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Pseudotropheus livingstonii Male

Pseudotropheus livingstonii, young adult. Photo above by Sam Borstein.


Pseudotropheus livingstonii is a sand dwelling mbuna from Lake Malawi and was described by Boulenger in 1899. This species is one of two mbuna known to use snail shells as shelter. Both Pseudotropheus livingstonii and Metriaclima lanisticola use snails of the Lanistes genus as refuge. A synonym for this fish is Pseudotropheus elegans.

Pseudotropheus livingstonii is rather plain fish with a mostly brown/beige background color with some darker stripes. Males get somewhat of a purple or blue sheen on their sides. The fins of the fish are plain, but depending on location variant can range in a base color of clear-yellow. This species can get up to 6 inches, but a size of 3-4 inches is average. For many years Metriaclima lanisticola was considered to be a synonym of Pseudotropheus livingstonii. It is in fact a valid species.

It turns out that almost all fish in the hobby that were called Pseudotropheus livingstonii were in fact Metriaclima lanisticola and the true Pseudotropheus livinstonii were labeled as a Pseudotropheus elegans, a synonym of Pseudotropheus livingstonii. Metriaclima lanisticola can be differentiated from Pseudotropheus livingstonii by its shorter, stockier appearance and striations in its fins.


Pseudotropheus livingstonii has a lake wide distribution in Lake Malawi. The fish is found in sandy areas of the lake.


Pseudotropheus livingstonii is easy to care for and is a hardy fish. It is best to decorate the tank with a sand substrate and some hiding places such asf rocks and shells. Yes, they will use shells, although as the fish grow, the shells do need to become larger. The fish are slightly aggressive, but a young group can be easily kept in a 40 breeder and an older group in a 75 gallon tank. The fish do like regular water changes. I did 50% weekly and the fish thrived.


In the wild, Pseudotropheus livingstonii picks algae from the sandy substrate bottom. In aquaria, this fish is very easy to feed and not picky. A mix of pellet foods, flakes, and frozen foods will be accepted with no issues. It is recommended to add some fibrous foods to this fish’s diet. I fed New Life Spectrum, HBH Graze,  and Dianichi Color fx and Veggie fx.


Pseudotropheus livingstonii poses no problems when it comes to spawning in an aquarium. The fish will breed when small; mine bred as small as 1.5 inches! The fish breed in a typical Pseudotropheus fashion. The females are good holders. Broods tend to be small, a large spawn would exceed 20 fry. These fish hold for a much shorter period than that of the typical mbuna, 13-15 days. The fry are tiny, but able to eat newly hatched brine shrimp. The most likely reason for the short incubation period and the small fry size is that these fishes release their fry into shells which offers protection.

Retail Price

Pseudotropheus livingstonii is relatively cheap, large adults usually go for around $12-16 retail where as younger fish in the 1-2" range go for around $4-5 each. This is not a pet shop species, but is occasionally found in hobbyist circles. It can disappear from the hobby at times.

Report July 2010 by Sam Borstein.