Cichlid Room Companion



By , 2004. printer
Pam Chin, 2002

Classification: Captive maintenance, Lake Tanganyika.

Cyphotilapia frontosa A beautiful Cyphotilapia frontosa male in the aquarium of Rick Gomes in San José, California, April 2000. Photo by Juan Miguel Artigas Azas.

I love Cyphotilapia frontosa!! There is nothing like a tank full of these Tanganyikan beauties. I don't care if they are 5 stripe, 6 stripe or 7 stripe, all are fun to keep. Lately there has been several different frontosa's collected at various points in the Lake: Bulu Point, Mpimbwe, Kigoma and others. It doesn't really matter which you decide to keep, because they can all be kept and spawned in the same fashion.

This cichlid takes commitment; you don't buy them up, keep them for a few months, breed them, turn them in for BAP points and then pass them along. No one can afford to buy a breeding group, the only economic way is to buy them small and wait it out until they grow up. With a group, you must have a big tank to do this fish justice, after they are a couple of years old you will need 100+ gallons for 6 - 10 fish. "Fronts" are going to need the room; they will fight among themselves in smaller quarters. You also have to be prepared to wait 3 - 6 years for that first successful spawn. Three years to become sexually mature and 3 more years to figure out how to do it!

If you are ready for the commitment, then I suggest starting off with a minimum of 12. This maternal mouth brooder does best in groups, 6-8 females with one or two males, harem style. You can keep other cichlids with them, while you are growing them out. Like any community setting, tank mate choices can be critical. Mbuna are typically too busy, but there is a couple you could get away with. Some of the more mellow haps, like Copadichromis and Protomelas are probably better choices. But, once they are sexually mature, they need to be in a species only tank. They prefer a high pH; 8.5 - 9.0, keeping the temperature down, helps alleviate aggression, 74 - 76 F. (23° - 24°) is best. Any type of filtration will work; just make sure you have plenty of it, especially when they are up to full size.

I guess before I go much further I should also let you know that frontosa's are dumber than dirt. I know, I don't like to admit it either, but it is true. They have no memory.... except for maybe food. They can be in a tank for over a year and not remember the rock right in the middle, as they run into it every time they go from one side of the tank to other. Use smooth plastic items, flowerpots, pottery, and rocks with no sharp edges, as it will save their eyes. Other scrapes, bruises, and missing fins will grow back and heal, but once the eyes are scratched it can be impossible to clear them up.

Konings says that frontosa's are an "Opportunistic Piscivore" which means to me that they eat whatever floats by. I start them out on baby brine shrimp and a good staple flake, and I spoil them with algae wafers. As they grow larger I start adding pellets to their diet, along with homemade food made with shrimp and peas. They are not too picky about what they will eat. I see nothing wrong with occasionally feeding Ghost Shrimp, black worms or earthworms. Just remember when feeding lots of live foods that you keep an eye on your water conditions.

Once they become sexually mature, which may seem like an eternity, you start hoping for that first spawn. You may notice some fighting; usually it is the males and it best if you remove the extra ones. You want your main male to concentrate on the task at hand, and not spend all his energy bickering with conspecifics.

You might say that it is a miracle anytime "fronts" procreate, because they have a weird spawning behavior, which may explain why it takes, so darn long for them to figure out, how to do it. They don't really have a breeding ritual or little dance before spawning, like most other cichlids do. They are too lazy to define and protect a territory. The male finds a depression in the sand and deposits his sperm before the female lays any eggs. He usually then retreats and the female moves in and starts to lay her eggs, several at a time. But instead of swimming around to pick up the eggs, like a normal mouth brooder would, she swims backwards and picks them up this takes great skill. As I have told you before, frontosa's are at the top of the list when it comes to the dumbest cichlids on earth!! She continues to lay eggs and picking them up until she is done. After five or six rounds of this, the male may re-enter the spawning area and deposit some more sperm. You can see that if the male isn't paying proper attention to where she is doing it or the female isn't paying attention to where he is doing it, all can be a loss. If you have a lot of circulation from your filtration it can cause the sperm to fade away before the female gets all the eggs fertilized.

You can strip the females and tumble the eggs if you want to, I prefer to let the female hold until the heads and tails pop out, around 14 - 16 days post spawn. I have a better survival rate. Some people just provide lots of rubble in their tanks, this allows the female to hold until she releases, the fry are much faster than the adults so you don't have to worry too much about them being eaten. Experienced females even learn how to eat a little while holding, and studies have shown that the fry may eat some of the food she sucks in too. Remember to be a responsible hobbyist and don't cross collection sites or 5 stripe with 7 stripe, etc. Cull your fry and don't pass on anything you wouldn't buy yourself.

I have become very attached to my frontosa's, over the years. There is something to be said about having large cichlids, I don't know if it is because for me, they are easier to see, my eye site is terrible, and I like to see a fish without having to put my face on the aquarium!! Or could it be that personality that beams all the way across the room? You just don't get that with "Julies".

It is a long-term investment, but the rewards are worth it!!

References (2):


Chin, Pam. (January 14, 2004). "Frontosa!". Cichlid Room Companion. Retrieved on December 16, 2018, from: