Blunt-Headed Cichlid ~ Moorii ~ Brabant CichlidFamily: Cichlidae Tropheus Moorii "Ilangi"Tropheus mooriiPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy Frank Schneidewind
With more than 40 different color morphs, the Blunthead Cichlid may actually have a variety for every color of the rainbow!
The Blunthead Cichlid Tropheus Moorii was described over a hundred years ago (1898), and was the first of their genus be recognized. This is actually a small genus of fish in Lake Tanganyika, Africa, but with over 120 known color varieties. They are very specialized feeders which restricts their habitat to rocky areas with good algae growth. But they can be found spread throughout this enormous lake at almost every single reef, and each area has a unique color variety.
The Tropheus 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. Many of the imports were identified as T. Moorii varieties, but now it is recognized that these fish represent a number of different species. Five species are scientifically described today, and four of the five have various color morphs. Even so, the Blunthead Cichlid T. Moorii contains the largest number of color morphs. They are quite diverse with each having its own unique and beautiful coloration. Many are identified by the geographic location where they are collected, with the name of the locale tagged to the end of Tropheus Moorii, inside of quotation marks. But many are also called by names reflecting their beauty and often colors of the rainbow, such as Blue Rainbow, Yellow Rainbow, Tanzania Red Rainbow, Sunspot, Red Breast Moorii, Orangefleck, and more. The Blunthead Cichlid pictured above is from the northwestern area of Nkamba Bay, Zambia.
A colony of 12 or more Blunthead Cichlids 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 Blunthead Cichlid has 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 with other fish. In the aquarium their aggression level towards unrelated fish can vary depending on the personalities of the individual fish.
They are rather expensive fish and they can be afflicted with the occurrence of 'bloat', and there seems to be no explainable rationale as to its cause. Initial attempts to keep them often met with difficulty until aquarists became familiar with their rather specific, though uncomplicated needs. 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.
For more Information on keeping freshwater fish see:
Guide to a Happy, Healthy Freshwater Aquarium
Distribution: The Blunthead Cichlid was described by Boulenger in 1898. They are endemic to Lake Tanganyika, Africa and are widely distributed throughout the lake. They inhabit rocky costal areas at depths of 6 1/2 to10 feet (2 - 3 m) feeding on algae and microorganisms.
Description: The Blunthead Cichlid Tropheus Moorii is a moderately deep bodied fish that seems to have a larger head in proportion to their body, a down turned mouth, and the body narrows as it forms the tail. The caudal fin is fan shaped.
There are a number of geographic variations of the Tropheus moorii, each with a different color patterning depending on the locale from which they originate. Color morphs include fish with yellow stomachs, striped tails, rainbow markings, and cross-stripes along with bright yellows, reds, and blacks.
Several varieties are shown here:
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Additional varieties include:
All cichlids share a common feature that some saltwater fish such as wrasses and parrotfish have and that is 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.
Care and feeding: The Blunthead Cichlid s an omnivore. In the wild they feed on algae scraped from the rocks along with microorganisms. In the aquarium they need to be fed a spirulina based flake and pellet. If you use pellet, hold it underwater for a few moments before the fish eat it, that may prevent air released from the pellet from getting trapped in the belly. They should have spinach or romaine at least once a day. Only include foods that are high in fiber. Avoid soft or slimy foods as well as Tubifex, brine shrimp, beef heart, and mosquito larvae.
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, 90 gallon tank is suggested for an established adult group of 12 or more, with one or two males in the group. Provide a sandy substrate, strong lighting to encourage algae growth, and several rock piles along with rocks formed into caves. 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.
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.
Following are some techniques aquarists use:
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:
- Stable temperatures kept within acceptable limits.
- 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.
- Avoid overfeeding and overstocking.
- Do a 10-15% water change weekly.
- Regularly check nitrates (no more than 25 ppm), Ph (less than 7 is not tolerated), total hardness and carbonate hardness.
Social Behaviors: The Blunthead Cichlid 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 or more, with one or two males in the group. Many females are needed to spread the aggression of the male. 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 other herbivorous rock dwelling African cichlids, some Sardine Cichlids Cyprichromis leptosoma which are known to have a calming affect on aggressive cichlids, and Upside-Down Catfish Synodontis species. 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. 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.
Sexual Differences: The sex of the Blunthead Cichlid is bit difficult to determine. Males tend to be a little larger than females, but that is not always reliable. The males can have a deeper body, a more prominent upper lip, and a more upturned nose. The females do not grow as fast as the males and their coloring is less bold.
Breeding/Reproduction: The Blunthead Cichlid has been bred in captivity. Get a group of 12 to 20 juveniles for a 90 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 Blunthead Cichlid Tropheus Moorii is sometimes available online or in fish stores, and run up to about $30.00 USD for fry depending on variety, more for adults. They can be special ordered if you are willing to wait. Make sure you examine them for spinal defects before purchase.