Fish, Tanks and Ponds

Fish, Tanks and Ponds
A comprehensive guide to fish

Iodotropheus sprengerae

Rusty cichlid

Rusty cichlid, Iodotropheus sprengerae Rusty cichlid, Iodotropheus sprengerae
Photos by Andy Rapson

A little about Lake Malawi

Lake Malawi is often quoted as containing hard alkaline water. This isn't so, the water in Lake Malawi is relatively soft when compared with other large lakes in the African Rift Valley.

  • The average dGH is 7 - 9
  • The average pH is 7.8 - 8.5
  • The average temperature varies throughout the year from 23 - 28°C

The difference in pH is accounted for by differing levels of CO2 found in the water. Deeper water and sheltered bays may have higher levels of CO2 and so the pH will be lower. Wind swept shallow water will have a better gas transfer at the surface and so will contain less CO2 making the pH higher.

Lake Malawi contains approx only one third of of the dissolved mineral level of nearby Lake Tanganyika and so chemically the two lakes are very different and this is one reason why it is a bad idea to keep fish from the two different lakes in one aquarium.


Iodotropheus: Greek, iodos = the colour of iron rust

General Notes:

Provide a rocky environment with the correct water parameters and a varied diet and these fish won't let you down.

Mbuna community



One of the more peaceful Mbuna, But can only be kept in a Mbuna community with other similarly sized Mbuna of a similar disposition. Always keep more males than female ideally in a 2 : 1 or even 3 : 1 ratio. This will not only help to keep the peace but it will help reduce the risk of hybridisation.


Omnivore, rusty cichlids will eat most food, they will pick at the bio-film covering rocks, algae, bloodworms, daphnia, algae pellets, flake food.


Adult males are larger than adult females and posses more vibrant colours.


Only mildly territorial the males will approach passing females and begin displaying, if the female responds and is ready to spawn then the pair will breed if not the pair will go their own separate ways. If the pair do spawn the female will pick up the fertile eggs and store them in her mouth until the fry have used up their yolk sac and are ready for full independence. Rusty cichlids if well cared for will breed on a regular basis even in a mbuna community aquarium. If there are plenty of nooks and crannies in the rockwork one or two fry will always reach adulthood. If you want to raise a full brood then the female will need to be placed in a tank by herself using the same water chemistry as the main tank. The rearing tank should also contain lots of rockwork for the female to hide in. While she is brooding the eggs and fry she will not eat so don't add any food items to the rearing tank.

Once the fry have been released you can return the female back to the main tank and begin feeding the well developed fry immediately. The fry will take newly hatched brine shrimps, micro worms and powdered flake food.

Wild status:

Becoming increasingly vulnerable due to having a restricted range and over fishing for the aquatic industry although the vast majority of fish offered for sale are now captive bred.

Further Information:

Rusty cichlids are a great choice for the mbuna newcomer. They are really quite peaceful (for mbuna), unfussy about their food and easy to breed.

Information at a glance

pH: 7.6 - 8.4
dGH: 7.8 - 8.5
Temperature: 23 - 28°C (74 - 82°F)
Diet: Omnivore
Size: 10cm (4in)
Min tank size: 250 litres
Difficulty level: Intermediate
Aquarium type: Mbuna community
Swimming level: All levels

Distribution and habitat

distribution map for Rusty cichlid, Iodotropheus sprengerae

Origin: E Africa, Lake Malawi (endemic)

Habitat: Shallow water with a sandy substrate and large rocky reefs.


Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Perciformes
Family: Cichlidae
Genus: Iodotropheus
SpeciesI. sprengerae, Oliver & Loiselle, 1972

Common names:

Rusty cichlid
Saffron cichlid


Iodochromis sprengerae,
Melanochromis perspicax,
Petrotilapia tridentiger