Star Sapphire Cichlid: Complete Guide, Care and More

star sapphire cichlid

Star Sapphire Cichlid General

Placidochromis sp. Phenochilus Tanzania also known as Star Sapphire Cichlid is a popular species of Haplochromine from lake Malawi at Kasinda and along the shoreline between Makonde and Lupingu, Tanzania.

Star Sapphire Cichlids are beautiful and interesting creatures. Males are a stunning metallic dark blue colour with glittering white and blue blotches. Fish get brighter and more beautiful with age. It takes two to three years for Star Sapphire Cichlid to become an adult with their gorgeous look, but it is worth it.

A full size male is around 10 inches. The fish turn solid blue at around three inches. When they are four to five inches in size, they start getting their spots. Every male differs from each other by the number of spots.

The females are smaller in size, usually 6 inches maximum, and don’t have those nice glittering spots. Also, they’re less coloured than males and are silver in colour with vertical black bars. They look nicer with age, and older females develop a significant amount of blue over their body.

Placidochromis Phenochilus appears almost identical to the species. It is easy to determine these two species off from each other. The true Placidochromis Phenochilus gets its name from its unique lips, which are white (phenol = phenotype, chilus= lips. There is a notable lack of this feature in Placidochromis sp. “phenochilus Tanzania“. Another thing to note is that “Tanzania-native” Placidochromis Phenochilus has the white blotching on its body.

Placidochromis species look quite similar to the Deepwater Hap Placidochromis Electra, which is no coincidence since these two fish belong to the Placidochromis genus.

At the next taxonomic revision, which is almost certainly still years away, it is expected that when the type species of the genus Placidochromis, Placidochromis Longimanus, is compared to these three species, they will not appear to be closely related. Therefore, we anticipate that a new genus will be established for these species, if this is what the future holds.


Overall, Star Sapphire Cichlids are quiet and peaceful fish, and they exhibit negligible levels of aggression. During breading time, they are more likely to be more aggressive and dominant males may show a greater degree of aggression toward other males.

The fish that are found in Lake Malawi have an easier time getting along with other members of the Haplochromini that are the same size and temperament, like Mbuna, Red Fin Borleyi Cichlid  and the Red Top Lwanda Cichlid. You can read our article about Red Top Lwanda Cichlid here.

The better alternative is to keep fish in a single tank.

Star Sapphire Tank Requirements                

The native environment for Star Sapphire Cichlid is the hard alkaline water of Lake Malawi in Africa. It is the best to keep the fish in a similar condition to their natural habitat, so the Cichlids are safe, healthy and colorful. Thus, make sure to prepare the home aquarium with the water conditions similar to the Lake Malawi water.

The water temperature should be 78-82°F/26-28°C with a pH between 7.8 – 8.6. It is a great idea to use additives Like  Malawi/Victoria Buffer and Cichlid Lake Salt for the tank water conditioning .

The tank size depends on the number of fish. A midsized group of 5-7 could easily fit in a 75-gallon tank. Once fish grow, it is the best to change the tank to a minimum of six foot to provide enough space for Star Sapphire Cichlids.

As a substrate the sand will be the best option. Also, some rocks forming caves and passageways are needed not only for decorations, but for the fish to feel comfortable. Make sure to leave enough space with the open swimming area for the Cichlids.

What Do Blue Star Sapphire Cichlids Eat?

Star Sapphire Cichlid can accept the commercially prepared food in the aquarium. The fish are carnivores, so their diet needs to include a food that are high in protein.

The smaller specimens will be able to consume mosquito larvae, vitamin-enriched brineshrimp, and Mysis shrimp. The larger specimens can consume krill and brine shrimp (alive or frozen), prawns, lancefish, whitebait, etc. In addition, provide an abundant supply of quality flakes and appropriately sized cichlid pellets and plankton based flakes.

In the wild Star Sapphire Cichlids have a very interesting way of feeding. They follow other fish, who goes through the sand and sift it looking for some food. As they dig, they get plenty of invertebrates from the sand. They’re a large sand sifting Haplochromines called Taeniolethrinops.


While males and females of this Star Sapphire cichlid fish species are sexually dimorphic, which indicates they will have different coloration as they mature, they will also show secondary sexual dimorphism, which means that males and females will have different physical appearances as they grow up.

There are a few key differences in the genders, one of which is that males will receive a metallic blue coat with silver, glittering blue, and white spots, while females will have a grey-blue coat with black vertical bars.

Star Sapphire Cichlid will begin to reproduce when it is around four inches long.

The male’s coloration will become more vivid as the spawning period approaches. He will select and clean a breeding site, either a flat rock or a small depression that has been dug in the substrate, and then showcase it to the female fish until one is attracted to him.

The fish is a mouthbrooder similar to other Lake Malawi Cichlids, like it uses a mother’s body to hold eggs and larvae, as the females usually have good placental strength. When it’s time to reproduce, females will perform a circle dance in order to pick up eggs and generally hold them in their mouths in order to protect them. A spawn consists of around 20-40 fry.

Each time the female lays her eggs, she and her mate will circle each other in a head-to-tail fashion a number of times. The fish deposits eggs a few at a time. After she deposits them, she instantly turns around and picks them up.  At the same time, the male does the same by rotating in order to place himself almost on his side, while also shaking and extending his anal fin. In this manner, he liberates his milt.

Her finding the egg spots on the male’s anal fin inspires her to reach down and attempt to grab the “eggs” that she just deposited. In the meantime, she is taking insemination fluid. This is kept going until the female has no more to give. Once the eggs hatch, the fish will be free-swimming fry for the duration of the incubation period, which may be up to 25 days. To allow the eggs to develop further, female fish will carry the fry and continue to nourish them in their mouth during the egg incubation period.

The fry is quite large and can be raised with little effort. They are ready to accept their food as soon as they are released. The best way to feed this young generation is to provide them baby brine shrimp (Artemia nauplii) or crushed flake. It will help to increase their growth speed.

If you’re planning on breeding, it’s best to have several females and a single male in order to prevent an aggressive male from only caring about one female.

The entire Lake Malawi Haplochromis species will interbreed with other species that are quite closely related to them. To avoid the occurrence of hybridization it is the best to keep Star Sapphire Cichlid separate from Placidochromis Electra.

The Star Sapphire Cichlid is popular in the pet trade, and you may sometimes see it at a pet shop. To say that this fish is not uncommon would be an overstatement, as it is abundant in the cichlid hobby.

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