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Tanganyika Cichlids Facts

Tropheus, Frontosa, Goby Cichlids and more

Family: Cichlidae Frontosa Cichlid, Lake TanganyikaFrontosa CichlidCyphotilapia frontosaPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy David Brough

The scope of Lake Tanganyika cichlids includes the most unique and most costly fish in the world!

Lake Tanganyika is home to some of the most unique types of cichlids found around the globe, and includes some of the most expensive freshwater fish.

While Lake Malawi is renown for having some of the most colorful cichlids in the world, Lake Tanganyika has a much greater diversity of cichlid species. African cichlids from Lake Tanganyika sport a high variance in body shape and fascinating behaviors. In fact, the extreme diversity of these cichlids greatly exceeds what is normally found in other families of fishes.

These characteristics have made them some of the most popular fish for enthusiasts seeking uniqueness in the cichlid world. They are also quite active, display complex behaviors, and with the right environment many can be bred in captivity. Popular Tanganyika cichlids include Tropheus Cichlids, Frontosa, Goby Cichlids, Sardine Cichlids, shell-dwellers, featherfins, sand-sifters and more. They are enjoyed not only for their beauty, but for incredible body form and demeanor, offering aquarists a most unique and delightful experience.

The favored Tropheus genus itself is an interesting example of their diversity. Tropheus are widely distributed throughout the lake, and yet even with in this group there are many sub groups due to microgeographic specialization. Tropheus Cichlids are rock-dwelling fish like the Mbuna of Lake Malawi, but a single group won’t swim much more than about 3 feet away from the particular rock island they have designated as their home. There are many Tropheus varieties throughout the lake, with each individual group isolated from the others. Each group is diverse with its own unique color form.

The Goby Cichlids from are also an intriguing and attractive group of fish. They are unique both the natural environment in which they are found and in body shape. Small fish, give or take around 3" in length, they live close to the shore in shallow waters. Currently there are five recognized species in three genera.

The Frontosa C. frontosa is still another very popular cichlid species. Other unique body forms and unique behaviors of this group extends into the Sardine Cichlids, featherfins and shell-dwellers, to the so-called sand cichlids. For aquarist who are looking for the most unusual, Lake Tanganyika cichlids can't be beat!

To learn more about all types of African Cichlids, see:
African Cichlids - Fish Information and Cichlid Care for African Cichlids

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Tanganyika Cichlid Habitats

Lake Tanganyika is one of the two great rift lakes in Eastern Africa, with the other being Lake Malawi. These two great rift lakes formed millions of years ago. A result of tectonic plates shifting, creating a long tear in the earth's crust, which then filled with water. Along with these two great rift lakes a number of smaller lakes and ponds also formed.

Lake Tanganyika is the second deepest lake in the world, reaching depths of 4823 feet (1470m). Its depth contributes to its very stable and oxygen rich water. It is referred to as an “island sea” due to its abundant life and its size.

There is estimated to be about. 250 different species of cichlids from Lake Tanganyika, and over 150 species of other fish. The regions that cichlids inhabit include rocky areas, sandy areas, midwater areas, or they can be a combination of two or all three of these types. Tanganyika cichlids adapted, evolving with different feeding specializations to take advantage of each region, giving rise to so very much diversity with the family.

Yet the cichlids were not alone in adapting to local conditions to feed. A great number of other fish also adapted. A great example is the upside down catfish Cuckoo Synodontis Synodontis multipunctatus, which takes the eggs of spawning cichlids into its own mouth,and mingles them with its eggs. The eggs of the catfish hatch much sooner, and the new fry then feed on the young cichlids in the host’s mouth.

Cichlid Types

The extreme diversity of the cichlids from Lake Tanganyika exceeds the limits ordinarily found in a family of fishes. The environment of the lake is relatively stable which is conducive to specialization. As they adapted to numerous habitats within the great lake, they evolved toward different feeding specializations that modified their physical structures.

Notable modifications can be seen in the mouths and teeth of different species used for the collection of particular types of foods, and also the pelvic fins on bottom-dwelling fish used for support to ‘sit’ on the sand. Types of specialized feeding include crushing molluscs, sand-sifting to collect crustaceans and larvae, scraping algae from rocks or cropping aquatic plant matter, extracting gastropods from shells, snatching scales from other fishes, and extracting eggs, embryos and fry from the mouths of other cichlids.

Within this great diversity there are also a couple record breakers. The largest cichlid is Boulengerochromis microlepis at 36” (90 cm) in length. The smallest cichlid is Nanochromis transvestitusus reaches 1.3" (3.4 cm) in length, closely followed by the Ocellated Shell-dweller Lamprologus kungweensis at 1.4” (3.5 cm).

There are lots of Tanganyika cichlid species readily available for the average hobbyist, like those in the Tropheous genus. But many other unique Lake Tanganyika cichlids are quite expensive. Also a lot of the more unusual cichlids have special requirements to successfully keep them, so are not suitable for beginners.

Tropheus Cichlids

The popular Tropheus species, endemic to Lake Tanganyika, are widely distributed along the coastal fringes of the lake and have many geographic variations. Currently they are grouped into eight different 'types' or species and the types themselves have a number of varieties, many that have not yet been described. Get a more in-depth look at the Tropheus Cichlids themselves:

Goby Cichlids

The Goby Cichlids from Lake Tanganyika are also an intriguing and attractive group of fish. They are unique both the natural environment in which they are found and in body shape. Small fish, give or take around 3" in length, they live close to the shore in shallow waters. Currently there are five recognized species in three genera:

Other Tanganyika Cichlids

Other varieties of Tanganyika cichlid species include those with unique body forms and behaviors such as the Sardine cichlids, Julie Cichlids, featherfins, shell-dwellers, and the so-called sand cichlids.

African Cichlid Tanks

The size of the aquarium varies from species to species, and how many fish you wish to keep. For many species a minimum of 10 gallons will work for a pair, 20 gallons for a group, and 55 gallons or more for a community type tank will suffice. However if you wish to maintain larger species, a larger will be required. A good rule of thumb is approximately ½ “ (12 mm) of fish per gallon (4 L).

Like all cichlids, Tanganyika Cichlids are naturally aggressive fish, and when placed in the confines of an aquarium you may see an increase in aggressive behavior. This is especially true if the aquarium is too small, and if there is inadequate places of refuge to avoid an aggressor. Planning ahead can help avoid problems of predation, aggressive incompatibility, and even hybridization.

It helps to determine in advance the types of cichlids you are going to keep and then choose and appropriate sized tank and decor. Different types of Lake Tanganyika cichlids can be housed together as long as each type is provided with its appropriate environment to make these cichlids feel more at home. For example, an open area in the upper region is needed for energetic Sardine Cichlids. Provide lots of rocks and cave formations for Tropheus Cichlids, as well as holes in the rockwork near the bottom for Goby Cichlids, and so forth.

Lake Tanganyika cichlids can be fed frozen or live brine shrimp, mysis, high quality flake, pellets, spirulina, and other preparations for omnivore cichlids. It is always better to feed them small amounts several times a day instead of one large feeding.

See each individual species for in-depth information along with specific care and feeding requirements.

References