Johanni Cichlid (Pseudotropheus johannii): Ultimate Care Guide

The Johanni Cichlid, also known as Bluegray Mbuna Cichlid or Electric Blue Johanni, is a stunning member of the Mbuna family of African Cichlids. Endemic to Lake Malawi, this species has yellow-orange coloration when juvenile. On maturity, males take on brilliant sky to dark blue colors with a checkerboard pattern of alternating light and dark patches. Mature females keep their yellow-orange coloration.

Johanni Cichlid Care

An aggressive species, Johanni Cichlids can usually only coexist with other Cichlids of the same species. A male can be a tankmate with 2 females assuming a tank size of 30 – 40 gallons or more. If planning a mixed African Cichlid tank make sure to have even more room available.

Often confused with Maingano (Pseudotropheus cyaneorhabdos, formerly Melanochromis cyaneorhabdos) Johanni Cichlid can be tricky to find correctly identified in the aquarium hobby. Johanni Cichlid and Maingano hybrids are also common and the source of more confusion. Pure P. johannii can be identified by the bright yellow-orange coloration of females. Mainganos and hybrids of these two species are more difficult to sex as males and females display similar coloration.


Johanni Cichlid prefer temperatures in a range from 72° – 82° F.

Water pH

Johanni Cichlids want water between 7.5 – 8.5 pH. Consider choosing a substrate that will boost your tank’s alkalinity, such as crushed coral or aragonite sand.

Johanni Cichlid
Johanni Cichlid

Johanni Cichlid Size

Johanni Cichlid will reach a maximum size of 4 inches. Don’t let the small size mislead you: this can be an aggressive species and will need more tank room than its size suggests.

Johanni Cichlid Lifespan

Johanni Cichlids can live for around 10 years. The maximize your fish’s lifespan, check water quality and perform water changes as needed. Use high quality feed and don’t overfeed.

Johanni Cichlid Tank Size

Although not the largest cichlid, Johanni Cichlids are territorial and need enough space. A 30 to 40 gallon tank should support one male and two females. Cichlids need rock hiding places and this will take up some of the available space. If planning a mixed African Cichlid tank, even larger volumes will be needed.

Tank Setup

Johanni Cichlid’s natural environment is the sandy bottomed Lake Malawi. Sand is the best substrate choice with some crushed coral or aragonite sand added to increase pH. Like many African Cichlids, this species will jump, so ensure your aquarium has a sturdy lid.

Many aspects of tank setup will be decided by the number and mix of fish included. This is a fairly aggressive species so will not play nice in a community tank. Males will fight other males but will get along with a couple of females. A 30 to 40 gallon tank should be suitable for a male and two females. If you want to take a chance with multiple males, a much larger aquarium will be needed, along with enough rocky hardscape to provide hiding spaces.

When deciding on tank size, consider the volume of water changes. Johanni Cichlid is a messy feeder, and the increased pH levels will make ammonia more lethal. You will likely need to perform weekly 30% to 50% water changes. This is particularly true as the fish grows and matures.

Having a planted tank with Johanni Cichlid, or any of the Mbunas, will be a challenge. Johannis are onmivores and will eat many types of aquarium plants. Cichlids are feisty in general, and will uproot plants if they aren’t firmly anchored. What most hobbyists do is choose plants that Mbunas don’t like the taste of. This would include: Java Fern, Java Moss, Anubias and Anacharis. These plants will also tolerate the higher alkalinity preferred by African Cichlids.

Any discussion about planted tanks will turn to Co2 injection. Co2 supplementation will help your plants grow but will also lower pH. If using Co2 injection in an African Cichlid aquarium make sure you water’s pH is already on the high side, ideally near 8.0. This will give you some room for it to drop without falling out of the comfort range for your fish.

Food & Diet

An omnivore, Johanni Cichlids eat both plant and animal matter. They will accept pellets, high quality flake, spirulina and frozen or live brine shrimp. For best health and coloration, feed a varied diet of both plant and animal material. You can standardize on one food type, but make sure it is of exceptionally high quality. Be careful not to overfeed as this species is subject to Malawi Bloat. Though overfeeding is not definitively linked to Malawi Bloat, it may increase the risk.

Johanni Cichlid Breeding

Johanni Cichlids are polygamous mouthbrooders. Breeding this species is usually easy. There are only a few things you’ll need to know.

Breeding takes place in the male’s territory. Males will often prepare a concave area in the sandy substrate but will also use clay pots if available. Females will lay 10 to 60 eggs and immediately take them into their mouths until they are fertilized. Males will display their anal fin which has a spot pattern that mimics eggs. The female will see this and attempt to take these “eggs” into her mouth. This triggers the males to release a cloud of milt which fertilizes the eggs in the female’s mouth.

Fry will hatch in 14 to 21 days. The female will guard these fry for a few days and will even take them into her mouth when she senses a threat.

Fry can be fed with brine shrimp and powdered dry “fry food,” until they are large enough to eat regular pellets and flake. Make sure your aquarium has enough hiding spaces where the fry can take cover until they are large enough to not be eaten.

Johanni Cichlid Male or Female

Sexing non-hybridized Johanni Cichlid (P. johannii) is easy when mature: males display deep blue coloration and females are yellow-orange. The prevalence of commercially available hybrids can make sexing difficult.

Johanni Cichlid (P. johannii) is often hybridized with Maingano (P. cyaneorhabdos). Sometimes Mainganos are misnamed as Johanni Cichlids. In either case, females will not have yellow-orange coloration but will take on a blue color just like males. Female Mainganos (or hybrids with Johanni Cichlid) will be slightly smaller than males and will have somewhat less pronounced fins. This can be difficult to discover with an individual specimen. When trying to determine sex of hybrids or Mainganos, compare individual fish in a group of mature specimens.


Johanni Cichlids are susceptible to the same diseases as other Cichlid varieties. They are also subject to Malawi Bloat, a serious condition than can afflict African Cichlids.

High water quality and frequent changes are needed to keep this species disease free. Be sure to use quality flake and pellet foods that fully support this omnivore’s dietary needs. Overfeeding can be an issue for most African Cichlids and this Johanni Cichlid is no exception. When in doubt, know that it is better to underfeed than overfeed this species.

Malawi Bloat manifests as abdominal swelling, rapid breathing, loss of appetite and lolling on the tank bed. Treat this condition by performing a large water change, at least 50%. Then dose your tank with Metronidazole. You’ll need to remove the charcoal from your filter when using this medicine.

The best way to deal with Malawi Bloat is preventive care. Ensure you are using high quality feed and are performing regular water changes.

Johanni Cichlid Tank Mates

Johanni Cichlid are aggressive fish and are often kept alone or with members of the same species. Some experimentation with tank mates is possible with enough preparation. If given space and hiding spots you may be able to include other tank mates. Other Mbuna Cichlids are a safer bet, but exercise caution. Species from Lake Malawi can be aggressive enough to defend themselves from a Johanni Cichlid. Zebra Mbuna, Electric Yellow Cichlid or Flavescent Peacock Cichlid could be good bets. A Synodontis catfish could be included with fine sand including aragonite. Synodontis catfish like to burrow and can have difficulty with crushed coral.

Even the most careful selection of tank mates can end badly eventually. As Johanni Cichlid mature they can become more territorial. Tank mates they tolerated while young can be bullied or killed by a mature Johanni.

Are Johanni Cichlid Aggressive?

Johanni Cichlid are aggressive and this behavior increases with age and size. Males in particular will fight other males. A male can coexist with one or two females.

Where can I find Johanni Cichlid for sale?

Johanni Cichlid are commonly available in local fish suppliers and online. Due to the confusion between species and various hybrid lines, you should specify the species name when placing an order. Even then use caution. A fish labeled Johanni Cichlid might be Maingano or other hybrid and fish store personnel could be unaware.

Prices vary by size. A juvenile can cost 10 USD or less. A large 3 inch male can sell for 20 USD.