The Fairy Cichlid is graceful and hardy, making it an ideal Tanganyika Cichlid for the beginner!

The Fairy Cichlid Neolamprologus brichardi (previously Lamprologus brichardi) was one of the first African cichlids imported for the aquarium hobby. This is a hardy cichlid with an enchanting, wispy appearance. Its light creamy body is adorned with a lyre shaped tail and fins tipped in white with long flowing filaments. A school of these beautiful fish makes an elegant display for both the novice and long time cichlid keeper.

When first imported in the early 1970’s it was originally called the ‘Princess of Burundi’. Today it is more commonly known as the Fairy Cichlid, Brichardi Cichlid, and Lyretail Lamprologus. Other descriptive common names include Brichardi Lyretail Cichlid, Princess cichlid, and Brichard’s Lamprologus.

The Fairy Cichlid is almost identical in appearance to its popular relative the Daffodil CichlidNeolamprologus pulcher. However the Fairy Cichlid has bluish gray fins and can be identified by the black stripe running from the eye to the gill cover and a yellow spot just above it. These markings are absent in the Daffodil Cichlid though it has the two crescent shaped markings behind the eye, and its fins are yellowish.

This cichlid is moderately easy to care for as long it has the proper sized aquarium and the right tank mates. They it will adapt to a wide range of water conditions and will eat a wide variety of aquarium foods. This cichlid has a very pleasing coloration and is not shy about swimming out in the open. But they do like an aquarium with lots of rock formations creating caves for retreating. A sandy substrate is best because though they are not avid diggers, they may dig out spawning territories around decor. Plants are not essential but if you should include them they won’t harm them.

With its color, form and adaptability, this cichlid is a great choice for both the beginner and advance aquarist. They are a schooling fish that pair off only to breed, so are actually best kept in a group. They are generally peaceful and non aggressive with their own kind. They are not inclined to quarrel with others except when spawning, and then are very territorial. They are best kept in a species tank, or a group of these fish can be kept in a good sized aquarium with other similar types of Lamprologine Shell-dwellers. Other good tankmates are a large school of Herring cichlids of the Cyprichromis genus like the Sardine CichlidCyprichromis leptosoma, as well as the Goby Cichlids, Julidochromis species, and Tropheus species.

Though these cichlids spend a good deal of their time spawning, they are a secretive shelter spawner. You may not even know they have spawned until you see small fry darting about. A pair will spawn again and again. The older fry will help protect the younger ones, thus various ages of fry will be present in the same tank. This is an example of “stepped breeding”.

Scientific Classification


Fairy Cichlid – Quick Aquarium Care

Aquarist Experience Level:Beginner
Aquarium Hardiness:Moderately hardy
Minimum Tank Size:15 gal (57 L)
Size of fish – inches5.1 inches (13.00 cm)
Temperature:72.0 to 77.0° F (22.2 to 25.0&deg C)

Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Fairy Cichlid Neolamprologus brichardi (previously Lamprologus brichardi) was described by Poll in 1974. These fish are endemic to Lake Tanganyika and are found in the northern part of the lake. The nominate form is found in Burundi with color morphs occurring at Tanzania. The species name brichardi was named in honor of Pierre Brichard who set up a collecting station for Tanganyikan cichlids in 1971.

This species is listed on the IUCN Red List as Lease Concern (LC). It is widespread throughout the northern part of Lake Tanganyika and has no recognized threats at present. Originally the Fairy Cichlid was known as the ‘Princess of Burundi’. Other names they are known by today are the Fairy Cichlid, Brichardi Cichlid, Lyretail Lamprologus, Lyretail Cichlid, Brichardi Lyretail Cichlid, Princess cichlid, Princess of Burundi, Fairy cichlid, and Brichard’s Lamprologus.

The Neolamprologus genus is the largest genus of cichlids in Lake Tanganyika, containing 50 or so species. The fish in this genus are all closely related but they are split between “shelldwellers” and “rockdwellers”, yet all are substrate spawners. This genus is also the largest group in the tribe Lamprologini. The Lamprologini tribe contains seven genera and nearly 100 species of African Cichlids, most of which are found in Lake Tanganyika, though a few species are found in the the Congo River Basin and one species in the the Malagarasi River in Tanzania.

The Lamprologini cichlids are highly variable and are found in all kinds of habitats. They are found both at the surface and in very deep waters, but all species are substrate spawners. They have a body that cam be somewhat elongated to very elongated. Their colors tend to be brown, yellow, blue, black or a combination or all four. Black is usually a striping, either vertical or horizontal. Like other genus in the tribe, the Neolamprologus will readily mate with females of other Lamprologini.

A study published in 2007 in the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution suggested that the Fairy Cichlid and its very similar relative, the Daffodil Cichlid Neolamprologus pulcher, are a single species. This study, “Parallel evolution of facial stripe patterns in the Neolamprologus brichardi/pulcher species complex endemic to Lake Tanganyika”, authored by Nina Duftner, K. M. Sefc, S. K. ller, W. Salzburgerf, M. Taborsky, C. Sturmbauer would have both species included as Neolamprologus pulcher, as that is the older of the two scientific names.

However it has not been confirmed that they are the same species. These two fish are never found occurring together in the wild, but rather in close vicinity to each other. Also the abundant hybridization between members of the Lamprologini tribe has seriously confounded molecular studies and DNA sequencing.

They inhabit rocky coastlines and swim in large schools that often consist of hundreds of fish. When breeding however, they will form monogamous pairs and spawn in caves. They are found in shallow waters at 10 feet (3 m) down to depths of 82 – 98 feet (25 – 30 m). Specimens from the deeper waters are protected from over-collection as they require special decompression care to bring the fish to the surface. These fish will feed from the biofilm on the rocky substrate, eating small crustaceans and invertebrates, as well as feeding on swarms of plankton in the water column.

  • Scientific Name: Neolamprologus brichardi
  • Social Grouping: Groups – They occur in schools, often consisting of hundreds of fish.
  • IUCN Red List: LC – Least Concern


The Fairy Cichlid is a graceful fish with a body that is elongated with a continuous dorsal fin. The tail fin is lyre shaped and they develop long flowing filaments on all unpaired fins. They reach up to about 4 – 5 inches (10 -13 cm) in length, but can sometimes get a bit bigger in the aquarium reaching up to 6 inches (15 cm). They can live 8 – 10 years with proper care.

They have a very pleasing coloration with a subdued light brown body and white tipped fins. There is a dark stripe running from the eye along the lower portion of the gill with a yellow spot on the gill cover. They have brilliant blue eyes and a thin blue trim is occasionally seen on the fins and under the eyes.

  • Size of fish – inches: 5.1 inches (13.00 cm) – In the wild they grows to a length of 4 – 5″ (10-13 cm), and are generally larger specimens in home aquaria.
  • Lifespan: 8 years – They have a lifespan of 8 to 10 years with proper care.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

This fish is a great choice for both the beginner and advance aquarist. It is moderately easy to care for as long it has the proper sized aquarium and the right tank mates. They are fairly peaceful, making good inhabitants for the community cichlid tank. They it will adapt to a wide range of water conditions, eat a wide variety of aquarium foods. and will readily breed. The aquarium does need regular water changes.

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

Foods and Feeding

They Fairy Cichlids are omnivorous and in the wild it feeds on small crustaceans and invertebrates found in the biofilm of the rocky substrate as well as swarms of plankton drifting in the lake water. In the aquarium it will generally eat all kinds of live, fresh, and flake foods. To keep a good balance give them a high quality flake food or pellet everyday. Regularly supplement these foods with brine shrimp (either live or frozen) or daphnia.

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. A one-day-a-week ‘fast’ can also be beneficial. Of course, all fish benefit from added vitamins and supplements 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 – Offer several small feedings a day, what they can eat in about 3 minutes or less, rather than a single large feeding.

Aquarium Care

The Lake Tanganyika cichlids cannot handle large water changes very well unless the new water chemistry closely matches the water they are in. This inability to tolerate large water changes is due to Lake Tanganyika being very deep and the water tends to stay stable. Do normal water changes of only 10% to 20% a week, or more frequent small changes depending on the nitrite/ammonia levels and stocking numbers.

  • Water Changes: Weekly – Water changes of 10-20% weekly are suggested. Be cautious of doing more frequent changes as these fish are very sensitive to new water, only do more if the water parameters are off.

Aquarium Setup

The Fairy Cichlid is active and will swim in all areas of the aquarium. For a species only tank, a minimum of 15 gallons is suggested, though 20 or 35 gallons is better. A larger tank of 50 gallons or more would be required if mixing with other species. They 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 they 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.

They need a lot of rocks piled up to create cave formations. Provide a sandy to very small sized  gravel substrate. Sand used for salt water tanks can help keep the pH up as well as the addition of crushed coral. Crushed coral and aragonite sands do tend to dissolve easier than salts. Plants are not essential though they do not harm them. They don’t tend to burrow unless they are digging out a spawning sight around the decor. Subdued lighting is also preferred.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 15 gal (57 L) – A minimum of 15 gallons is the suggested for a species tank, with 20 or 35 gallons being better, and 50 gallons or more is needed for mixing species.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: Sometimes – A larger nano tank of 15 gallons or more, can be used for a species only aquarium.
  • Substrate Type: Sand/Gravel Mix
  • Lighting Needs: Low – subdued lighting
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 77.0° F (22.2 to 25.0&deg C)
  • Breeding Temperature: 77.0° F – Breeding temperatures are between 77 – 86° F (25 – 30 C).
  • Range ph: 8.0-8.5 – A pH less than 7 is not tolerated, and wild caught specimens prefer the higher pH.
  • Hardness Range: 10 – 20 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

The Fairy Cichlid is a fairly non-aggressive community fish. They can be kept in a smaller species only tank or in a larger aquarium with other durable fish. However they are avid spawners and breeding pairs will establish a territory and defended it together. This fish is also very protective in defending their fry.

If kept in a community type environment it is best to introduce the Fairy Cichlid last. The tank mates need to be larger with their own established territories. Avoid housing them with the African cichlids from Lake Malawi or Lake Victoria. They may tolerate their own genus, but this is not suggested since hybrids can be formed. In the wild it has been seen cohabiting with the White-Tailed BrichardiNeolamprologus gracilis.

Some cichlids they can be kept with are some of the Altolamprologus genera such as the White Pearly Calvus and the Compressed Cichlid, and the Julidochromis genera such as Mariner’s Julie and the Convict Julie. Other good tankmates are a large school of Herring cichlids of the Cyprichromis genus like the Sardine CichlidCyprichromis leptosoma, as well as the Goby Cichlids, Julidochromis species, and Tropheus species.

  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Yes – They can be kept singly, in pairs, or in small groups of 6 or more.
    • Peaceful fish (): Threat
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Safe
    • Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
    • Threat
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Threat – is aggressive
    • Plants: Safe

Sex: Sexual differences

These fish are difficult to sex. Although it is hard to tell, the male has a more pointed dorsal fin and the tip of the caudal fin is longer.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Fairy Cichlids have been bred in captivity and are easy to breed. They are egg layers and form nuclear families. Considered a monogamous cichlid, they will pair up only during spawning and will school otherwise. They will often breed in a community tank. They reach sexual maturity and will start to spawn when they reach 2 inches (5 cm) in length. It is suggested to start with a group of at least 6 individuals and let them pair up. Condition them with a good varied diet.

The breeding tank should be at least 36 inches (91 cm) long, or bigger if you have a larger group to provide sufficient territories among rocks or inverted flowerpots. The breeding tank should have neutral, medium hard to hard water with to a pH of around 7.5 – 8.5, 10 – 20° dGH, and a temperature between 77 – 86° F (25 – 30 C). The female prefers spawning in caves or sometimes in areas with rocky rubble where they will dig a spawning site next to the decor.

In her first spawn the female typically lay only a few eggs, but as she matures she will lay over 100 eggs, even up to 200. The eggs will be deposited on the wall or roof of the spawning site. The female will tend to the eggs and the male will guards the spawn site. The eggs will hatch in 2-3 days and the fry will become free swimming in 7 days. The fry can be fed newly hatch brine shrimp. They fry are slow growing, but both the parents and older juveniles will care for the young. See the description of breeding monogamous cichlids in: Breeding Freshwater Fish: Cichlids.

  • Ease of Breeding: Easy

Fish Diseases

The Fairy Cichlids are fairly hardy in a properly maintained aquarium. These cichlids 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 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 Fairy Cichlid, also known as the Brichardi Cichlid or Lyretail Cichlid, is available from time to time and can be moderate to moderately expensive. They are found both online and in fish stores and range in price depending on whether they are juveniles or adults.



Featured Image Credit: Andrej Jakubik, Shutterstock