Teale Miller, 2002
Cichlid Room Companion

Tropheus: a hobbyist's experience

By , 1997. image

Classification: Captive maintenance, Lake Tanganyika.

" A wonderful and easy aquarist guide for the successful keeping and breeding of the popular but nonetheless challenging Tropheus cichlids from Lake Tanganyika "

The first time I saw those little roman nosed faces, I knew I had to own Tropheus. I got my first 'group' about four months after starting out with fish and put them in their own tank, a 45 gallon. I had two Tropheus sp. black 'Bulu Point', and two Tropheus sp. black "Kaiser II". I fed them green peas and Wardley® spirulina flake. They grew. Eventually the time came when they could no longer have the tank to themselves and I moved them in with a group of juvenile Malawians. They did very well for a few more months, then I had my first loss to bloat, and soon after, my second. I lost one of each type. Still extremely ill prepared for Tropheus care, I attributed my losses to tank conditions and feeding. The other two I still have today. Chili, a male Bulu Point, and Daisy, a female Kaiser II. They are just over three years old as this is written.

Tropheus brichardi 'Kipili-Uwilie' Tropheus brichardi 'Kipili-Uwilie' Tropheus brichardi 'Kipili-Uwilie'

Tropheus brichardi 'Kipili-Uwilie'. All photos by Jessica Miller.

I gave it some time and experimented with other varieties of African Cichlids, but was soon lured back in. I purchased a group of ten Tropheus duboisi. They moved into a 55 gallon with similarly sized Labidochromis caeruleus, a few Aulonocara , and a group of Pseudotropheus demasoni. They did wonderfully for about a month. I fed them on Wardley spirulina flake, and did weekly water changes.

As they started to get bigger, I replaced the 55 gallon with a 100 gallon tank and added a group of eight Tropheus moorii "Kalambo". The next day one of the younger duboisi was having trouble. He was lingering back and not feeding. Bloat! I used Metronidazole accompanied by daily water changes yet lost him after a few days. In the days that followed I lost another duboisi and two Kalambo. The situation wasn't helped by the fact that the Kalambo had survived a hard trip from the dealer and weren't doing well when they arrived. This turn of events was disheartening, but I had read all the horror stories and the success stories and decided it was time to change how I did things.

I had always used Clout® in the past for bloat, but had been told that Metronidazole worked much more reliably. In my experience, this has not been the case. I removed the carbon and started the tank on Clout®, continuing this treatment along with 40% water changes every day until they showed signs of feeling better. The remaining Kalambo improved greatly and I lost no more fish! Still paranoid, I surveyed them thoroughly every morning and evening (a ritual I still take part in) for any sign of stress. They seemed happy and healthy. I changed the way I fed them, a method I have used with great results since. I remember reading somewhere that because of the way Tropheus eat, they only get tiny amounts of food in each bite and given the choice, will take smaller ones in the aquarium. It made sense that smaller particles would be digested more readily. So I started crushing the flake into powdery bits and adding liquid vitamins and water to make a loose paste. This results in an admittedly messy but successful feeding method. I turn off the pumps and they dive into the cloud of food with true Tropheus enthusiasm. I also started them on romaine lettuce. I used to be almost neurotic about lettuce feeding and for whatever reason grew out of the practice. I started feeding it again, giving them a large leaf every morning before breakfast, and it was always gone by the time I got around to feeding flake.

I did as much research on the subject as I could, and still question those who keep Tropheus about their successes and failures, feeding methods, etc. more out of interest than out of hope of finding definitive answers. From my experiences, there are no certain answers, and as some wise person once said, "As soon as you say never, someone will prove you wrong."

Tropheus moorii 'lupota' Tropheus moorii 'lupota' Tropheus moorii 'lupota'

Tropheus moorii "lupota". All photos by Jessica Miller.

So the months went by and my beloved Tropheus grew and grew and I changed things to fit their lifestyle as I found it necessary. I have periodically added non-iodized rock salt to the tanks mostly for the sake of curiosity and that they seem to enjoy it, but have never noticed any real evidence of it being helpful. I still use it in most tanks, except for those with live plants in them, out of habit I suppose. Ad Konings warns against hobbyists using large amounts of table salt in an attempt to emulate lake conditions and it contributing to bloat.

If Tropheus could talk the one thing they would likely tell you (so eloquently put by Garth Algar in Wayne's World) is "we fear change." Change causes stress and stress can cause Tropheus to bloat. I am not saying that stress is the sole cause of bloat nor lack of it the solution, but I feel it's a contributing factor. Stress can be brought on by a change in food, water quality, tank mates, relocation, etc. I have found that when adding a new group or making a major change such as to a new tank, that if you cover the tank so it's absolutely dark and leave it that way for 24 hours or more, it helps tremendously. I usually check on them during this time because, as I said, I am paranoid and I have horrible visions of them mangling each other or the pumps stopping, that type of thing. I have used this method when adding a new group and when they wake up it's like they have lived together always.

Tropheus moorii kalambo breeding sequence
Tropheus brichardi 'Kipili-Uwilie' Tropheus brichardi 'Kipili-Uwilie' Tropheus brichardi 'Kipili-Uwilie'
Tropheus brichardi 'Kipili-Uwilie' Tropheus brichardi 'Kipili-Uwilie' Tropheus brichardi 'Kipili-Uwilie'

A Tropheus moorii "Kalambo" breeding sequence. All photos by Jessica Miller.

On the subject of feeding, there are as many different opinions as there are Tropheus species and no one seems to agree completely with the exception that they require green food in their diet and the most easily acquired source is a good quality spirulina flake. I have had extremely good success raising fry on a tank consistently growing algae and housing a mature sponge filter. They pick all day long, yet eat heartily and grow very rapidly. The groups are in differing tanks with different setups, some more successful than the others. The two that seem to work the best are a 55 gallon which continuously produces algae, filtered with a large sponge driven by a powerhead, a Penguin® 160 back filter, and fourteen Tropheus sp. black 'kaiser II'. There is a thin layer of sand as substrate and lots of rocks. The other setup which has given me no problems is another 55 gallon, filtered by a UGF with two powerheads, and crushed coral as substrate. The tank houses ten Tropheus moorii "Lupota", and eight Tropheus sp. black "Kaiser II".

This tank is my first attempt at live plants and as luck would have it, they are flourishing! I have Java Fern, Corkscrew Val, Amazon Sword, and some mystery plant in the tank. I had duckweed which was fun until it was consumed by the little monsters. I know Tropheus and live plants can be a bit of an oxymoron, but I have had pretty good luck by adding romaine lettuce daily. They seem to much prefer it to the plants and mostly let them go unassaulted. The live plants seem to add something to the water that benefits the fish as they seem to be able to go much longer before needing a water change. Perhaps this is due to the plants needs or the filtration, but whatever it is, it works well and is very low maintenance. My last Tropheus infested tank is a 100 gallon filtered by two AquaClear® 500 backfilters and two sponges run by powerheads. This tank is a community tank of sorts, home to a group of Tropheus duboisi, a group of Tropheus moorii "Red Chimba", a group of Tropheus moorii "Kalambo", a large group of Labidochromis caeruleus, some misc Aulonocara, Pseudotropheus demasoni, and some Synodontis catfish. The Kalambo are soon to move out and into a new tank with a group of Tropheus brichardi 'Kipili-Uwilie'.

As for water conditioners, I use SeaChem Tanganyikan Buffer®, 1/2 teaspoon per 4 gallon bucket, 1 Tablespoon rock salt, and a squirt of Kent Marine African Cichlid Trace Elements®. I change 40-50% of the water once a week, and try to keep the tanks at around 76-78F though lately with the warmer weather they have been hanging around 80+. I feed twice a day, but don't follow a close schedule for feeding as well as for lights, especially on the weekends. It's more a case of when I get up, or get home, and usually I try to skip at least one days meals for the sheer enjoyment of seeing their little "I'm dying of starvation!" faces in the morning. Seriously though, many aquarists recommend fasting your fish for one day a week.

Often people associate the difficulties in keeping Tropheus with spawning them. Provided with the proper water conditions and diet, they spawn readily and often. It's been my experience that a female needs a few 'trial runs' to finally get the hang of holding onto her brood. Around 2 1/2 inches is when they start to spawn, about a year of age. As I write this I have three young Tropheus duboisi females holding, praying that they have finally accepted motherhood as being inevitable. Usually after the fourth or fifth spawn they seem to get it right. I've noticed also that young males tend to be a bit inattentive to the females and take off in pursuit of a rival right in the heat of passion, only to return to an empty spawning site. This gets better with age, though as any cichlid owner knows, keeping the spawning site clear of onlookers is just part of the job!

I generally let nature take it's course where brood care is concerned. Many hobbyists and breeders strip the eggs after a few days then incubate them to be sure of getting the largest possible clutches and to prevent the female from consuming or spitting the eggs. I wait a few weeks (unless the female is being harassed) then take the female out and put her in her own tank. Tropheus females are quite protective of their fry and will take them back into their mouth at any sign of danger, even until the fry are so large that only one can squeeze itself into her mouth! Once the fry seem fairly independent and she is no longer taking them up as readily, I will move her back into the main tank. This is when I use the covered tank, no lights trick. I have not had any troubles reintroducing females in this way and it's nice to have her with her fry for the start of their tiny lives and to observe how they interact.

A close friend of mine lets his females release the fry right into the main tank and has had continual large spawns with very good success. I have heard of others doing this as well and intend to try it with one of my groups. This way the fry can be 'harvested' every few months or so. This works best if you have a single species tank or are willing to let the fry near maturity enough to where you can tell them apart. It is also important to have lots of hiding spaces for the fry and be sure to feed small enough food particles. One thing that works well is an office organizer with slats on all four sides, turned over to make a cave that only the fry can enter because of their small size.

Tropheus are fun fish and very active. You will never have a time where your tank is quiet or without action. This, as you can imagine, is very hard on one trying to photograph the tank, but they are beautiful to watch. They are highly sociable fish, doing best in groups of six or more. They can be quite aggressive and highstrung however, so keeping them in as large a group as possible is a good idea. There are some hobbyists that keep them in bare tanks with only a few rocks or flowerpots, which works very well for them. I have all of mine in rock filled tanks with plants, shells, or whatever happens to be available at the time I set up the tank. This just goes to prove how adaptable these little cichlids really are.

Tropheus can be frustrating fish at times, but all in all they are very rewarding. You just have to find your place in Tropheus keeping and what works for you. I have learned the most about my fish not by reading, but by watching them and adjusting their life to suit their needs. You can save a lot of heartache by taking the time to observe them at least once a day and not taking anything for granted. If a fish seems stressed, don't just figure that that's how Tropheus are and leave it at that, see if you can do something to make the situation better and more harmonious for you and your fish.

Young tropheus eating romaine Tropheus duboisi juvenile Tropheus sp. black 'Kaiser II'
Tropheus moorii kalambo juvenile Tropheus moorii 'Chimba red' Juvenile Tropheus

A mosaic of Tropheus pictures. All photos by Jessica Miller.


Miller, Teale. (Jun 25, 1997). "Tropheus: a hobbyist's experience". Cichlid Room Companion. Retrieved on Apr 17, 2024, from: