Blue-Eyed Tropheus

Brichardi Cichlid ~ Chocolate Moorii ~ Saddle Moorii

Family: Cichlidae Blue-Eyed Tropheus, pictured here is the Skunkback Tropeus, Tropheus brichardi "Nyanza" Skunkback Tropeus - Tropheus brichardi "Nyanza"Tropheus brichardiPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy Frank Schneidewind

   With the many different color varieties, it is no wonder the Blue-Eyed Tropheus is one of the more popular fish from Lake Tanganyika!

   These fish were called 'Blue-Eyed Tropheus' by hobbyists well before they were scientifically described, and true to this name the iris of their eyes can become blue colored if they are kept in optimal conditions. The main characteristic of these fish however, are the vertical stripes. The stripes can be very colorful on some varieties or simply an alternating brownish black and yellow. These stripes are primarily seen on juveniles and females as the males loose them over time, becoming an overall brown or dark green when mature. There can also be a light blotch on the top of their back and another opposite it on the belly. There are several varieties/races of this species and their coloring is dependent on where the fish are collected.

   A colony of 12 to 30 Blue-Eyed Tropheus can make an amazing display and their personality is a definite plus. The Tropheus have a really interesting social structure that is built upon a colony of consistent tank mates. They are very active and have individual behaviors, from curiously lining up to watch the goings on in the room to their 'dolphin-like' antics when eating. Feeding time can be very 'wet' for their keepers, but make this fish very fun and desirable. The Blue-Eyed Tropheus have a reputation of being one of the most aggressive of the Tropheus species. In the wild they are very aggressive with conspecifics, but are said to be less aggressive, even shy, with other fish. In the aquarium their aggression level towards unrelated fish can vary depending on the personalities of the individual fish.

   This hearty cichlid can be easy to moderate to keep as long as attention is paid to its diet and mandatory water changes are done, and difficult if they are neglected. Provide a sandy substrate, strong lighting to encourage algae growth, and several rock piles along with rocks formed into caves. Having a very aggressive nature, they are best kept in a species specific tank. Do not add a new fish to an already established colony as this will cause an upset and death. They may also be kept in a larger aquarium with some other herbivorous rock dwelling African cichlids. The larger the tank and the more hiding places you have will help with aggression. Truly a rewarding fish for the aquarist who is willing to provide the necessary care.

   The Skunkback Tropeus pictured above is from the Nyanza area of Lake Tanganyika, Africa and was the first of the Tropheus brichardi to be identified and exported. The Tropheus species became a big hit when first introduced in Germany in the mid 1970's and then into the United States, and are still very popular today. They are rather expensive fish, and initial attempts to keep them often met with difficulty until aquarists became familiar with their rather specific, though uncomplicated needs. They can be afflicted with the occurrence of 'bloat', and there seems to be no explainable rational as to its cause.

For more Information on keeping freshwater fish see:
Guide to a Happy, Healthy Freshwater Aquarium

Geographic Distribution
Tropheus brichardi
Data provided by
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Family: Cichlidae
  • Genus: Tropheus
  • Species: brichardi
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Distribution:    The Blue-Eyed Tropheus, endemic to Lake Tanganyika, Africa, was described by Nelissen and Thys van den Audenaerde in 1975, based on a group of specimens caught near Nyanza Lac in Burundi. They were named after Pierre Brichard, a well known cichlid importer. They are widely distributed throughout the central parts of the lake on both the east and west coasts, but not in the extreme north or south.
   They inhabit rocky shores at depths of 6 1/2 to 16 feet (2 - 5 m). They will be found over solid rock, interlocking rubble, or sandstone slabs but do not prefer loose rubble or sandy areas. They are specialized aufwuch feeders, searching and pecking at algae on the rocks. Aufwuchs refers to tough stringy algae that is attached to rocks. "Loose" Aufwuchs can contain insect larvae, nymphs, crustaceans, snails, mites and zooplankton.
   There are several varieties/races of this species. Though commonly called the Blue-Eye Tropheus they are also known as the Saddle Moorii or Chocolate Moorii. Some have also been mistakenly traded as Tropheus Moorii, particularly those from Nyanza Lac, Malagarasi and Kavalla.

Status:    This species is listed on the IUCN Red List with the status of 'LC', meaning 'Least Concern'.

Description:    The Blue-Eyed Tropheus is a stocky fish that seems to have a larger head in proportion to their body, an under-slung mouth, and the body narrows as it forms the tail. The body of the adult male is a brownish black to a dark green color with a white or yellowish patch on the back just under the first half of the dorsal fin. There may also be a small dash of gold on the belly above the pelvic fin and the anal fin can have faint spotting. The caudal fin is fan shaped. The eye is white to golden and the iris of the eye can develop a blue color if they are kept in optimal conditions, thus the name 'Blue-Eyed'.
   The main characteristic of these fish however, are the vertical stripes. The stripes can be very colorful on some varieties or simply an alternating brownish black and yellow. These stripes are primarily seen on juveniles and females as the males loose them over time, becoming an overall brown or dark green when mature. 
   There are a number of geographic variations of the Tropheus brichardi, each with slightly different color patterning. This is especially noted in females and juveniles as males lose most of their striping when mature.

Several varieties are shown here:

Tropheus brichardi "Kabimba" Tropheus brichardi "Kabimba" Canary Cheek
This variety from Kabimba, Congo 30 miles north of Kalemie is gray-green with thin yellow bars, a bright yellow spot on the 'cheek', and yellow head, ventral and dorsal fins.
Tropheus brichardi"Malagarasi" Tropheus brichardi "Malagarasi" Green Wimple, Gold Moorii, Green Wimple Moorii, Lugufu Variant I
This variety is from Malagarasi, Tanzania. The females can display a yellow/gold body coloration.
Tropheus brichardi "Kalemie"Tropheus brichardi "Kalemie" Kaniosha Variant
This variety is from Kalemie, Congo.
Tropheus brichardi "Mpimbwe"Tropheus brichardi "Mpimbwe" Tropheus sp. "Mpimbwe" Msalaba, Kabwe Variant
This variety is from Mpimbwe, Tanzania
Tropheus brichardi "Karilani" Gold FinTropheus brichardi "Karilani"
Gold Fin Karilani Island Gold Fin
This variety is from Karilani Island, Tanzania.
Tropheus brichardi "Ujiji"Tropheus brichardi "Ujiji"
This variety is from Ujiji, Tanzania.
Tropheus brichardi "Kipili"Tropheus brichardi "Kipili"
Yellow Zebra, Wasp Moorii
This variety is from Kipili, Tanzania and has an extraordinarily bright body colors along with a bright turquoise color in the eyes.
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Additional varieties include:

  • Tropheus brichardi "Benga" - This variety is from Benga, Congo.
  • Tropheus brichardi "Bulu Point"
  • Tropheus brichardi "Cape Tembwe"
  • Tropheus brichardi "Isonga" - This variety is from Isonga, Tanzania.
  • Tropheus brichardi "Kanyosha"
  • Tropheus brichardi "Karilani" - This variety is from Karilani Island, Tanzania .
  • Tropheus brichardi "Kavalla" -This variety is from Kavalla Island. The juvenile is similar to T. brichardi "Nyanza Lac". It has narrow vertical yellow bars on an olive-brown background, bright-yellow fins and a yellow ventral surface that fades with age. Mature males loose the striping but have bluish head markings.
  • Tropheus brichardi "Kigoma", Tropheus sp. "Kigoma" - Tiger Moorii, Striped Moorii: This variety is from Kigoma, Tanzania.
  • Tropheus brichardi "Kipampa" - Kavalla: This variety is from Kipampa, Congo.
  • Tropheus brichardi "Korongwe Bay" - Yellow Cheek Brichardi: This variety is from Korongwe Bay.
  • Tropheus brichardi "Mikonga" - This variety is from Mikonga, Congo.
  • Tropheus brichardi "Moliro"
  • Tropheus brichardi "Mtosi" - This variety is from Mtosi, Tanzania.
  • Tropheus brichardi "Mvuna" - This variety is from Mvuna Island, Tanzania.
  • Tropheus brichardi "Namansi" - Fiery Fry: The fry of this variety are striped with an orange red color and the adults are shiny yellow with black fins.
  • Tropheus brichardi "Ubwari Green" - Benga: This variety is from the east side of the Ubwari. Juveniles have narrow yellowish bars on an olive green background. Adult males retain the barring on the back half, have a light gray head, a blackish tail and dorsal fin, and beautiful blue eyes.
  • Tropheus brichardi "Ulwile" - This variety is from Kigoma, Tanzania. Juveniles have nice yellow-orange and dark brown stripes
  • Tropheus brichardi "Yungu" - This variety is from Yungu, Congo.
  • Tropheus brichardi "Za├»re I" - Anthracite Moorii: This variety is from Congo, Congo.

   All cichlids share a common feature that some saltwater fish such as wrasses and parrotfish have; a well-developed pharyngeal set of teeth that are in the throat, along with their regular teeth. Cichlids have spiny rays in the back parts of the anal, dorsal, pectoral, and pelvic fins to help discourage predators. The front part of these fins are soft and perfect for precise positions and effortless movements in the water as opposed to fast swimming.
   Cichlids have one nostril on each side while other fish have 2 sets. To sense "smells" in the water, they suck water in and expel the water right back out after being "sampled" for a short or longer time, depending on how much the cichlid needs to "smell" the water. This feature is shared by saltwater damselfish and cichlids are thought to be closely related.

Size - Weight:   The Blue-Eyed Tropheus grows to a length of about 4 3/4" (12 cm).

Care and feeding:    The Blue-Eyed Tropheus is an omnivore, or can be referred to as a benthic herbivore. In the wild they are specialized aufwuch feeders, picking algae from the rocks that contain microorganisms. In the aquarium they can be fed a varied diet including spirulina based flake or pellet and supplement with a small quantity of protein They should have spinach or romaine at least once a day. Only include foods that are high in fiber. Offering only Cyclops and Mysis as live protein supplements. Avoid avoid soft or slimy foods as well as Tubifex, brine shrimp, beef heart, and mosquito larvae. When using pellet, holding it underwater for a few moments before the fish eat it may prevent air released from the pellet from getting trapped in the belly.
   Feed proteins sparingly and avoid housing them with fish that need protein. Some aquarists say protein may cause bloat though others report no problems with it. Some have fed their fish frozen brine and plankton will no ill effects, while according to one author brine shrimp and insect larvae should be avoided. Stick with the same varieties of food and if you do switch, do it a little at a time, again because this may cause bloat. Rick Borstein, a writer on care of many cichlid fish, suggests HBH Graze and Dainichi Veggie Deluxe brand foods for the Tropheus. The ratios of vegetable matter in these products are good.
   They have a long intestinal tract and should not be over fed, as overfeeding may contribute to bloat. Feed 3 times a day with small pinches of food instead of a large quantity once a day. This will keep the water quality higher over a longer time. All fish benefit from vitamins and supplements added to their foods. (See information about African Bloat in the table below.)
   As the Tropeus cichlids are very aggressive a minimum 4 foot, 75 gallon tank is suggested for an established adult group of 12 to 20, larger for more. Provide a sandy substrate, strong lighting to encourage algae growth, and several rock piles along with rocks formed into caves. Plants may be included and can help fry to have a higher survival rate, however these fish may eat them. Some hardy species include Swordplants that are the larger variety along with Anubias, Water Fern and Java Fern. These can be placed in the background or middle ground.
   They do fine in either freshwater or brackish freshwater but need good water movement for good oxygenation along with very strong and efficient filtration. For freshwater an optional practice is to add 1 heaping teaspoon of salt per 11 gallons of water. This is considered to be a simple and natural remedy for wounds, minor fungal infections and film over the eyes of fish in transit. Be very careful to not add too much salt as this may cause bloat. Using a marine salt (used for salt water fish) will add some trace elements.
   Do water changes regularly, this is very important. Water changes of 15% twice a week or 30% weekly, depending on stocking numbers and removing uneaten food will help prevent disease. The Lake Tanganyika cichlids cannot handle large water changes very well unless the new water chemistry closely matches the water they are in. If a large water change is needed, changing 15% every couple of days should bring water back to normal. This inability to tolerate large water changes is due to Lake Tanganyika being very deep and the water tends to stay stable.
   These fish are susceptible to typical fish ailments, especially if water is stale and of poor quality and has low oxygenation. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Water changes, not overfeeding, providing adequate hiding places, and observation along with feeding your fish the proper foods will keep them in optimum health. One common problem is Ich. It can be treated with the elevation of the tank temperature to 86° F (30° C) for 3 days. If that does not cure the Ich, then the fish needs to be treated with copper (remove any water conditioners). Several copper based fish medications are available for Ich. Copper use must be kept within the proper levels, so be sure to follow the manufacturers suggestions. You can also combine increasing the temperature with an Ich medication treatment. A copper test also can be used to keep the proper levels.

Dr. Jungle says..."What's up with African Bloat or 'Malawi Bloat'?"

The Tropheus species are very susceptible to African Bloat, also called Malawi Bloat.
There seems to be no explainable rationale as to its cause. Though It is not certain what this disease is,
it is generally believed to be caused by a protozoal parasite complicated by bacterial infection.

   The first sign of 'bloat' is loss of appetite which is then followed by swelling of the abdomen, labored breathing, listlessness, reclusiveness, possible red striations on the body, and stringy white feces. A fish that is not eating must be treated immediately or it can quickly become incurable and die.
  The most common cause of this disease is stress and the first sign if illness is not eating. Stress can be caused by such things as transport, netting, poor water quality, insufficient diet, over feeding, and a lack of hiding places. Other causes, that are easily remedied, are an improper diet and adding too much salt to the water.
   Prevention is of utmost importance, and It is possibly to cure a fish if treated right away.

   Following are some techniques aquarists use:

  • Any new specimens you obtain can have bloat or will often soon develop it. When you first acquire them try to provide them with the same food that the dealer was feeding, and then wean them onto a good vegetable based diet; Spirulina flake and pellet.
  • Some will soak the food in dissolved metronidazol and feed them that for the first few days when first obtained. Seachem makes a metronidazol that can be bound to food when used with their Focus product.
  • A good vegetable based diet is important.
  • A healthy group of fish will eat with gusto. But even though they can be very active feeders it is important to not overfeed them. Keep an eye on them, and if one is not eating with vigor some aquarists will then treat the tank with Clout.
  • One author says that they will segregate an ailing fish the second they see signs of not eating, and then will do water changes every day for 5 days in the main aquarium.
  • Metronidazol is considered the most reliable cure and some use Clout as another cure, but do not use them together.

Water Region: Top, Middle, Bottom:    These fish will swim in all areas of the aquarium.

Acceptable Water Conditions:    Hardness: 10 - 15 dH
   Ph: 7.0 - 9.0
   Temp: 76 - 82° F (24 - 28° C)

Lake Tanganyika is the second to largest lake in the world, thus contributing to a low fluctuation in Ph and temperature. Several things all Lake Tanganyika cichlids need are:

  1. Stable temperatures kept within acceptable limits.
  2. Lots of oxygen to survive. Lake Tanganyika is a very oxygen rich lake. Bubblers need to be going day and night, even if there are plants.
  3. Avoid overfeeding and overstocking.
  4. Do a 10-15% water change weekly.
  5. Regularly check nitrates (no more than 25 ppm), Ph (less than 7 is not tolerated), total hardness and carbonate hardness.

Social Behaviors:    The Blue-Eyed Tropheus is an aggressive cichlid. This fish does not always "play will with others" and is best kept in a species specific tank. They need to be kept in groups (community) of at least 12 to 20 in a 75 gallon tank to even out the inter species aggression they display. The larger the tank and the more hiding places you have (except when breeding), will help with aggression. If breeding them do not house with plecostomus as these fish will eat the fry at night.
   They may be kept in a larger aquarium with other herbivorous rock dwelling African cichlids, some Sardine Cichlids Cyprichromis leptosoma which are known to have a calming affect on aggressive cichlids, and the Eretmodus species such as the Tanganyikan Goby Cichlid Eretmodus cyanostictus. Do not keep with slow moving fish or carnivores. Tropheus are voracious eaters and will eat anything that enters the tank. They will rarely let food get to the bottom. Providing more food and in an attempt to feed the non-tropheus tank mates can cause them to overeat and can lead to bloat.

Sexual Differences:    The males and females have different coloring.

Breeding/Reproduction:    The Blue-Eyed Tropheus has been bred in captivity. Get a group of 12 to 20 juveniles for a 75 gallon tank and a harem should form. Do not add new individuals to an existing colony. A large numbers of females is needed for the best success. This keeps the aggression of the males divided and you are less likely to lose females. Females can be hard to bring into breeding condition. The male will always be ready to spawn and are constantly trying to coax the females to spawn whether they are ready or not.
   The dominant male of the group will court a female and they will shimmy and circle one another. The female takes fertilized eggs into her mouth. She will carry them in her mouth, and when release will be healthy, large fry ready to feed. They can be fed crushed flake since they are pretty big when they are born. New moms tend to not be so successful with their first broods, so expect to lose the first sets of fry. The fry are 1/2" (1.27 cm) when they are born, making them easy to feed. With in a week they are already scrapping with each other.
   The adults in the community leave the fry alone if there are plenty of places to hide, but if you have other types of fish in the tank you may choose to remove the fry. They will breed about once a month. Breeding a wild caught specimen with captive bred fish helps to keep the lines healthier. See more information on breeding cichlids in Breeding Freshwater Fish.

Availability:    The Blue-Eyed Tropheus is sometimes available online but only occasionally in fish stores. They run between $20.00 - $40.00 USD for juveniles, more for adults. They can be special ordered if you are willing to wait. Make sure you examine them for spinal defects before purchase.

Author: Carrie McBirney and Clarice Brough, CFS
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