Cyrtocara moorii – Blue Dolphin Cichlid

Cyrtocara moorii, also known as the Blue Dolphin Cichlid of Lake Malawi. A large species that is loved for its appearance and behaviour.

Cyrtocara moorii – Blue Dolphin Cichlid

Cyrtocara moorii was first described by Boulenger in 1902 as Haplochromis moorii. In 1989, Eccles and Trewavas gave it their own family name Cyrtocara, in which it also resides as the only one. In English they are referred to as Blue Dolphin Cichlid, they sometimes resemble a dolphin in terms of color and shape.

We can find the following names as synonyms: Haplochromis moorii, Cyrtocara moorei, Cyrtocara moori and Haplochromis moori.

The name Cyrtocara comes from ancient Greek and means bent head as a reference to the hump that the males can develop. Moorii refers to J. Moore who first discovered this species.


Young Cyrtocara moorii are greyish with cross stripes. When they grow up, both the male and female are pale blue with three spots on the flank. Depending on their mood, the fish are this pale blue to bright blue with the spots completely disappeared. Especially dominant or mating males change to dark blue, normally they are also lighter blue and show three dark spots on their flanks.

Males and females are in general almost the same colour, this is already an indication that these fish can get along fairly well with each other. These fish show the best behaviour when they are kept in a group. You can hold several males and females in that group.


In Lake Malawi, Cyrtocara moorii mainly inhabits sandy soils but is also found in the transitional biotopes between rocks and sand. They are mainly found in shallow water of about 3 meters in depth. They are generally fish that occur solitary, you will not find large groups in Lake Malawi. They do occur throughout the lake, with no differences to be found between the specimens caught in the north or south of the lake. Cyrtocara moorii can also be found in Lake Malombe. Lake Malombe is supplied by the Shire from Lake Malawi.


In the wild, the Cyrtocara moorrii feeds exclusively by following the Fossorochromis rostratus, Mylochromis lateristriga and the Taeniolethrinops praeorbitalis. These three fish feed on themselves by digging in the sand, sieving the sand through their gills. During this process, a lot of sand and mud drifts, exposing small crustaceans and other small food. Very interesting is that Cyrtocara moorii defended its “host” against other Moorii’s and other followers (eg Protomelas annectens).

In the aquarium, the Cyrtocara moorii is an easy eater, flake food, granulate etc is eaten but this should be alternated with frozen or live food such as mysis, krill etc. No tubifex or red mosquito but this actually applies to all Malawi cichlids. Also, make sure that you do not feed too much. Too much and protein-rich food can ensure that this species can grow to 30 centimetres, especially in the males. All Malawi cichlids are actually greedy eaters, because of our powerful food they easily grow too large.

The Aquarium

It goes without saying that Cyrtocara moorii needs a generous size aquarium. The aquarium must be decorated with fine sand and some rocks on the bottom so that in particular females can temporarily escape the attention of males.

When the Cyrtocara just entered the aquarium trade, it was soon called a hard-to-keep fish, partly because of his behaviour but also because the mortality rate was high. Today we keep large cichlids in much larger aquariums than in the past. The water change is also known to everyone. So make sure you have a spacious aquarium and refresh the water regularly, this certainly contributes to the health of your Cyrtocara mooriis.

How to breed Cyrtocara moorii?

Breeding Cyrtocara moorii is not too difficult in itself, a couple will soon start breeding as soon as they are adults. The mating proceeds as with many Malawi cichlids. The male seeks out a place to spawn. Normally they do not defend territory, but for spawning, he makes a temporary exception and defends the place he has chosen. He lures the female to his spawning site. The male and female circle each other, the female with her nose near his ventril, even though the male has no egg spots. The female lays a few eggs, turns around and takes the eggs in her mouth, after which the circling around continues.

After 17 to 18 days, the female can release the fry. For this, she looks for a quiet place and lets the fry swim loose. In the event of danger or at night, the fry are then taken back into the mouth to protect them. The nests usually consist of 40 to 80 young. The fry can be fed with crushed flakes and newly hatched brine shrimp. In order to allow the fry to grow well, it is also important for this species to change water regularly.

Catching and moving the holding females is quite a challenge. Not all females hold eggs well when catching them, so carefully and quietly catching them with a sufficiently large net is important. Do this only on day 15 or 16. If the female spits out the eggs and does not take them back in her mouth, the fry are big enough to grow up without their mother. Incidentally, not all females let go of the fry just as easily, some mothers hold the fry until day 25.



John de Lange

Copyright images

Last Updated on 27 October 2021 by John

Additional information


Sub Family






Haplochromis moorii

Common names

Blue Dolphin Cichlid

First described by


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