The Callochromis Macrops has such big bold eyes, it is referred to as the ‘Large-Eyed’ Mouthbrooder!

The Large-Eyed Mouthbrooder Callochromis Macrops (previously Paratilapia macrops) is a very pretty cichlid. It has the most distinctive large colorful eyes and that is the one thing that you notice right away. Its body too is beautifully colored, but the coloring is quite variable depending on where its from. This species can range in color tones from beautiful reds, oranges, and yellows to bright blues, lavenders, and browns.

This is a moderately sized cichlid from Lake Tanganyika, Africa. the males males reach just over 5 inches (13.5 cm) in length, with females a bit smaller. It is often simply referred to by its scientific name Callochromis Macrops. But other common names used for it include Large-Eyed Mouthbrooder, Big Eye Mouthbrooder, Southern Large-Eyed Muzzle Cichlid, and Southern Bigeye-Mouthbrooder. Others are Macrops “Red”, and in german “Southern Large-Eyed Muzzle Breeder” (Sudlicher GroBaugen-Maulbruter).

Each location in the lake has a different color variation, so these cichlids are also named for regions of the Lake where they are found. Some of these that are occasionally seen include Callochromis Macrops “Ndole Bay” or “Ndole Bay Red”, Callochromis Macrops “Moliro” or “Red”, Callochromis Macrops “Kasanga”, and others such as “Tanzania”, “Isanga”, “Kafungi”, “Kantalamba”, “Katoto”, and “Namansi”.

This is a very beautiful sand dwelling cichlid, but it is also more aggressive. It can be kept with featherfins and other sand cichlid species, but will not get along well with conspecifics. It should be kept singly or in groups in a larger aquarium. They are actually only mildly aggressive to other fish that do not have a similar size or shape.

Popular because of its compact size and color, this cichlid is easy to moderate to care for as long as regular water changes are done to keep the water quality optimal.  It is a fish best obtained by intermediate and experienced cichlid keepers as they need a large aquarium and are very delicate and sensitive to handling and shipping. Provide them with a sandy substrate along with lots of rock formations and plants. This fish will breed in captivity, building nests in the sand. The plants will provide cover for the the females and newly hatch fry.

It is much easier to tell the difference between male and female with this species than it is with other Lake Tanganyikan cichlids. The females are typically smaller and silver, making it easier to obtain a balanced group of one male and several females. Males of the “red” variety are very nicely marked adding a nice contrasting color to the tank. Tank raised males seem less aggressive toward females. Do not house more than one male. It is important to keep conspecific varieties and similar species separate as they will hybridize freely.

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: Callochromis
  • Species: macrops
Callochromis macrops – Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Size of fish – inches: 5.3 inches (13.49 cm)
  • Minimum Tank Size: 100 gal (379 L)
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Temperature: 75.0 to 80.0° F (23.9 to 26.7&deg C)
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Large-Eyed Mouthbrooder Callochromis Macrops (previously Paratilapia macrops) was described by Boulenger in 1898. These fish are endemic to Lake Tanganyika, Africa. They are found all around the lake, though primarily in regions south of Nyanza and along the entire east coast. They also enter the delta of the Malagarasi River. In the northern part of the lake it is replaced by Callochromis melanostigma which was previously considered a subspecies but is now recognized as distinct. This species is listed on the IUCN Red List as Lease Concern (LC). Although it is endemic to Lake Malawi, it is widespread and has no major recognized threats at present.

Other common names this fish is known by include Big Eye Mouthbrooder, Southern Large-Eyed Muzzle Cichlid, Southern Bigeye-Mouthbrooder, Big-eyed Mouthbrooder, Macrops “Red”, and in german “Southern Large-Eyed Muzzle Breeder” (Sudlicher GroBaugen-Maulbruter).

There are different geographic color variants, so these cichlids are also named for areas in the Lake where they originate. Some of these that are occasionally seen include Callochromis Macrops “Ndole Bay” or “Ndole Bay Red”, Callochromis Macrops “Moliro”, Callochromis Macrops “Kasanga”, and others such as “Tanzania”, “Isanga”, “Kafungi”, “Kantalamba”, “Katoto”, and “Namansi”.

The Callochromis genus has 4 described species and a number of variants. They are small to moderate cichlids cichlids reaching between 4 – 6 inches in length. They are sand-dwelling species that inhabit shallower waters that are rich in suspended sediment, feeding on aquatic organisms buried in the sand. Like other sand sifters, they feed by grabbing mouthfuls of substrate, sifting the sand out through their gills and retaining the food morsels. These fish are very delicate and sensitive to handling and shipping. They are relatively non-aggressive accept when breeding, but more so than other sand-dwelling species.

This genus is a small group in the tribe Ectodini. The tribe contains 11 genera and 30 species of African Cichlids, endemic to Lake Tanganyika, with most of the genera being monotypic. The Ectodini cichlids are highly variable, actually considered the most morphologically and behaviorally diverse tribe in the lake. They are found in coastline regions living in sand, mud and rocky habitats.These cichlids are small to moderate sized, ranging from 3-10 inches (7.6-25 cm). They are widely varying in body shape but for most the head is the deepest part. They are perfectly adapted to their preferred natural habitats and feed primarily on aquatic invertebrates or plankton. All species are mouthbrooders that are either biparental or maternal.

The Callochromis Macrops are found in shallower waters at depths between 3 – 32 feet. (1-10 m), often in groups. They inhabit areas with sandy bottoms near rocky areas, but rich in suspended sediment. They are a sand-sifter that will feed on insect larvae, small mollusks, and ostracods as well as Aufwuchs that additionally contains nymphs, crustaceans, snails, zooplankton and mites.

  • Scientific Name: Callochromis macrops
  • Social Grouping: Solitary
  • IUCN Red List: LC – Least Concern


The Callochromis Macrops or Large-Eyed Mouthbrooder has some characteristics that distinguish if from other Lake Tanganyika cichlids. They have very large eyes, their body form is less of the typical torpedo shape, and they have a “V” shaped tail. The belly is also flat instead of rounded, which contributes to its appearance of having a higher rounded back. The males will grow to just over 5 inches (13.5 cm) in length with the females being slightly smaller and can live 5 – 8 years with proper care.

The coloring of the males is quite variable depending on where its from. These species can range from beautiful reds, oranges, and yellows to bright blues, lavenders, and browns. The smaller females are typically silver. These are some of the different localities and color varieties:

  • Callochromis Macrops “Ndola Bay Red”
    This variety is typically referred as the Macrops “Red” or Southern Bigeye-Mouthbrooder, and in german “Southern Large-Eyed Muzzle Breeder” (Sudlicher GroBaugen-Maulbruter). It is very beautiful and one of the most desired of the color variations. The male is a very attractive with dark orangish red scales a bit getting lighter towards the belly and dark burgundy in the top.
  • Callochromis Macrops “Moliro”
    This variety is typically referred to as “Red”. It is also very beautiful and a sought after color variety. The males have dark orange scales that fade to yellow toward the belly and on the head. They are outlined in a dark orange to burgundy. Some of the scales at the top of the back have electric blue in their coloring. There is also an electric blue line that runs across the entire top of the fish. The dorsal, tail and anal fins also have a mix of blue with a reddish burgundy color, and the anal fin has a single light colored egg spot at the tip. The pelvic fin is a dark red orange. The nose has more of the electric blue with the gill plate is edged in a dark brown/red color.
  • Callochromis Macrops “Kasanga”
    Males have a dark appearance, a blue to lavender color. There are faint black vertical bars alternating with slightly lighter bars formed by yellowish scales and outlined in the dark body color. The belly is lighter with the same scale patterning. The anal fin has one “egg spot” at the very end. The tail fin has orange in the crook of the “v” shape and the eyes have orange in the iris.
  • Callochromis Macrops “Namansi”
    This variety has a very interesting coloration with a basic gray scale color outlined in dark brown or white closer to the belly. The dorsal fin, forehead and pelvic fins are yellow, while the tail fin and anal fin seem almost clear with a hint of blue/lavender on the edges. The anal fin has an orangish gold color egg spot at the tip. The male’s head is basically chocolate brown with some specks and irregular lines in gray/white. The iris has gold coloring.
  • Callochromis Macrops “Tanzania”
    This variety looks like a cross between the Moliro and the Namansi locations. The body is basically grayish white with a band of orange to orange red that runs vertically from the lower jaw to the gill and then through the middle of the body. The rest of the body has mottling of light brown on top and more of the gray white at the belly. Fins have a light yellow color with hints of orange and chocolate brown. The iris is an orange red coloring.

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: 5.3 inches (13.49 cm) – The males can reach just over 5 inches (13.5 cm) in length with the females being slightly smaller.
  • Lifespan: 5 years – They have a lifespan of 5 – 8 years with proper care.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

This is a good fish for the intermediate and experienced cichlid keeper. It is moderately easy to care for as long it has the proper sized aquarium and the right tank mates.  It needs a large aquarium with 100 gallons the suggested minimum, and are very delicate and sensitive to handling and shipping. This is an aggressive cichlid with others of its own kind, so to keep a pair or small harem there must be decor placed in such a way as to break the line of site. Interestingly, it is only moderately aggressive towards other Tanganyikan cichlids. The aquarists must be willing to provide a large, properly set up aquarium, appropriate tank mates, and be willing to do frequent water changes.

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

Foods and Feeding

The Callochromis Macrops is an omnivore. In the wild they feed on insect larvae, small mollusks, and Aufwuchs. Aufwuchs refers to tough stringy algae that is attached to rocks and can contain insect larvae, nymphs, crustaceans, snails, zooplankton and mites. In the aquarium they can be be can be fed mysis shrimp, daphnia, live brine shrimp, cyclops, mosquito larvae, thawed frozen foods, flakes and other foods made for Lake Tanganyikan cichlids.

Feed 2 to 5 small pinches of food a day in smaller amounts instead of a large quantity once a day. Sand is sifted through their gills as they search for foods. 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: Some of Diet
  • Meaty Food: Some of Diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Daily

Aquarium Care

Do normal water changes of 10% to 15% biweekly or weekly, depending on stocking numbers. 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.

  • Water Changes: Weekly – Water changes of 10-15% 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.

Aquarium Setup

The Callochromis Macrops is active and will swim in the middle and bottom areas of the aquarium. A tank that is 100 gallons or 4 feet (130 cm) in length is recommended. They do fine in either freshwater or brackish freshwater but need good water movement along with very strong and 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.

Rocks and a sandy substrate will make them feel comfortable. Placing rocks in a way to block their visibility to other conspecifics also helps with aggression. Sand will be used to build a breeding nest. Plant cover is good for females and helps fry to have a higher survival rate. Hardy plants that do well in hard, alkaline water and don’t need a lot of light, like Sagittaria and Vallisneria can make a nice addition.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 100 gal (379 L)
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Substrate Type: Sand/Gravel Mix
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate – normal lighting
  • Temperature: 75.0 to 80.0° F (23.9 to 26.7&deg C)
  • Range ph: 7.8-9.5
  • Hardness Range: 10 – 11 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 and bottom areas of the aquarium.

Social Behaviors

This Large-Eyed Mouthbrooder can be kept singly or in a group of one male with 4 to 6 females. Do not house with more than one male. They are very aggressive toward those of the same species, even to the females. Also to avoid cross breeding keep, each each variety separate from other color variations of Callochromis Macrops.

Though they will not get along with conspecifics they are actually only mildly aggressive to other fish that do not have a similar size or shape. This fish is a semi-aggressive community cichlid that can be kept with featherfins and other sand cichlid species.

  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Yes – They are very aggressive towards their own kind. They are best kept singly or in a small harem of one male (only 1!) with 4 to 6 females.
    • Peaceful fish (): Threat
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Safe
    • Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
    • Threat
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Threat – is aggressive
    • Plants: Safe

Sex: Sexual differences

Males are larger and have more color, while the females are typically smaller and silver.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Callochromis Macrops has been bred in captivity and will often spawn in the community tank. Though they are mouthbrooders, males do not form a bond with the females. The females care for the young alone. The male forms a nest from a pile of sand that is about 13″ (35 cm) and near a spawning platform. Thus the need to use sand as a substrate.

The male pursues the female to lure her to his nest. There he makes his egg spotted anal fin appear to be a 3 dimensional egg by folding it. This tricks the female into laying her eggs. Once she lays the eggs, she picks them up in her mouth. She then notices the other “egg” on the male’s anal fin . She mouths that area until he releases sperm, which she takes into her mouth to fertilize the eggs. The female will carry the eggs for several weeks and can produce a clutch ranging from 25 to 60 fry. She will protect them for a few weeks after being released. See more about cichlid breeding in: Breeding Freshwater Fish: Cichlids.

  • Ease of Breeding: Moderate

Fish Diseases

The Large-Eyed Mouthbrooder 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 Callochromis Macrops or Large-Eyed Mouthbrooder are only rarely found online or in fish stores, but may be special ordered. Purchase from a reputable dealer, due to hybridization it takes a trained eye to choose the correct color strain.