A school of Blue Neons are a joy to keep, these delicate beauties have a gentle nature and vibrant color!
The Blue Neon Cichlid Paracyprichromis nigripinnis made quite a splash in the late 1980’s as a new cichlid introduction to hobbyists. This is one of the most unusual-looking cichlids. While most cichlids have a robust look with many being very deep-bodied, this cichlid has a long slender streamlined form. Both the male and female of this very peaceful cichlid are gorgeous, with the female being just a bit duller in color.
This is a small elongated fish from Lake Tanganyika, Africa that only grows to about 4 inches at most. Its attractive appearance with bright blue or purple neon striping on a creamy orange body quickly led to its common names. It became popularly known as the Blue Neon, Neon Cichlid, and Neon Blue Cichlid. They can also be referred to based on their place of origin such as the “Kapembwa” and “Chituta Bay” varieties, and there is a captive-bred albino form called the Paracyprichromis nigripinnis “Albino”.
There are only two species in the Paracyprichromis genus and the two have been repeatedly confused with the other. The other, Paracyprichromis brieni, is however confined to the extreme northern part of the lake. The Blue Neon also has larger eyes and a slightly rounder, stockier body.
The Paracyprichromis species are very similar in shape to their close relatives in the Cyprichromis genus. All these cichlids look more like sardines so are dubbed Herring Cichlids or Sardine Cichlids in general. At one time the Paracyprichromis were classified as Cyprichromis as well. However they have a very different nature, a milder temperament, and there are physical differences These are much smaller fish and have a different arrangement and number of vertebrae. So with these unique features they were moved into their own genus, Paracyprichromis. The Neon Cichlid is similarly shaped to the Sardine Cichlid or Slender Cichlid Cyprichromis leptosoma. Differences with the Blue Neon are that it lacks the uniformity of its body color as found on the Sardine and it’s also much smaller.
In the wild the Blue Neons inhabit deeper waters but will tend to stay close to towers of jumbled rocks. The males will hang underneath rock shelves while the females will swim in large schools above. Years ago it was thought that these fish were hard to keep, but following simple procedures will result in an easy fish to keep.
Their pleasant nature makes them a joy to keep in a community aquarium. They move slower than some of their fast-swimming cousins, and prefer to be close to rocks. They must be kept with other peaceful cichlids or other friendly species for their own benefit. The best way to keep them is by themselves, which will allow them to breed easily with the offspring being safe from consumption. Several males can have harems within a 65 gallon tank. Watching them live openly with their fry is quite a sight.
These are good fish for the intermediate and experienced cichlid keeper. In general they are easy to moderate to care for as long as regular water changes are done to keep water at optimal levels. However, they prefer dim lighting and need rocks for security. These fish will swim upside down or vertically to be close to the rock surface. Males will stress out and fade in color if kept with companions that are too vigorous and without rocks structures and cave formations. Plants also help provide security for them.
For Information on keeping freshwater fish, see:
Freshwater Aquarium Guide: Aquarium Setup and Care
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Actinopterygii
- Order: Perciformes
- Family: Cichlidae
- Genus: Paracyprichromis
- Species: nigripinnis
- Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate
- Size of fish – inches: 4.3 inches (11.00 cm)
- Minimum Tank Size: 65 gal (246 L)
- Temperament: Peaceful
- Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
- Temperature: 77.0 to 81.0° F (25.0 to 27.2° C)
- My Aquarium – Enter your aquarium to see if this fish is compatible!
Habitat: Distribution / Background
The Blue Neon Paracyprichromis nigripinnis was described by Boulenger in 1901. These fish are endemic to Lake Tanganyika, Africa. They are typically collected at Chituta Bay in Zambia, Msambu, and Kigoma in Tanzania. This species is listed on the IUCN Red List as Lease Concern (LC). Although it is endemic to Lake Malawi, it is widespread in the northern part of the lake and has no recognized threats at present.
Other common names this fish is known by include Neon Cichlid, Neon Blue Cichlid, and Herring Cichlid. They can also be referred to based on their place of origin such as Paracyprichromis nigripinnis “Kapembwa” and Paracyprichromis nigripinnis “Chituta Bay” varieties, and there is a captive bred albino form called the Paracyprichromis nigripinnis “Albino”.
The Paracyprichromis genus with only two species, is a very small group of African Cichlids in the tribe Cyprichromini. The Cyprichromini tribe itself contains 2 genera and 7 species with most being endemic to Lake Tanganyika. These are small, elongated cichlids ranging from 4 – 5 1/2 inches (10 – 14 cm) in length. They are found above rocky dropoffs where they tend to form huge schools, often with several thousand individuals. They have highly protrusable mouths adapted for feeding on plankton in the water column, and tend to swim in a head down manner, sometimes even upside down. All species are mouthbrooders.
These cichlids are found in several areas of the lake at depths between 35 – 140 feet (10.7 – 43 m) where they will school in groups of hundreds. They do prefer the security of rock structures and caves close by. Males will be found under rocky overhangs or in caves with the females swimming nearby. They feed on zooplankton in the open water above the rocks.
- Scientific Name: Paracyprichromis nigripinnis
- Social Grouping: Groups – They are found in schools consisting of hundreds of fish.
- IUCN Red List: LC – Least Concern
The Blue Neon has a slender elongated body with a slightly lyre tail and a highly protrusable mouth used to feed on plankton. The male will grows to about 4 1/3 inches (11 cm) in length with the females a bit smaller at just over 3 inches (7.6 cm). They have a lifespan of 5 – 8 years with proper care.
This is a very attractive small cichlid. Males have a creamy orange to orange body, with neon blue to purple stippled lines that run vertically through their body. Their fins are a clearish yellow to lighter neon blue and outlined in the same neon blue to purple coloring as the stippled body lines. Females are a bit duller version of the males, but still very pretty. Juveniles are gray when born and cream by two months.
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.
- Size of fish – inches: 4.3 inches (11.00 cm) – The male grows to a length of just over 4.33″ (11 cm). Females are smaller, reaching just over 3″ (7.6 cm).
- Lifespan: 5 years – They have a lifespan of 5 – 8 years with proper care.
Fish Keeping Difficulty
This is a fish best kept by intermediate and experienced cichlid keepers. It is a more peaceful cichlid, but will stress out and fade in color if kept with overly boisterous companions and without rocks structures and cave formations for security. Its aquarium is easy to moderate to care for as long as the water is kept at optimal levels. The aquarists must be willing to provide a properly set up aquarium with appropriate tank mates, and be willing to do frequent water changes.
- Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
- Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate
Foods and Feeding
The Blue Neon is a planktivore. In the wild they feed on drifting zooplankton in open water above the rocks. In the aquarium they can be be fed flakes including a high quality spirulina and frozen foods such as brine shrimp. Use foods with carotene to bring out their color. Feeding cyclops or artemia that will bring out their best colors, but once they get a taste for these they will usually ignore the flake.
It is suggested that you do not feed live foods and tubifex worms due to possible diseases and pathogens that may be transferred to your fish. Feed 2 to 5 small pinches of food a day in smaller amounts instead of a large quantity once a day. A one-day-a-week ‘fast’ can also be beneficial. All fish benefit from vitamins and supplements added to their foods.
- Diet Type: Omnivore
- Flake Food: Yes
- Tablet / Pellet: Yes
- Vegetable Food: Some of Diet
- Meaty Food: Most of Diet
- Feeding Frequency: Daily – Offer several small feedings a day rather than a single large feeding for better water quality over time.
Do normal water changes of about 15 – 20% weekly, depending on stocking numbers. The Lake Tanganyika cichlids cannot handle large water changes very well unless the new water 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.
- Water Changes: Weekly – Water changes of 10-20% weekly are suggested, only do more if the water parameters are off. Be cautious of doing more frequent changes as these fish are very sensitive to new water.
The Blue Neon Cichlid is active and will swim mostly in the middle areas of the aquarium. A minimum of 65 gallons is suggested, with to 80 gallons being best, as they do shoal. They do fine in either freshwater or brackish freshwater but need good water movement along with efficient filtration. Lake Tanganyika is a very oxygen rich lake so bubblers need to be going day and night, even if there are plants. Regularly check nitrates and ph, nitrates should be no more than 25 ppm and a pH less than 7 is not tolerated. In addition keep an eye on total hardness and carbonate hardness. Avoid overfeeding and overstocking.
Lake Tanganyika is the second to largest lake in the world, thus contributing to a low fluctuation in temperature and pH. All Tanganyika cichlids need stable temperatures kept within acceptable limits and lots of oxygen to survive. Temperatures under 72° F and over 86° F for too long is not tolerated by many of these fish. When treating for ich, a few days at 86° F is acceptable. The lake is also consistently alkaline with a pH of around 9, and very hard at about 12 – 14° dGH. In the aquarium most Tanganyika cichlids are fairly adaptable as long as conditions are close to these ideal ranges. Most important is that their water chemistry doesn’t change much over time. The water needs to be well buffered and maintained with small, regular water changes.
Salt is sometimes used as a buffering agent to increase the water’s carbonate hardness. An alternative buffering approach is to use a chemical filtration method, where the water passes through layers of crushed coral or coral sand. Interestingly, Tanganyikan cichlids also need iodine for the thyroid to function properly to regulate growth and development, and which can be achieved by adding iodized table salt to the water. Although rift lake cichlids need hard alkaline water they are not found in brackish waters. This cichlid has some salt tolerance so can be kept in slightly brackish water conditions. However it not suited to a full brackish water tank. It can tolerate a salinity that is about 10% of a normal saltwater tank, a specific gravity of less than 1.0002.
To keep them successfully, they must have peaceful tank mates, rocks and cave formations, and plants. Provide a sandy or small gravel substrate along with some decor, but make sure there is open area at the top for them to swim. The dark colored rocks help to bring out their colors, and if denied rock structures the males will fade to a bland beige color. Lower light levels are preferred, so keep this in mind when using plants. Some good plant arrangements include Cryptocoryne in the foreground, in the middle ground use rosette Plants such as swordplants that are the larger variety,nd the very back can have water ferns. Float plants for brooding females will help to darken the tank a little and increase their feeling of security. Using Aqua-glo lights will bring out their colors as well.
- Minimum Tank Size: 65 gal (246 L) – A minimum of 65 gallons is the suggested, with 80 gallons or more being better as this is a shoaling species.
- Suitable for Nano Tank: No
- Substrate Type: Sand/Gravel Mix
- Lighting Needs: Low – subdued lighting
- Temperature: 77.0 to 81.0° F (25.0 to 27.2° C)
- Breeding Temperature: 77.0° F – Breeding temperatures range between 77 – 82.4° F (25 – 28 C).
- Range ph: 8.0-8.5
- Hardness Range: 12 – 25 dGH
- Brackish: Sometimes – Salt is not found in their natural environment, but they do have a slight tolerance, keep levels below 10% – a specific gravity of less than 1.0002.
- Water Movement: Moderate
- Water Region: Middle – These fish will swim in the middle areas of the aquarium.
The Blue Neon is a peaceful community cichlid. They are very peaceful toward other fish and their gregarious nature allows them to be housed with non-cichlids. They will work with Featherfins or sand dwelling Lake Tanganyikan fish.
Some have kept them with Xenotilapia sp. and Ochrogenys ndole since they occupy different parts of the water column and do not bother each other. Do not house with Cyprichromis, Tropheus or other large or aggressive fish. Besides dietary differences, they will out compete with the Blue Neon for food.
Having aggressive fish or other fish from the same genus will result in stress and the males not attaining their true gorgeous coloring. As they are a schooling fish, they need to be kept in groups of at least 10 to fair well. Several males can be kept in the same tank.
- Temperament: Peaceful
- Compatible with:
- Same species – conspecifics: Yes – A schooling species, they need to be kept in groups of at least 10, with more being better.
- Peaceful fish (): Safe – They are very peaceful, gregarious cichlid that can be housed with non-cichlid species.
- Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
- Aggressive (): Threat
- Large Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
- Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
- Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: May be aggressive
- Plants: Safe
Sex: Sexual differences
Males are larger and brighter in color, while the females are smaller and a bit duller.
Breeding / Reproduction
The Blue Neons have been bred in captivity and are mouthbrooders. For the easiest breeding, putting the Blue Neon in a species specific tank works best. If housed in a community tank, float plants so the females have a place to retreat when carrying the brood. The breeding tank should have neutral to slightly alkaline, medium hard water with to a pH of around 7 – 8.5, 10 – 15° dGH, and a temperature between 77 – 82.4° F (25 – 28 C).
They spawn about once a month. When ready to spawn, the female will find a spot in the substrate next to a wall and go nose down. This will prompt one of the males to situate himself above the female and release milt (sperm) as the female releases her eggs. The eggs are then fertilized externally. The female promptly picks up 10 to 12 fertilized eggs to carry her mouth. The brooding female will hold the young in her mouth for approximately 21 days and the fry will become free swimming after that.
The fry are large and will grow quickly. As they grow the fry do not get the protection from the female, so be sure to provide hiding places. The parents and other males and females will not eat the fry. The fry will start to eat when free swimming. First feed them brine shrimp and cyclops and after 2 to 3 months offer finely crushed flake. They are a creamy color after 2 months and sexually mature by 8 months. See more about cichlid breeding in: Breeding Freshwater Fish: Cichlids.
- Ease of Breeding: Moderate
The Blue Neon is susceptible to typical fish ailments, especially if water is stale and of poor quality and oxygenation. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Water changes, not overfeeding or overcrowding, and observation along with feeding your fish the proper foods (thawing frozen food and adding vitamins) will keep them in optimum health. 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. Using a marine salt (used for salt water fish) will add some trace elements.
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. A copper test also can be used to keep the proper levels. You can also combine increasing the temperature with an Ich medication treatment.
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 freshwater fish diseases and illnesses, see Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments.
The Blue Neon is only sometimes available both online and in fish stores, or may be special ordered. They start at about moderately expensive for juveniles and cost more for adults.
- Animal-World References: Freshwater Fish and Plants
- Dr. Rudiger Riehl and Hans A. Baensch, Aquarium Atlas Vol. 3 , Voyageur Press, 1996
- Mark Phillip Smith, Lake Tanganyika Cichlids, A Complete Pet Owners Manual, 2nd Edition, Barron’s Educational Series, Inc. 2007
- George Zurlo, David Schleser, Cichlids (Complete Pet Owner’s Manual), Barron’s Education Series, 2005
- Glen S. Axelrod, Brian M. Scott, Neal Pronek, Encyclopedia Of Exotic Tropical Fishes For Freshwater Aquariums, TFH Publications, 2005
- Peter Bredell, Frank Schneidewind, Lake Tanganyika Cichlids, How to keep successfully and enjoy these exceptional fish, Interpet Publishing , 2002
- Paracyprichromis nigripinnis (Boulenger, 1901), Fishbase.org
- Paracyprichromis nigripinnis, The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
- Rhett Butler, “Cichlids – Lake Tanganyika”, Mongabay.com, Referenced online, 2007
- Sergey Anikstein ( 2003), “Breeding tanks, Paracyprichromis nigripinnis (Boulenger, 1901)”, The Cichlid Room Companion, Ohio Cichlid Association, Referenced online, 2007
- Glen S. Axelrod, Rift Lake Cichlids, T.F.H. Publications, Inc., 1979