Ram Cichlid

German Blue Ram, German Ram, Electric Blue Ram, Butterfly Cichlid, Golden Ram

Family: Cichlidae Ram Cichlid, Mikrogeophagus ramirezi, Blue Ram, German Ram, Butterfly Cichlid, Golden RamMikrogeophagus ramireziPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy Greg Rothschild
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These cichlids only do well in beginner / community tanks if you place them in a male/female pair. Left alone, they are typically as aggressive as other cichlids... (more)  Gary Dauphin

The Ram Cichlid is known as being one of the best "beginner" cichlids in the hobby due to its ease of maintanence, beautiful colors, and peaceful nature

The Ram Cichlid Mikrogeophagus ramirezi (previously Paplilochromis ramirezi) is a beautiful, small, and peaceful cichlid. Though they were discovered over 30 years later than their cousin the Bolivian Ram Mikrogeophagus altispinosus, they have been imported more regularly and are currently better known. Though both the Bolivian Ram and the Ram Cichlid are dwarfs, the Ram actually only reaches about 2/3 the length of the Bolivian Ram.  It will reach about 2 inches (5 cm) in length in the aquarium, though natural specimens can attain a length of about 2 3/4" (7 cm).

This delicate oval shape cichlid is adorned with long pointed fins and a bright, snappy color patterning. Its body coloring is yellow towards the front and blends into a whitish-blue moving back. It has a orangish red on the forehead and edging the yellowish fins, with females having a pinkish orange belly. It is accented with a curved black line running vertically down the head, right through the eye, and can have black blotching on the front of the dorsal fin. The "Golden Ram", a naturally occurring color morph, displays more yellow on its head, more white on the body, and orangish red coloring on the forehead and tips of the fins.

Note that these fish have spawned a large progeny of color forms and varieties bred between both wild caught specimens and captive bred fish. Some of the other common names and forms of this fish are the Butterfly Cichlid, Dwarf Cichlid, Ram, Ramirezi, Blue Ram, and Singapore Ram. Selective breeding has created a variety of color forms known as the Balloon Ram, German Blue Ram, German Ram, Electric Blue Ram Cichlid, Gold German Ram, Golden Ram, and Blue German Ram.

Unfortunately, excessive interbreeding of captive fish has often resulted in smaller fish with weaker color displays, along with malformed and damaged fry. Constantly reintroducing wild caught fish into the breeding pool can help keep the lines healthier. Also some females being bred in Asia are loaded up with hormones to make their color vivid. The results of this have been infertility and death within a few months. These fish are generally sold under the "German Blue Ram" label. To avoid these specimens, purchase from a reputable dealer, a local breeder, or obtain wild caught fish.

These dwarf cichlids are a little less aggressive then their Bolivian counterpart, but are a bit more difficult to keep and breed. Even so they give an aquarist the same joys as other dwarf cichlids. They are also inexpensive and much easier to acquire. Provide an environment with rocks, driftwood, and flowerpots for hiding to make them feel comfortable. They will also enjoy several dense plant clusters, but leave some open space for swimming. The only real challenge these fish present in terms of maintenance is consistently and diligently performing water changes. If water quality is ignored, as with all cichlids, disease and death can occur. Just a little dedication will reap pleasurable results from this little fish.

The Ram Cichlid is a very peaceful fish and is one of a select few cichlids that can be kept in a true community tank, including a tank with non-cichlids. This fish is 'more bark than bite' and will not do well in an aggressive tank. They make a good inhabitant for a community tank with fish of a similar temperament. They are personable with their owner too, and will quickly associate them with food, happily begging for more whenever you approach the tank.

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: Mikrogeophagus
  • Species: ramirezi
Ram Cichlid

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An adult Ram Cichlid floating with a large number of fry.

Video showcasing some nice closeup views of an adult and nicely colored Ram Cichlid floating over a large number of fry.

Ram Cichlid - Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner
  • Size of fish - inches: 2.8 inches (7.01 cm)
  • Minimum Tank Size: 10 gal (38 L)
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy
  • Temperature: 78.0 to 85.0° F (25.6 to 29.4° C)
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Ram Cichlid Mikrogeophagus ramirezi was described by Myers and Harry in 1948. As of 1998 this species is correctly identified as Mikrogeophagus ramirezi per ichthyologist Dr. Sven O Kullander, Senior Curator of the Department of Vertebrate Zoology at the Swedish Museum of Natural History. Previously it was described as Paplilochromis ramirezi and as Apistogramma ramirezi. You may also come across sources spelling the genus as Microgeophagus. This species is not listed on the IUCN Red List.

Other common names the natural form is known by are the Butterfly Cichlid, Dwarf Cichlid, Ram, Ramirezi, Blue Ram, and Singapore Ram. Selective breeding has created a variety of color forms known as the Balloon Ram, German Blue Ram, German Ram, Electric Blue Ram Cichlid, Gold German Ram, Golden Ram, and Blue German Ram.

They are not actually an Amazon River fish, but are part of the river's extended system of waterways. They are found in the Orinoco River basin of South America in the Llanos of Venezuela and Colombia. The "Llanos" is what is called the savannah grasslands in the central Orinoco drainage.

They occur in streams as well as pools and ponds that are often very shallow, with sandy or muddy bottoms and some vegetation. They will feed by sifting the fine substrate for plant material and small organisms. They will also feed on organisms in the water and sometimes at the surface.

  • Scientific Name: Mikrogeophagus ramirezi
  • Social Grouping: Pairs
  • IUCN Red List: NE - Not Evaluated or not listed


The Ram Cichlid is a small colorful fish with an oval shaped body and pointed fins and tail. Mature males develop more pointed dorsal fins than females and also grow larger at about 2 inches (5 cm) in length in the aquarium, though they can attain a length of about 2 3/4" (7 cm) in nature. This fish can live up to about 4 years.

The body has a yellow area on the first third of the body starting at the nose, with the last two thirds being whitish blue to blue. There is a curved black line that runs vertically from the forehead, through the eye, and then down to the chin. There is a black spot in the middle of the body. The fins are a clearish yellow and can have a black blotch on the first few rays of the dorsal fin. The female has similar coloring, but also has a pinkish orange belly.

The naturally occuring color morph known as the "Golden Ram" has a yellow head and more white on the body. It also has orangish red coloring on the forehead and tips of the fins.

All cichlids, along with some saltwater fish such as wrasses and parrotfish, share a common feature of a well-developed pharyngeal set of teeth located 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: 2.8 inches (7.01 cm)
  • Lifespan: 4 years

Fish Keeping Difficulty

The Ram Cichlid is known as being one of the best "beginner" cichlids in the hobby due to its ease of maintanence, beautiful colors, and peaceful nature. They are easy eaters and will readily accept almost anything fed to them. They do not have very stringent water condition requirements and mostly just require routine water changes, but are sensitive to sudden changes in water conditions. Though they are generally easy to breed, the fry themselves can be fairly hard to keep alive. 

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner

Foods and Feeding

The Ram Cichlid is an omnivore whose diet in the wild consists of plant material and small organisms. In the aquarium it can be fed a mix of meaty foods that are live or frozen; such as brine shrimp, blood worms, white worms, chopped earthworms, cyclopeeze, and artemia.

Some may eat flakes and pellets, but these should not be the staple of their diet. Feed 2 to 5 small pinches of food 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: Some of Diet
  • Meaty Food: Some of Diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day

Aquarium Care

Do water changes of 10% to 20% biweekly or weekly, more or less depending on stocking numbers. These fish are very sensitive to chemicals and changes to their environment. They are also subject to fish tuberculosis (piscine). If water quality is ignored, as with all cichlids, disease and death can occur.  Before each water change make sure to scrape all viewing panes with a sponge or algae magnet. Once the algae settles to the bottom make sure to completely vacuum the substrate to remove all waste and excess food. When refilling tank make sure the water is treated and the water temperature are similiar to the tank it is going in.

  • Water Changes: Bi-weekly

Aquarium Setup

It is recommended to keep these fish in a minimum of a 10 gallon tank. They prefer slow to moderate moving water along with good efficient filtration. R/O water (reverse osmosis) is preferable. A mature tank with a pH of acidic to neutral water is best. Keep track of nitrates. Also, oxygen levels must be maintained for best color and health. The aquarium should have a cover and low to moderate lighting.

Provide a substrate of fine sand with some granite pebbles and an environment with rocks, driftwood, and flowerpots for hiding is appreciated. They also enjoy several dense plant clusters but be sure to leave some open space for swimming. Some good aquatic plants include Java Fern, Rosette plants like the Amazon Sword, Vallisneria, stem plants like Wisteria, and other acidic tolerating plants work great.

The Ram Cichlid does not like to breed in bright lighting. Some floating plants will help to diffuse lighting if you are encouraging them to spawn, as will R/O water (reverse osmosis). Provide granite pebbles or plants with wide leaves. Java Moss is also great as it contains micro organisms such as Infusoria which provide a good beginning food for the fry.

When using substrate or rocks, be sure they do not leech into the water and affect the pH. Substrates such as limestone can increase the pH level. You would not use sand that is for marine tanks, but some have suggested pool filter sand. Driftwood is a big help in keeping pH low and contributes to the "tea stained" coloring of the Amazon River. Using Java Moss helps with keeping the pH down too.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 10 gal (38 L)
  • Substrate Type: Sand/Gravel Mix
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate - normal lighting - Add some floating plants, especially if you want your fish to breed, in order to diffuse the lighting.
  • Temperature: 78.0 to 85.0° F (25.6 to 29.4° C)
  • Breeding Temperature: - 77 - 82.4° F (25 - 28° C
  • Range ph: 6.0-7.5
  • Hardness Range: 6 - 14 dGH
  • Water Movement: Moderate
  • Water Region: All

Social Behaviors

This is a community fish that can be kept with non-cichlid fish and other peaceful dwarf cichlids. The Ram Cichlid is 'more bark than bite' and will not do well in an aggressive tank. They are just a little less aggressive than the Bolivian Ram, but not at all aggressive by cichlid standards. Some acceptable peaceful tank mates include the Silver Dollar, Dwarf Gourami, Discus, Dwarf (Neon) Rainbowfish, Synodontis catfish and plecostomus, and various tetras such as the Black Phantom Tetra, Glowlight Tetra, Cardinal Tetra, and the Neon Tetra.

They can be kept alone or in pairs. More than one male may be kept if the aquarium is large. Just buying a male and female does not necessarily mean they will pair up. It is better to get a group of juveniles and allow a pair to bond. A pair will swim close together, and at that point you can put them in their own tank.

  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species - conspecifics: Sometimes
    • Peaceful fish (): Safe
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
    • Slow Swimmers & Eaters (): Safe
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: May be aggressive
    • Plants: Safe

Sex: Sexual differences

Males are a little larger with a longer, pointed dorsal fin. The females have a red or orange color on their belly.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Ram Cichlids are open spawners that will form a family group and lay about 150 - 200 eggs in the wild. In the aquarium start out with about 6 juveniles and allow a pair to bond, then put them in their own tank. They appreciate smooth pebbles or wide leaves to spawn on, a temperature of 77 - 82.4° F (25 - 28° C), and a "night-light" for the evening hours.

They also need a quiet area for the pair, since they tend to be nervous and eat their eggs if stressed. Providing dither fish will reduce their aggression against each other. Some even suggest taping paper to the sides of the tank to reduce stress. These fish are known to eat their fry once hatched, so you may choose to rear the young separately if your pair consistently eats their spawn.

The bonded pair will spend a lot of time cleaning the top of pebbles before they spawn. The female will lay between 150 to 200 oval orange eggs and then the male will externally fertilize them. The parents take turns guarding and fanning the eggs. The colors of the male and female will intensify after spawning. Within about 60 hours the eggs will hatch and in a few more days the fry will be free swimming. The female will move the newly hatched "wigglers" to a pit in a different area of the tank. If the male starts to attack the female, you may have to remove her to another tank. Some females and males may "split" the spawn into their own broods, but eventually the male takes over the entire group of fry. Once they are free swimming the male will "clean" them by taking them into his mouth and spitting them out.

When the yolk sac is gone from the fry, it is time to feed them a microworm meal or infusoria. They can eat newly hatched baby brine shrimp once they are about a week old, though some experts say they can eat it right away. It is quite amusing to watch the fry swimming all over while the frantic male sucks the rebellious roamers into his mouth and spits them back into the "group" over and over again. The male may choose to dig out a bigger pit for his growing brood.

Keep the water quality high during the feeding of the fry, changing about 10% every other day. The fry are sensitive to water changes if the water is not exact, so these smaller 10% changes are best. In about 2 1/2 to 3 weeks the male stops guarding the fry and he can be removed. At this point doing 50% water changes with R/O water (reverse osmosis) is recommended for the best results while growing out the fry. Juvenile females will have a black blotch on their side with blue spangle dots in and around it. Males have the blotch but not have the dots. See more about cichlid breeding in: Breeding Freshwater Fish: Cichlids.

  • Ease of Breeding: Moderate

Fish Diseases

The Ram Cichlids are susceptible to typical fish ailments, especially if water is stale and of poor quality and oxygenation. They tend to be susceptible to illness when stressed, usually caused by not providing ample hiding places. These fish are very sensitive to chemicals and changes to their environment. They are also subject to fish tuberculosis (piscine).

A common problem is Ich. It can be treated with the elevation of the tank temperature to 86° F (30° C) for 3 days. Be aware of the following diseases that are found in the Amazon (per fishbase.org): Parasitic infestations (protozoa, worms, etc.) including White spot Disease known as Ich (Ichthyobodo Infection), Costia Disease, Flatworms (Metacercaria Infection), Cestoda infestation (Tapeworms), Metacercaria Infection (Flatworms), Bacterial Infections (general), Bacterial diseases, and Turbidity of the Skin (Freshwater fish). One common problem is Ich. It can be treated with the elevation of the tank temperature to 86° F (30° C) for 3 days.

As with most fish the Butterfly Cichlids are prone 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 Ram Cichlids are readily available both online and in fish stores and are inexpensive to moderate in price, depending on size and color. For a viable female, you may need to acquire them from a breeder or obtain wild caught specimens.
Make sure you examine them for spinal defects before purchasing as they are prone to fish tuberculosis (piscine). Watch for fin loss in tank bred specimens.


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

Gary Dauphin - 2016-08-07
These cichlids only do well in beginner / community tanks if you place them in a male/female pair. Left alone, they are typically as aggressive as other cichlids are.

  • Megan - 2018-01-03
    That is usually correct... however I have a German blue ram male and a gold ram male that I jokingly call my mated pair. They are inseperable and share territory, swimming and sleeping side by side. Its a community tank with tetras, gouramis, rainbowfish and pencil fish plus corys and dwarf plecos. Its a 55 gallon. We have a gold ram that was too aggressive once they became best friends and decided the whole tank was theirs and we had to place him another one of our tanks. Prior to them pairing up all three had their own sections of the tank. And yes in sure they are both males. The gbr had a female that passed away. And we have had rams for years and can sex them. They are both adult and male. Anyways, I always find it funny to tells people about my mated male pain of rams because it us uncommon and it is also so cute
  • wayne ward - 2018-03-19
    I had a German Blue Ram and a Golden Ram mate in my community take, all on their own. Unfortunately, I wasn't aware of it until I started cleaning the tank one day. I couldn't figure out why the rams were attacking my siphon tube until I saw the small fry.
Rakesh M Patel - 2016-05-25
My Rama fish fight with eachothers and attacking on shrimps....

Ryan Gray - 2016-01-30
I see Animal-World use the term 'bi-weekly' often. Do you mean twice per week or once every fortnight? I am referring to the water changes. 

  • Clarice Brough - 2016-02-09
    The term bi-weekly (can also be spelled as biweekly) means happening every two weeks. So do water changes every other week.
  • Dan - 2016-03-09
    Biweekly means once every two weeks. Semiweekly means twice a week. I try to change the water once a week. Once every two weeks at the most. This depends in part on your nitrate levels. You want to keep them as low as possible. If your nitrates get above 20 ppm in one week, I suggest changing your water (50%) once a week.
Jason - 2010-07-20
My blue ram recently developed a white patch over his eye, that almost looks like he was bitten, but he shares his tank with only one other smaller ram and a cory cat. I just noticed today that he now has another white patch just above the first one on the opposite side of his face. I am trying to find out what this could be? The water temperature is perfect and water is maintained well. If anybody can tell me what this could be and how I can treat it that would be greatly appreciated. The white patches look like there indenting into his face. I have never seen anything like it, but this is my first experience with the blue ram. Please respond ASAP! I don't want this little beauty to die. Thanks!

  • david - 2011-06-12
    You say you have two Rams. Are they both male. During the breeding season in the wild the males compete with each other for territory. The smaller one might have caused the marks. The best thing you can do is to isolate the injured Ram to another tank and treat with Melafix, available at most pet stores. Hope this helps.
  • :) - 2011-09-06
    that white patch is called ICK hard to get rid of!
  • lejm - 2011-10-18
    My ram died because of this bloody merky eye... ;-S I didn't find a cure ;S
  • Alonzo T. Fells II - 2012-04-16
    This happen to mine longfin blackskirt tetra but it was black and white patches. So at first I thought it was fight between mine rams and blackskirts but the patch appear when I was watching him so it must have been ich we tried every treatment but the poor boy died a week later it was mine favorite becoz it looked astonishing(third to rams and congos)
  • ste dolan - 2015-06-22
    dont forget the blue ramz are relentlessly bred over and over. ther imune systems are crap. iav never found them to live more than a few months. its down the strain of fish, thers no wild caught fish gettin bread in with them to keep the hardy genes and wild blood in the strain. most of them stay very small and dont live long. the electric ballon ramz are one of the worst. its cruel buyin them. and a wast of money. ramirezi i found are brilliant even the ballon variety. golds are always hit and miss. never known them to live more than a few months old.
  • ste dolan - 2015-06-22
    the little ramz are bred so relentlessly they have no imune system any more. the normal faze are the hardy ones. the blues only live a few months. they need to introduce some wild cort fish into the market to harden up the genes of this little fish