There are many beautiful Tropheus species that are popular and readily available!

The first live Tropheus cichlids were imported into Europe in 1959. But it wasn’t until the mid 1970’s when introduced in Germany, and then into the United States, that they became a big hit, and they are still a favorite today. Many of the Tropheus cichlid imports were originally identified as simply being geographical races or color morphs of Tropheus Moorii. But today it is known that these multitudes of fish actually represent a number of different species. All the varieties of this cichlid are very popular and make fascinating showpieces for an African cichlid aquarium.

Currently there are six Tropheus species that are scientifically described including the Blunthead CichlidTropheus Moorii, Blue-Eyed TropheusTropheus brichardi, White Spotted CichlidTropheus duboisi, Tropheus annectens, Tropheus kasabae, and Poll’s TropheusTropheus polli. There is some debate on T. Polli. It was described by G.S. Axelrod in 1977 and placed in a category of its own. This was due to its unique lyre-tail caudal fin, having only 4 rays on its anal fin, and having an individual place of origin. Although these five are each identified individually, four of them have a number of color morphs. The Blunthead Cichlid is the champion of varieties however, as it has 50 or so color morphs.

Although only six Tropheus cichlids have been scientifically named, there are a number of other beautiful varieties. Those that have not yet been described as their own species nor placed back in one of the other categories are sold as Tropheus sp. “black”, Tropheus sp. “red”, Tropheus sp. “ikola”, and Tropheus sp. “mpimbwe”.

A colony of 12 or more of these cichlids can make an amazing display. They are very active and their personalities are a definite plus. They have individual behaviors from curiously lining up to watch the goings on in the room to ‘dolphin-like’ dancing antics when eating. Feeding time can be very ‘wet’ for their keepers, but makes this fish very fun and desirable. They also have a really interesting social structure that develops within a colony of tank mates. In the wild Tropheus are very aggressive with conspecifics, but are said to be less aggressive with other fish. In the aquarium their aggression level towards unrelated fish can vary depending on the personalities of the individual fish.

These hearty cichlids can be easy to moderate to keep as long as attention is paid to their diet and regular water changes are done. They can be difficult to keep if either of these tasks are neglected. These are rather expensive fish and they can be afflicted with the occurrence of ‘bloat’, a parasite that will cause blockage to the intestinal tract. This is a parasite that is believed to reside in the intestines of healthy fish, but can proliferate when the fish are under stressful conditions, exposed to too much salt, or fed an improper diet. The large numbers of parasites then create problems as they move outside the intestine by punching holes, causing the fish to bloat. Initially attempts to keep them often met with difficulty until aquarists became familiar with their rather specific, though uncomplicated needs.

Having a very aggressive nature, they are best kept in a species specific tank. Do not add a new fish to an already established colony as this will cause an upset and death. They may also be kept in a larger aquarium with some other herbivorous rock dwelling African cichlids. The larger the tank and the more hiding places you have will help with aggression. Provide a sandy substrate, strong lighting to encourage algae growth, and several rock piles along with rocks formed into caves to offer places for retreat. These are truly rewarding fish for the aquarist who is willing to provide the necessary care.

Tropheus Species – Quick Aquarium Care

Aquarist Experience Level:Advanced
Aquarium Hardiness:Moderately Difficult
Minimum Tank Size:75 gal (284 L)
Size of fish – inches5.9 inches (15.01 cm)
Temperature:76.0 to 82.0° F (24.4 to 27.8&deg C)

Habitat: Distribution / Background

The first Tropheus species, the Blunthead Cichlid Tropheus Moorii, was described by Boulenger in 1898. Currently there are six scientifically described species and a number of other recognized species. The Tropheus cichlids known as Tropheus sp. “black”, Tropheus sp. “red”, Tropheus sp. “ikola”, and Tropheus sp. “mpimbwe” are recognized as distinctive varieties, but they have not yet been described. These undescribed species are not listed on the IUCN Red List, but those Tropheus that are listed have either the status of ‘LC’, meaning ‘Least Concern’ or ‘VU’, meaning ‘Vulnerable’.

The Tropheus species are endemic to Lake Tanganyika, Africa and are widely distributed throughout the lake. They mostly inhabit shallow waters along the rocky costal areas. They are all algal grazers, feeding on algae and microinvertebrates they rasp from the rocks with specially adapted underslung mouths.

  • Scientific Name: Tropheus sp.
  • Social Grouping: Groups – They are generally found in groups and will form nuclear families, though not prolonged pairs as often found in other open water breeders.
  • IUCN Red List: NE – Not Evaluated or not listed


The Tropheus species are a moderately deep bodied fish that seems to have a larger head in proportion to the body. The body narrows as it forms the tail and the caudal fin is fan shaped. They vary in size depending upon the species. The Tropheus sp. Black “Bemba/Pemba” is perhaps the smallest reaching about 4 to 4 3/4″ (10 – 12 cm) in length while the Tropheus sp. “mpimbwe” may be the largest, reach up to about 6 ” (15 cm). They can live 10 years or more with proper care.

There are a number of geographic variations of Tropheus species, each with a different color patterning depending on the locale from which they originate. Color morphs can vary greatly. They can be solid colored and have a broad band or a large blotch or two of yellow or red across the mid section. They have various amounts of coloring on the head, fins, and upper back. They can also have a striped patterning on the body or they can have various other combinations. General descriptions of these species:

  • Tropheus sp. “black”
    This species will often have an overall dark body and fins with a bold contrasting band around their middle or large color blotches on the sides or head. The blotches are often bright yellow or red.
  • Tropheus sp. “red”
    This variety can have a red body with a black head, black along the upper surface of the body and dorsal fin, and on the tail fin. They can also have a yellowish or dark golden body with reds in the dorsal fin and sometimes on the pectoral or anal fin. Some varieties have striping.
  • Tropheus sp. “ikola”
    This species has an overall black body and fins with a bold wide yellow band in the center of the body, (see the picture below).
  • Tropheus sp. “mpimbwe”
    This species has a dark golden to brown body color with thin yellow stripes and there can be a yellow or reddish color to the cheeks or chin area of the head. Sometimes the striping may be absent. (See the picture on the on the Blue-Eyed Tropheus page.)

Several varieties are shown here:

Tropheus sp. Black "Pemba/Bemba"

Tropheus sp. “Bemba/Pemba”
This species is from Bemba, Congo Common names:
Bemba Orange Flame, Orange Moorii, Flame Moorii, Red Kaiser

Tropheus sp. Black "Bulu Point"

Tropheus sp. Black “Bulu Point”
Tropheus sp. “Bulu Point”
This species is from Bulu Point, Tanzania.
Common names:Cherry Spot, Double Fleck Moorii, Kirschfleck,Candy Apple

Tropheus sp. Black "Caramba"

Tropheus sp. Black “Caramba”
This species is from Cape Caramba, Congo.
Common names: Cherry Cheek
Cherry Head, Katende Variant

Tropheus sp. Black "Ikola"

Tropheus sp. “Ikola”
Tropheus sp. Black “Ikola”
This species is from Ikola, Tanzania.
Common names: Tropheus Bumble Bee
Kaiser I, Emperor Moorii

Tropheus sp. Black "Kiriza"

Tropheus sp. Black “Kiriza”
This species is from Kiriza, Congo.
Common names:
Kaiser II, Kiriza Kaiser

Tropheus sp. Black "Rutunga"

Tropheus sp. Black “Rutunga”
Tropheus sp.”Rutunga”
This species is from Magara, Burundi.
Common names:Red Saddle,
Brabant Moorii, Magara Moori

Additional varieties include:

  • Tropheus sp. Black “Banza” – From Cape Banza, Congo.
  • Tropheus sp. Black “Kirchfleck” – Common name it is known by is: Cherry Spot
  • Tropheus sp. Black “Lueba” – From Lueba, Congo.
  • Tropheus sp. Black “Makobola” – From Makobola, Congo.
  • Tropheus sp. Black “Mboko” – From Mboko, Congo.
  • Tropheus sp. Black “Kifumbwe” – From Kifumbwe, Congo. Common names: Lemon Stripe Moorii or Mboko Variant
  • Tropheus sp. Black “Minago” – From Minago, Congo. Common name: Black Moorii
  • Tropheus sp. Black “Uvira” – From Uvira, Congo. Common name: Moorii Bright Red
  • Tropheus sp. “Moba Tropheus”

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 Tropheus species vary in size depending upon the species, ranging from the smallest at about 4 to 4 3/4″ (10 – 12 cm) to the largest, reach up to about 6 ” (15 cm).
  • Lifespan: 10 years – They have a lifespan of 10 – 12 years with proper care.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

These fish are suggested for more experienced aquarists as they are rather demanding to keep. This is due to their susceptibility to certain infections of the intestinal tract such as “bloat”, so require more stringent requirements with diet and habitat. They also have a highly aggressive nature. They can be moderately easy to keep if it properly fed and the water quality is kept up, but difficult if not. They do best in a species tank, and only with other herbivorous types of cichlids included if the tank is large. The aquarists must be willing to do frequent water changes and provide appropriate tank mates.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately Difficult
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Advanced – These highly aggressive fish require attention to diet, diligent tank care, and are susceptible to “bloat” if stressed, so are suggested for experienced aquarists.

Foods and Feeding

The Tropheus species are omnivores. In the wild they are specialized aufwuchs feeders, aufwuchs refers to tough stringy algae that is attached to rocks. They feed on algae scraped from the rocks along with the microorganisms it contains. In the aquarium they need to be fed a spirulina based flake and pellet. If you use pellets, hold them underwater for a few moments before the fish eat them. That may prevent air released from the pellet from getting trapped in the belly of the fish. They should have spinach or romaine at least once a day. Only include foods that are high in fiber. Avoid soft or slimy foods as well as Tubifex, brine shrimp, beef heart, and mosquito larvae.

Feed proteins sparingly and avoid housing them with fish that need protein. Some aquarists say protein may cause bloat though others report no problems with it. Some have fed their fish frozen brine and plankton will no ill effects, while according to one author brine shrimp and insect larvae should be avoided. Stick with the same varieties of food and if you do switch, do it a little at a time as this may cause bloat. Rick Bornstein, a writer on care of many cichlid fish, suggests HBH Graze and Dainichi Veggie Deluxe brand foods for the Tropheus. The ratios of vegetable matter in these products are good.

They have a long intestinal tract and should not be over fed, as overfeeding may contribute to bloat. Feed 3 times a day with small pinches of food 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 – Although these fish are omnivores, their diet consists primarily of herbivorous foods.
  • Flake Food: Yes
  • Tablet / Pellet: Yes
  • Vegetable Food: Most of Diet
  • Meaty Food: Some of Diet – Proteins should be fed sparingly.
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day – Generally feed 2-3 small feedings a day rather than a single large feeding for better water quality.

Aquarium Care

Do water changes regularly, this is very important. Water changes of 15% twice a week or 30% weekly, depending on stocking numbers and removing uneaten food will help prevent disease. 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 15% twice a week or 30% weekly are recommended.

Aquarium Setup

Tropheus cichlids will swim in all areas of the aquarium, but are very aggressive. A minimum 4 foot long, 75 gallon tank is suggested for an established adult group of 12 or more. 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 the water passes through layers of crushed coral or coral sand. Interestingly, Tanganyika 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. Salinity must be less than about 10% of a normal saltwater tank, a specific gravity of less than 1.0002.

Provide a sandy or very small sized gravel substrate and strong lighting to encourage algae growth. 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. They need a lot of rocks piled up to create cave formations.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 75 gal (284 L) – A tank that is 48″ long and about 75 gallons will be needed for a group.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Substrate Type: Sand/Gravel Mix
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate – normal lighting – Normal lighting is okay, but stronger lighting will help with algae growth.
  • Temperature: 76.0 to 82.0° F (24.4 to 27.8&deg C)
  • Range ph: 7.3-9.2
  • Hardness Range: 8 – 22 dGH
  • Brackish: Sometimes – Can tolerate a low salinity, but must be less than 10% of a normal saltwater tank, 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 Tropheus species are aggressive cichlids. These fish do not always “play well with others” and are best kept in a species specific tank. They are best kept in groups (community) of at least 12 or more, with one or two males in the group. Many females are needed to spread the aggression of the male. Do not add a new fish to an already established colony as this will cause an upset and death.

They may also be kept in a larger aquarium with other herbivorous rock dwelling African cichlids, some Sardine Cichlids Cyprichromis leptosoma which are known to have a calming affect on aggressive cichlids, and Upside-Down Catfish Synodontis species. The larger the tank and the more hiding places you have (except when breeding), will help with aggression. If breeding them do not house with plecostomus as these fish will eat the fry at night.

Do not keep with slow moving fish or carnivores. Tropheus cichlids are voracious eaters and will eat anything that enters the tank. They will rarely let food get to the bottom. Providing more food and in an attempt to feed the non-tropheus tank mates can cause them to overeat and can lead to bloat.

  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Yes – Can be in groups of 12 or more, with 1 -2 males. Multiple females will help dilute the male’s aggressiveness.
    • Peaceful fish (): Threat
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor – Other herbivorous Tanganyika cichlids fish can be kept if the tank is large enough with plenty of decor providing multiple hiding places.
    • Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
    • Threat
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: May be aggressive
    • Plants: Monitor

Sexual differences

The sex of the Tropheus species is bit difficult to determine and can vary depending on the variety. Males tend to be a little larger than females, but that is not always reliable. The females do not grow as fast as the males and their coloring is less bold.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Tropheus cichlids have been bred in captivity. Get a group of 12 to 20 juveniles for a 90 gallon tank and a harem should form. Do not add new individuals to an existing colony. A large numbers of females is needed for the best success. This keeps the aggression of the males divided and you are less likely to lose females. Females can be hard to bring into breeding condition. The male will always be ready to spawn and are constantly trying to coax the females to spawn whether they are ready or not.

The dominant male of the group will court a female and they will shimmy and circle one another. The female takes fertilized eggs into her mouth. She will carry them in her mouth, and when release will be healthy, large fry ready to feed. They can be fed crushed flake since they are pretty big when they are born. New moms tend to not be so successful with their first broods, so expect to lose the first sets of fry. The fry are 1/2” (1.27 cm) when they are born, making them easy to feed. With in a week they are already scrapping with each other.

The adults in the community leave the fry alone if there are plenty of places to hide, but if you have other types of fish in the tank you may choose to remove the fry. They will breed about once a month. Breeding a wild caught specimen with captive bred fish helps to keep the lines healthier. See more information on breeding cichlids inBreeding Freshwater Fish: Cichlids.

  • Ease of Breeding: Moderate

Fish Diseases

These fish are susceptible to typical fish ailments, especially if water is stale and of poor quality and has low oxygenation. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Water changes, not overfeeding, providing adequate hiding places, and observation along with feeding your fish the proper foods 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. Be very careful to not add too much salt as this may cause bloat.

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. All Tanganyika cichlids need iodine for the thyroid to function properly to regulate growth and development, if levels are low it can be remedied by adding iodized table salt to the water (approximately 1 teaspoon per gallon of water).

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.

Dr. Jungle says…”What’s up with African Bloat or ‘Malawi Bloat’?”

The Tropheus species are very susceptible to African Bloat, also called Malawi Bloat. There seems to be no explainable rationale as to its cause. Though It is not certain what this disease is, it is generally believed to be caused by a protozoal parasite complicated by bacterial infection.

The most common cause of this disease is stress and the first sign if illness is not eating. Stress can be caused by such things as transport, netting, poor water quality, insufficient diet, over feeding, and a lack of hiding places. Other causes, that are easily remedied, are an improper diet and adding too much salt to the water.

The first sign of ‘bloat’ is loss of appetite which is then followed by swelling of the abdomen, labored breathing, listlessness, reclusiveness, possible red striations on the body, and stringy white feces. A fish that is not eating must be treated immediately or it can quickly become incurable and die.

Prevention is of utmost importance, and It is possibly to cure a fish if treated right away. Following are some techniques aquarists use:

  • Any new specimens you obtain can have bloat or will often soon develop it. When you first acquire them try to provide them with the same food that the dealer was feeding, and then wean them onto a good vegetable based diet; Spirulina flake and pellet.
  • Some will soak the food in dissolved metronidazol and feed them that for the first few days when first obtained. Seachem makes a metronidazol that can be bound to food when used with their Focus product.
  • A good vegetable based diet is important.
  • A healthy group of fish will eat with gusto. But even though they can be very active feeders it is important to not overfeed them. Keep an eye on them, and if one is not eating with vigor some aquarists will then treat the tank with Clout.
  • One author says that they will segregate an ailing fish the second they see signs of not eating, and then will do water changes every day for 5 days in the main aquarium.
  • Metronidazol is considered the most reliable cure and some use Clout as another cure, but do not use them together.


The various Tropheus species are sometimes available online or in fish stores, and can be special ordered if you are willing to wait. Make sure you examine Tropheus cichlids for spinal defects before purchase.



 Tropheus moorii ‘Moliro’ (Image Credit: H. Zell, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported)