Cichlid Room Companion


Will The Real Yellow Krib Please Stand Up?

By , 1995. printer
Kurt Zadnik, 2002

Classification: Taxonomy and phylogeny, Africa.

(This article was originally published in Cichlid News Magazine, Jul-95 pp. 06-11, It is reproduced here with the permission of author Kurt Zadnik and Aquatic promotions).
Pelvicachromis sp. aff. subocellatus An pair Pelvicachromis sp. aff. subocellatus. the Yellow Krib. Photos by Kurt Zadnik.

I've always enjoyed raising and spawning dwarf cichlids. Part of that enjoyment has included photographing dwarfs and sharing the photos and my experiences with tropical fish groups around the country. These lectures, unfortunately, have saddled me with the title "dwarf cichlid expert". I say unfortunately, because I completely agree with my grandfather who used to say that an "expert" is someone who knows 100 ways to make love, but doesn't know anyone to make love to! As a result of being considered such an "expert", I also frequently receive calls from novice dwarf hobbyists from around the country, which is something of a mixed blessing. It's good because I get to talk with a lot of people who share my interests in dwarfs, but bad because I'm often asked the same questions over and over again. One of the most frequently posed questions concerns the differences between Pelvicachromis subocellatus (the "true" subocellatus) and the so-called "yellow krib" (the yet to be described P. sp. aff. subocellatus). The purpose of the present article is to help clear up the distinctions between these two similar yet very different fishes.

It isn't surprising that confusion surrounds these two forms. Although the yellow krib has been sporadically imported over the years, it has never become a staple in the hobby like the common krib, Pelvicachromis pulcher, probably due to its generally drab colors. The true P. subocellatus, on the other hand, has only rarely been imported but is greatly sought after based on photos published by Jorg Vierke in his book Dwarf Cichlids in 1979. The photos therein show a sexually quiescent male and a spectacularly colored female in full spawning regalia: gold head, bright red belly, shiny silver gold dorsal fin, and black patches fore and aft of the belly spot. For a large number of dwarf enthusiasts (myself included), it was lust at first sight! As a result of these spectacular photos, hobbyists have actively pursued any fish that superficially resembles the true P. subocellatus, but almost invariably end up with the yellow krib (and disappointment). I am not saying that there is anything wrong with the yellow krib; I have enjoyed maintaining it since 1985. But it simply doesn't measure up when compared to the true P. subocellatus. American aquarists had to wait until the late 1980s before Pelvicachromis subocellatus became available through German hobbyists (Linke, 1988). The wait ended only through the efforts of Heiko "Indiana Jones" Bleher, who went to Zaire (editor note; Now Republic of Congo) and "brought 'em back alive" himself.

Although superficially similar, there are a number of differences between the two forms. The yellow krib is native to the greater Niger River delta and is often collected in the same areas as Pelvicachromis pulcher. Shipments of the latter species (as well as the sympatric Nigerian form of P. taeniatus)from Lagos are often "contaminated" with yellow kribs, explaining their sustained occurrence in the hobby. The true P. subocellatus, by contrast, is native to coastal streams and pools from Libreville, Gabon south to Moanda in Zaire. This area has not been collected commercially on a regular basis since the 1960s when Pierre Brichard was developing his export business in Kinshasa, Zaire.

Pelvicachromis aff. subocellatus male
Pelvicachromis aff. subocellatus male
Pelvicachromis aff. subocellatus male
Pelvicachromis aff. subocellatus male

Upper left: A male Pelvicachromis sp. aff. subocellatus; Upper right: A female Pelvicachromis sp. aff. subocellatus; Lower left: A male Pelvicachromis subocellatus; Lower right: A female Pelvicachromis subocellatus. Photos by Kurt Zadnik.

Secondly, as discussed previously, the true P. subocellatus and the yellow krib are not "created equal" when it comes to coloration. The latter is an apt moniker as both males and females are basically yellow with a faint, dark-brown horizontal stripe when sexually inactive. When breeding, the male exhibits vertical rows of alternating red and bright blue spots in the unpaired fins. Males never have black/gold ocellations in the upper lobe of the caudal fin, and the dorsal fin has only a narrow red edge. A sexually-active female yellow krib has a gold head, a bright red belly with a silvery-white blotch above, and a light gold dorsal. The patches in front of and behind the belly spot are, at best, sooty grey. The tail is a translucent yellow-gold.

The true P. subocellatus has generally the same pattern, but taken to a higher level of intensity. Both males and females are basically gold with a distinct black horizontal stripe in non-reproductive condition. When sexually active, the male shows vertical rows of alternating red and bright blue spots in the unpaired fins with either black/gold ocellations or horizontal stripes on the upper lobe of the caudal. The dorsal fin has a distinctive red edge underlain with white. A sexually-active female has a bright gold head and cherry-red on and extending beyond the belly. The dorsal fin is an incredibly reflective silvery-gold. Patches in front of and behind the red belly spot are pitch-black. The caudal is translucent yellow-gold, often with ocellated black spots on the upper lobe. If you even saw such a female, you would easily understand why the male shows such great interest in spawning!

Although they both attain similar sizes, Pelvicachromis sp. aff. subocellatus tends to be a stockier, deeper-bodied fish with a blunt snout, whereas P. subocellatus is more torpedo-shaped with a pointed snout, a contrast that is most pronounced in adult males. Although the yellow krib and the true P. subocellatus are found in similar, soft, low pH waters in nature, the former is easy to maintain and spawn under only slightly acidic (pH 6.2-7.0), moderately soft (100-150 ppm total dissolved solids) conditions. It is also quite fecund, rivaling the common krib in fry production. On the other hand, P. subocellatus can be maintained in slightly acidic, moderately soft water, but requires very soft (<100 ppm total dissolved solids), acidic (pH 5.5-5.6) conditions to spawn successfully. Broods average only 20-50 fry. Fry are also more sensitive to water quality and require more intensive maintenance that in the yellow krib.

Both species spawn in a similar manner and do well in a community tank, as long as they are the dominant fish in the tank. I prefer to keep them as pairs in 15-20 gallon tanks in conjunction with a small group of dither fish (e.g., hatchetfish, pencilfish, rasboras). They are most comfortable in well-planted tanks with a large number of possible spawning sites, such as short lengths of bamboo, coconut shells, driftwood, or upturned terra cotta pots with the drainage hole enlarged enough to allow only the female to enter.

Both forms are generally monogamous, bi-parentally custodial, cave-spawning species. It is best to begin with a group of juveniles and allow them to pair off as they grow and mature. Males will defend small territories in caves from which females are courted. Females approach the opening of a cave and display intensely with a quivering "S-curve" dance in front of the male. This exchange may go on for a number of days before the female is ready to spawn. Once the female "takes over" the cave, spawning has probably taken place. Further indications of spawning are the presence of an ovipositor or a sudden slimness in the female. Females are diligent parents, spending most of their time vigorously fanning the eggs, which hatch in 72 hrs at 80° F. The female often moves the wrigglers to different pits and caves until they become freeswimming (after about five days). The fry are large (0.25") and readily accept newly-hatched brine shrimp, microworms, and finely-crumbled flake food. The female is constantly attentive, herding them around the tank; the fry gain additional nutrition by feeding on rotifers and other microorganisms growing in the tank. During this time, the male defends peripheral areas around the school. Fry grow rapidly under the female's protection and achieve sexual maturity in 7-8 months.

I heartily recommend either of these species to the dwarf cichlid enthusiast. I would suggest that the novice stick with the more easily-kept yellow krib. If you're interested in either form, but are having a hard time finding them, think about joining The Apistogramma Study Group (ASG), a group of hobbyists dedicated to the maintenance, breeding, and enjoyment of both Neotropical and African dwarf cichlids.


  • Linke, H.; 1988; New and re-imported aquarium fishes - the "real one" is here; Today's Aquarium; 2/88:5-6.
  • Vierke, J.; 1979; Dwarf Cichlids; TFH Publications, Inc., Neptune, NJ.


Zadnik, Kurt. (November 04, 2001). "Will The Real Yellow Krib Please Stand Up?". Cichlid Room Companion. Retrieved on December 17, 2018, from: