Cichlid Room Companion


Tropheus anonymous

By , 2000. printer
Pam Chin, 2002

Classification: Captive maintenance, Lake Tanganyika.

What is it about Tropheus??? Why is it so hard to raise and successfully spawn them?? I have loved this fish from the first day I saw Tropheus duboisi in Brichard's book, "The Fishes of Lake Tanganyika" years ago. I began to learn about other varieties, as you know there are many. Whether it was duboisi, kaisers, moliros, red saddles, etc., I just wanted to have this fish, and give it a try. After a trip to my local pet stores, I was laughed right out into the parking lot, but most of the places couldn't even say Tropheus. As I searched further the only apparent source was mail order, and they commanded a high price. The written information was scarce, and scary. Virtually no articles in hobbyist's publications, most books only talked about them in the wild. What is the big myth about this fish??? Everyone discourages you from trying them because they are hard to keep. No details as to why, just hard to keep.

I guess it was around 1986 when we obtained our first Tropheus duboisi's. Geez we were proud!! We brought them home with big grins on our faces thinking, now we were cool, we had Tropheus. It was probably about a week before we had killed them all. We sat in the middle of our fish room and cried out loud! It took at least another year to get enough guts to try again and to save up the money to buy some more. Again we bought Tropheus duboisi, again we smiled all they way home with our empty wallet. I think these lasted about 10 days before we killed them. As usual, we went over the deep end, determined to be successful at any cost. Thanks goodness I have never kept track of how much money we have spent on this elusive fish. Or how many we have killed, which I am sure is in the hundreds.

Now Gary and I have what is called "Tropheus Syndrome", the more you kill the more you want, there is no hope for this vicious cycle. I felt alone and embarrassed, until I founded "Tropheus Anonymous.

Tropheus sp. 'Black Bulu point'. Photo by Ad Konings

What is Tropheus Anonymous?

It is a media, a forum, and a safe haven where other people who have been stricken with "Tropheus Syndrome" can seek help. It is a support group to help you through the withdrawl. Friends who will help you get back on the wagon when you fall off. All very similar to other more popular support groups such as Alcoholic's Anonymous, Overeater's Anonymous etc.

We all drink black coffee, and smoke at the back of the room * grin *! We meet at the Northern California Piscivore Institute. You don't have to give your full name, you can remain anonymous. When it is your turn to speak it usually goes like this.....

I say, "Hi my name is Pam" The group yells back "Hi Pam" I say, "It has been 6 days since I have bought any Tropheus" The groups cheers!!! I say, "It has been 5 days since I have killed any Tropheus" They sympathize my losses..... and we then have a group hug!.

How do you know if you are in this vicious cycle and have the dreaded "Tropheus Syndrome"?? How do you know if you may need the services of "Tropheus Anonymous"??? If you answer yes to any of the following statements you too may need help.

  • You need to buy a new freezer to store all the dead bodies.
  • You will buy any Tropheus you see.
  • You think all Tropheus are gorgeous and beautiful, even Tropheus polli.
  • You always have your Tropheus T-shirt Dry Cleaned.
  • You are using your Cyathopharynx furcifer for dither fish.
  • Your ATM bank card password is: Tropheus.
  • The guy at the Air Freight office knows you by your first name .
  • You have your water regularly blessed by a Catholic Priest.
  • You always tell people that Tropheus are easy to keep, and you haven't lost any.
Tropheus sp. 'Black Rutunga'. Photo by Ad Konings

Seriously..... I have struggled with this fish. I have made numerous mistakes, but still keep on trying. I must say that after a lot of trial and error, not to mention big bucks! I have finally had some success, and can even say that I have spawned and raised Tropheus fry. However, I am still learning, and still trying to figure out how to spawn and raise enough Tropheus to make the house payment. Listed below are a few things that I have learned over the years.

1. Which color morph or which species you should start with really doesn't matter. I think their personalities and behaviors are all very similar. However Tropheus duboisi are one of the most attractive and surely the one of the cutest to start with. They are also probably the most reasonably priced. Mainly because they are being bred by more hobbyists and also in Florida at the fish farms. So theoretically you should be able to buy more for the dollar. Buy a minimum of 8 and buying 12 would be better. Remember you going to loose at least a couple, and they seem to do better in larger groups.

2. House them in at least 55 gallon tank, but larger would be even better. Rasing the juveniles up in a large tank together seems to work best. I have tried splitting groups, thinking I might only loose one group rather than all of them at one time. But, after they get older it is hard to merge the groups together, it messes up their pecking order. While you are growing them out you can house them with other species of fish, just make sure the other fish can hold their own against the hyperactive Tropheus. When you decide to take a stab at breeding you will need at least a 55 gallon tank or larger.

3. Tropheus demand immaculate water conditions. They will not tolerate any ammonia. Don't even say the word ammonia out loud in your fish room. You will need a good filtration system to keep the water conditions in tip top shape. You can use gravel, or a bare bottom tank. Just make sure that you have a more than adequate filtration. You may want to add a cannister filter along with your under gravel or sponge filter. Like most Tanganyikan fish you will want to keep your pH high at least 8.0 or higher. Hardness should be around 200 ppm. You can keep your pH up by using dolomite, or crushed coral for a substrate, or use one of the more popular water conditioners. Your temperature should be around 78 degrees..

4. Food is a critical area when it comes to successfully keeping Tropheus. I have lost many by overfeeding, and feeding too much protein. I have been most successful feeding a green flake, and green flake only. I know some people seem to be able to get away with feeding a staple flake, pellets or brine shrimp, but I haven't been that lucky. Tropheus will eat anything offered, I mean anything! But just because they eat it, doesn't mean that it is good for them. I have been much more successful since I have fed green flake only. I do like to let the algae grow rampant in the tank. They love to graze on it, and will usually eat it faster than it will grow. I leave the light on to help encourage it, and also have some of my tanks near windows. I have even been known to rotate rocks, flower pots, etc., from other tanks with a good algae growth.

5. The dreaded bloat probably the most common reason for loss of this fish next to aggression. But what exactly causes bloat?? Is it stress?? Is it diet?? Is it a parasite?? Is it in the water?? Is it contagious?? All of the above!! It seems to be brought on by stress, compounded by a bacteria. When the fish's system gets upset it seems to get plugged up and can't digest its food properly, and before you know it they are dead. Ready to be added to the rest of the pile in your freezer. After I spend that much on a fish I am not going to just throw it away * grin *! The best cure is preventative maintenance, you have to stay on top of the water changes and keep your cannister filters clean. Also observe your fish, don't just throw in some food and walk away. Many times, you can get a jump on bloat by observing their behavior. Fish not eating, folded fins, listless and a white stringy feces are all first clues that something is not right.

Should you medicate?? and with what?? I hate to medicate fish, I am the worst fish doctor, I usually always end up killing them. I have used "Clout" with some success but only if caught in the earliest stages. When bloat has gone to far, you might as well save your money and just except the fish is going die.

Tropheus brichardi 'Kipili'. Photo by Ad Konings

6. Aggression is the next most popular death among Tropheus. They definitely have their own pecking order, and there doesn't seem to be room enough for two males in one tank. Having a larger school, like a dozen or so seems to help because one fish doesn't seem to get singled out as much. Supplying a good cover is also helpful, I use rocks and PVC pipe. Have you seen the picture of a Tropheus' teeth?? They are the rasping type, they are used for scraping algae off rocks, but also can do a fine job of scraping the scales right off of a subdominant fish. If you see a fish up in the corners of your tank, you need to remove them immediately, the dominate fish will eventually kill it. Dither fish can help eliminate some of this aggression. I have used Rainbow fish, they are unbelievably hearty and seem to be able to take the chasing. I used Neolamprologus brichardi once..... they worked pretty well until they spawned. The Tropheus ate the fry and then they bloated up and died. I have also seen males so preoccupied with chasing the dither fish, they forgot to fertilize the eggs.

7. Tropheus are easy to sex. The males beat the heck out of everything and the females are the ones that hold the eggs * grin *! Actually that is fairly close, however the only true way is to turn them over and look at their vents. Not an easy task! But practice makes perfect, or at least makes it easier. After you catch the fish, hold it firmly in your hand, use a flash light or desk lamp to get a good look. Remember not to hold the fish out of the water too long, take a good look, put it back into the bucket and let a rest for a few minutes and then try it again. Keep the book (The Cichlid Aquarium by Dr. Paul Loiselle, Page 120) handy, that has the diagram showing the difference between the male and female. Keep only one male with your group of females, the one with the most color, best body and nicest fins.

8. Having a large breeding group is much easier on the females than trying to breed them one on one. The males seem to want to chase the females to death. So if you only have one female..... need I say more? The male has no part in the rearing of the fry, his goal in life is to spawn, spawn , spawn. They breed in a typical cichlid fashion, the male courts the female to an area in the tank, she lays her eggs, he fertilizes them and she picks them back up. After the spawning act the male looks for the next available female. The holding female then goes off on her own, and tries to stay out of his path. You then have the option of letting the female hold her brood, or stripping her.

9. The female will hold her eggs about 21 - 28 days. You can strip her as soon as you are confident that the eggs have been fertilized. If you have been artificially hatching other mouthbrooder eggs you should not have any problems hatching out Tropheus eggs. You can design and make your own egg tumblers or buy one. There are many different types and designs of tumblers but they all have the same principal; you want to gently rotate and tumble the eggs. The Tropheus eggs are quite large and it is very interesting to watch them develop in to the cutest fry on earth! As soon as they are free swimming you can feed them freshly hatch baby brine shrimp. In a few weeks you can also start to feed them finely ground green flake. I will feed both the flake and baby brine until they are about 1" and after that I only feed green flake. Another popular way people breed Tropheus is by just letting them do their own thing in a large aquarium, with lots of rocks and rubble. When you have a large group in this type of a set up, the female will have a place to hang out while she broods. Eventually she will release her young in the rocks. You can then periodically remove all the rocks and catch the fry.

In conclusion..... While Tropheus are a bit of a more challenge than most fish, you won't find a more interesting cichlid to work with. The information that is available today is a hundred fold better than when I started working with Tropheus. The manufacturers have even gotten into the act with foods designed just for them, along with other items, such as egg tumblers, medications etc. And above all don't get discouraged if it doesn't work out the first time. Remember for help and/or support you can always join me at Tropheus Anonymous * grin *!!!

P.D. Thanks to Natalie Ostin, her question regarding Tropheus for "ASK PAM" is what spawned and inspired this article.

Tropheus moori 'Chaitika'. Photo by Ad Konings


Chin, Pam. (August 01, 2000). "Tropheus anonymous". Cichlid Room Companion. Retrieved on December 04, 2021, from: