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FAQs on Cyphotilapia frontosa

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Frontosa, beh., hlth.    11/17/13
Hi there we purchased a frontosa about 2 weeks ago and for the last week he always has his head to the gravel and tail to the top of the tank do you know what he is doing or is he sick.
<This is not at all normal. But you are giving me no useful information at all here. Just to recap, Frontosa cichlids need a very large aquarium (100+ gallons for a singleton, but see below) with hard, alkaline water (10+ degrees dH, pH 7.5-8.5). Water quality must be excellent, 0 ammonia and nitrite, and a nitrate level not above 20 mg/l. Water shouldn't be too warm (these are deep water fish) so keep the heater at 25 C/77 F. Similarly, they despise bright light, so either use subdued lighting ("moonlight" tubes are great) or provide plenty of overhead vegetation to shade out the light. Diet should be varied, but while they're (in part) fish-eaters in the wild, only a very foolish fishkeeper would offer them "feeders".
Instead focus on earthworms, river shrimps, suitable frozen foods (krill, cockles, etc.) or good quality pellet foods (such as Hikari brand pellets).
Besides meaty foods they are eat small invertebrates, even plankton, as well as some plant and algae material, so you should vary the diet accordingly, for example by offering algae-rich pellets or frozen foods.
Cooked peas and spinach may also be taken, with a bit of coaxing or starving, and this will help avoid problems with constipation and bloating.
Frontosa cichlids may be kept singly, but they are social fish so often never settle down properly kept that way. The proper way to maintain them is in "harems" consisting of one male and several females. Often people get a group, raise them to sexual maturity, and then remove surplus males if necessary (they don't always fight, but it will be obvious which male is the "alpha" because he's the one that develops the classic nuchal hump).
Obviously a group of fish that grow to the size of a dinner plate will need plenty of space, so realistically you're looking at tanks upwards of 150 gallons for groups of these exceptional cichlids. Unfortunately when kept improperly this species (like most Tanganyikans) is prone to all sorts of stress-related problems and may simply fail to survive, so look critically at your set-up and act accordingly. Cheers, Neale.>
Fwd: frontosa   11/17/13
Hi Neale,
My husband Greg originally sent you the msg about our Frontosa and has forwarded it to me as he's gone out. Firstly Thank You for your informative email it has answered a couple of the issues that may have been affecting him.
<Glad to help.>
He was in bright light and the temperature was 27 degrees we haven't also known about the water quality until now so will immediately get a kit. He does have a varied diet from vegetable to floating and sinking pellets, frozen krill, wheat germ and other goodies. We will try the spinach and algae wafers we feed to our horny nose albino sucker catfish.
I have a feeling looking at forums on the problem that it may be as you say 'bloat' they suggest 4 days of no feeding and keeping him in the dark, if it continues and if a visible bloat look is apparent to treat as bloat with a more invasive treatment. Being cattle farmers we know bloat and thankfully can identify it.
<Epsom salt in the water can work wonders, especially combined with a fibre-rich diet (peas, spinach, brine shrimp, daphnia); 1-3 tablespoons per US gallon.>
Could he have a mild case of bloat putting enough air in his stomach to cause him to float upside down even at times flipping him onto his back .
<Possibly, but constipation is a bigger cause of "floaty, bloaty fishy"
than air... see here:
It's commoner than you'd imagine, but relatively easy to fix, and even easier to prevent.>
When this is about to happen he does turn right side up but then almost immediately goes back to the nose to the ground position. When he's doing this it is in the same spot he doesn't move around the tank. I've given him medicine in the tank now. We have him isolated at the moment, made it dark, and might do the starving for 4 days or less if he starts swimming normally, is this what we should be doing in your opinion?
<Yes; certainly starving bloated or constipated fish is worthwhile, except that you should also provide fibre-rich foods as well, exclusively, for as long as necessary.>
Thank you again very much for your help.
Yours Sharyn and Greg
<Probably want to have a look over water chemistry issues generally and Tanganyikan cichlids specifically, starting here:
Few of the common "Tangs" are difficult to keep (Tropheus excepted) but they are almost always touchy about water chemistry and quality, so review and act accordingly. Good luck, Neale.>

Frontosa and Gourami Compatibility? -- 12/29/11
My tank started out about 3 years ago with 3 Frontosas and 2 Calvus cichlids.  Everything was going fine for the first 2 years, then one of the Calvus died seemingly out of the blue.  I tested the water and everything checked out okay.  The other fish have been doing well until yesterday, when the other Calvus died.  Again, the water tested fine, temperature was okay, etc.  Not sure why these fish died, but not much I can do about it now.
So now I'm in the process of looking for tank mates for my 3 Frontosas and wanted to run some ideas past you guys (you're the reason I paired them with Calvus and not combination of Jewel and Rusty cichlids initially). 
Of course I went out and looked for replacement Calvus, but the fish store I bought the Calvus from has since gone out of business, and I haven't been able to find another fish store that has Calvus or any other Tanganyika species.
Rather than waiting for the day when one of these stores gets a Calvus or two large enough to go in with my ever-growing Frontosas, I was wondering if there were any alternatives to Tanganyika species that would work out.
<Mmm, several... depending on the size, shape of this system, water chemistry>
I have been reading online and some people have said that they've put in non-cichlid species such as Bala Sharks, a red tail shark, or Gourami (they mentioned pink kissing Gourami, in particular) and said they have not run into any problems with temperature, PH, or aggression incompatibilities.
<Mmmm. Could work... again, depending>
I thought a tank with 3 Frontosas and 2 Gourami might be pretty interesting but wanted to see if you thought there would be any long-term issues with pairing these fish?  If so, would any gourami (excluding dwarf gourami, of course) work, or should I stick with the pink kissing Gourami?
<Likely only the larger species...>
Thanks, in advance for the advice!
<... need to see data... re the above... system, water quality. Not easy to introduce anything to a too-small system w/ established Frontosas, other rock-dwelling Great Lakes African Cichlids. Bob Fenner>

Frontosa Tankmates   2/15/11
Hello WWM Crew,
Back with another question for you. I was given a few fish and need some advise, I want to make sure they will be fine together. To start I was given a Frontosa pair, the male is about 7" and the female about 6". I bought a 125 gallon for them and finally got to put them in it. (After a quick cycle...I was soaking the filter media in my established tank for a couple weeks.) There is another Frontosa in the tank with them that is just under 3".
I have in a QT , (2) 1" Fronts, (1) 1.5"Synodontis Catfish, (3) 1.5" to 2" Blue Moorii. are any of these able to go in with the larger fronts or should I let them grow out more?
< The frontosa will be fine with anything that will not fit in their mouth.
Small fish under 4" are all a potential meal.>
If I have to let the grow out more what size would be best. I am also picking up (3) white Calvus that are about 1.5" each. The calvus will be going in the QT, but I would like to know what size they should be before I put them in with the larger Fronts?
< Your are in for a long wait. A. calvus are very slow growing.>
Also, should I have more than the one cat fish? If so, should I mix the types or stay with all the same?
< A small school of S. multipunctatus or polli would do fine if they were big enough not to be eaten.>
What is listed is all I would be putting in this tank. Is it going to be over crowded?
< Tank will be fine with filtration that turns the tank volume over at least 5 times per hour. Watch the nitrates so they stay under 20 ppm.>
Or should I add a couple other fish? Within a year or so I will be upgrading to a 350 gallon that my husband will be building with plywood. At this time I will be combining fish from both my 125 gallons. Thank you for you help. Tina
< More fish could probably be added if water quality is watched.-Chuck>
Frontosa Tank Mates II   2/17/11

Hello Chuck, The tank mates I have, you said would work with the Fronts.
You also gave me suggestions on a couple other different kinds. I have decided to stick with the ones I posted. The tank should be filtered enough. I put (3) Penguin 350 Bio-Wheels and a Fluval 404...The only problems I am having with my tank at this time are my heaters not bringing the temps up past 76F. Will this hurt the fish? Or, should I just leave the temps at 76F?
< The fish will survive 76 F but would do better at 80 F.>
Did you mean the Fronts now at 7 inches can eat fish 4" and under?
< A seven inch Frontosa can now eat a four inch fish, depending on the body shape of the smaller fish..>
Or, when the fronts are full grown?
< Now.>
I do know the Calvus are going to take some time to grow out. I was thinking, after their time in the QT I will put them in my other 125 until they grow large enough to go with the Fronts. Should I do that with the other fish I told you about? Or, will they be ok in the Front tank at their sizes?
< I would not put a fish in smaller than four inches with the frontosa at their current size. The other fish will do fine with the water chemistry.>
I do watch my water quality and do water changes every week. Once a month I do a 50% water change and clean one filter each month.
Thank you again, Tina
< Your welcome.-Chuck>

Cyphotilapia frontosa in 72 gallons; compatibility with Corydoras   4/29/10
Greeting WWM Crew
I have a few questions regarding a couple of fish tanks that I have recently set up. The first one is a 72 gal bow front that's been up and running for 2 months now, I currently have 20 Frontosa fry ranging from 1" to 1 1/2" and 7 peppered Cory cats. How many would you recommend that I keep in the tank when they start getting bigger?
<In a tank that size, you're really hard pressed to keep more than one male and two females. Cyphotilapia frontosa is a schooling species as you presumably know, and when kept singly they tend to be shy. But as with most
cichlids, the males are bigger than the females and more likely to be snappy towards one another. In all honesty this is a species for tanks well above the 100 gallon mark.>
They were given to me so I have no problem donating them to my LFS.
<Fortunate. The thing with keeping big fish in relatively small tanks is the tanks end up looking grubby, even if the fish themselves remain healthy. You can't decorate the tank with rocks that "scale" up to the size of the fish being kept, so the aquarium looks like a glass box with some fish in it, rather than a slice of Lake Tanganyika (or whatever). So, while you could keep a trio, I think you might find trading them all in for something more appropriate would be a better bet. Take a look at Neolamprologus sexfasciatus and especially Neolamprologus tretocephalus for example. This latter is very much like a half-size Cyphotilapia frontosa, getting to about 15 cm/6 inches, and coloured much like Cyphotilapia frontosa, just a bit more "neon". Choosing rocks for either of these
species would be easy, some nice dark granite boulders for example would be perfect, and you could also use some Vallisneria for greenery. The result would be an altogether more exciting aquarium.>
Also, would you recommend that I keep the cory cats in there as they get older? I have heard stories that they can make a nice snack along with getting stuck in the frontosa's mouth.
<Quite so. Cyphotilapia frontosa is a fish-eater, and will attempt to swallow anything it can. I've seen them mixed with the larger Callichthyidae including Hoplosternum littorale and Brochis britskii, but I think Corydoras will be pushing your luck.>
<Cheers, Neale.>
Re: Cyphotilapia frontosa in 72 gallons; compatibility with Corydoras   4/29/10
Thank you for the fast reply. I did some looking into the options for alternative fish you gave me and the Neolamprologus tretocephalus would be a excellent replacement but alas none of the fish stores around town stock
them. Ordering may be a option but spendy.
<Well worth it. For one thing, good mail order suppliers can get you wild-caught and F1 stock, which will be bigger and have brighter colours. Moreover, recall you're setting up the tank for fish that can live ten years. Over the time you have these cichlids, you'll be spending money on electricity, water, food, etc. So even if you spend an extra $50 up front on mail order cichlids, that's a trivial amount of money in the long term.
Better still, if you have some wild-caught or F1 fish, then selling their offspring will be a lot easier, especially if the species being kept is relatively rare but attractive.>
What would you recommend for tankmates for the frontosa?
<On the whole you want relatively peaceful fish too large to be eaten, but the size of your tank places a severe limit here. On the one hand Cyphotilapia are nervous and shy, so dither fish can encourage them to swim about more. But on the other hand Cyphotilapia are easy targets for bullies and nippers. Most serious Cyphotilapia keepers keep their Cyphotilapia alone, devoting all tank space to providing good conditions for as large a school of Cyphotilapia as possible. The most common tankmate species are peaceful bottom dwellers, typically Tanganyikan Spiny Eels and some of the larger but non-aggressive Synodontis.>
The owner of the breeding set has 2 males and 1 female peacock cichlid that he called "lawanda" and they seem to get along, (they breed as well but the fry never survive). I would rather not have the same fish as he does (trying to stay unique).
<Aulonocara sp. Lawanda, and indeed other Aulonocara spp., have been kept with Cyphotilapia. But these is an unreliable rather than definite option.
Aulonocara are "nippy" fish, and if they decide to go for the fins of your Cyphotilapia, then the Aulonocara will have to go. Given the relatively small size of your tank, I wouldn't recommend it. Cheers, Neale.>

Re: Cyphotilapia frontosa in 72 gallons; compatibility with Corydoras 4/30/10
I have been throwing around this for an idea, I have a 55gal with 8 Demasoni a 30 gal with 6 yellow labs.
Could I take these 2 and combine them in the 72 bow and put the Frontosa in the 55gal since I will probably only keep a few of them?
<Wouldn't do this. Cyphotilapia really do need much more than 72 gallons, and downgrading to 55 gallons for anything more than a few months is pointless. In a smaller tank you'll not only run the risk of stunting them, but higher nitrate levels will make Hexamita infections far more likely.
Plus, in a smaller space you can't keep so many, so social behaviour issues become more likely as well. Do understand Cyphotilapia need to be kept in large groups, and while trios work, they will be much shyer and therefore less likely to show their best colours and behaviours. As I've stated before, it's better to choose a species appropriate to the tank you have, rather than try to force a species into a tank that's too small for them.>
I know they will need a much bigger tank when the get over the 5"-6" mark and maybe by that time my wife will be willing to let me get a bigger tank.
<You're going to be stuck with these fish for 10+ years. Think carefully about that. I dare say the good lady wife will much prefer a tank with smaller, more vivacious cichlids like those mentioned before. The tank will be prettier, and she'll be happier allowing it space in the house. Trust me on this. A big tank with three bored looking cichlids will not win you any praise. Cheers, Neale.>

Re: Cyphotilapia frontosa in 72 gallons; compatibility with Corydoras 4/30/10
Thank you so much for all the advise. You guys truly run a great service for us hobbyists.
<Kind of you to say so.>
If I do choose to order fish online myself is there a site you would recommend? I live in the central US and there isn't a lot of options for stores beside the large pet chains.
<I can't speak from experience, but I've heard good things about these two:
Flipping through the pages of TFH magazine for example should reveal a few other online retailers. Fish clubs are also outstanding places to get fish DIRT CHEAP. Seriously, some of these clubs have auctions where bags of
unusual cichlids go for a buck or two. If you live anywhere near a major city, see if you can visit a club. Even allowing for membership and gasoline, you'll probably save a tidy bundle. Plus, these fish breeders are often only too happy to give guided tours around their fish rooms, and that's a great way learn about cichlids you've never seen. Cheers, Neale.>

Re: Cichlids... Rambling, not listening re LARGE predatory Characiforms in captivity... Cyphotilapia comp.  2/4/2010
Thanks again. Not bichir, the biara, Rhaphiodon vulpinus.
<As we've discussed before, an insanely large predator with minimal survival rate in captivity.>
The bichir is in the 20 long alone. I did get another cichlid idea though, frontosas. The 20 has TONS of filtration. My two filters together do 430 gph. I know that frontosa are docile and are good in schools, so maybe 6 of them with the Polypterus in a 125?
<Funnily enough, there is a population of Polypterus ornatipinnis resident in Lake Tanganyika. Cyphotilapia frontosa is quite mellow, and given space, Polypterus ornatipinnis should cohabit with them just fine. Both species
are carnivores, and enjoy the same sorts of foods: earthworms, shrimps, fish fillet, etc. But that said, your tank isn't big enough for six adult Cyphotilapia and an adult Polypterus ornatipinnis. You do need to sex these fish first, since in a tank this size you'd only be able to keep one male. Male and females are very similar, and when young, identical. Typically people rear multiple specimens and then sell on the surplus males.>
The frontosas at my LFS are about three inches. With some lava rocks making loads of little caves, maybe 2 or 3 could go in there now. My LFS has tons of frontosas, they have a breeding pair and it seems like there are about
50 little new ones every 3 weeks.
<Yes. But do avoid getting just siblings. For one thing, quality of the markings won't be that good, and defects of various types are more common among inbred fish. Much better to select just females from here, and mail-order a male from somewhere else, far away, so you don't cross brothers and sisters. Better yet, save your pennies and get some wild-caught or F1 (offspring of wild-caught) fish. The difference between mass produced Cyphotilapia and good quality specimens is like night and day. The good specimens have bright, vivid stripes on their bodies and lots
of blue. The cheap specimens tend to be muddy grey and, frankly, boring. Do remember you're spending a lot of money on a big set-up, and the novelty will wear off in about 25 seconds if the fish aren't that impressive.>
They have so many they have a whole isle of them. I also know that the frontosas need dissolved minerals in their water so I could just add a mix of rift lake salts to make that ideal for them. I'm sure the Polypterus wouldn't mind.
<Hmm... up to a point, perhaps. But don't overdo it. Aim for pH 8, 15 degrees dH.>
<Cheers, Neale.>

Re: Cichlids. Frontosa sys., sel.   -- 2/5/10
Thanks again Neale. I know that 6 adult frontosas can't be kept in a 20 all together but I would get 6 when I get a 125. Is this large enough?
<Not really. These are big fish. I mean, they would live in a 125 gal.
system with plenty of filtration and perhaps a sump, but they'd look pretty stupid in there. Each one gets a good 30 cm/12 inches in length, and they're deep bodied fish to boot. Grab six dinner plates, and lay them out on a table. See how much shape they take up. There's a world of difference between wedging a bunch of fish into an aquarium on the one hand, and on the other hand creating something that looks like a piece of wilderness with fish swimming about all natural looking.>
Milwaukee water already has a ph of about 8 so no issues there. My dad won't allow mail ordering, I've asked him many times but I don't think he exactly trusts the quality that they say the fish will come in.
<Which is why you buy from reputable retailers with money-back guarantees.
To be honest, when it comes to cichlids, unless you have a pet store with a respected reputation for cichlids, what you'll likely get from most pet stores are farmed fish or home-bred fish of dubious quality. Now, I'm in the UK and my knowledge of the US market is based on the 3 years I lived in Nebraska and the various visits I've made to aquarium shops in other States in the Union. But there are cichlid sites, like Big Sky Cichlids, that have links to breeders and dealers they recommend.
Do some research, track down precisely what you want, and spend your money wisely. Better to have a trio (two females, one male) of superb quality Cyphotilapia than a whole boatload of mediocre stuff dumped in a pet shop.
Here's the thing. Most pet stores buy in community fish from farms, stuff like Danios, tetras and so on. The quality of these is generally high. But cichlids are stuff they don't always order in from farms, and instead accept from local hobbyists. Cichlids are so easy to breed, and produce so many offspring, that one hobbyist can bring in 50 baby cichlids every months! So pet stores get these fish, and they're all from one brood, and someone else in the town breeds them, and then you end up with a whole bunch of fish that are inbred and lacklustre. With cichlids it is VERY important to make a point of getting quality because the difference between inbred stuff and quality stuff is enormous.>
I'll ask my LFS about the whole F1 thing and the breeding pair that they have on display ( I think they are the two that stock the shelves with the little guys) have really pretty colors. I'm going to keep my Africans and my Americans apart because of an important lesson I was taught. The guy at our LFS that we really trust told me "mixing fish from different parts of the world is bad because body language is different. When one fish might be
telling the other ' OK, you win' it could be like somebody flipping them off to the other fish." What is your opinion on this?
<It's a good rule. But the flip side is that two Central American cichlids speaking the same language can end up hybridising (breeding) even if they're different species, so you end up with offspring you don't want and
can't (shouldn't) sell. So yes, it's a good idea to set up a Tanganyikan tank separate from a Malawi tank separate from a Central American tank, but at the same time you don't want closely related species in one tank that
might hybridise. Before you do anything else, it's a good idea to buy (or borrow) one of the many good cichlid books out there. There are lots and lots, but a good one to start with is "Fishkeeper's Guide to African Cichlids" by Paul Loiselle. Used, it costs a whopping 66 cents on Amazon.com, and I suspect your parents would respect you asking for a book before you start spending money. It tells them you're serious and want to learn, not just play around.>
<Cheers, Neale.>
Re: Cichlids -- 2/5/10
Thanks. So maybe 3 in that 125? The LFS that I buy from is really great.
They are very knowledgeable and all of their tanks are clean and healthy.
I've seen 1 dead fish in any of their tanks ever. It was a trade in spotted pike that had no chance of surviving. The guy that we work with has been breeding cichlids since he was 8. I have several cichlid books about American cichlids and Africans.
When it comes to cover for frontosas and Polypterus lava rock with some clusters of plants would be good right?
<Sure. But obviously any caves need to be big enough for Cyphotilapia (to 30 cm) and P. ornatipinnis (to 65 cm).>
I think we are coming to a pretty solid conclusion. Thank you for all your time.
<Glad to help. Cheers, Neale.>

Re: Cichlids  2/10/10
Hey Neale, thank you for all of your previous help. My LFS has those frontosas, but they have strange lines. The have a F6 mom with a F1 dad.
<F6? I wonder how they know this. That means this is the sixth generation down from the wild-caught specimens. Once you get past F1, no-one really cares anymore, and I'm skeptical they've kept track of that many generations. In a nutshell, I'd treat this F6 statement (and perhaps the F1 designation, too) as marketing rather than unadulterated truth.>
I don't know what this would even out to, but I got to see the breeding pair and they are gorgeous.
I have an empty 38 right now, and I was thinking of putting some dwarf cichlids in there. They have several rams which I like but they have this one cichlid who is small, cylindrical, South American, bluish gray, and currently unidentified.
<No idea what this fish might be. Doesn't sound very South American to be honest.>
I was thinking of 3 rams, that one other dwarf and a Bristlenose Pleco.
<Cheers, Neale.>

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