These fish were called 'Blue-Eyed Tropheus' by hobbyists well before they were scientifically described, and true to this name the iris of their eyes can become blue colored if they are kept in optimal conditions. The main characteristic of these fish however, are the vertical stripes. The stripes can be very colorful on some varieties or simply an alternating brownish black and yellow. These stripes are primarily seen on juveniles and females as the males loose them over time, becoming an overall brown or dark green when mature. There can also be a light blotch on the top of their back and another opposite it on the belly. There are several varieties/races of this species and their coloring is dependent on where the fish are collected.
They are very active and have individual behaviors, from curiously lining up to watch the goings on in the room to their 'dolphin-like' antics when eating. Feeding time can be very 'wet' for their keepers, but make this fish very fun and desirable. The Blue-Eyed Tropheus have a reputation of being one of the most aggressive of theTropheus species. In the wild they are very aggressive with conspecifics, but are said to be less aggressive, even shy, with other fish. In the aquarium their aggression level towards unrelated fish can vary depending on the personalities of the individual fish.
The Skunkback Tropeus pictured above is from the Nyanza area of Lake Tanganyika, Africa and was the first of the Tropheus brichardi to be identified and exported. The Tropheus species became a big hit when first introduced in Germany in the mid 1970's and then into the United States, and are still very popular today. They are rather expensive fish, and initial attempts to keep them often met with difficulty until aquarists became familiar with their rather specific, though uncomplicated needs. They can be afflicted with the occurrence of 'bloat', and there seems to be no explainable rational as to its cause.
The Blue-Eyed Tropheus is a stocky fish that seems to have a larger head in proportion to their body, an under-slung mouth, and the body narrows as it forms the tail. The body of the adult male is a brownish black to a dark green color with a white or yellowish patch on the back just under the first half of the dorsal fin. There may also be a small dash of gold on the belly above the pelvic fin and the anal fin can have faint spotting. The caudal fin is fan shaped. The eye is white to golden and the iris of the eye can develop a blue color if they are kept in optimal conditions, thus the name 'Blue-Eyed'.
The main characteristic of these fish however, are the vertical stripes. The stripes can be very colorful on some varieties or simply an alternating brownish black and yellow. These stripes are primarily seen on juveniles and females as the males loose them over time, becoming an overall brown or dark green when mature.
There are a number of geographic variations of the Tropheus brichardi, each with slightly different color patterning. This is especially noted in females and juveniles as males lose most of their striping when mature.
The Blue-Eyed Tropheus is an omnivore, or can be referred to as a benthic herbivore. In the wild they are specialized aufwuch feeders, picking algae from the rocks that contain microorganisms. In the aquarium they can be fed a varied diet including spirulina based flake or pellet and supplement with a small quantity of protein They should have spinach or romaine at least once a day. Only include foods that are high in fiber. Offering only Cyclops and Mysis as live protein supplements. Avoid avoid soft or slimy foods as well as Tubifex, brine shrimp, beef heart, and mosquito larvae. When using pellet, holding it underwater for a few moments before the fish eat it may prevent air released from the pellet from getting trapped in the belly.
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, again because this may cause bloat. Rick Borstein, 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. (See information about African Bloat in the table below.)
As the Tropeus cichlids are very aggressive a minimum 4 foot, 75 gallon tank is suggested for an established adult group of 12 to 20, larger for more. Provide a sandy substrate, strong lighting to encourage algae growth, and several rock piles along with rocks formed into caves. Plants may be included and can help fry to have a higher survival rate, however these fish may eat them. Some hardy species include Swordplants that are the larger variety along withAnubias, Water Fern and Java Fern. These can be placed in the background or middle ground.
They do fine in either freshwater or brackish freshwater but need good water movement for good oxygenation along with very strong and efficient filtration. 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. Be very careful to not add too much salt as this may cause bloat. Using a marine salt (used for salt water fish) will add some trace elements.
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.
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. 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. You can also combine increasing the temperature with an Ich medication treatment. A copper test also can be used to keep the proper levels.
The Blue-Eyed Tropheus has been bred in captivity. Get a group of 12 to 20 juveniles for a 75 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.