The Blunthead Cichlid Tropheus Moorii was described over a hundred years ago (1898), and was the first of their genus be recognized. This is actually a small genus of fish in Lake Tanganyika, Africa, but with over 120 known color varieties. They are very specialized feeders which restricts their habitat to rocky areas with good algae growth. But they can be found spread throughout this enormous lake at almost every single reef, and each area has a unique color variety.
The Tropheus 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. Many of the imports were identified as T. Moorii varieties, but now it is recognized that these fish represent a number of different species. Five species are scientifically described today, and four of the five have various color morphs. Even so, the Blunthead Cichlid T. Moorii contains the largest number of color morphs. They are quite diverse with each having its own unique and beautiful coloration. Many are identified by the geographic location where they are collected, with the name of the locale tagged to the end of Tropheus Moorii, inside of quotation marks. But many are also called by names reflecting their beauty and often colors of the rainbow, such as Blue Rainbow, Yellow Rainbow, Tanzania Red Rainbow, Sunspot, Red Breast Moorii, Orangefleck, and more. The Blunthead Cichlid pictured above is from the northwestern area of Nkamba Bay, Zambia.
A colony of 12 or more Blunthead Cichlids can make an amazing display and their personality is a definite plus. The Tropheus have a really interesting social structure that is built upon a colony of consistent tank mates. 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 Blunthead Cichlid has a reputation of being one of the most aggressive of the Tropheus species. In the wild they 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.
They are rather expensive fish and they can be afflicted with the occurrence of 'bloat', and there seems to be no explainable rationale as to its cause. Initial attempts to keep them often met with difficulty until aquarists became familiar with their rather specific, though uncomplicated needs. This hearty cichlid can be easy to moderate to keep as long as attention is paid to its diet and mandatory water changes are done, and difficult if they are neglected. Provide a sandy substrate, strong lighting to encourage algae growth, and several rock piles along with rocks formed into caves. 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. Truly a rewarding fish for the aquarist who is willing to provide the necessary care.
The Blunthead Cichlid s an omnivore. In the wild they feed on algae scraped from the rocks along with microorganisms. In the aquarium they need to be fed a spirulina based flake and pellet. If you use pellet, hold it underwater for a few moments before the fish eat it, that may prevent air released from the pellet from getting trapped in the belly. 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, 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, 90 gallon tank is suggested for an established adult group of 12 or more, with one or two males in the group. Provide a sandy substrate, strong lighting to encourage algae growth, and several rock piles along with rocks formed into caves. 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 Blunthead Cichlid has 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.