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Frontosa Cichlid: Ultimate Care Guide

Frontosa Cichlids are one of the most beautiful fish species from the cichlid family.

It is also called cyphotilapia frontosa. They are endemic to the lake Tanganyika, the second largest lake in the world.

Here the Cyphotilapia formed from the two words, Cypho means “curved,” and Tilapia means “Fish.” Word frontosa refers to the forehead.

Therefore Frontosa fish scientific classification as follows,

  • Kingdom- Animalia
  • Phylum – Cordata
  • Class – Actinopterygii
  • Order – Cichliformers
  • Species – C.frontosa

Source: Wikipedia

It also has the synonyms of Paratilapia frontosa, Pelmatochromis frontosus, and Cyphotilapia frontotus.

Therefore frontosa are easy to care for even by a beginner fish keeper.

This article gives all the necessary information about the frontosa keeping. Continue reading!

Frontosa cichlid origin and distribution


They are native to Africa. As I told earlier, this frontosa fish is endemic to the Northern portion of lake Tanganyika where they were originated from.

This Lake is about 8 million years old. Therefore it is one of the most ancient lakes in the African region.

The Lake gives home to about 250 cichlid fish species. So frontosa widely spread in the Northern and Southern half of Lake Tanganyika.

The northern portion is distributed around capetembwe and the east coast of bulupoint. If you visit these areas, you can find many local aquariums keeping these beautiful fish.

It includes Kitumba, Ubwari, Gitaza, Kabobo, Kavala, Tembwe, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Some of these areas belong, there are more other areas as well.


They prefer to live in the deep water. In the wild, they can found about 10-50 m deep water. Sometimes it can extended up to about 170m.

Within the natural water systems, frontosa like to live with the sediment rich and rocky reefs with caves under the water.

Therefore it is rare to find this fish species. Also, they live as larger colonies along the slopes of the lake bottom and identify as schooling fish.

So are deep water fish. The advantage over this is protected from predators.

Frontosa Appearance

By the name frontosa it gives a basic idea about how this fish appears. Frontosa means large forehead. This fish contains a hump on its head.

This hump grows over time. Males are with the largest hump where it can use to identify the dominant male fish out of stock. Do not confuse! Female also with a hump on their forehead but not prominent as the male.

These fish are with a nice coloration. There is a range of colors include black, yellow, blue, white, on their body. It varies from species to species.

The frontosa fish has classic black and white patterns on the body, while bluish color shades are spread on the body’s dorsal part and extend to the fins.

Fish keepers more likely to rear the frontosa Burundi as it is easy to breed and has a nice coloration.

It has six black and white stripes, but the number of stripes and bluish extend varies from one frontosa to another.

Following are some varieties and their color variation,

  • Frontosa Burundi has a classic black and white with a bluish color.
  • Zaire blue frontosa has more blue color by the name it says
  • Other frontosa varieties, which had seven stripes, has a yellow border along with the white stripes.

Therefore it is easy to distinguish one frontosa from another. These fish also have two bigger pectoral fins with a white color ventral fin.

Its caudal fins are usually round shape. Therefore if you keep a colony of cichlid fish, you will see how beautiful they are.


It has a longer lifespan, about 15-25 years. But how long does it live depends on what care you give to them. If you provide a good aquarium house with a quality diet, you may have this fish for more than 15 years in captivity.

How big do frontosa cichlids get?

This frontosa is very popular among aquarists. Since there are other cichlids bigger than this, fish can’t keep in aquariums.

These fish grow up to about 8-15 inches long. At the same time, females grow only up to about a maximum length of 10 inches. But females attain a length of 14 inches in wild habitat.

We can predict that even males can get a much longer size in the wild environment.

 Aquarium size

If you can provide them with extra space, it will be fine. As these fish are from large African lakes, they need larger aquarium space in captivity.

What size tank do I need for frontosa?

It is better if you can give a minimum tank size of 70-75 gallons. This will be well suit only for 6-8 individuals.

If you look for more individuals, you need to go for larger at least 125-150 gallons. I have seen most of the aquarists using 240*60*60 size tanks. (Setup with a greater width)

Another thing you need to consider is the supply of stable water. Since this Tanganyika lake is an oxygen rich water source and it has a low water flowing rate.

So you also need to provide the extract natural habitat conditions by using bubblers so on. You also can use a strong filtration to change the water by canister or sump filters frequently.

They are super filters that an aquarium tank can have.

When it comes to water conditions 

If you are looking for long term care for these fish, you need to plan before buying them from pet stores or online.

They require an optimum temperature of 72-80F. Lake Tanganyika is the second largest lake and has the lowest temperature fluctuations in the world. That may be a reason to need more oxygen for African originated cichlids.

Because when temperature going around stable retention of oxygen also higher.

Note: when the temperature increases, more oxygen leaves the water.

They also require a pH of 8-9. So it needs slightly alkaline water( needs higher pH in the water). Water hardness for these fish should be around 10-18 dGH. Nitrates level should be less than 25ppm.

It is hard to keep if you are not given the ideal water conditions, So please pay attention to the buffering.

You can use salt as a buffering agent. Add one tablespoon of table salt to the tank. It will add many benefits like iodine present in the table salt that will promote the growth and development of the fish.

It will help to function the thyroids properly. Even fish has minor wounds, and it will be a remedy. Some fungal activities also can be controlled.

Additional benefits can get if you use marine salt because it contains plenty of trace elements too. You also can maintain buffering by using a chemical filtration method.

Where it passes the water through crushed coral sand. Therefore, when selecting a substrate, you can use crushed corals along with gravel substrate and aragonite sands.

Because why I am saying that salts within these substrates dissolve more quickly than marine salts, so it will help to buffer quickly. Even help to maintain the pH level as well.

Note: Even though they require salt to be added to the water, they are not brackish water fish. These fish can’t survive in the full brackish water. Cichlid only has 10% salt tolerance. Therefore 1table spoon per 11 gallons of water needs to be used as an optimum level.

When it comes to the  lighting

These fish do not need bright lighting. It will cause them stress. Once stressed body will turn dark color. Since in wild lives at deeper areas of water and not adapted to the bright light. Be aware of that!

When you are doing any maintenance of the tank, be sure to fix the lid properly. I am saying this: frontosa gets more stress during maintenance and tends to jump out of the tank.

Generally, they are not considered jumpers. Even if you are putting hand/net, it will get more aggressive. One of my friends told me that he has got several bites from this fish.

To decor the tank, you can use driftwood, live aquarium plants, rocks, etc. If you can provide rock caves, it will help the fish reduce the stress by hiding in those caves.

These cichlids may not harm the aquarium plants but can uproot them. If you saw, you can replant it and firmly cover the roots with rocks.

Summary of aquarium care:

  • Optimum temperature= 72-80F
  • pH = 8-9
  • Hardness =10-18 dGH
  • Minimum frontosa tank size = 70-75 gallons
  • Lightning = moderate 
  • Water movement = Slow movement


Can frontosa cichlid be kept alone? No, they can’t. In the wild, they prefer to live as groups or colonies deep under the water. So do not like to live as separate individuals (alone).

Are frontosa fish aggressive?

Some aquarists say that this fish behavior is similar to the Oscar fish if you are going to keep this fish wise to select one male with three females in a group of 8-10 because male cichlid can get aggressive during the mating season.

Therefore we can consider frontosa as a semi-aggressive fish.

As I told you earlier, if you are unable to use the stock according to a good rule of thumb, it will badly affect even the tank’s aquascaping.

These fish can destroy a hard work aquascape within very few minutes.

So be aware and make the right selection. Even territory can well see as behave uprooting the aquarium plants, digging and shifting the substrate.

This behavior mainly because of their larger size and always like to dominate the tank over others. Some frontosa cichlids even do not like human interaction as well.

If so, they will hide in rock caves. Especially males, even though aggressive, show a little bit of shyness. But keep in your mind this not valid for all the cichlids. Some love human interaction.

Therefore smaller the fish number, the high chance for a peaceful tank.

Will frontosa eat small fish?

Yes, they will because they are great predators if you keep cichlid in a fish tank with little fish that are less than 3 inches. There is a high chance to eat by the frontosa.

The best way is to use a mono species tank and avoid keeping in the community tank or keeping fish similar in size or no less than 3 inches.

I hope you get the point.

Note: When they challenge the opposition, it will tend to show more colors on the body. You may have seen even when they are on stress shows changing body color to black.

Diet and feeding

As we all know, they are good predators when they are in the natural environment. Therefore frontosa are carnivore freshwater fish.

When it comes to the aquarium, you can feed them with live foods as well as flakes and pelleted food.

But can you remember I told that they live at deeper depths of 15-25m so here will not come to the surface to eat. The best way is to supply them with partial or sinking food, such as you can soak the pellets before adding to the tank.

So these fish can identify as lazy feeders.

What is the best food for frontosa?

There is a wide range of protein-rich food that can feed to them. It includes frozen foods such as brine shrimp, ghost shrimp, krill, Mysis shrimp, Artemia, blackworms, earthworms, small insects, small fish, and carnivore pellets so on.

It is advisable not to feed with blood worms because it can bowel to inflate. Result swimming difficulties will arise.

Even do not feed chicken and beef, it can deposit more fat on the fish body.

How ever, these frontosa like protein rich live foods very much. It is advisable to avoid feeding live foods because there is a possibility of entering pathogenic microbes like bacteria and viruses with that food to the tank.

You also can use boiled vegetables to feed them. It will help to improve the color of the fish.

Rather than feeding large portions at once, you can feed 2-5 small portions per day. It will help to absorb vitamins and other nutrients to the fish very effectively.

Also, it helps reduce the production of large waste at a time that prevents possible ammonia spikes.

Note: Do not overfeed the fish. It will pollute the water; thereafter, ammonia and nitrates will suppress the immunity of fish. Result susceptible to various diseases.

Proper feeding at required levels can prevent such cases.



In order to breed, sexing is very important. We can easily identify male from female fish. Males have a large hump on the forehead, and it is less grown on the females.

Males are also larger than females. The typical male grows up to about 12 inches on average, whereas females only grow up to about 10 inches.

And many extended fins also can be seen in males.

Are frontosa hardy fish to breed?

No, it is a very easy fish to breed. But it needs polygynous breeding that means one male needs to keep with several females for spawning.

It is difficult to find a suitable male when they are young better to buy a group of juveniles. There you can identify a good male for breeding.

How to identify males from juveniles then? If you are a beginner, this is the right place for you. You only need to observe every six months by removing the larger fish because the male is the larger animal there.

And need to repeat this for about 2-3 years until it gets completely matured. Keep in mind it has a slow growth compared to the other fish species, so it takes time.

Be patient; proper high-quality feeding can induce breeding. It also needs to maintain water parameters properly because these fish are very sensitive to water conditions.

The appropriate breeding temperature is 77F, and pH is around eight, and the water hardness is between 10dGH.

Moderate lighting is okay but needs a proper filtration system.

Do frontosa eat their babies?

Frontosa are oviparous mouth breeders. Once get mature female produces about 50-100 eggs per clutch. After fertilization by male females, take these eggs to its mouth, and hatching occurs around 2-3 days within the buccal cavity.

Even after hatching female keeps these little babies for around 28-35 days(roughly 4-6 weeks). This helps to save lots of energy by protecting the baby frontosa.

In the wild, these fries are release at the depths of 15-25m. It will ensure no predator can catch this little fry, naturally ensure the protection.

Thereafter, the female will show “buccal feeding” behavior, where it takes food partially or fully, which helps to ingest by the little fry in the buccal cavity.

This only occurs at the early development stage of fry, where they depend on the yolk sac’s content.

It is better if you feed baby brine shrimps and other fry foods for these little babies.

Frontosa tankmates

What fish can I keep with frontosa?

Selecting tankmates for frontosa is crucial. We all know these fish are good predators. If you keep them with small fish less than 3 inches, will definitely eat.

On the other hand, providing enough tank space is compulsory. You can select algae eating plecos as the tankmates.

It will have a similar size to the largest frontosa, or else if you like to have a bottom feeding fish like clown loach, it also be a perfect tankmate.

Because clown loach has a natural self defencing method called “switchblade.” Other good frontosa tankmates are as follows,

  • Larger Rainbowfish
  • Cuckoo catfish
  • other rift lake cichlids like Malawi and also larger A.calous, C.moori ( blue dolphin) 
  • Mbuna
  • haplochromis
  • Peacock cichlids
  • Syndontis well suit as tankmates.

But be aware when selecting central American cichlids because they are aggressive than normal cichlids. Also never keep

  • Barbs
  • Gouramis
  • Tetras
  • Silver dollars
  • Oscars as the tankmates. 

You also can ask other fishkeepers around you what other tankmates well suit for them.

Can frontosa live with Oscars?

Every fish keeper likes to have a tank with a variety of fish. If you are keeping frontosa you might think of Oscar as a frontosa fish tankmate.

But it is up to you whether you are going to select or not after reading this article.

When we consider the size, both the oscar and frontosa have a similar mature size of about 14 inches. But the growth rate is different Oscars having a fast growth rate compared to the frontosa juveniles.

Therefore when keep both of them together, both get aggressive, and oscar getting domination over the frontosa.

When we compare origin, Oscars are native to the Amazon river basin, whereas the frontosa native to the large Lake Tanganyika.

There these two having different water temperaments. But Oscars can adapt to a wider ranger of temperature and pH because their wild habitats are acidic and have a substrate of rotting leaves and branches.

Whereas frontosa from hard and alkaline water origin. Generally, domesticated fish has different water chemistry that is why they can easily keep in the aquariums.

Especially Oscars, some fishkeepers rear both in the same tank there they use a little trick. These fish keepers buy oscar juveniles and keep them with some bigger frontosa.

So fast growing Oscars, quickly get the same size it avoids lots of problems.

When we consider feeding, both are carnivores. Both can feed with live and dry foods. But frontosa more like towards small fish. Oscar prefers invertebrates such as snails and other insects.

If you observe any problem keeping these fish species, you can rehome any of them.

So it will help to prevent getting damage to any one of your fish. I hope you get the point; now you can decide whether to keep Oscars with frontosa or not.

How many types of frontosa are there?

Under this Cyphotilapia genus has three different species as C.frontosa, C.gibberosa also known as Southern frontosa or blue frontosa, Cast is C.sp ‘north’.

Different types of frontosa?

There is a variety of frontosa name according to the geographical region. These includes

  •  frontosa burundi or Burundi six stripe frontosa
  • Zaire blue frontosa
  • Tanzanian frontosa (six stripes)
  • Tanzanian frontosa (Seven stripes) or Kigoma
  • Kipili
  • Zambian frontosa
  • Samazi 
  • kavalla

Each fish vary according to the color or body banding.

Zaire Blue frontosa: They were named after the Congo Republic’s earlier name, which was Zaire. It has a pretty blue coloration on the body. Their bands contain blue dots.

Solid blue variations present on their body, and bands are running from head to the gill plates.

Frontosa Burundi: They are common in the fish keeping hobby. It has a large hump on the head with a large body. By the name, it says it has six white bands on the body. Blue color not found very much.


It is a very pretty fish to keep in home aquaria. These fish can easily identify by its large hump on the forehead. It is endemic to Lake Tanganyika and currently listed as threatened species under the IUCN red data list.

The main reason for that is overexploitation by trade and pollution. If you have these fish in your home tank, look after them carefully especially giving proper tank conditions and a quality diet.

Happy fish keeping!


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