The Five-Bar Cichlid is a captivating beauty that will make your aquarium an eye catching showcase!

The Five-Bar Cichlid Neolamprologus tretocephalus is very handsome beauty. It has a dramatic color pattern with bold black bars contrasted against a light silvery blue background. The fins are highlighted with a gorgeous blue tinge along the edges, and adult males will sometimes have a purple tinge on the edge. It is known by a number of common names, with several that depict its bold appearance including Tret Cichlid, Tretocephalus Cichlid, Five Barred Lamprologus, Poor Mans Frontosa, Dwarf Frontosa, Five-Bar Lamprologus, and African Five Barred Cichlid.

This species has all the great colors of a Frontosa CichlidCyphotilapia frontosa, but is just a fraction of the size. In the wild it can grow up to almost 6 inches (15 cm) in length, but in the aquarium it more commonly reaches only about 4 inches (10 cm). Along with the Frontosa, another cichlid it is very similar to in appearance is its close relative the Sexfasciatus or Six-Bar Lamprologus Neolamprologus sexfasciatus.

Both of these other two cichlids have the strong barring and varying amounts of blue highlights, and as a juvenile the Five-Bar Cichlid looks almost like the same fish as the Frontosa. However there is a very simple difference that distinguishes this cichlid from the others. The Five-Bar Cichlid has just that, five bold dark bars on its body. The other two species will have six (or in some varieties seven) bold dark bars.

This fish is a great choice for both the intermediate and advanced cichlid keeper. It is moderately easy to care for as long as mandatory water changes are done (and difficult if they are neglected). Watching the antics of this bold little fish is a reward in itself. When a pair breeds they will take on the same protection duties of their fry as some of the American Cichlids, and viciously guard them. This is one of those cichlids with a tendency to leap our ot the water, so be sure to have a tight fitting lid.

They can be kept alone or in pairs, but are intolerant of any other Five-Bar Cichlid in the tank. As they will become extremely aggressive and will occupy a large territory when spawning and brooding, pairs are best kept in a species tank or with fish that can take the abuse they will dish out. They are not as aggressive when not spawning, so juveniles or as a single specimen may not cause a ruckus. In this situation they may be successfully kept with other smart and fast moving fish of similar size. Just make sure the tank is very large.

They like a sandy to very small sized substrate along with caves made from rocks and ceramic decor. It’s best to put the decor towards that back and sides of the tank and leave open space in the middle for them to swim. They also enjoy plants in the background or middle ground. Highly porous rock works well for growing several fern species.

Scientific Classification


Five-Bar Cichlid – Quick Aquarium Care

Aquarist Experience Level:Intermediate
Aquarium Hardiness:Moderately hardy
Minimum Tank Size:40 gal (151 L)
Size of fish – inches5.9 inches (15.01 cm)
Temperature:78.0 to 80.0° F (25.6 to 26.7&deg C)

Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Five-Bar Cichlid Neolamprologus tretocephalus was described by Boulenger in 1899. These fish are endemic to Lake Tanganyika, Africa and are found throughout the northern basin of the lake along a small section of coastline south of Mahale. It is a popular aquarium species and is now farmed commercially.

This species is listed on the IUCN Red List as Lease Concern (LC). Although it is endemic to Lake Malawi, it has a widespread distribution throughout the northern parts of the lake and has no recognized threats at present. Other common names this fish is known by include the Tret Cichlid, Tretocephalus Cichlid, Five Barred Lamprologus, Poor Mans Frontosa, Dwarf Frontosa, Five-Bar Lamprologus, and African Five Barred Cichlid

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 “shell dwellers” and “rock dwellers”, 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.

They are found along rocky shore areas where they feed on mollusks such as snails, along with fishes. Lake Tanganyika is the second to largest lake in the world, thus contributing to a low fluctuation in pH and temperature.

These cichlids are rock dwellers found in waters at depths between 15 – 50 feet (4.5 – 15 m). They inhabit both rocky areas and intermediate zones where there is a sandy bottom and scattered rocks. They form territorial pairs and will breed and raise their young in caves, driving away any others of their same species. They have a specifically adapted pharyngeal bone that enables them to crush the shells of invertebrates. They will feed on small fish and aquatic insect larvae in the wild, but snails and bi-valves make up the bulk of their diet.

  • Scientific Name: Neolamprologus tretocephalus
  • Social Grouping: Pairs – Adults form territorial pairs.
  • IUCN Red List: LC – Least Concern


The Five-Bar Cichlid is a rather stocky elongated fish with a continuous dorsal fin. They have mouths designed for specialized feeding. Their pharyngeal bone is specifically adapted to crush invertebrates, which make up the bulk of their diet. They are relatively small in size reaching a length of only about 4 inches (10 cm) in the aquarium, though they can grow up to almost 6 inches (15 cm) in the wild. The Neolamprologus genus will generally live 8 – 10 years with proper care.

They have a very attractive coloration. The body is a light silvery blue to white with five bold black vertical bars. The first bar is behind the head and the last bar is at the base of the caudal fin. The fins are blue with the dorsal fin having just a shadow of the bars extending slightly onto it. The coloring is very close to the Frontosa Cichlid especially when young, thus earning the names “Dwarf Frontosa” and “Poor Mans Frontosa”. It is also similar to the Sexfasciatus or Six-Bar Lamprologus, but the head is less pointed and it has a more slender and torpedo shaped body.

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: 5.9 inches (15.01 cm) – The can grow to a length of almost 6″ (15 cm), but more commonly reach just 4″ (10 cm).
  • Lifespan: 8 years – They have a lifespan of 8 to 10 years with proper care.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

This is a good fish for the intermediate and experienced cichlid keeper. It is an aggressive cichlid, and not a community tank specimen. It cannot kept with fish other than cichlids. The aquarists must be willing to do frequent water changes and provide appropriate tank mates. It is susceptible to the typical diseases that effect all freshwater fish if the tank is not maintained.

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

Foods and Feeding

Though considered an omnivore, the Five-Bar Cichlids are primarily carnivorous, feeding on mollusks such as snails along with fishes in the wild. In the aquarium they can be fed flakes and sinking pellets as well as meaty foods, then small feeder fish and feeder snails when they grow larger. Live foods such as baby brine and an occasional garden worm are also fine. Occasionally supplement with their diet with some vegetable based foods as well.

Watch water quality. 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 – Although they are omivorous, in the wild they primarily feed on fish and mollusks such as snails.
  • Flake Food: Yes
  • Tablet / Pellet: Yes
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet
  • Vegetable Food: Some of Diet
  • Meaty Food: Most 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

Do normal water changes of only 10% to 20% a week, or more frequent depending on the nitrite/ammonia levels and 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. 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, depending on bioload and stocking levels.

Aquarium Setup

The  Five-Bar Cichlid will swim mostly in the middle and bottom areas of the aquarium. A minimum 40 gallon tank is suggested for a fish under 4″. A larger tank that’s 4 feet long and about 80 gallons will be needed for a breeding pair or when keeping a mixed tank. They need good water movement to provide lots of oxygenation along with very strong and efficient filtration.

Make sure to have a cover on the aquarium, as this is one species that tends to jump. 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.

Provide a sandy to very small sized gravel substrate. These fish will need a lot of rocks and cave formations for retreat and spawning. Although plants (other than algae) are pretty much absent in their natural environment, they are preferred by this species and can be arranged in a very pleasing manner. Plants that will grow on the porous rock include such species as Anubias, Java Fern. and Water Fern. It’s best to have the decor placed more to the back and sides of the tank to provide an open area in the middle for swimming.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 40 gal (151 L) – A minimum of 40 gallons is suggested for a fish under 4″, and larger as the fish matures. For a breeding pair or when keeping a mixed tank, about 80 gallons and 4′ in length will be needed.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Substrate Type: Sand/Gravel Mix
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate – normal lighting
  • Temperature: 78.0 to 80.0° F (25.6 to 26.7&deg C)
  • Breeding Temperature: 77.0° F – Best breeding temperature is 77° F (25 C) or slightly higher.
  • Range ph: 8.6-9.5 – Some specimens will adjust to neutral water if it is done slowly.
  • Hardness Range: 10 – 13 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

The Five-Bar Cichlid can be kept alone or in pairs, but will be intolerant of other individuals of its species in the tank. They become extremely aggressive and will occupy a large territory when spawning and brooding. Pairs are best kept in a species tank or with fish that can take the abuse they will dish out.

They are not as aggressive when not spawning, so juveniles or as a single specimen may not cause a ruckus. Some fish you can try with a pair of these fish are Clown Loaches, Rainbow or Redtail Sharks, large Rainbowfish, larger Barbs, larger Danios and other smart and fast moving fish of similar size. Just make sure the tank is very large.

  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Yes – They can be kept in pairs, but will be intolerant of any others of their same species.
    • Peaceful fish (): Threat
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Aggressive (): Safe
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
    • Threat
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Threat – is aggressive
    • Plants: Safe

Sexual differences

The male is a little larger than the female and has a slightly bigger head, the female is slightly duller in color.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Five-Bar Cichlid has been bred in captivity though it is considered to be rather difficult. These are substrate spawners that spawn in caves. They will form monogamous pairs and a nuclear family. Obtaining several juveniles and allowing a pair to form, then removing the others is the best way to get a pair.

A pair will spawn at about 4 to 6 week intervals. The breeding tank needs to be at least 4 feet long with piles rock. upside down clay flower pot (some break out the bottom), or other decor that creates caves for spawning sites. The water should have a temperature of 77° F (25 C) or slightly higher. They take over an area and the male will remove any rock or debris. The female enters and lays around 400 eggs on the surface, after which the male fertilizes them.

Once the eggs are fertilized it takes 2 to 3 days for them to hatch and 5 days for them to be free swimming. Once they are free swimming, the female will be surrounded by a cloud of hundreds of fry. The male at this point, becomes super aggressive and will expand his territory for his family. In about 3 weeks, remove most of the fry. The fry can be fed crushed flake and baby brine shrimp. Breeding a wild caught specimen with a captive bred specimen helps to keep the lines healthier. See the description of breeding monogamous cichlids in: Breeding Freshwater Fish: Cichlids.

  • Ease of Breeding: Easy

Fish Diseases

Five-Bar Cichlids are fairly hardy in a properly maintained aquarium. These cichlids are susceptible to typical fish ailments especially if water is stale, of poor quality, or low in oxygenation. 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 Five-Bar Cichlid is usually available online and sometimes found in fish stores. They are moderately expensive ranging in price depending on size. They can sometimes be special ordered when out of season, if you are willing to wait.



Featured Image Credit: Milan Rybar, Shutterstock