Lionhead Cichlid

Blockhead Cichlid, Humphead Cichlid, African Buffalo Head

Family: Cichlidae Lionhead Cichlid Steatocranus casuarius, Blockhead CichlidSteatocranus casuariusPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy Ken Childs
Latest Reader Comment - See More
I have kept a single Buffalo Head male before untill about 3.5 inches and he was by far one of my coolest chiclids. And he was in the with a mix of Haps, Peacocks,... (more)  AceBoogie87

The Lionhead Cichlid has an imposing air about it with a huge humped forehead!

The Lionhead Cichlid Steatocranus casuarius is definitely a unique addition to your tank. This is a fairly small cichlid, generally reaching only about 4 1/2 inches in length. One of its most definitive features is the large fatty lump on the forehead of the adult male. Though it's not too colorful, its body shape and behaviors make it a very fun and interesting fish to watch.

Simply looking at them gives some quick clues as to the special characteristics of this fish. They seem to perch on the bottom and their movements are similar to gobies where they tend to 'hop' or 'jerk' from place to place rather than swim. This is because they have adapted to the fast moving streams of their natural habitat. Their lower fins act as struts for support and their swim bladder has been greatly reduced, which keeps them from readily floating and then having to swim against the current.

All the common names of this fish are descriptive of this prominent nuchal hump. It will be found as the African Blockhead, Lumphead, African Hump Head Cichlid, African Buffalo Head Cichlid, African Lion Head Cichlid, African Block Head Cichlid, and African Bump Head Cichlid. Yet no matter what you find it called, with its conspicuous shape and modest needs, it has earned a well deserved place in the aquarium hobby!

What's in the name?
'Steato' + 'cranus' means "fat" + "head"
casuarius means refers to"prominent hump"

This cichlid is moderately easy to care for. A great choice for the enthusiast who has limited space and cannot provide a large aquarium. The fish is not demanding about the pH and hardness of the water, but it does need very clean, oxygen rich water. Doing large water changes every week is necessary maintenance to keep it healthy and happy.

They need a lot of caves near the bottom of the tank for retreating. Offering several hiding places at varying intervals, created with rocks and driftwood works well. They love to dig in a sandy substrate, often creating a series of caves and tunnels under the decor. So make sure that everything in the tank is secure. They do not bother plants, which is great for those who like their aquascaping, but plants may be uprooted by the burrowing of this fish. It works best to use plants that are hardy and individually potted, or those that can be rooted to the decor such as Anubias or Java Fern.

The Lionhead Cichlids are peaceful little guys. They are considered to be a community cichlid if kept with the right tank mates. Generally they will get along with small peaceful fish that are not bottom dwellers. They do best in a species specific tank and should be kept as a pair, but will not get along with other conspecifics. They will often pair for life and remain solitary if their mate should die. Like other cichlids they become territorial, especially toward conspecifics, during spawning.

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


Geographic Distribution
Steatocranus casuarius
Data provided by FishBase.org
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Family: Cichlidae
  • Genus: Steatocranus
  • Species: casuarius
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Lionhead Cichlid - Quick Aquarium Care
  • Size of fish - inches: 4.7 inches (11.99 cm)
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gal (114 L)
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Temperature: 75.0 to 82.0° F (23.9 to 27.8° C)
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Lionhead Cichlid Steatocranus casuarius was described by Poll in 1939. They are found in the lower Congo River in both Republic of Congo and Democratic Republic of the Congo of Africa. They occur in the Malebo Pool to Matadi, the Lower Congo River basin, and they are also found in the Zaire River tributaries. Other common names or different spellings these fish are known by are the African Blockhead, Lumphead, African Hump Head Cichlid, African Buffalo Head Cichlid, African Lion Head Cichlid, African Block Head Cichlid, and African Bump Head Cichlid.

This species is presently listed on the IUCN Red list of Threatened Species as Least Concern (LC) because there are currently no threats. However, the 3rd of three dams, Inga 3 will be built within five years. It will divert a significant amount of water flow while Inga 1 and 2 are existing dams that are not creating a threat. They may also become threatened by increased mining in the region, as the area is rich in a key component of concrete.

These fish inhabit the quiet areas of faster flowing waters feeding on plants, algae, small crustaceans, and plankton. Because they inhabit fast moving streams, their swim bladder is under developed which keeps them from readily floating. Thus they don't have to swim against the current much of the time.

  • Scientific Name: Steatocranus casuarius
  • Social Grouping: Pairs - They will often pair for life, but will often remain solitary if their mate should die
  • IUCN Red List: LC - Least Concern

Description

The Lionhead Cichlid has an elongated yet stout body with an over sized head. The male develops a nuchal hump that grows with age. Overall this fish is a rather drab olive green color with some hints of brown, black, blue and gray, and it has blue eyes.

The male grows to a length of 4 3/4 inches (12 cm) in length while the female is smaller, reaching up to 3 inches (8 cm). Some sources cite a bit larger sizes of about 6 inches (15 cm) for males and 4 inches (10 cm) for females. They will generally live for about 5 - 8 years but could possibly live even longer if well cared for.

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. These fish have special characteristics that are adaptations to the fast moving streams of their natural habitat. Their lower fins act as struts for support and their swim bladder has been greatly reduced, which keeps them from readily floating. They don't hover, but rather 'jerk' or 'hop' from rock to rock.

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. They also 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 of fish - inches: 4.7 inches (11.99 cm) - The male of this species reaches 4 3/4 inches in the wild, with the female growing up to 3 inches. In the aquarium they have been reported at about 6 inches (15 cm) for males and 4 inches (10 cm) for females.
  • Lifespan: 5 years - They generally have a lifespan of 5 - 8 years.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

This cichlid is relatively easy to care for. This species is not demanding about the pH and hardness of the water, but it does need very clean, oxygen rich water. They also need plenty of caves for retreat. The size and behavior of the Lionhead Cichlid makes a pair suitable for a medium sized aquarium of 30 gallons.

It can be suggested for any aquarist willing to provide it with the proper environment and care. The aquarists must be willing to do frequent water changes and provide appropriate tank mates. As long as the tank is kept clean and well oxygenated, and there are plenty of caves for retreat you will have happy fish. They are also relatively easy to breed if the habitat is suitable for their burrowing needs.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner - These fish do require very clean, oxygen rich water and regular maintenance.

Foods and Feeding

The Lionhead Cichlid is an omnivore. In the wild they feed on plants, algae, small crustaceans, and plankton. In the aquarium they are ready eaters and will accept most foods. They can be fed a varied diet of live foods, frozen and prepared foods, algae, flake and pelleted foods. They especially enjoy algae and will even like some fresh green on occasion. All fish benefit from vitamins and supplements added to their foods.

Feed 2 to 3 times a day in smaller amounts 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.

  • Diet Type: Omnivore
  • Flake Food: Yes
  • Tablet Pellet: Yes
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet
  • Vegetable Food: Most of Diet
  • Meaty Food: Most of Diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day - Generally feed 2-3 small feedings a day rather than a single large feeding for better water quality.

Aquarium Care

The Lionhead Cichlid is a rewarding specimen to keep as long as water quality is maintained. Very clean. oxygen rich water is important. Do regular partial water changes of 30% to 50% weekly, depending on stocking numbers.

  • Water Changes: Weekly - Water changes of 30 - 50% a week are recommended.

Aquarium Setup

The Lionhead Cichlid will swim mostly in the lower parts of the aquarium, and occasionally in the middle. A minimum of 30 gallons and a tank at least 3 feet long is suggested for a pair. If you wish to keep more than a larger tank will be needed as they are very territorial. They are not demanding about the pH and hardness but very clean. oxygen rich water is important, so provide strong efficient filtration. They like vigorous water movement in some areas along with some areas where the water movement is more quiet.

These fish are cave spawners and love to dig in a sandy substrate. Provide a substrate of sand along with a lot of caves near the bottom of the tank for retreating. Offering several hiding places at varying intervals, created with rocks and driftwood works well. Flowerpots turned up or lengths of pvc piping also make good shelters as well as spawning sites for the fish.

They will often dig a series of caves and tunnels under the decor so make sure that everything in the tank is secure. Rocks need to be firmly place and can be bonded with silicone to make sure they don't topple over. They do not bother plants, but plants may be uprooted by the burrowing of this fish. It works best to use plants that are hardy and individually potted, or those that can be rooted to the decor such as Anubias or Java Fern.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gal (114 L) - A minimum of 30 gallons is suggested for a pair, a larger tank will be needed to house more.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Substrate Type: Sand - These fish are cave spawners that like to burrow into the sand under the decor.
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate - normal lighting
  • Temperature: 75.0 to 82.0° F (23.9 to 27.8° C)
  • Range ph: 6.0-8.0 - A pH of 7.0 is ideal for this fish.
  • Hardness Range: 3 - 17 dGH
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Moderate - They like areas of vigorous water movement along with some areas that are quiet.
  • Water Region: Bottom - These fish will swim primarily in the lower areas of the aquarium.

Social Behaviors

This cichlid, though territorial, is considered to be a community fish if it is kept with the right tank mates. They can be kept with other small peaceful fish that require similar conditions. Do not house with other fish that are too large or overly boisterous. Also it should not be kept with any other cichlids unless the tank is very large.

In general other fish kept with them should not be bottom dwellers, but there are a few catfish that can be kept with them. These include Bristlemouth catfishes from the Chaetostoma genus and some of the Upside-down catfishes native to Africa including those from the Chiloglanis genus and Synodontis brichardi. Some other good tankmates include African tetras from the Alestidae family such as the Jellybean Tetra Ladigesia roloffi as well as larger characins and barbs.

They do well in a species specific tank and should be kept as a pair, but will not get along with other conspecifics. They will often pair for life and remain solitary if their mate should die. Like other cichlids, they become more territorial during spawning.

  • Venomous: No
  • Temperament: Peaceful - They are territorial but can kept with small peaceful fish that require similar conditions.
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species - conspecifics: Yes - They should be kept as a pair, but are aggressive towards any others of their same species.
    • Peaceful fish (): Safe
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
    • Slow Swimmers & Eaters (): Monitor
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: May be aggressive
    • Plants: Safe

Sex: Sexual differences

The females are smaller than males, and the adult males develop a nuchal hump.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Lionhead Cichlid has been bred in captivity, in fact most available specimens are captive bred. This cichlid will form a patriarchal/matriarchal family and are very good parents. They will often pair for life, forgoing a new partner if their mate dies.

Get a group of juveniles and let them pair up, then remove the others or they will be attacked. They will become sexually mature at 2 to 3 inches. These fish do become nervous without company. They may spawn in a community tank, but a species specific tank with a school of fast moving dither fish, such as Congo Tetras, works best.

They are a substrate spawner that prefer the security of a cave. The pair will either use an existing den or cave, or dig a den together underneath a rock and then spawn.The spawning itself is quite secretive. The female will lay between 20 and 60 eggs, and never more than 150. The female will stick the eggs to the roof of their den.

In about 5-7 days the eggs will hatch. The fry will be free swimming in about 5-7 days after that. The parents will lead their young out into the open water of the tank to feed. The parents will even masticate food for the fry if the food is too large.

These cichlids are really excellent parents. The parents will guard their fry for up to three months, or until their next brood. Even when the parents are protecting another brood, any previous young that are still in the tank are usually tolerated. See more about cichlid breeding in Breeding Freshwater Fish: Cichlids.

  • Ease of Breeding: Moderate

Fish Diseases

The Lionhead Cichlid is a rewarding specimen to keep as long as water quality is maintained. 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.

A common problem with fish 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.

This species has an extremely long, highly coiled intestine, which can be subject to problems if they are not provided a high algae diet. Intestinal disease can be treated with metronidazol. As with most fish they are susceptible to skin flukes and other parasitic infestations (protozoa, worms, etc.), fungal infections, and bacterial infections. It is recommended to read up on the common tank diseases. Knowing the signs and catching and treating them early makes a huge difference. For information about fish diseases and illnesses, see Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments.

Availability

The Lionhead Cichlids are are usually found online and are sometimes found in fish store. These fish may often be special ordered if they are out of season and you are willing to wait for them. They are moderately high in price.

References

Author: Clarice Brough CFS, Carrie McBirney
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Lastest Animal Stories on Lionhead Cichlid


AceBoogie87 - 2011-11-23
I have kept a single Buffalo Head male before untill about 3.5 inches and he was by far one of my coolest chiclids. And he was in the with a mix of Haps, Peacocks, South American and multiple Africans I kept him in my 72 gal. bowfront. I traded-in all my chiclids and went salt for a few years, but I made the switch back to fresh and the first fish I got was a small group of 4, 1.25 inch Buffalo Heads I can't wait to watch them pair up and hopefully have a successful brood! They are awesome fish to just kick-it and gaze at.

  • Charlie Roche - 2011-11-24
    Hey you are right and having fun. Glad you enjoy.
Reply
Tom W - 2010-06-18
I keep 4 of these in a small (3ft\120L) community tank and I've found them to be perfectly well behaved with regards to other fish. They occasionally chase each other around but as my tank is heavily aquascaped they don't cross paths that often, and it seems the fighting is only for show as they will spend other times swimming together in a pack. They're fascinating to watch, and remind me a lot of marine blennies and gobies in the way they move and dart from resting place to resting place. An all round excellent community fish in my opinion, and hopefully their reputation for being nasty becomes a thing of the past.

  • Clarice Brough - 2013-01-15
    They are very cool fish, and it's good to know they can do well in a community tank. Thanks for sharing:)
Reply
BigT - 2010-11-08
I have had a pair for about a year now. They have been living with bala sharks, gouramis, tiger barbs, and even an oscar large enough to eat both of them. They are tough enough to fight off the oscar and have proven that on several occasions. As far as the fish go they all get along very well. They are now getting ready to spawn. They have taken over a large section of the tank that the oscar won't even go to. Aside from their recent territorial displays they are by far the coolest fish in the tank more personality than the oscar.

Reply
c.morgan - 2010-01-09
I keep the block heads in a 4 foot cichlid tank containing fish like the severum, the uaru, yellow labs, firemouth and more. I have kept fish for over a decade now and of all the species I have kept, these boys fascinate me more than any other species. I find they get an unfair write up for being too aggressive which is simply not the case. I recommend any fish lover to try these gorgeous little creatures.

Reply