deep rocky structures. So, it’d be ideal for adding plenty of rocky structures strategically in the tank. When placing these decors, try to create crevices from where the fish can pass to emulate their home in the wild in the best way possible. 

When placing the decor, make sure to put them in such a way that there’s plenty of hiding spaces, as well as distinct territories for the fish to claim. 

Also, ensure that everything is firmly secured to the substrate so they don’t get toppled if the fish loves to dig. 

Top Equipment For Pseudotropheus Saulosi 

Since Saulosi cichlids should be kept ideally in an overstocked aquarium, you mustn’t pinch pennies when buying a sturdy filter that can tackle the enormous waste cichlids produce day in day out. 

It’s equally important to get a stable heater, as these fish don’t take temperature shocks too well. On top of that, a reliable heater saves you and your fish from the risks of sudden explosion and electrocution. 

Here are our personal picks of equipment that we swear by:

Cascade Canister Filter For Up To 200 Gallons

What We Love About It

  • Easy push-button primer 
  • 5 large capacity media baskets 
  • State-of-art flow valves 

Hygger 800 Watts Submersible Heater 

What We Love About It 

  • Over-temperature protection system
  • Double temperature probe 
  • Automatically remembers temperature after power failure 
  • Anti-dry protection

Ocho Dragon Stone Rocks

What We Love About It 

  • Doesn’t alter water chemistry 
  • Great for anchoring plants and mosses 
  • Comes in sizes ranging from 2-6 inches

Breeding Pseudotropheus Saulosi 

Breeding pseudotropheus saulosi cichlids is relatively easy. These fish are maternal mouthbrooders. The clutch size usually clocks in around 10-20- eggs.

Saulosis will mate around once every six weeks, provided that their conditions are met. 

When the breeding season starts, the males will develop vibrant shades of blue and grow increasingly aggressive. Males are also tasked with selecting a suitable nesting site, usually somewhere on the sandy bottom. 

He may or may not dig a hole in the sand. They’re not too particular about it.

Once he finalizes the breeding spot, he will begin the courtship process. He will display, dance, and even shimmy in front of a gravid female. Note that if the male does so in front of another male, this is usually a show of dominance. 

The consenting female will then follow him to the breeding site and lay 10-20 eggs. And when she starts to pick the eggs, the male will shake his anal fins. And when the female chases him to retrieve her’ eggs’ (confusing the egg spots for real eggs), the male will release the milt and fertilize the eggs. 

The whole process will take a couple of hours. 

The eggs will be incubated after 25 days or so. The female will not eat for the entirety of this period and will appear reclusive. She will have a distended mouth, and you can quickly tell if she’s holding eggs in her throat. 

 The mother will keep the resultant fry in her mouth until they’re free-swimming. During this period, they will rely on their yolk sac for nutrition. 

And once they are free-swimming, you can feed them freshly hatched baby brine shrimp, crushed spirulina, and algae wafers. You can also treat them occasionally with microworms. 

Since the mother fasts for weeks when holding the eggs, there’s a good chance that she may die from starvation. That’s why some aquarists, like myself, prefer to strip the eggs and incubate them separately. 

I’ll walk you through the method I use below. 

How To Strip Eggs From Saulosi Cichlids?

Begin by turning off the tank and room’s lights. Next, transfer some water from the tank to a medium-sized container. Let the fish get used to the darkness for a couple of hours. 

And when you turn on the lights after that, the fish will become a bit drowsy – making it easier for you to net the holding fish. 

Remember, you need to be extremely careful with the handling because a stressed mother will swallow all of her eggs. 

Once the holding fish is transferred to the container, give her some time to adjust to the new environment. 

Then, gently hold her using your left hand and bring her slightly above the water surface. Next, use a bobby pin or right hand’s index finger to slowly open her mouth. 

Once the mouth is open, partially submerge her in the water so the eggs can float out of her mouth. 

Repeat this process until all the eggs are transferred to the container. 

Once you’re done, make sure you don’t put the mom back in the container as she will definitely jolt and may damage the eggs in the process. Instead, place her directly in the main tank or another separate container as needed. 

Next, transfer the eggs into an air tumbler and watch them develop into tiny fry. I use a turkey baster to transfer eggs.

And here’s the link to egg tumbler by Senzeal that I use for my cichlids:

Pseudotropheus Saulosi Diseases 

The most common disease saulosi cichlids are susceptible to is Malawi bloat. Thus, make sure you don’t feed too much meaty food and stick mainly to a fibrous, vegetarian diet. 

Another health condition they’re prone to is swim bladder disease, caused either by an injury, digestive illness, or an abnormality. 

If it’s due to a digestive problem, fasting the fish and feeding it fibrous food like cooked peas can be helpful. If it’s due to an internal abnormality, you’ll need to take the help of a fish surgeon. 

And they’re also especially prone to ich if the water conditions aren’t adequately met. This disease is super contagious and is lethal if not treated on time. 

We use Ich-X by Aquarium Solutions to treat ich on cichlids. 

If you’re interested to know more about how to use it and other alternative treatments, you might like to have a look at this article.

Parting Words: Is Pseudotropheus Saulosi The Right Fish For You? 

I’ve jotted down everything that I know about this fish. So, if you’re on the fence about whether or not to get these fish, I hope this guide’s been helpful for you. 

But if I were to give my two cents, I’d say only go for these fish if you have a fair bit of experience with raising aggressive mbunas. 

Given their small stature, we may be inclined to think that they’re low-maintenance and easy to keep. 

But remember, they’re mbunas, notorious for their anger. So, they’re best kept in an overcrowded tank. 

And an overcrowded tank may be more of a hassle for beginner hobbyists! 

Relevant Readings

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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.