The Sardine Cichlid is energetic and colorful, a great addition for the upper part of a Lake Tanganyika tank!

The Sardine Cichlid Cyprichromis leptosoma is a small elongated cichlid from Lake Tanganyika, Africa. Typically cichlids have a robust look with many being very deep bodied, but not the cichlids from the Cyprichromis genus. There are 5 species in this genus with a long slender streamlined form. They look more like sardines so are commonly known as Herring Cichlids or Sardine Cichlids. Common names for this fish are the Slender Cichlid or it may simply be referred to as “Cyp”, “Slender Cyp”, or “Lepto”.

This species is very colorful as well. Classic males range from browns to lavender blues accented with a tail fin that is golden to orangish yellow. However there are several slightly different color pattern variations and all are very attractive. They will differ in color patterns with contrasting lines and various shadings depending upon the location in Lake Tanganyika where the specimen is collected. Patterns span from dark vertical bars on top of a blue or lavender body to blotches of yellow.

Several common names are used to describe this pretty fish by its appearance. The most common is the Blue Flash Cichlid or Cyprichromis leptosoma “Blue Flash”. Others include “Neonback” or Cyprichromis leptosoma “Utinta”, Fluorescent Utinta, Cyprichromis leptosoma “Livua Blue Cichlid”, Blue Glitter, Black Bee, Neon Head, Neon Back, Livua Blue Cichlid, and more along with varieties being named for their place of origin in the lake. The Sardine Cichlid is the smallest of the Cyprichromis genus, reaching only up to about 4 1/3 inches (11 cm) in length. It is similarly shaped to the Blue NeonParacyprichromis nigripinnis, The differences found on the Slender Cichlid are the uniformity of its body color and its also much larger.

This is a schooling cichlid that’s fairly peaceful, but it will need a tank large enough to provide plenty of room for swimming. In the wild they shoal in groups numbering in the thousands, in the aquarium a minimum of 12 is suggested for them to be comfortable. They tolerate their own species well. A good balance of three to four males with the being rest females will encourage the males to color up quite nicely.

These cichlids are not overly aggressive and enjoy schooling with a group of conspecifics. In contrast to that activity, at times they have an amusing “stand on the head” behavior or a behavior of being very still. These are some of the few fish that prefer the top areas of the tank, and so complement the middle and bottom dwellers. Keep them with other Tanganyika cichlids that are similar in temperament but inhabit the middle and lower regions of the tank. The presence of Sardine Cichlids in the tank actually calms other cichlids. When they see them out in the open, other cichlids figure it must be safe. Even your shell dwellers will spend more time out of their hiding places with these fish present.

This cichlid is a great choice for both the beginner and advance aquarist. It is easy to moderate to care for as long as regular water changes are done to keep water at optimal levels. This fish is always wanting to spawn, so provide some plants to provide cover for the newly hatched fry. It is important to keep conspecific varieties and similar species separate to help prevent hybrid strains from entering the trade, thus losing the true color forms.

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: Cyprichromis
  • Species: leptosoma
Sardine Cichlid – Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner
  • Size of fish – inches: 4.3 inches (11.00 cm)
  • Minimum Tank Size: 55 gal (208 L)
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Temperature: 73.0 to 77.0° F (22.8 to 25.0&deg C)
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Sardine Cichlid Cyprichromis leptosoma was described by Boulenger in 1898. These fish are endemic to Lake Tanganyika, Africa. This species is listed on the IUCN Red List as Lease Concern (LC). Although it is endemic to Lake Malawi, it is widespread in the southern part of lake and has no recognized threats at present. Because they look more like sardines this genus is commonly known called a Herring Cichlid or Sardine Cichlid.

This species is often called by its scientific name, Cyprichromis leptosoma, but sometimes it is simply referred to as “Cyp”, “Slender Cyp”, or “Lepto”. Still other names describe it by its appearance with the most common being Blue Flash Cichlid or Cyprichromis leptosoma “Blue Flash” and “Neonback” or Cyprichromis leptosoma “Utinta”. Others include Blue Glitter, Black Bee, Neon Head, Neon Back, Fluorescent Utinta, Livua Blue Cichlid, and more. And then varieties are named for their locality including Cyprichromis leptosoma “Malasa”, “Kitumba”, “Bulu Point”, “Katete”, “Kerenge”, “Kekese”, “Livua”, and “Mupulungu”.

The Cyprichromis genus are a group of African Cichlids in the tribe Cyprichromini. The Cyprichromini tribe contains 2 genera and 7 species of African Cichlids, with most being endemic to Lake Tanganyika. These are small, elongated cichlids ranging from 4 – 5 1/2 inches (10 – 14 cm) in length. They are found above rocky dropoffs where they tend to form huge schools, often with several thousand individuals. They have highly protrusable mouths adapted for feeding on plankton in the water column, and tend to swim in a head down manner, sometimes even upside down. All species are mouthbrooders.

They inhabit the upper regions of the water in large groups or shoals near rocky slopes along the eastern shore of the lake. They feed on drifting zooplankton and enjoy shellfish on occasion. The female Blue Flash will use other fish to protect her fry, which is actually not that uncommon with Tanganyikan fish.

  • Scientific Name: Cyprichromis leptosoma
  • Social Grouping: Groups – They are found near rocky shores in large groups or shoals.
  • IUCN Red List: LC – Least Concern


The body shape of the Sardine Cichlid is not that of a typical cichlid. Rather than being stocky and more deep bodied, it is a long slender fish with more of a “sardine” shape and has a protrusible mouth. It is also commonly known as the Slender Cichlid. It will grow to a length of 4 1/3 inches (11 cm) and can live up to 8 years with proper care.

Males pretty much all have a body color that ranges from lavender to blue with a golden yellow to orangish yellow tail fin. Females are generally more beige with some yellow in their fins. There are variations in their coloring depending on the region where they are found, below are a few of them:

  • Cyprichromis leptosoma “Utinta” or Neonback
    The Neonback has a blue base color with four darker colored vertical bars. It also has an egg spot on the back part of the dorsal fin, that can be black, yellow or a combination of the two.
    Cyprichromis leptosoma Kekese maleCyprichromis leptosoma “Kekese” male
  • Cyprichromis leptosoma “Kerenge”
    This variety has a lavender blue base color with four darker colored vertical bars.
  • Cyprichromis leptosoma “Bulu Point”
    This variety has an overall solid blue on the top half of the body with the bottom half having scales that are gold and edged in the main body color so it appears the two colors are mixed. The tail fin and tips of the pelvic fin are orange with the anal fin remaining blue.
  • Cyprichromis leptosoma “Kekese”
    This variety has an overall solid turquoise blue on the top half of the body with the bottom half having scales that are yellow and edged in the main body color so it appears the two colors are mixed. The tail fin, tips of the pelvic fins, and the anal fin are yellow.

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: 4.3 inches (11.00 cm)
  • Lifespan: 8 years – They have a lifespan of about 8 years with proper care.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

These cichlids make a great choice for the beginning cichlid keeper, and are appealling to the advanced aquarist as well. They are easy to care for, easy to feed, and relatively undemanding aquarium residents. They are also fairly peaceful, making good inhabitants for the community tank, and will readily breed. The aquarium does need regular water changes.

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

Foods and Feeding

The Slender Cichlid is an omnivore. In the wild they use their protrusable mouths to feed on drifting zooplankton, and enjoy shellfish on occasion. In the aquarium they will generally eat all kinds of fresh and prepared foods. To keep a good balance give them flakes and frozen foods along with cyclops, water fleas, shrimps, artemia or other special food for Lake Tanganyika cichlids.

It is suggested that you do not feed live foods and tubifex worms due to possible diseases and pathogens that may be transferred to your fish. Feed 2 to 5 small pinches of food a day in smaller amounts instead of a large quantity once a day. A one-day-a-week ‘fast’ can also be beneficial. All fish benefit from vitamins and supplements added to their foods.

  • Diet Type: Omnivore
  • Flake Food: Yes
  • Tablet / Pellet: Yes
  • Vegetable Food: Some of Diet
  • Meaty Food: Most of Diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Daily – Offer several small feedings a day rather than a single large feeding for better water quality over time.

Aquarium Care

Do normal water changes of 10% to 15% a week, or more frequent changes depending on the nitrite/ammonia levels and stocking numbers. The Lake Tanganyika cichlids cannot handle large water changes very well unless the new water 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 Sardine Cichlid will swim in the upper areas of the aquarium. Provide them with at least a 55 gallon tank, or one with a minimum of 4 feet in length, as they do shoal. 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.

They must have a hood since these fish are jumpers. Provide a sandy or small gravel substrate along with some decor, but make sure there is open area at the top for them to swim. Plants help fry to have a higher survival rate and give the adults a place to retreat. Some arrangements for a Lake Tanganyikan tank could be Cryptocoryne plants in the foreground, in the middle ground use rosette Plants such as swordplants that are the larger variety, and in the very back water ferns can work. For a different or varied look, you can plant Anubias and Java Fern on porous rock. Also include some floating plants.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 55 gal (208 L) – A minimum of 55 gallons or more is the suggested, and with a length of at least 4 feet as this is a shoaling species.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Substrate Type: Sand/Gravel Mix
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate – normal lighting
  • Temperature: 73.0 to 77.0° F (22.8 to 25.0&deg C) – Ideally temperature is 77° F (24° C).
  • Range ph: 8.0-9.0 – Optimal is 8.4 pH.
  • Hardness Range: 10 – 19 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: Top – These fish will swim in the top areas of the aquarium.

Social Behaviors

The Blue Flash is actually one of the more peaceful cichlids. It is a community cichlid that can be kept with other Lake Tanganyika cichlids from the genera Tropheus and Julidochromis, and Neolamprologus as well as the Tanganyikan Goby CichlidEretmodus cyanostictus. It can also be kept with some of the Synodontis catifish species like Synodontis multipunctatus. Of course the number of these fish you can keep with together will depend on the size.

They are generally pretty peaceful and will tolerate their own species as well. They can be kept in a group of 12 or more, with 3 or more being males. This will encourage the males to color up quite nicely. Oddly, the males within the group can actually obtain different coloring even though they are the same species.

  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive – They areo ne of the more peaceful cichlids species.
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Yes – This is a shoaling species and they do well in groups of 12 or more, with 3 or more being males.
    • Peaceful fish (): Monitor
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Safe
    • Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
    • Monitor
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: May be aggressive
    • Plants: Safe

Sex: Sexual differences

These fish are easy to tell apart as the females are plain blue while the males have multicolored patterns.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Slender Cichlid has been bred in captivity. Male Blue Flash are always wanting to spawn, which contributes the the attractiveness of this fish in a community cichlid tank. They are always shaking and flashing to get the attention of the females.

They are mouthbrooders that have formed their own twist on this category. Unlike other cichlids, the males and females do not form a bond. They actually spawn in open waters without using substrate. The female is attracted to a male that is bending his body and vibrating this ventral fins. which look like dummy eggs. When the female snaps or nuzzles this fin, the male will release his semen or “milt” into the water. The female will then release one or two eggs into the milt, thus fertilizing them. She then takes the fertilized eggs into her mouth and continues this ritual until she has run out of eggs.

Spawning will produce from 4 to 20 fry depending on the female’s health and age. She will carry the eggs for 3-4 weeks and then spit them out between crevices of rocks. She will not protect them, but will deposit her eggs near a Lepidiolamprologus profundicola, which is a large piscivorous substrate-spawning cichlid, that acts as a surrogate mother. The L. profundicola is not dedicated to protecting the Blue Flash fry, but her presence actually deters predators.

Feed the fry newly hatched brine shrimp and decapsulated brine shrimp eggs when first born. (They will not be able to digest the eggs if they are not decapsulated.) The fry grow quickly and will soon be able to take in cyclopeeze and frozen daphnia. There is also a product from Hilkari called “First Bites” that works well. The fry can be sexed at 2″ when the male coloration appears. See more about cichlid breeding in: Breeding Freshwater Fish: Cichlids.

  • Ease of Breeding: Easy

Fish Diseases

The Sardine Cichlids are 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 Sardine Cichlid, also known as the Slender Cichlid or Blue Flash, is only occasionally available online and rarely in fish stores, juveniles have a moderately high price. Purchase from a reputable dealer, due to hybridization it takes a trained eye to choose the correct color strain that has not been crossed.