The Blue Moorii is called the ‘Hump-head’ because it will develop a pronounced bump on its head!

The Blue Moorii Cyrtocara moorii (previously Haplochromis moorii) is an exotic cichlid that comes from Lake Malawi in Africa. It gets to be rather large, reaching almost 10 inches (25.4 cm) in length. Its overall coloring is a beautiful blue with various amounts of black markings depending upon where each individual comes from. The body is compact and elongated with a rather elongated snout, and with age it develops a large bump on its head. The gorgeous color and interesting shape make this a wonderful show specimen for a large cichlid aquarium.

Whether its a male or a female, this cichlid develops a pronounced hump on its head as it matures. Tthis cranial hump is situated at the front of its body and just above and behind its cute pointy snout. These distinctive features make it look much like a dolphin, though much smaller. It has become commonly known as the Blue Dolphin Cichlid, Malawi Blue Dolphin, Hump-head, Blue Lumphead, Hap moorii, and Humphead Mouthbrooder.

The common name Hump-head does create a bit of confusion. This is a name more frequently used when referring to the Frontosa CichlidCyphotilapia frontosa, which is from Lake Tanganyika. This fish also develops a most impressive hump. These two cichlids do resemble each other in both shape and size, but can be distinguished by the all blue coloration found only on the Blue Moorii. The Frontosa has six or seven broad black stripes on a white background with its blues primarily on the fins and sometimes on the snout.

This is a more peaceful cichlid overall, but males can be aggressive towards other males of their own kind. They are a polygamous species and it is best to keep one male with at least three females. They are territorial when spawning, but unlike other cichlids they don’t maintain a territory outside of breeding. This gentle giant is durable enough to keep with the more mild tempered Malawi cichlids. In a cichlid community tank, Peacock cichlids of the Aulonancara genus and larger mild mannered haps make good tankmates. This fish can also be kept with the Frontosa as well as species of Synodontis catfish. Avoid smaller fish as they will be intimidated by its size. Also avoid the Mbuna species that are also from Lake Malaw because they are too territorial and scrappy.

The Blue Dolphin is moderately easy to care for as long as the tank is large enough, water is kept clean, and the aquascaping is correct. A large aquarium is needed for this fish, with a minimum size of 75 gallons and a length of 5 feet being suggested. Don’t overstock the tank as this fish has a flighty nature and can injure itself if the environment it too crowded. It likes an aquarium with a sandy bottom, some rocks with caves for hiding places, and lots of open swimming space. Keep the decor along the back and sides of the tank to provide room for it to swim.

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: Cyrtocara
  • Species: moorii
Blue moorii – Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Size of fish – inches: 9.8 inches (24.99 cm)
  • Minimum Tank Size: 75 gal (284 L)
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Temperature: 73.0 to 82.0° F (22.8 to 27.8&deg C)
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Blue Moorii Cyrtocara moorii (previously Haplochromis moorii) was described by Boulenger in 1902. They occur in the Africa rift lake area and are endemic to Lake Malawi. This species is listed on the IUCN Red List as Lease Concern (LC) because although it is endemic to Lake Malawi, it is widespread throughout the lake and there are no major recognized threats at present.

They have been imported for the aquarium trade since 1968. They are pretty difficult to breed in captivity, so most of these fish are wild caught. Other common names it is known by include Blue Dolphin Cichlid, Malawi Blue Dolphin, Hump-head, Blue Lumphead, Hap moorii, and Humphead Mouthbrooder.

They inhabit sandy coastal areas at depths between 10 – 49 feet (3 – 15 m). They are a shoaling fish and micro-predator in nature. They feeding on small benthic invertebrates. They often snack on morsels that are rooted out by other large sand-sifting Haplochromine cichlids, like Fossorochromis rostratus and some of the Taeniolethrinops species with which they associate.

  • Scientific Name: Cyrtocara moorii
  • Social Grouping: Groups – These are a shoaling fish in nature.
  • IUCN Red List: LC – Least Concern


The Blue Moorii is a good sized cichlid with a stocky elongated body and a somewhat pointed snout. This snout is similar looking to that of a dolphin, thus the names Malawi Blue Dolphin and Blue Dolphin Cichlid. They reach up to about 10 inches (25 cm) in length, and sometimes grow a bit bigger in the aquarium. This fish has a life span of up to 10 years.

They have an overall blue coloring with varying amounts of black markings on their fins and back, depending upon their place of origin. As adults both the male and female develop a lump on the forehead, often referred to as a nuchal hump or a cranial bump.

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: 9.8 inches (24.99 cm)
  • Lifespan: 10 years – They have a lifespan of about 10 years with proper care.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

This is a great fish for both the intermediate and experienced cichlid keeper. It needs a good sized aquarium and the aquarists must be willing to do frequent water changes and provide appropriate tank mates. It is one of the more peaceful cichlids and though it isn’t a community fish, it can be kept with the more mild tempered Malawi cichlids and some catfish. In the proper setup it will easily adapt and readily accept prepared foods.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate

Foods and Feeding

They are a carnivorous predator in nature, feeding on small benthic invertebrates. In the aquarium they will generally eat all kinds of live, fresh, and tablet foods. They do best with a high protein diet, so feed meaty foods such as blood worms and brine shrimp (either live or frozen), small pieces of cut up prawns and earthworms. To keep a good balance give supplement their meaty diet with a high quality pellet. All fish benefit from vitamins and supplements added to their foods. It is always better to feed small pinches of food 2 to 5 times a day instead of a large quantity once a day.

It is suggested that you do not feed live feeders fish due to possible diseases and pathogens that may be transferred to your fish.  Meats from warm blooded mammals (e.g. poultry, beef hearts, pork, etc) were once considered a staple in the diet of larger ciclids. However more recently it has been discovered that the types of fats and proteins contained in these foods do not occur naturally in a wild cichlid’s diet. The fats and proteins can cause damage to a cichlid’s organs and lead to dangerous intestinal blockages. If you find your fish enjoys these types of foods, be certain to feed them only as an occasional treat, not as a main course.

  • Diet Type: Carnivore
  • Flake Food: Yes
  • Tablet / Pellet: Yes
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet
  • Meaty Food: Most of Diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Daily – Offer several small feedings a day, what they can eat in about 3 minutes or less, rather than a single large feeding.

Aquarium Care

All Malawi Cichlids will deteriorate under poor water conditions, and poor water quality will ruin the eyes of this species. Do water changes of 10% to 20% a week depending on bio load and occasionally vacuum the substrate.

  • Water Changes: Weekly – Water changes of 10-20% weekly are suggested, depending on the bio load.

Aquarium Setup

The streams that flow into Lake Malawi have a high mineral content. This along with evaporation has resulted in alkaline water that is highly mineralized. Lake Malawi is known for its clarity and stability as far as pH and other water chemistries. It is easy to see why it is important to watch tank parameters with all Lake Malawi fish.

Rift lake cichlids need hard alkaline water but are not found in brackish waters. Salt is sometimes used as a buffering agent to increase the water’s carbonate hardness. 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.

A minimum 75 gallons that is 5 feet in length is suggested. They do fine in either freshwater or brackish freshwater but need good water movement along with very strong and efficient filtration. Poor water quality will ruin their eyes. A sand substrate will make them feel most at home. Sand used for saltwater fish or freshwater fish can be used, but a saltwater sand can help keep the ph up. Crushed coral or aragonite sand can also increase the water’s carbonate hardness, and tend to dissolves easier than salts. Keeping the ph above neutral is important, however a higher pH means that ammonia is more lethal, so regular water changes are a must for these fish.

Open space is a must for the Blue Dolphin Cichlid. Provide some rock work and wood that is arranged to provide a lot of holes for hiding places. but most importantly there needs to be a lot of swimming areas. They like to dig so make sure the rocks sit on the bottom of the aquarium, not on the substrate, and any plants need to be anchored.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 75 gal (284 L)
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Substrate Type: Sand
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate – normal lighting
  • Temperature: 73.0 to 82.0° F (22.8 to 27.8&deg C)
  • Range ph: 7.2-8.8
  • Hardness Range: 10 – 18 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: All – These fish will swim in all areas of the aquarium.

Social Behaviors

This is a peaceful cichlid, but not a fish for a community tank. It is best to keep a male with three or more females in a species tank. They can be kept in a cichlid community, but will be territorial when spawning. Small fish should be avoided as they will be intimidated by the sheer size of this fish. Also avoid the Mbuna species that are from Lake Malawi because they are too territorial and scrappy.

Some good tank mates this gentle giant is durable enough to keep with include the more mild tempered Malawi cichlids. The Peacock cichlids of the Aulonancara genus and larger mild mannered haps work well in a cichlid community tank. It can also be kept with the Frontosa, which is from Lake Tanganyika, as well as the Synodontis catfish.

  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Yes – They are best kept in groups of 1 male with 3 or more females.
    • Peaceful fish (): Monitor
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Safe
    • Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
    • Monitor
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Threat – is aggressive
    • Plants: Monitor

Sex: Sexual differences

It is hard to tell the difference between males and females. They have the same coloration and they both develop a hump on their forehead. However the males can be larger and the cranial bump may also be larger, but this takes several years to develop. Males may also be more brightly colored, but this is not always the case.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Blue Moorii is polygamous in nature and they form a matriarchal family. This cichlid is not easy to bred in captivity. It is suggested to have one male with 3 – 6 females. Because they are difficult to sex, the best way to for a breeding group is to start with a group of eight to ten juveniles and let them grow up together. These fish reach sexual maturity at about 5 inches ( cm) in length.

Picture of a Blue Moorii, Malawi Blue Dolphin, or Hump-head

The male will pick the breeding site, and they like either a flat stone or slate, or will dig a pit for the eggs. Once the breeding site is chosen the male will display bright colors at the spot. Willing females will approach and lay her eggs, and the male will fertilize them.

Being a mouth brooder the female will pick up the eggs into her mouth for incubation. Once hatched, the female will hold a brood of 20 to 90 fry for about one to three weeks. If the tank is very “busy” she may let the eggs go too soon, so you may have to strip her of all eggs at about the two week period and incubate them for around 13 days. On her own, she will not eat the fry and continue to hold them in her mouth at night or if she thinks there is danger, for several more weeks. The fry can be fed brine shrimp nauplii and and finely crushed flake. They are very slow growers. See the description of how cichlids breed in: Breeding Freshwater Fish: Cichlids.

  • Ease of Breeding: Moderate

Fish Diseases

he Blue Moorii are susceptible to typical fish ailments, especially if water is stale and of poor quality and oxygenation. 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 the Blue Dolphin Cichlids 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 Moorii, also called Blue Dolphin Cichlid or Malawi Blue Dolphin, is readily available and moderately priced depending on size. They can be found online and are usually available in fish stores, though may be special ordered if you are willing to wait for them if they are out of season.