Types: Holotype (unique): a 157 mm Total Length (TL) specimen from Vua, Lake Malawi, stored at the National History Museum [London], with registration BMNH 1922.214.171.1242.
Diagnosis: The main diagnostic feature of this species is the white tip on the snout (especially on the lips) and the overall deep blue color. When visible, the melanin pattern shows the characteristic of Placidochromis, with only vertical barring. The overall color and arrangement of the melanin pattern in juveniles is similar to that of P. electra, with decreasingly thick bars on the flanks and a dark throat.
The teeth are rather prominent on the outer row. The mouth is rather large (lower jaw 2.6 in head length, according to Eccles & Trewavas, 1989).
Size: In imported specimens, males are up to 12-15 cm TL, becoming much larger in aquarium with age, reaching at least 20 cm TL.
Sex dimorphism: Sexual dichromatism is absent in Placidochromis phenochilus, a rare feature among haplochromines, but males are larger than females, with more prominent mouths and longer fins. With age, old females may lose their blue dress and become whitish.
Type locality: Vua, Lake Malawi.
Distribution: According to Konings (2007), this species is found in the north-western part of Lake Malawi, at Mdoka, Chesese and Chirwa Island. Most specimens in the aquarium trade come from Mdoka.
Habitat: As other members of the P. electra species group, Placidochromis phenochilus is found over sandy habitats at moderately deep levels, usually more than 15 meters (Konings, 1991).
Feeding: Placidochromis phenochilus typically feeds as other blue followers, hovering over sand in search of edible particles and often taking advantage of those which are stirred up by the foraging activity of large members of genera Taeniolethrinops and Fossorochromis, whose stretched snout is deeply driven into the sandy or muddy substrate.
Breeding: Placidochromis phenochilus is a maternal mouth-brooder. There are no precise records in the wild, but in aquarium, males usually choose a sheltered spawning site and attract females displaying and quivering all around them, then leading them swimming towards the pit with undulating movements of the unpaired fins. Other fishes (conspecific or not) are chased away from the spawning territory during the spawning phase, which lasts for some hours, though the spawning itself takes less than an hour. During spawning, both partners turn around, dabbing alternately to the anal fin of the opposite sex, which stimulates the emission of eggs and sperm. The eggs are taken by the female into her mouth, where they are fertilized when she sucks the males' semen at regular intervals in the spawning process. Once spawning is over, the male looses interest in the spawning site.
In aquarium, the numerous eggs and young (several dozens) are incubated for three weeks (at about 25 °C) inside the female's mouth. Fry is then released within one week, depending on the safety perceived in the tank. The young show very early the typical color pattern of the species with an oblique band across the flank.
Aquaristics: With its deep blue nearly permanent dress, Placidochromis phenochilus has an immediate effect on every potential buyer in any cichlid shop, even outshining the extremely popular royal blue Sciaenochromis fryeri. Nevertheless, since it is not easy to catch and ship, Placidochromis phenochilus is a more expensive and more sensitive aquarium host, being probably the most fussy in the P. electra species group. Its lifespan is seemingly short, since 3-years old females stop breeding and lose their colorful dress, becoming whitish and skinny.
Apart from this, the general behavior is similar to that of other blue followers, namely very quarrelsome among each other but with very few damage done, since these species' bites are weak. Placidochromis phenochilusmay be kept with any Malawi haplochromine (and some peaceful mbuna). They usually stand being dominated without loosing their magnificent dress, provided that they have enough room to escape and to spawn in peace. The males' constant mouth contests tend to thicken their already fleshy lips, which may become monstrous and pinkish.
Regardless they are dominant or not, for maintaining a constant contesting mood between the males, a group of at least 5-6 individuals is preferable. That's why a minimum tank size of 500 l is to be chosen for them. In case of a mixed tank with a 'blue followers' host, such as Taeniolethrinops praeorbitalis or Fossorochromis rostratus, the tank must be at least 800-1000 l with large patches of sand and only a few stones, in order to allow the host to forage into the sand layer.
Since blue followers are rather sensitive to skin diseases, the water should be clean, well-filtered and oxygenated; with a pH around 7.8-8 and a water temperature around 25 °. Contrary to many Malawi fishes, P. phenochilus is not a big eater, and to maintain it in good health, it is preferable to give it small amounts of food in higher frequency. Frozen small shell fish (Artemia,Cyclops) together with dried foods constitute a good basis as a main diet.