Star Sapphire Cichlid Care Guide Care Guide

Star sapphire cichlid care guide care guide

Star Sapphire Cichlid Care Guide Care Guide7 mins read

Fact checked by
Sydney Perry
Reading Time: 9 minutes
Star sapphire cichlid care guide care guide
Image from

The star sapphire cichlid is one of the most majestic and wondrous cichlid species available. Hailing from Malawi, it has stripes as a juvenile, and develops gorgeous star-like spots and patterns later on. Not only that, the star sapphire cichlid has such a docile and friendly personality it will astonish you with its capability to get along with other African cichlid species. Furthermore, it can live with a few fish species from other families.

Generally, they are easy to keep even for beginners, although we will also look at differences between the star sapphire cichlid female and male. These guys can quickly turn your aquarium from something dull and mundane into a display of color and intrigue.

Though the species has easy compatibility and a gentler nature, there is still much to learn about its care requirements. So, read on for more on breeding, feeding, taking care of a star sapphire cichlid juvenile, and much more.

Breed Overview

OriginMalawi Africa
Lifespan6 – 8 Years
Size25 cm (10 Inches) Adult Males
ColorsSolid Blue and Blue with Spots
Water TypeFreshwater
FoodCarnivorous – Omnivore
Tank Size175 gallons for 4 Fish
TemperamentDocile, Peaceful
Water Temperature78-82°F (25.6-27.8°C)
Water pH8 – 8.6
Difficulty LevelEasy, Not demanding

Cichlid Star Sapphire Species Summary

The Star Sapphire cichlid (Placidochromis phenochilus) also known as the “phenochilus Tanzania”, is one of the most intriguing, and undemanding haplochromine species, endemic to Lake Malawi in Africa. The cichlid star sapphire variation lives in various sites around the shorelines of Makonde, and Lupingu in Tanzania as well as Kasinda in Malawi. The species flourishes in sediment-rich areas of lakes, and as opposed to most African cichlid species, they are relatively docile and peaceful. This makes them an aquarium favorite for their exquisite and majestic features, and gentler nature. Bear in mind that because of this, however, the star sapphire cichlid juvenile especially may get bullied by larger tankmates.

Color Variations And Description

With some slight differences in color between males’ females and juveniles, the star sapphire cichlid color patterns are almost galactic and truly something striking to behold.

  • Star Sapphire Cichlid Male – Adult males are the boldest in colors and patterns with a deep dark blue base and white blotches that have an almost metallic shimmer. Their impressive colors will only intensify with age, especially in males. Males are a
  • Star Sapphire Cichlid Female – The star sapphire cichlid female is relatively smaller than males, and unfortunately far less colorful, with more faded colors. They are usually more of a silver color with a black throat and black barring, exhibiting a slight blue sheen, and develop more blue colors as they age.
  • Star Sapphire Cichlid Juvenile – The star sapphire cichlid juvenile,around 7.6 cm (3 inches in size) is usually a solid blue color. You will see them slowly developing their white spots that are more blotchy than well-rounded in the early years.
  • Color Variations – Mainly there are only two variants in this species that are from Tanzania, and that develop spots. The cichlid star sapphire variant from Mdoka up to Chirwa island is solid blue with white lips and lacks the black vertical bars. With this variety, the star sapphire cichlid female is silver with black vertical bars, which usually turn a more solid blue as they age. The main variant is the original Star Sapphire from Lake Malawi. You may similarly know them as the Star Sapphire or plainly Sapphire cichlid.

Size And Lifespan

Size and lifespan of star sapphire cichlid
Image from

A slightly smaller cichlid specimen, the star sapphire cichlid is around 15.7 cm (6.2 inches) when mature, and males can grow up to 25 cm (10 Inches). The star sapphire cichlid juvenile will be around half this size.

With a general lifespan of around six years, many aquarium cichlid star sapphire fish have lived up to a maximum of 8 years, providing that they receive optimal care, with pristine water conditions and the right diet.

Temperament Of The Star Sapphire Cichlid

Fortunately, unlike many African cichlid species, the star sapphire cichlid does not show much aggression. The only time you may experience some aggressive traits from them is during spawning, however even then it is minimal.

Star Sapphire cichlids are quite specific in their preferences when it comes to their aquarium. The star sapphire cichlid female needs calm conditions to breed, and both sexes mostly prefer a setting that closely mimics their natural habitat. Males become mature at around four years of age and develop a small hump on their heads, referred to as a nuchal hump, and may exhibit slight territorial tendencies. The star sapphire cichlid juvenile is generally very peaceful, as it does not have breeding to contend with.

Although normally there are exceptionally few issues with this species, they are still quite active. They do enjoy a hiding spot to call their own, especially during spawning.

Suitable Tank Mates

In terms of suitable tank mates, the star sapphire cichlid is an excellent choice for a community tank, if you keep the right species together. Keeping to African cichlids to enjoy the full experience of this exquisite beauty, alongside its family members, other cichlid species from Lake Malawi especially haplochromines are the ideal candidates for tank mates. Remember though, as we said above, the star sapphire cichlid juvenile can get bullied by more boisterous tankmates.

Breeders have also had success mixing the cichlid star sapphire variety with milder-natured Victorian cichlids, and some Tanganyika species. Other larger fish species that are robust and tolerant to similar water conditions can likewise be a successful combination.

Here are a few species for housing with your cichlid star sapphire fish:

  • Rainbowfish
  • Clown Loaches
  • African Red Eye Tetras
  • Synodontis Catfish
  • Some Pleco Species
  • Red Tail Sharks

Caring For A Star Sapphire Cichlid

Caring for a star sapphire cichlid
Temperatures of between 78-82°F (25.6-27.8°C), and a more alkaline pH of between 7.8 and 8.6 is ideal, with slightly harder water ranges of around 12 – 18 dH. Image from

In comparison to most cichlids the star sapphire cichlid is relatively easy to care for and similarly does well especially with other comparable-sized African cichlids, or in a group of its species consisting of a male and two or more star sapphire cichlid female fish.

  • Tank Size – Because Star Sapphire cichlids are relatively active, they require a more spacious tank. Ideally, a 75-gallon tank could comfortably house a group of four, Star Sapphire cichlids, they get along well with other tank mates, thus the tank size will depend on the number of fish you intend on keeping.
  • Water Parameters – Temperatures of between 78-82°F (25.6-27.8°C), and a more alkaline pH of between 7.8 and 8.6 is ideal for the cichlid star sapphire variety, with slightly harder water ranges of around 12 – 18 dH. You can add special aquarium salt to the water to increase the carbonate hardness.
  • Tank Décor – Most African cichlids prefer a more natural setting in their aquarium. Thus, a thick sandy substrate with some rooted live plants and a few floating plants for shade would be perfect. Similarly, they need a few hiding spaces as they are quite territorial, so make sure that you add some Rocks or caves to create such. This can be good for the star sapphire cichlid juvenile, which may not be as confident.
  • A few robust and appealing plants that are ideal for cichlids include Anubias, Java Ferns, Vallisneria, Crinum, Echindorus, and Cryptocoryne. The star sapphire cichlid female, especially, will appreciate plants to shelter the spot where she lays her eggs.

Introducing New Fish

Most cichlids are quite sensitive to changes in water conditions and temperatures, which makes proper acclimation essential. However, before getting into adding your new fish to their home, it is necessary to ensure that you choose healthy specimens from a trusted breeder or pet store.

Look for these signs of health:

  • The skin and fins need to be clear of any discoloration or white spots.
  • Fins must not have any tears or damage.
  • A star sapphire cichlid juvenile must have clear and bright eyes.
  • The abdomen must not show signs of bloating or sunkenness.
  • The fish should be active and lively, as well as eating eagerly when presented with food.

Furthermore, it is vital to follow these steps to safely acclimate your new fish. This is once you have cycled your tank fully and achieved proper water parameters:

  • Allow the bag fish to float on the surface of the water for about 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Gradually replace a small amount of the water in the bag with that of the tank at intervals of around 10 to 15 minutes, until you have replaced most of the water.
  • You can use a net, or allow the fish to swim into their new home.
  • Avoid too much water from the bag entering the tank as it may contain plenty of waste materials.


In their natural habitat, this species is a forager, sifting through sand and digging for food such as invertebrates in the sand and plant matter. Though they are classified as omnivores, they prefer a more protein-rich diet consisting of krill, brine shrimp, and other invertebrates. A star sapphire cichlid juvenile in particular may appreciate protein as it is growing rapidly.

Essentially, they should be fed a staple of high-quality flakes or pellets especially suited to their needs with meat-based fresh or frozen foods and a small number of vegetables. They can be fed a few small meals a day, about enough to finish within three minutes, to prevent food waste build-up and to keep them well-fed. However, the star sapphire cichlid female will eat more when pregnant.


Ideally, they are a species that will spawn and breed quite easily. However, they usually take around eight months to mature. This fish is essentially a maternal mouthbrooder meaning that the star sapphire cichlid female holds the eggs in her mouth until they hatch. It is best to have one male to a ratio of at least two or more females, males can become territorial when spawning.

The star sapphire cichlid will usually dig a pit in the substrate to lay her eggs for the male to fertilize and then the female carries them in her mouth, you may similarly notice your females will stop eating when they are holding eggs. The eggs take around three weeks to hatch and for the young fry to be free swimming, females can lay anything from 20 to 50 eggs. Once free swimming the young star sapphire cichlid juvenile fish can be fed baby brine shrimp or crushed high protein flakes.

Tank Maintenance

Keeping a group of star sapphire cichlid fish will require regular tank maintenance and water changes. As far as water chemistry goes in their natural habitat most Malawi cichlids are used to highly mineral water that is clear and that has a stable pH and water chemistry. Thus, it is necessary to ensure that they always have clean and regulated water conditions.

Water changes, whereby you siphon at least 20 % to 40% of the tank water from the bottom and replace it with new clean, and conditioned water. This must be the proper tank temperature, and you should do it weekly.

Housekeeping as a rule should include cleaning tank décor and equipment, and removing any leftover foods, or dead plant matter.

General Health Issues In Cichlids

General health issues in cichlids
Placing your fish in a separate tank with pristine clear water and using antibacterial medication has proven to quickly resolve the condition. Image from

Sapphire cichlids like most cichlid species are prone to a few common health issues;

  • Swim Bladder Disease

Infection of the swim bladder (the organ that keeps fish floating) could result in a fish that is lethargic and struggles to stay upright. Infection such as fungal or bacterial infection usually comes from poor water conditions or diet. Quarantining your fish in clean water conditions and using an antibiotic or antifungal remedy is the best course of treatment.

  • Fin Rot

When physical damage or ammonia burns become infected it will cause tears and damage, along with discoloration on the fins and sometimes the body of a fish. Placing your star sapphire cichlid in a separate tank with pristine clear water and using antibacterial medication has proven to quickly resolve the condition.

  • Ich/White Spot Disease

The protozoan parasite Ich usually enters your tank when adding new fish or plants containing the parasites, and can spread quickly. In this case, it is vital to treat the entire tank with medication for the parasite and to quarantine any affected fish.

  • Tuberculosis

A rather dire and contagious disease even to humans. It causes a lack of appetite and weight loss, frayed fins, and white blotches on the skin. Treat the sick fish with melafix in the original tank, remove all other healthy fish immediately  and put them in a quarantine tank.

  • Malawi Bloat

Malawi bloat is a common illness among African cichlids such as the star sapphire cichlid. You can treat it by adding metronidazole to their food or water. Symptoms of Malawi bloat involve a swollen abdomen and discoloration of feces. It usually comes from a poor diet and poor water conditions. Cichlids that need a protein-rich diet and those that need a more vegetable-based diet should be fed according to their needs, as too much of the wrong foods could quickly cause stomach upsets. Be careful not to confuse this disease with pregnancy in a star sapphire cichlid female. Always look for other signs of illness beyond the swollen abdomen.

  • Cotton Wool Disease

Quite easy to diagnose, as the name of the disease says you will notice wool-like growths on your fish, usually caused by a fungus that grows because there is too much organic waste in your tank. Antifungal medication and a slat bath are your best course of action for Cotton Wool disease.

  • Hole in the Head Disease

A hexamita parasite could cause dents in the head of your fish, and lesions along the sides of the body. To treat the disease you must improve water quality, along with their diet. After this, you can use antibiotics.

  • Gill Flukes

Gill Flukes are parasitic Flatworms that attack the gills of your fish causing them to redden and form a slimy residue, which will lead to difficulty breathing. Ideally adding one tablespoon of salt per 55 gallons of water and increasing water temperatures should do the trick.

As a result, the following steps are vital to keep your fish healthy:

  1. Always ensure that a proper diet is fed that caters to the specific fish species’ needs.
  2. Keep water parameters according to the species’ requirements and consistent.
  3. Always ensure that the water is clean and pristine, and remove all waste that could cause ammonia build-up.
  4. Quarantine and check all new fish and plants for parasites and diseases before adding them to your aquarium.
  5. Do regular water changes and cleaning of your aquarium.

In Conclusion

The star sapphire cichlid is a delightful cichlid species to keep that will do well in the right setup and a communal tank. It works well especially with similar African cichlid species. They are easy to keep and undemanding, with a peaceful nature and vibrant colors.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Star Sapphire Cichlid Compatible with African Cichlids?
Essentially other Malawi cichlid species that are from the haplochromine family, with a similar peaceful nature can make excellent compatible tank mates for Star Sapphire cichlids. A few that you can include are the Keyhole, Bolivian rams, Blue Acaras, Electric Yellow African cichlids, and Peacock cichlids.
What tank sizes are Suitable for Star Sapphire Cichlids?
It is recommended to keep at least one male with two or three females in an aquarium, for which a 75-gallon tank would suffice, though for keeping more cichlid species a 125-gallon tank is your best option.
Star Sapphire Cichlids Male or Female?
Adult male Star Sapphires usually have much more intense colors with more prominent spots and patterns, whereas females have a rather subdued color with white blotches rather than spots. You may also notice as the males age they develop a hump on their heads called a nuchal hump.
View sources