Star Sapphire Cichlid (Phenochilus Tanzania): Care Guide

Star Sapphire Cichlid (Phenochilus Tanzania) is a beautiful African Cichlid that is native to Lake Malawi. This is the third-largest freshwater body of water in Africa. Its crystal blue waters house over 600 species of African cichlids and span the borders of Malawi, Mozambique, and Tanzania.

Male Star Sapphire Cichlids are a bright blue color marked with metallic spots that become increasingly vibrant with age.  Female Star Sapphire Cichlids are predominantly silver with black vertical stripes and a blue sheen which can also intensify with time.

Star Sapphire Cichlid (Phenochilus Tanzania) should not be confused with Mdoka White Lips (Placidochromis phenochilus) which looks similar but is distinguished by a white mouth.

Star Sapphire Cichlid
Placidochromis phenochilus (Star sapphire). mark6mauno, (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Star Sapphire Cichlids Care

Star Sapphire Cichlids that are well-taken care of will grow larger and more colorful as they mature. Since they are more peaceful compared to many other African cichlids, they are easy to take care of in that regard.

Here are specifics on how to take care of Star Sapphire Cichlids:


Star Sapphire Cichlids must be kept in a medium temperature tank ranging between 78-82°F. The tank will require an aquarium heater with 5 watts of power for each gallon of water. Larger tanks may need a heater on both ends to maintain adequate temperatures throughout the aquarium.

Water pH

The Star Sapphire Cichlid requires water conditions with an alkaline PH level between 7.8-8.6. Specialty products such as Malawi/ Victoria Buffer or baking soda can be utilized to maintain proper PH levels. However, PH should not experience changes greater than 0.3 over 24 hours. 

Star Sapphire Cichlid Size

Star Sapphire Cichlids can grow to be 6-10 inches. Male Star Sapphire Cichlids will typically reach a maximum size of 10 inches, while females will grow to about 6 inches.

Star Sapphire Tank Size

The Star Sapphire Cichlid is an active fish that requires sufficient room to swim. When Star Sapphire Cichlids are subjected to cramped living conditions, they can exhibit excessive levels of aggression. Generally, full-grown Star Sapphire Cichlids will require a tank that holds 125 gallons or larger. Tank sizes and corresponding aquarium filtration systems must be adjusted to house varying sizes and quantities of Star Sapphire Cichlids.

Food & Diet

The Star Sapphire Cichlid is a carnivorous fish that is a relatively non-picky eater. Star Sapphire Cichlids will welcome a high-protein commercially prepared diet comprised of pellets and soaked flakes. Sinking pellets are preferred. Other food options for small Star Sapphire Cichlids include mosquito larvae or vitamin-enriched brine shrimp. Mature Star Sapphire Cichlids can consume krill or prawns.

Meals should be administered several times a day near the bottom of the tank because Star Sapphire Cichlids are instinctually inclined to seek food near the sand. Sufficient meal quantities are those Star Sapphire Cichlids can completely consume in a few minutes.

In the wild, Star Sapphire Cichlids are opportunistic and resourceful creatures who often follow sand-sifting fish to scavenge for food. As species such as Taeniolethrinops manipulate sand, the Star Sapphire Cichlid will feed on invertebrates that become exposed.

Star Sapphire Cichlid Lifespan

When Star Sapphire Cichlids have been appropriately cared for, they can live in an aquarium for up to 8 years.

Tank Mates for Star Sapphire Cichlid

Star Sapphire Cichlids can be housed with other Lake Malawi fish that require similar tank conditions. Refrain from adding small fish to the tank, as Star Sapphire Cichlids can consume smaller fish. Notable incompatible tank mates include Oscar Fish and Catfish, who threaten Star Sapphire Cichlids. Suitable tank mates for Star African Cichlids should be of similar size and temperament. The Red Top Lwanda, Yellow Blaze, and Red Fin Borleyi are typically compatible with Star Sapphire Cichlids.

When breeding, remain cognizant of how many dominant males are placed in the tank. A disproportionate ratio of males and females can result in rather aggressive behavior during courtship rituals!

Tank Setup

The Star Sapphire Cichlid requires a tank setup that mimics its native habitat in Lake Malawi. The sand substrate should form the basis of the aquarium. Rocks that form caves can offer Star Sapphire Cichlids hiding places and, thus, a greater sense of security. Star Sapphire Cichlids require ample space to swim, so any aquarium décor should not interfere with their ability to move freely and happily throughout the tank.

Breeding Star Sapphire Cichlid

Star Sapphire Cichlids are sexually dimorphic, and males and females can easily be distinguished by their coloring and size differences. Most Star Sapphire Cichlids will reach sexual maturity when they grow to be approximately four inches long. When seeking a mate, a male Star Sapphire Cichlid will identify a breeding site which is often a small depression in the sand. He will showcase this site to females until one agrees to mate. 

Mating Star Sapphire Cichlids perform a fascinating circular courtship dance comprised of the female depositing and placing eggs in her mouth. After mating, the female will carry the eggs in her mouth to protect them. As fry begin to mature, they should be placed in a separate breeding tank.

Star Sapphire Cichlid Care and Breeding: A Big Beautiful Fish!!

Disease Common to Star Sapphire Cichlids

Star Sapphire Cichlids are hardy fish but can be susceptible to several diseases. Malawi Bloat is characterized by abdominal swelling, lethargy, and discolored feces. When addressed early on, Malawi Bloat can be treated before it compromises the liver or kidneys. To treat Malawi Bloat, a cichlid may be dosed with metronidazole, among other treatments.  African cichlids may also succumb to tuberculosis and develops symptoms such as frayed fins and a sunken stomach.

Interestingly tuberculosis in fish can be passed to humans through cuts in the skin.  In such cases, fish must be treated with Melafix and quarantined.  Cotton Wool Disease is a fungal condition brought about by unhygienic tank water. Cichlids will require antifungal medication. The Hexamita parasite brings about Hole in the Head Disease. Cichlids experiencing this condition will usually develop a depression near the head and experience a loss of appetite and lethargy.

Cichlids will usually require an antibiotic to treat Hole in the Head disease. Keeping Star Sapphire Cichlids healthy requires observation, an adequate filtration system, and regular water changes. Most illnesses afflicting Star African Cichlids can be avoided with proper tank maintenance or treated with early interventions.

Where can I find Star Sapphire Cichlids for Sale?

 Star Sapphire Cichlids will range in price from $12.99- $65.00. Colorful full-grown males are in demand and typically the most expensive.  When seeking a Star African Cichlid, seek out reputable tropical fish stores and breeders. Star Sapphire Cichlids are unique freshwater fish that require tailored care to maintain their health and well-being. However, when provided tailored care, Star Sapphire Cichlids are lovely fish that aquarium enthusiasts will cherish and enjoy.

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