Cichlid Room Companion

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Keeping and Breeeding Lake Tanganyika featherfins

By , 1996. printer

Classification: Captive maintenance, Lake Tanganyika.

" Fishroom talk taking place on 1996-Dec-11 "

JuanMi has muted audible commands.

Juanmi says: I would like to thank Jeff for volunteer to give this talk, it is surely a very interesting topic and we all know Jeff's expertise with Tanganyikans cichlids among others and his experience in the matter, on behalf of all, thank you Jeff!

Orly cheers enthusiastically.

horus smiles, You're welcome, Juan

horus says: First of all... Let me say it's a pleasure to be back here and discussing fish again.

horus says: DISCLAIMER: Anything I say is based on personal experience and research, your mileage may vary.

horus smiles.

horus says: Tonight's discussion is about featherfins. I will cover breeding and keeping 3 species of fish... Cyanthopharynx furcifer, Opthalmotilapia ventralis and O. nasuta

horus says: Any questions will be answered in an open discussion form at the end of the meeting

horus says: The fish I will speak about have been bred by myself and many other hobbyists in captivity. Featherfins are usually defined by the long, extended ventral fins on the males, and the rather drab silver coloration or lack of in the females of all species.

horus says: Most of these fish live on the sandfloor or on rocks near the sandfloor

horus says: Furcifer are probably one of the larger species, topping out at about 8", While ventralis and nasuta only get to about 5-6".

horus says: Let's start with furcifer... Actually, a lot easier to keep than most people thinks. These fish require a fairly large tank, a 4' grown out tank and a 6' breeding tank will usually work. Many species of furcifer and Cyanthopharynx sp furcifer are now commonly available. They are similar to Tropheus in that there are many morphs of this fish collected at many points in the lake

horus says: They are best kept in a tank with a sand substrate, as their breeding mechanism is such that the males require a lot of sand too build a crater-like nest in which to breed. I recommend about 3-4" of sand, up to 6".

horus says: Diet: I keep mine basically on OSI spirulina flake, 50% of their diet. The rest is marine flake, cichlid flake, and my shrimp paste. These fish ARE susceptible to bloat... be careful on the frozen bloodworms, brine shrimp, mysis, etc. Not recommended, IMHO. They have that long digestive tract just like Tropheus as well, and should you ever experience bloat, just use CLOUT...should clear it up.

horus says: I change about 50% of the water in my featherfin tanks weekly. As with tropheus, they seem to do better with excellent water quality. Now keep in mind, wild-caught specimens sometimes are not able to make the transition to captivity well, and thus... The males will not color up much unless your water conditions are pristine, and they are breeding.

horus says: The females tend to school together in rocky areas... While the males built crater like nests about 2' in diameter, out of sand. Make sure there's enough sand in your tank for them to do this, if you're breeding them.

horus says: They will excavate the sand, and usually start building a nest on the tallest rocks that stand out of the sandfloor bottom. They are sand sifters to a certain degree (while eating, constantly foraging for food). The males will dig the crater next, leaving only the minute, finest particles of sand in the nest... I believe this is so thee females can distinguish between the eggs and larger pieces of sand... Quite an interesting thing, nonetheless. For comparison... ventralis and nasuta seem to be less meticulous about the nest building. :)

horus says: The spawns of these fish range from 10-40 eggs per spawn, more as your fish grow older.

horus says: I recommend that if you are a first time featherfin keeper, go with some F1's instead of F0...the males will color up at an earlier age and you will enjoy this as opposed to looking at a 180g tank full of 7" silver fish.

horus smiles.

horus says: I have had no problems breeding these species.. Urban myth has it that they are not breedable, as females are prone to eat or spit eggs. I have not really found this to be the case, and almost always wait until there are wrigglers or full grown 'fry' before stripping the females. If your tank is set up right, they will be ok

horus says: You need more than 1 male to breed these fish, no matter what species. In the same tank, that is. Without any competition, the alpha male may or may not have enough incentive to mate.

horus says: This fish breeds in the following manner:

horus says: The male will drag his ventral fins across the center of the nest, swimming around and 'flashing' his colors to the females, pursuing the school of them until he finds a willing mate. He will then emit a bit of sperm in the nest, to coax the female, as she tries to take the eggs spots on his ventral fin into her mouth, thinking they are eggs. Then the female will lay the eggs in the nest, a few at a time, and pick them up. Process repeats itself. When she's done, the male will return and disperse his milt, she swallows it, fertilizing the eggs. This goes for ventralis and nasuta as well.

horus says: In about 15 days, you will see eyeballs of wrigglers bulging through the females throat. They can be stripped at this time, but I prefer to let them do their thing and hold for the duration.

horus says: These fish are best kept with tankmates that will not be competing for the same water level, a good tank mate would be cyprichomis sp. or lamprichtys tanganicanus

horus says: Of the 3 species of featherfins I will discuss, the furcifer are most easily spooked... A large pair of Neolamprologus calvus can be enough to stop a group of featherfins from breeding, due to the different type of aggression in neo/lamprologins. Other suitable tankmates would be dwarf shell dwellers. Stay away from keeping other sand dwelling species in the same tank, especially if they are the same size or larger, for obvious reasons.

horus says: Many are put off by keeping these fish for 2 reasons:

horus says: 1) not available in stores usually

horus asks: 2) who wants to keep a fish that's silver, except adult (or sub-adult) males?

horus smiles

horus says: I didn't. Not until I got my first group of F1 Burundi furcifer, about 4 years ago. At 4", the males show color

horus says: BTW, small detail... If anyone tries to sell you wild furcifer, you can easily tell if they're wild or F1 by looking at the females. Yes, the silver females. F0 females will have very noticeable striations in the dorsal fin, which are just about non-existent in F-1 or higher females. This is for furcifer ONLY.

horus says: Urm... Let's see now...

horus says: For nasuta and ventralis...

horus says: I use more of a meaty diet.. OSI brine and marine flakes, frozen bloodworms, shrimp paste, and yes...the other 50% is OSI spirulina flake

horus wonders if anyone from OSI is here tonight as his flake food bill is running up there.

horus smirks.

horus says: Anyway, that's about all I have to say. Let's open it up for discussion for everyone.

horus smiles

JuanMi has released muting.

horus says: I'll take any questions, one at a time. :)

Dev asks: what size did you say furcifer males start coloring up?

horus asks: F0 or otherwise, dev?

Dev pushes to the head of the class, in true board game fashion.

horus smiles

Dev says: err, not wild

horus says: as small as 3.5". They will attempt to breed at about 4". Nasuta and ventralis males start coloring up at about 3" as well, tank raised.

Dev nods his head in understanding.

Orly raises his hand.

horus asks: Orly?

Orly asks: the 3-6" of sand, how do you keep the anaerobic down with that much sand?

horus says: They do it for me, Orly. They are constantly sifting, almost like a callochromis or sand-dwelling Xenotilapia (as opposed to rock dwelling Xenotilapia , such as spilotperus)

Orly says: ahhh, ok, overlooked the sifting. Thanks

horus says: My furcifer are currently in a 75g tank, 2M 6F with 6 2" syno decorus

Dev raises his hand.

horus asks: Dev?

Dev asks: how rapidly do featherfin juvies grow?

horus says: All contingent on tank size, Dev. You can keep them in a 20g for years. I know a guy that breeds an adult trio in a 40g. I would suggest... giving the juvies the biggest tank you can, go light on the decoration (more water in tank). So they will not be stunted at all.

Dev nods his head in understanding.

horus says: this goes for all fish. But especially for these types of 'larger' Tanganyikan cichlids

horus asks: Anyone else?

Orly raises his hand.

horus asks: Orly?

Orly asks: what are the more desirable morphs of furcifer?

horus says: Matter of preference...

Orly says: Personally... Agreed, but your opinion is desired. My favorite is still the Burundi... Metallic blue males. Stunning. I would have never thought I'd enjoy em more than Tropheus. But I do.

Orly says: interesting. thanks

horus nods.

Dev raises his hand.

horus asks: Dev?

Dev asks: Do they prefer big water changes like mbuna or gradual changes like many tangs?

horus says: Once F0 are acclimated, I do 50% water change weekly. So, I guess I'd have to say large water changes. The tank raised ones are quite forgiving.

Dev nods his head in understanding.

Juanmi raises his hand.

horus asks: Yes, Juan?

Juanmi asks: What temperature you keep them at Jeff?

horus says: Good question, Juan.

horus says: I dunno.

horus grins.

horus says: NAh.

Juanmi grins.

horus says: Furcifer lives on the sandflloor. I suspect it's a couple of degrees cooler down there than the surface...I keep them at 75-77 degrees. Whereas ventralis and nasuta are found as 'high' as in the upper 10 meters of the lake so up to 78 there, imho

Juanmi says: Thanks. That is 24 - 25 Celsius

horus asks: Anyone else?

Dev asks: what size are they sexable?

horus says: These fish are all ventable. I'd say for tank raised, 3.5". Not quite as easy as venting a mbuna or Tropheus but pretty easy nonetheless because you have the color thing to go on as well. Males will be easy to pick. Also ventral fin length.

Dev nods his head in understanding.

Dev says: peacocks exhibit similar sexual dimorphism, wonder why they are so much more popular… Cheaper.

horus smiles.

Dev says: true :)

horus says: Just as hardy. Males more colorful, more often, even when not breeding.

Dev says: featherfins are notorious shippers, along with Xenotilapias The large F0 featherfins don't ship nearly as well as the tank raised juvies, obviously. Once in a while, you will bring in a wild shipment of a species of featherfins, and... They just don't make the transition. They kinda just waste away. THat's why I recommend tank raised for people just getting into this type of fish.

Dev nods his head in understanding.

horus says: Also.... Agression... If there is too much aggression in the tank... whether or not it's inter-species... The subdominant males will end up with the 'behind the heater' syndrome and waste away, even if moved. I believe it's the stress factor that causes this.

horus says: Whereas... If you raise a group of juveniles in the same tank, by breeding time, the social order has already been somewhat established. Less problems. i.e. the beta male KNOWS he's the beta male and doesn't even bother. :)

horus asks: Well, any other questions?

Dev shakes his head.

Juanmi shakes his head in denial.

horus says: If not, let's wrap it up. As always, feel free to email me at: if you have any questions or if I can help you out.

horus says: Thank you all for coming and for your time.

Dev says: thanks for the info jeff.

JuanMi applauds strongly

horus says: Anytime, people.

horus smiles.

Juanmi says: Thanks a bunch Jeff, pretty interesting, made me want to get some of those… Although I have no space :(

Juanmi grins.

horus says: I'd ask for some 'striped zambians' if I were you, or 'moliro'. They are 2 of the nicer ones.

Juanmi nods his head in understanding.

horus says: Juan, you can do them in a 55g if you wanted to. Just get 6-8 juvies and cull. Keep backup male in another tank, out of sight of alpha male

horus says: Well, I'm out of here. Y'all have a great evening.

horus waves

Orly says: Jeff thanks for the chat, very informative, now I know what to tell Santa Horus to get me for X-Mas

Orly grins.

Dev grin.

Juanmi grin.

horus smiles

Juanmi says: Thanks again Jeff

horus says: Anytime.


Chin, Jeff. (May 27, 1996). "Keeping and Breeeding Lake Tanganyika featherfins". Cichlid Room Companion. Retrieved on October 16, 2019, from: