Bumblebee Cichlid Care Guide

Is the Bumblebee Cichlid a Mbuna Cichlid?

Bumblebee Cichlid Care Guide7 mins read

Fact checked by
Tal Halperin
Reading Time: 10 minutes
Bumblebee cichlid care guide
Image from Flickr

Looking to get into the world of Great Lakes Cichlids? The bumblebee cichlid is an extremely striking fish. Once you see it, it is immediately evident how it got its distinctive name.

This Cichlid is relatively unique in terms of habitat. It’s endemic to Lake Malawi in East Africa, and thus it can reward you with astonishing behaviors and its fascinating lifestyle. This guide will teach you all about what they need, the best bumblebee cichlid tankmates, and how you can look after them.

Breed Overview

OriginLake Malawi, East Africa
Size14 cm or 5-6 inches
ColorsMottled yellow and brown
Water TypeFreshwater but benefits from added mineral salts
Tank Size Minimum 30 gallons for one fish but best in a larger community tank
TemperamentSemi-aggressive due to territorial behavior
Water Temperature78-84 F or 5-8 C
Water pH7-8, alkaline


The Bumblebee Cichlid doesn’t get its name for no reason! These fish are a mottled yellow and brown, with coloration just like a bee. However, their name also sums up their fast swimming ability and the characteristic small bumblebee cichlid size.

Bumblebee Cichlid Size

As many Cichlids can grow quite large, you may be wondering what the average bumblebee cichlid size is. In addition, many Cichlids can only be kept with others of the same size.

Generally, the Bumblebee Cichlid is a medium-sized Cichlid that grows up to 7 inches or 14 centimeters. This makes it a good tankmate for other medium Mbuna Cichlids.

Bumblebee Cichlid Male vs Female

With some fish, it is relatively hard to tell the sexes apart. However, with the Bumblebee Cichlid, it may appear challenging at first, but it is easier than you might think.

Simply put the males tend to have very vivid contrasting yellow and back vertical stripes, whereas the females have a more subdued, mottled golden color formed from less vivid striping.

It’s important to be able to tell the bumblebee cichlid male vs female apart so you can pair them up for breeding. In addition, outside of this, it is best not to keep males and females in the same tank.

Tank Setup And Maintenance

Tank setup and maintenance of bumblebee cichlid
At least 30 gallons for your Bumblebee Cichlid, plus any tankmates

To set up an ideal Bumblebee Cichlid tank, it’s best to understand the conditions these fish have in the wild. The more able you are to mimic the natural habitat of a fish, the more likely it is that they will thrive. So read on for the lowdown on how you can create this in captivity.

1. Filtration, Size, And Heating

All Mbuna Cichlids require very clean tanks with fast-flowing currants. The bumblebee cichlid is no different.

Therefore, whether you decide to have a community tank or a smaller option for a solo fish, you will need the following:

  • A canister or HOB filter that filters 5-10x the tank capacity per hour
  • At least 30 gallons for your Bumblebee Cichlid, plus any tankmates
  • A tank that is the right shape to build a rocky wall for them to hide near

2. Mineral Salts

The African Great Lakes region, of which Lake Malawi is a part, is high in volcanic activity. This means that many of the lakes there have alkaline water that is rich in dissolved volcanic minerals.

In fact, some of its tributaries are even controlled by geothermal activity. To properly recreate this, you can find specialist mineral salts for East African Cichlids in aquatics stores or online.

Author’s Note: Some aquarists add 10% regular aquarium salt to the tank (much less than for a marine tank, where this salt is commonly used). However, for your fish to really thrive, proper mineral salts intended for Cichlids are best.

3. Creation Of A Rocky Wall

All Mbuna Cichlids, Bumblebee Cichlids included, love to hide in rocky crevasses. One of their favorite places to hang out is near rocky slopes and banks.

You can mimic this by piling up rocks or clumping them together on one side of the tank. You will notice your fish swimming alongside this area, occasionally picking small bits of food off the wall.

4. Plants

For many Lake Malawi Cichlids, the plants you keep in a tank are less important as they don’t always interact with them much in their natural habitat. In addition, many of the plants sold for aquariums are not compatible with the mineral salts.

However, if you don’t want a completely bare tank, or you want to add interest for other tankmates, you can add some hardy plants.

Good ones include Marimo moss balls, Cabomba, Amazon Sword, or low-growing ones like guppy grass to cover the tank floor. What your Cichlid will love most of all, however, is a rocky wall, as they frequent these often in the wild.

5. Bumblebee Cichlid Tankmates

The best fish to keep with a Bumblebee Cichlid are other semi-aggressive Mbuna Cichlids from Lake Malawi. If you stick to these, you will be fine.

You may occasionally read that all Mbuna Cichlids or Malawi Cichlids are aggressive but this is a misnomer. There are plenty of peaceful ones like the blue dolphin Cichlid or yellow lab that wouldn’t make a good companion for the Bumblebee. That’s wy you should always choose bumblebee cichlid tankmates very carefully.

It’s best to avoid tankmates who aren’t from Lake Malawi if you intend to put Cichlid salts in the tank, as the conditions won’t be appropriate for them, and they may even struggle to survive.


Generally, these fish are omnivores and eat a variety of small creatures, algae, and microscopic life off the rocky walls of their natural habitat.

Generally, they get from this a mix of vegetable matter and protein. Feed them basic Malawi Cichlid food or African Cichlid food to ensure they get all the nutrients they need. However, it’s important to give all fish a varied diet.

Yes, it’s quite natural to wonder if your fish get bored… and what you can do to spice things up for them!

Enriching Your Fish’s Diet

It’s a no-brainer that all fish do best with a varied diet. As omnivores, you can give your Bumblebee Cichlid a wide variety of other foods to pique their interest:


  • Brine shrimps
  • Daphnia or water fleas
  • Bloodworms
  • Tubifex worms
  • Glassworms

Additional vegetables:

Bumblebee Cichlid Behavior And Temperament

Bumblebee cichlid behavior and temperament
The Bumblebee Cichlid eats parasites off the skin of the catfish, keeping it clean and getting a small meal in return. Image from Flickr

The Bumblebee is a very interesting Cichlid because of how its behavior hints at its habitat in the wild. Simply put, these fish, like other Mbuna Cichlids, have a habit of scavenging algae and bits of food off rocks.

Do you want to see this in action?

So long as you look for even a relatively short amount of time, it’s easy to observe this in your aquarium.

In The Wild

In the wild, just like other Mbuna Cichlids, the bumblebee cichlid lives near rocky walls and caves in Lake Malawi.

Did you know the name Mbuna is a local Bantu word that refers to a fish that dwells near rocks?

Mbuna are one of the main Cichlid kinds, as opposed to the Utaka category of Cichlids that live in open water.

Living near rocks allows Mbuna Cichlids to feed on small organisms hiding in the crevasses, as well as algae. However, These guys are also special even amongst the Mbuna Cichlids for the symbiotic relationship they have with a particular species of bottom-dwelling catfish.

This fish eats parasites off the skin of the catfish, keeping it clean and getting a small meal in return. Now you can see why the small bumblebee cichlid size is the perfect adaptation for life in its natural habitat. These guys are small but feisty!

However, this is very difficult to replicate in captivity as the catfish is endangered, and not part of the aquarium trade.

In Captivity

In captivity, you will see Bumblebee Cichlids stay near any rocky walls and stones you have created in your tank, as well as stake out their territory around these.

It’s delightful to see them darting off the rocks, picking at food, but remember that they can become aggressive to other fish if provoked.

Territorial Behavior

The territorial behavior of the Bumblebee Cichlid is something to watch out for. However, they generally direct it only towards their species.

This is why it’s not only best to keep them by themselves, but also to avoid any Cichlids and other tankmates with coloration that could be mistaken for another Bumblebee Cichlid. For a fuller guide to this, see the ‘Tankmates’ section earlier on in this article.

Pests And Diseases

Pests and diseases of bumblebee cichlid
Fin rot is a basic bacterial infection that can occur if your fish’s immune system is weak or the water quality is dirty. Image from Flickr

Like all freshwater fish, these Cichlids are prone to a variety of diseases. However, some are specific to the East African Cichlids.

1. Malawi Bloat

Malawi bloat is caused by the parasite hexamita, which also causes hole-in-head disease. However, this time, it causes a disease of the digestive system that causes a swollen and distended abdomen. This can also lead to white feces.

Another good reason why it’s important to sex your fish properly? If you can’t tell the bumblebee cichlid male vs female, you may misdiagnose this due to confusion with pregnancy. See our breeding section below if you want to know more about whether a fish is pregnant.

Apart from this, Malawi bloat is generally fatal if left untreated. It is possible to treat it the same way as other parasites, but it’s best to identify it and stop it early.

The white feces is one of the telltale signs that differentiates it from dropsy, which also causes a swollen abdomen. Take note especially if your fish stops eating.

2. Fin rot

Fin rot is a basic bacterial infection that occurs if your fish’s immune system is weak or the water quality is dirty. It manifests as sore and raged patches on your fish’s fins and skin.

The best way to handle this is simply to change the tank water and treat the fish in a separate quarantine tank. You can do this with an over-the-counter antibacterial medication.

Author’s Note: If you have alkaline salts in the water, it’s important to keep these ratios the same in the quarantine tank and to top them up by the same amount when you change the water in the main tank. This is because rapid fluctuations in conditions can be damaging to any fish. It means your Bumblebee Cichlid will be less likely to recover.

3. Swim Bladder Disease

Swim bladder disease requires the same treatment as fin rot as it is also a bacterial infection. How to spot it?

This disease affects the organ your fish uses to stay afloat. Therefore, you will notice your Bumblebee Cichlid struggling to stay upright in the water.

Other symptoms include not eating, and lethargy. These Cichlids may display many of the same signs as other fish, so if you are wondering why your fish is not eating, this could be why.

4. Parasitic Infections

Parasitic infections can range from hexamita to gill flukes but what they all have in common is they are caused by small parasitic organisms.

You can generally treat these by quarantining the fish in a separate tank and treating them with a saltwater bath. This is the only case where you don’t want to keep the ratios of mineral salts balanced with those in your regular tank. Otherwise, it may interfere with the salt’s ability to kill the parasites.

Whilst scientists have not properly studied this, it is possible that the alkaline nature of a Mbuna Cichlid tank inhibits the growth of many common aquarium parasites.


Breeding of bumblebee cichlid
It’s also a good idea to separate the fry into a separate tank that you have prepared beforehand. Image from Flickr

The Bumblebee Cichlid is a mouthbrooder like all Mbuna Cichlids. What differentiates them is that some species like to hide in rocks while they breed whilst others will dig a pit in the substrate of the tank.

Egg Laying

As rock-dwelling Cichlids your Bumblebee Cichlid will generally find a sheltered spot to lay her eggs. This is most likely to be inside a small cave or on a flat piece of rock.

After this, the male will fertilize them by swimming over them and spraying his milt. Then the female will gently pick them up and carry them around in her mouth, a process known as mouthbrooding.

Mouth Brooding

The mouthbrooding process of many Cichlids is one of the things that makes theme so exciting to breed. It’s very common in the Cichlid family, especially with African Cichlids. What’s also exciting is there is still lots of scientific research to do on it.

Either way, this process generally lasts for a period of 20 to 25 days in the Bumblebee Cichlid.

You will find that the female is generally more guarded and territorial during the process. However, this is what allows her to protect the eggs – and in the wild, this kind of behavior keeps predators at bay.

Most aquarium Cichlids are generally peaceful in this respect, but egg-stealing behavior can happen in other mouthbrooding fish in the wild.

Caring For The Fry

The fry generally hatch after 20 to 25 days, and they are not yet strong enough to survive on their own. Sometimes, the mother carries them in their mouth for a little longer after hatching. However, eventually, she will spit them out once they are large enough to fend for themselves.

At this point, you can feed them like you would feed the fry of any other fish. Use a mixture of infusoria and crushed pellets or flakes until they are large enough for solid foods.

Author’s Note: It’s also a good idea to separate the fry into a separate tank that you have prepared beforehand. This should have the same conditions as the original tank in terms of temperature, salt content, and so on, and will guarantee the fry won’t become prey either for the parents or other tankmates.

Final Thoughts

The Bumblebee Cichlid
The Bumblebee Cichlid is a very interesting Mbuna Cichlid to keep for its unusual behavior, interactive nature, and striking coloring. Image from Flickr

The Bumblebee Cichlid is a very interesting Mbuna Cichlid to keep for its unusual behavior, interactive nature, and striking coloring,.

On the flip side, like all Mbuna Cichlids, it’s not really suitable for beginners. Ultimately for any fish to thrive you need an understanding of its natural habitat. Thus, it’s important to know how to set up a Cichlid tank correctly and have some prior experience.

That being said, once you are confident, these guys can make a great addition to a mixed Mbuna tank.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do Bumblebee Cichlids get their name?
Bumblebee Cichlids get their name from the mottled yellow and brown coloration that covers their body. However, did you know part of their scientific name also comes from the scientific name for European wasp? The ‘crabro’ epithet is shared in both of the formal taxonomical names!
What are the best Bumblebee Cichlid tankmates?
The best Bumblebee Cichlid tankmates are other Mbuna Cichlids from the African Great Lakes region. These are generally similar-sized Cichlids that have a semi-aggressive (territorial) temperament). They absolutely cannot get on with South American Cichlids, due to different water needs. However, if you want South American Cichlids, there are plenty of resources on how to set up an Angelfish tank or Discus fish tank.
Is the Bumblebee Cichlid a Mbuna Cichlid?
The answer to this is yes. If you’ve seen the term Mbuna Cichlid thrown around and you’re unsure what it means, this name generally refers to a group of rock-dwelling Cichlids from the African Great Lakes region. The name comes from a word in the local language that describes this behavior. It’s important to know as many Mbuna Cichlids share characteristics and get on best with other Mbunas, though species may vary.
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Tal Halperin

Tal is an avid fish keeper and has been raising ornamental fish for decades. As a little boy, he drove his father crazy to buy him an aquarium with all the necessary equipment. Now, after a career in the field, he has set up Your Aquarium Place to offer the most comprehensive guide to ornamental fish keeping available and share his passion for the different species he has looked after.