Cichlid Room Companion

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Cyphotilapia frontosa (Boulenger, 1906)

By , 1995. printer

Classification: Captive maintenance, Lake Tanganyika.

" Fishroom talk taking place on 1996-May-15 "

Richardb says: Good turn up tonight :-)

JuanMi gives the mic to orly.

JuanMi has muted audible commands.

JuanMi says: Good night all, tonight we have another of our cichlid meetings. Orlando is going to tell us about Cyphotilapia frontosa, a Tanganyikan fish he really knows

Orly says: My topic for this meeting is Cyphotilapia frontosa (fronts hereafter). Some of what you read here is based on my experience as well as that of fellow hobbyists. Much credit goes to guys like Horus who have helped me learn to adapt to the needs of each species I keep. Additionally, you will read some of what I have learned about this magnificent fish as result of my researching the limited information published to this date.

Orly says: Fronts have long been considered one of the more majestic cichlids of lake Tanganyika, with its desirability having much to do with the "first impression" one has when encountering an adult specimen with its massive hump and trailing finage. It is truly a magnificent fish that has an apparent ferocity, but moves with a gentle grace that can only be understood through personal experience.

Orly says: The price they command has always been driven by 1) the difficulty of collecting wild specimens, 2) the [relatively] small brood sizes, and 3) the extraordinary tank space required by a breeding colony. I will address these 3 areas in further detail.

Orly says: In the wild, Fronts are found in deep water, making it difficult to bring captured specimens to the surface without suffering the inevitable effects of pressure changes. More than once, I have seen a wild import suffer the consequences of being brought up too quickly - swim bladder problems.

Orly says: Fronts are mouth-brooders with typical brood sizes of 20 to 25 fry when the female is left to carry the brood the full 24-28 day term. I have had great success doubling or tripling the number of eggs, but never the number of fry when the female is left to carry the brood. Reconditioning a female that has held a brood to full term typically takes 3 to 4 months, meaning that one healthy female can produce from 80 to 100 fry annually under ideal circumstances.

Orly says: It has long been said [among hobbyists] that Fronts require as much tank space as one can possibly afford. For example, a 1.4 group of 8 to 10" adults should be housed in a tank of no less than 6' in length and 18" in width - with a proportion width - with a proportionate height. This means that the hobbyist should keep a 135 (which may well be his only tank) with 5 fish of the same species. Not something that an average hobbyist can afford to do.

Orly says: Many authors have highlighted the fact that in the wild, fronts feed on fish, in spite of its apparently lethargic demeanor. The theory is that fronts wake up before their sleeping prey and proceed to feed on unsuspecting fish. I I *have* confirmed that my fronts wake up before daylight but I can also remember watching one of my wild fronts swim from one side of the tank to the other with its lower jaw plunged into the sand, blowing clouds of sand through its gills as fast as it could.

Orly exclaims: After watching them do this, I decided that this fish was much too adept at sand sifting to be a pure piscivore. Soon after, I heard reports that the stomach contents of wild specimens contained a large quantity of shrimp and other sand dwelling critters. It is no wonder that I was having such great success with a shrimp based diet!

Orly says: I started working with fronts in 1989, when I traded some fry for 4 young ones. They quickly became my favorites in the community, trading and moving others, but never fooling with the fronts. As time passed, 3 of the fish were not getting along, so I removed and subsequently sold 2 of them and kept the largest and smallest of the 4. They were then in a community tank with a variety of other fish.

Orly exclaims: I went on vacation for a week and when I returned, the smaller of the 2 was holding eggs in her mouth. A few days later, I noticed she was no longer holding eggs. I decided she had either eaten or spit. Months later I was cleaning the tank and noticed 3 small fronts swimming around! I decided I had a pair!

Orly exclaims: Some time thereafter, I started clearing the tank of all other specimens and buying females to form a colony. The colony eventually reached 2 males and 8 females, with the largest male measuring almost 9" all in a 58 gallon tank!

Orly says: I had a chat with Horus here one night and he advised me on diet - I did not follow all of his specific advice [not wanting to fool with live worms], but I give him full credit for steering me in the right direction. These guys have a trash can stomach and can eat more meat than I can afford to provide them.

Orly says: I started conditioning my colony using a meat feeding first thing in the morning and another couple feedings of Tetra Doro-Min sticks in the evening. I alternated meats between Plankton, Mysis shrimp, blood worms, and brine shrimp. I also tried fresh shrimp, smelt, and scallops but they ate all of them halfhearted - it appeared that their favorites were Mysis and blood worms.

Orly says: The 10 fish were eating about an ounce of meat daily. Conditioning was quick and effective, but extremely expensive - spending some $50 per month on meats. [Caution: do not try this at home ;)] the protein slicks will drive you crazy and talk about water changes!]

ARCAS grins :).

JOM nods his head in understanding doin dat.

Orly says: Soon after I got the colony going, I was getting broods of 50 to 75 eggs from each female every 5 to 6 weeks! I would let the females hold about 3 days and strip them, at which point I would use some of those fancy tumblers that Horus got for me to tumble the eggs out.

Orly says: I was yielding 100+ fry a month at the peak of this experience. I decided that if I kept this up, I would burn out my females, so I slowed them down a little. I switched to less meat daily and only 4 times a week with one evening feeding, having switched to Tetra Doro-Marin pellets by then.

Orly says: My colony today stands at 1 male and 5 females - I just sold 3 females and 2 males, including 1 male which I have kept for 7 years :-( ,and purchased a small male. I am presently looking for a new male and some more females to get some new blood in my tanks.

Orly says: A word on fry care - they loose their egg sacks at 1/2" and are flake ready, hardy, and easy to rear, growing best on brine shrimp and an abundance of water changes.

Orly says: My work has been exclusively with the "Burundi 6-bar" variety of frontosa. I have started raising some young "Mpimbwe blue" as well. Other imported varieties include the "Zambian blue," the stunning "Zaire blue," the unique "Kigoma 7-band", and the most recently imported "Samazi."

Orly says: Now Juan, if you will open the floor for questions.

JuanMi has released muting.

ARCAS applauds

JOM applauds orlando's talk as well

JOM says: that's some variety there orlando

Bmj raises his hand

Orly asks: Bmj?

Bmj asks: Why is this particular species so special , Appearance or Behavior?

Orly says: I think a little of both bmj, appearance is really unique and the gentle nature is incredible - you should see my 9" male spawn a 4" female - only thing he does not do is give her a manicure afterwards ;)

Bmj says: Thanks

MrKillie raises his hand impatiently.

Orly asks: mrk?

MrKillie says: Orly, Steve Somermeyer gives a Frontosa talk for ACA, he advocates feeding brine shrimp nauplii to fry that still have egg sacs... do you agree?

Orly says: I do not feed when egg sacks are present. Friends who have tried advise against it - let nature take it's course.

MrKillie says: thank you.

Karens raises her hand impatiently.

Orly says: yes Karen

Karens asks: as soon as the sacs disappear, they are large enough for shrimp?

Orly says: these thing are 1/2" when the sacs disappear - plenty large enough for newly hatched brine

Markus raises his hand

Orly asks: Markus?

Markus says: How long would it take for a baby Fronty to get to say 6 inches? I have heard they are pretty slow growing.

Orly says: too many variables Markus - I have gotten fronts from 1" to 6" in 6 months doing 50% water changes weekly and feeding exclusively mysis. Getting them to 1" can take you another 2 months

Markus asks: Whats mysis?

Orly says: mysis shrimp is a freshwater shrimp - about the size of plankton - release proteins into water excessively

Markus asks: can you buy this mysis stuff at aquarium shops?

Orly says: some shops carry mysis and some do not. I have had to look long and hard sometimes to find it

Markus asks: ah Thanks,

JOM raises his hand.

Orly asks: jom?

JOM says: the blues that I have are actually 6 stripe not 5, but I was told they would be 5 striped

Orly asks: ok, JOM, what about the 5/6 thing?

JOM says: originally I was told they would be five striped but as they've grown I can clearly see they have six ...& richer blue

Orly says: mpimbwe blues are a 6 stripe variety, with all stripes showing into adulthood. The 5 stripe variety is the zaire blue where the leading stripe fades into adulthood

JOM nods his head in understanding.

JOM says: thanks

Karens raises her hand impatiently.

Karens asks: do you start water changes as soon as they are hatched? how long take for sacs to absorb?

Orly says: sacs absorb, Karens, in about 4 weeks, water changes never stop at my house. all the time even while tumbling

Juanmi raises his hand.

Orly says: go ahead Juanmi

Juanmi asks: Orly, could you give a short description on the decoration and filtration of your frontosa tank?

Orly says: I used to spawn them all the time with just a UGF and a good (big) back filter...

Orly says: but I have switched to a sand substrate and a biowheel 60 off of a HOT magnum with a phase II sponge off of an 1140 power head

Orly says: the decor....

Orly says: I use large boulders of "holy rock" but you can use anything. Decor is not apparently important, just so the male can lay a protected swath that will not wash due to turbulence

Juanmi says: Thanks

Timh asks: what are there tumblers your talking about?

Orly says: these neat acrylic things that Horus hooked me up with

Timh asks: can you buy the tumblers?

Orly says: yes, tim, talk to horus about that

Timh says: thanks

Stevenp asks: so the tumblers mimic the mothers mouth ?

JOM raises his hand.

Orly asks: jom?

JOM says: in using tumblers do the babies lose anything knowledge of breeding & so on

Orly asks: JOM do you mean the adults loose anything or the fry?

JOM asks: like when the fry themselves go to breed do they know what to do?

ARCAS asks: You meant do the egg tumbling fry lose any natural instincts?

JOM says: exactly, thanks arcas

Orly says: yes, jom, instinct drives that. all you are doing in

Orly says: they loose nothing in the process - hell, they have no clue what is tumbling them, only that they require it to survive

Karens raises hand

Karens asks: so turbulence has no affect on milt?

Orly says: Frontosa are unique mouthbrooders Karens...

Karens asks: I mean, when the female is getting the milt, the high turbulence doesn't quickly disperse a lot of it?

Orly says: the male lays a swath in the substrate and the female follows to lay her eggs in the swath, backing up to pick up her eggs while the male watches for her cur for more milt. If the swath washes too quickly, well then you get unfertilized eggs.

Juliah raises her hand

Orly says: juliah

Juliah asks: I'm kinda feeling left out... what are milt and swath?

Orly says: milt is the males sperm

JOM says: milt male sperm roe female eggs

Orly says: swath is what I call the path of sperm that the male deposits in the substrate when the female cues him to do so

Juliah nods her head in understanding.

Juliah says: thanks

Bmj raises his hand.

Orly asks: bmj?

Bmj asks: How long a swath path do they req?

Orly says: the male lays his swath and then either circles to "push" the female into the swath or he doubles back and nudges her and she enters [the cave in my case]

Karens says: ahh. cave spawners

Orly says: yes karens

Orly says: the females and males really stay in sync well - if given ample room they will just circle taking turns over the swath in the substrate

Bmj says: Thanks

JOM asks: what about glass worms as feeding tool, never tried those?

Orly exclaims: never have used them JOM, but I imagine anything will work - I think mine will even eat steak!

Orly says: I have intentionally gotten away from messy foods, like flake

Karens asks: what is a good turn over rate for a front tank?

Orly says: turnover rate Karens, will depend on stocking density. For my overpopulated tank, I turned it over as many times as I could without superheating the water ;)

Orly says: they really adapt well, I have spawned them with and without clearance - really depends on the size of your male. My 9" male would use about 6" and turn around to cue the female

Karens asks: what is a good temp and how do they cue each other?

Orly says: temp seems irrelevant - diet is the primary motivation for these fish. I have spawned anywhere from 78 to 85 deg F

Timh asks: do you need a pretty much single species tank to get fronts to breed?

Orly says: I have mixed feelings on that tim...

Timh says: I know the feeling :)

Orly says: these guys are easily intimidated.

Orly says: my feeling is that is they are the largest by far, they will do fine, but you would be surprised how brave small fish can be (and agile) when fronts are laying those super-sized juicy eggs ;)

Karens raises hand

Orly asks: karens?

Karens asks: what size do they start breeding at?

Karens says: minimum size I mean

Orly says: they can breed at 4", but I find that size is not the key, but rather age - 2 years minimum in my experience

Karens nods her head in understanding.

JOM says: so in pinking up fry to start up a colony or a harem what #s should you go with

JOM says: # of fry

Orly says: I purchased 24 mpimbwe blues from 3 different sources

Stevenp asks: 24???? isn't that excessive?

Stevenp says: according to your talk you'd need a very large tank once 24 got to maturity

Orly says: the idea is to keep the 3 groups separate Steven until adulthood then select the male from one group and females from the other

JOM nods his head in understanding.

ARCAS asks: what is your realistic group that you like to achieve out of the 24?

Orly says: probably something like a 2.8 - I find that a little competition gives the males a little incentive to be patient even with the ugly females ;)

Orly says: Some males will not spawn certain females - nice to have a backup

Bmj says: Would you recommend a couple for a community cichlid tank

Orly says: probably a trio is more like it if you can sex before purchasing, if not start with 6 or so and then cull them down to a trio

Markus says: Makes me wish I had a 180 gal tank.

Orly says: naaaah, start with a standard 55

Markus asks: Ya reckon? Only a 55?

Orly says: why not - diet is the most important thing here

Karens raised her hand patiently

Orly asks: karens?

Karens asks: can you tell the sexes right away... err.. how do you do a vent check?

Karens asks: and what size can you tell the sexes at?

Orly says: I would not vent anything under 3" and the females have a larger hole than the males in order to lay eggs (refer to Paul V Loiselle, "The Cichlid Aquarium")

Karens asks: is there another way to tell their sex? if so, at what size?

Orly says: not really Karens. One way to do it is to use the superior growth seen in males. Start with 6 and keep the largest and the 2 smallest

JOM says: so you mean anything under 3 inches are difficult to distinguish

Orly says: very difficult

Orly says: you can check them just to get used to it and learn how to do it as they grow up

JOM nods his head in understanding.

Cburke raises his hand

Orly says: go ahead Cburke

Cburke says: not really a technical question...but I was curious what you do with 100 fry monthly...that's a lot of little mouths to feed...

Orly says: like I said, you can feed them flake dust real easily.

Cburke asks: where do you have the space?

Cburke clarifies: I really meant after they grow bigger...are you able to sell all of those easily?

Orly says: no, I sell most all at 1"

Cburke nods his head in understanding.

Orly says: occasionally I get a real stunning looking batch and I will grow some, but not for long

Cburke nods

Bmj says: Pardon me for interrupting But I have to go. Before I do I would like to say Thank you to Orly for a very informative presentation. Thank you and goodnight all.

Rickdf says: very good talk orly thanks alot and goodnight all

JuanMi says: Thanks a lot Orly

Timh says: thanks a lot orly :)

JOM cheers enthusiastically orly's talk.

Markus says: Cheers Orly, top stuff that was.

Orly says: thanks markus

Richardb says: Thanks Orly, very informative.

horus says: good talk, orly

Cburke thanks orly, his fingers, and his keyboard

Timh does flips while thanking Orly for his talk

Stevenp says: very interesting orly. Got that itch for another tank now....pity the wife won't let me have any more :-)

horus says: consider divorce, stevenp? :)

Juliah says: thanks, Orly.. I'm no longer front-ignorant :)

Orly says: great to hear that Juliah

Orly says: thanks all.


García, Orlando. (May 27, 1996). "Cyphotilapia frontosa (Boulenger, 1906)". Cichlid Room Companion. Retrieved on March 31, 2020, from: