The Bumblebee Cichlid is endemic to Lake Malawi where it occurs in the deepwater rocky habitat at Chinyankwazi Island, Chisumulu Island, Chiyamwezi Island, Eccles Reef, Likoma Island, Maleri Island, Mbenji Island, Nkata Bay, and West Reef. Here these Mbuna live in sizeable caves together with the large bagrid catfish, the Kampango (Bagrus meridionalis). For the majority of the time, the cichlids exhibit the typical yellow and brown barred 'bumblebee' colouration, and whilst in this dress, the catfish perceives them as no threat and allows them to clean external parasites from its skin. The catfish are cave spawners which produce thousands of eggs, and the cichlids are able to steal these eggs by quickly assuming a dark brown/black colour and sneaking into the catfish nest. As soon as they have eaten their fill of catfish eggs, the cichlids revert to the 'safe' bumblebee pattern and the catfish is none the wiser.
The aquarium should be at least 4ft long and aquascaped to emulate a rocky reef effect with plenty of caves and a sandy substrate. Décor such as ocean rock can be used to build sturdy structures which stretch from the base of the tank to near the surface of the water. These structures should be built with the purpose of creating many crevices for the fish to explore but constructed in such a way so as to keep the rocks stable if the fish start to dig around and underneath them. Although a substrate of coral sand or Aragonite is often recommended to help to keep the water hard and alkaline, Mbuna feel safer and show better colours over a darker substrate.
The Aragonite or coral sand can always be placed into a mesh bag and kept inside the external filter for buffering purposes. Most rock-dwelling species are extremely aggressive and need to be kept under conditions of 'controlled-overcrowding' to prevent territorial disputes ending fatally - additional filtration may also be required to cope with a heavy bioload. The Bumblebee Cichlid is a particularly belligerent species, and it is best to keep one male in a harem situation with several females (keeping just one female with a male will result in continual harassment and possibly death). This species can be kept successfully alongside other outgoing Mbuna, although it is best to avoid fish with a similar colour pattern.