Dan Woodland, 2001
Cichlid Room Companion

Spawning Cyphotilapia Frontosa "Blue" from Cape Mpimbwe

By , 2004. image

Classification: Captive maintenance, Lake Tanganyika.

Cyphotilapia frontosa A beautiful Cyphotilapia frontosa male "Blue" from Cape Mpimbwe in the aquarium of Dan Woodland in Cleveland, Ohio. Photo by Dan Woodland.

I obtained my first breeding group of Cyphotilapia frontosa from someone getting out of the fish hobby. The wild group, two males and three females, were from the African State of Burundi. Burundi borders cover nearly the entire North end of Lake Tanganyika and a portion of the lake's North Eastern coast. After a number of years and many spawns of the Burundi's I obtained another group of Cyphotilapia frontosa. This time it was a wild colony of "blue" C. frontosa from Cape Mpimbwe. The coloration of these fish was spectacular! Cape Mpimbwe is located on the eastern bank of Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania. Tanzania borders cover 80% of Lake Tanganyika's eastern coast. The coastline at Cape Mpimbwe is very rocky with many large boulders.

Other blue forms of C. frontosa come from Zaire, Samazi, Zambia and Kipili. Each of these fish sport different color schemes. For example, the Zaire strain has more intense blue coloration on the fins and head than the Mpimbwe. The Zaire and Mpimbwe C. frontosa both have very dark bars with light blue stripes. Most C. frontosa have more contrast between the stripes. The Samazi C. frontosa have a powder-blue coloration on the fins and body with intense white stripes and light black bars. All blue C. frontosa have five "bars" or stripes. Typically they have a bar through the eye but, blue C. frontosa have a black "hood" that covers the entire face from the eyes to the tip of the mouth. The term "Black Face" or "Black Cap" is sometimes used to describe blue C. frontosa.

Additional strains of Cyphotilapia are present at Kavalla, Kasanga, and Tanzania. Tanzanian C. frontosa have seven thin bars including one through the eyes. The stripes are closer together and thinner than all other C. frontosa. All forms of Cyphotilapia are immediate mouth brooders and do best in colonies. At this time C. frontosa are the only fishes defined in the Cyphotilapia genus.

Collecting any frontosa is very difficult. They must be decompressed slowly in barrels as they are brought up from the depths of the lake. Some have been found up to 80 meters deep!

Cyphotilapia frontosa A pair of Cyphotilapia frontosa spawning in the aquarium of Dan Woodland in Cleveland, Ohio. The female deposits the eggs inside the pot and the male gets some in his mouth after fertilizing them. Photo by Dan Woodland.

The fish and environment:

The breeding colony consists of two males and seven females. Males range in size from 9 to 11 inches. Both sport very long extensions on the dorsal, ventral, anal, and tail while the females have shorter rounded fins. The females are approximately 6 to 7 inches in size. The coloration of all the fish vary from crisply defined stripes, bright white bars, and a light blue sheen over the body to muddied stripes with a dark blue cast covering the entire body. At times the black cap over the face completely fades out.

The fish were raised together. When I purchased the fish they were 4-5 inches in size. I typically purchase younger fish and grow them up together to "form" a colony with a built in hierarchy. In my experience this cuts down on the aggression with in a group of fish. Frontosa aren't typically aggressive but I started this process long ago when I began raising large Cichlasomines (another family of Cichlids). I placed the group in a six-foot long 100 gallon tank with large gravel, 4" PVC tubes (one per fish), a flowerpot, and plenty of filtration. I also use lighting that accents the blue coloration of these magnificent fish.

I use large gravel because in the past I had females pick up small gravel as they spawn killing eggs - especially wild fish that are not used to spawning in gravel based aquariums. Obviously, gravel ruins eggs as they are "tumbled" in the mother's mouth. Frontosa belong to a group of fishes that raise their young in their mouth to protect them from predators. As for the PVC, I silicone three 12" sections together forming a pyramid. Frontosa are very comfortable "relaxing" and hiding in the tubes. Sometimes they even spawn in them. The filtration consists of a "hang on tank" wet dry filter, a Bio-wheel power filter, and two large hydro-sponge filters. Don't even think about an under gravel filter! C. frontosa love to dig! This setup provides a large amount of biological (sponge, Bio-wheel, and Wet/Dry) and mechanical filtration (Bio-wheel, Wet/Dry).

The Breeding Ritual:

The spawning site is a flowerpot turned on its side with the entire bottom and one side broken out. The pot is laid on its side at the opposite end of the tank from the PVC pipes. The pot also faces outward toward the front of the tank so photography and observation are easily accomplished.

The color of the dominant male, smaller of the two, begins to intensify a few days before spawning. At this time the female's ovipositor extends. The female has a light blue sheen to her body while the male has a more intense blue coloration on his entire body and a blue/black mottled pattern on his head.

The male and female begin by clearing the area of any unwanted tank mates and gravel. The female then does some house keeping. The male and female both participate in the protection and preparation of the breeding site.

The female, while the male chases the competition away, "practiced" laying and picking up eggs for approximately 30 minutes. Around the 30 minute mark the male begins to make practice runs. During this practice period the female rubs her belly and ovipositor on the interior of the flowerpot. It may be a way to further stimulate herself or the male. She continues this rubbing in/out of the pot and up the sides.

The female then begins laying eggs and picking them up quickly. The male visits the flowerpot every other time the female lays eggs to deposit his milt. Despite my being nosey and picture taking they continue spawning almost as if they were in a trance. While the spawning proceeds, the male begins picking up eggs in his mouth. I first thought the male was eating the eggs but much to my surprise he was actually holding them like a female. I thought it was a fluke but I had seen the male holding on another occasion but didn't know how he gotten the eggs from the female. I actually thought he was "holding" gravel in his mouth. Until I witnessed the feat I was pretty confused. Later that night I checked on the male, he was still "brooding" the eggs!

During the entire breeding sequence the sub-dominate male began chasing everyone in the tank trying to interrupt the breeding process. He was not successful. After spawning was complete the dominant male, now brooding eggs, acted like a submissive female while they brood eggs.

I striped the eggs from the male and female 10 to 14 days later and placed them in a homemade egg tumbler. After an additional ten days the fry are ready to accept fresh baby brine shrimp, crushed flake food, and spirulina pellets. Frontosa babies are very large at this point, nearly a quarter inch. Feeding the fry often and keeping the water clean they grow over an inch quickly and will reach sexual maturity in one and half to two years.

If you have a chance to raise and spawn this majestic fish from Lake Tanganyika be patient you won't be disappointed.

Cyphotilapia frontosa A male of Cyphotilapia frontosa "Blue" from Cape Mpimbwe mouth-brooding eggs inside the PVC "cave". Photo by Dan Woodland.


Woodland, Dan. (Feb 26, 2004). "Spawning Cyphotilapia Frontosa "Blue" from Cape Mpimbwe". Cichlid Room Companion. Retrieved on May 24, 2024, from: