Frontosa Cichlid Care – A How To Guide

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It’s very easy to see why the Frontosa Cichlid, Cyphotilapia frontosa, is so popular with aquarists around the world. It’s not only their great looks that keep them as favorites. Frontosa Cichlid Care in summary is simple and they have an easy going nature as long as you select the right tank mates. These traits make them just as attractive as their looks.

If you’re looking for a stunning freshwater fish with great personality and the ability to fascinate whoever sees it in your tank, the Frontosa Cichlid could be the perfect fit. Read on to learn everything you need to know about caring for these peaceful rift lake cichlids.

Species Overview

Scientific NameCyphotilapia frontosa, Cyphotilapia gibberosa, Paratilapia frontosa, Pelmatochromis frontosus
Common NamesFrontosa Cichlid, Frontosa, Humphead Cichlid, Front Cichlid, Tanganyika Humphead Cichlid
OriginLake Tanganyika, East Africa
DietCarnivorous, piscivorous
Care LevelModerate
Lifespan15+ years
Tank LevelMidwater
Minimum Tank Size75 Gallons
Temperature Range72 – 82° F
pH Range7.8 to 8.2
Filtration/Water FlowLow to moderate
Water TypeFreshwater
BreedingMouth brooder
Difficulty to BreedModerate
CompatibilityCompatible with some other rift valley lake cichlids and other large peaceful fish
OK, for Planted Tanks?Compatible with some plants

Origins and Habitat

The Burundi Frontosa Cichlid is endemic to the waters of Lake Tanganyika in the region of East Africa, which means that is the only place in the world where it occurs naturally. This massive rift lake is shared by the African countries of Zambia, The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Tanzania, and Burundi.

These fish live in surprisingly deep water compared with most species in the hobby and are usually found at depths of greater than 50ft, but even down to over 300 ft, although they do move towards the surface to hunt.

At these depths, aquatic plants don’t get enough light to grow so their environment is pretty bare. The habitat where they live consists of rocky areas, with patches of open sand between boulders at the lake bottom.

Scientists have determined that there are more than one species of Frontosa Cichlid. The 2 best-known species are Cyphotilapia frontosa from the north of the lake, and C. gibberosa, which can be found in the south1.

What Does the Frontosa Cichlid Look like?

What Does The Frontosa Cichlid Look Like

Cyphotilapia frontosa is a large and boldly patterned African cichlid species. One of the most characteristic and recognizable features of this popular fish species is the large hump that mature fish develop on their forehead.

The hump on the forehead is actually an extension of the dorsal muscles. Both the male and female Frontosa cichlids grow this hump, but it does grow larger in older, dominant males.

A male frontosa will also grow bigger than females and their pelvic, anal and dorsal fins grow longer with age. Apart from these differences, the male and female look very similar. Juveniles of both male and female Frontosa Cichlids look identical.

These fish have 5-7 broad, black vertical bars on the sides of their bodies. The body color is white, blue, or sometimes yellowish. The fins are a beautiful light blue color.

Interestingly, the body color and brightness of these fish can change depending on their mood. Dominant and stressed fish are often a darker color, while males that are ready to spawn will display brighter blue coloration.

The physical differences between Cyphotilapia frontosa and Cyphotilapia gibberosa are not all that easy to see and consist mostly of differences in the number of scale rows and the proportions of the body and fins.

There are many different color variants available. These different variants are usually the result of populations from isolated regions in the lake developing distinct colors and markings, although some have been developed in the hobby.

Some popular variants of Cyphotilapia frontosa and C. gibberosa include:

  • Burundi Six-stripe Frontosa
  • Zaire Blue frontosa/ Blue Zaire
  • Zambian Blue Frontosa/ Blue Face Frontosa
  • Red Frontosa
  • Tanzanian 7-stripe Frontosa

Are They Easy to Take Care of?

The Burundi Frontosa Cichlid is not difficult to take care of as long as you get the basics right. Keep these fish in the right size aquarium, with suitable water conditions and with the right number of specimens and you should have some stunning, long-lived pets.

They have been successfully bred in home aquariums without much difficulty. These fish are slow-growing though, so patience is one of the biggest challenges. Juveniles will need about 3 and a half years before they are ready to breed.

When the time comes, breeding is also a slow process. These fish are mouth brooders, and the female may keep the eggs in her mouth for 5 to 7 weeks or more.

What Is Their Eating Habit?

The Burundi Frontosa Cichlid is a piscivorous fish species which means they feed on other smaller fish in nature. Frontosas are ambush hunters that rely more on stealth than speed to catch their prey. They also feed on shellfish and other aquatic organisms and are thought to eat some algae and plant matter sometimes as well.

In the home aquarium, Cyphotilapia frontosa should be fed a balanced diet that is rich in proteins. A high-quality cichlid pellet is the best choice for their regular diet, although juvenile fish might find flake food easier to manage. Ron’s Cichlid food is a great choice as a staple in a cichlid diet.

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Other supplementary food options include:

  • Fresh or frozen fish like tilapia. Avoid processed fish products.
  • Bloodworms
  • Brine shrimp
  • Krill
  • Mosquito larvae
  • Mussel meat
  • Occasional vegetable matter like spinach, kale, chopped peas, or spirulina algae wafers

Even though it may be more convenient, aquarists should avoid feeding bird or mammal meat as these fish are not adapted to digest these forms of protein. Live fish such as feeder fish can be fed, but should be avoid as they can spread disease in the aquarium.

Can They Live Alone?

It is not recommended to keep Frontosa Cichlids alone. Cyphotilapia frontosa is a social species of fish that can be found in groups of over 1000 individuals in their natural lake habitat.

Wherever possible, it’s always best to provide your fish with the kind of living conditions they have in nature. This doesn’t only apply to things like water chemistry and flow but also to natural behaviors. They will be most happy if kept in a group where they can display their natural behaviors, and they will probably be more interesting pets for the same reason.

In the home aquarium setting, it is best to keep a minimum of 6-8 individuals to reduce aggression. The ideal ratio would be 1 male to 6 females.

That being said, if you really want a Burundi Frontosa Cichlid but you can’t keep the recommended number of individuals, it would be better to keep just one with some other compatible fish. That way you can avoid aggression in a group that is too small.

How Big Can They Grow? What Tank Size Is Right for Them?

Although these fish are usually bought as juveniles in the fish store at just 1.5 to 4 inches long, when fully grown they are large African rift lake cichlids that can grow longer than 12 inches.

Males can reach a maximum of about 13 inches while females are smaller, growing to about 10 inches long. although juveniles can be kept in a 75-gallon aquarium, a group is best kept in a much larger aquarium size of around 150 gallons.

Fortunately, they are slow-growing fish, so you can definitely start out with a 75 gallon, provided you can commit to upgrading when the time comes. Of course, it is better to start out with the right size aquarium from the beginning though.

How Long Do They Live?

The Burundi Frontosa Cichlid is a large slow-growing species, and so it comes as no surprise that they are a long-lived fish species. Frontosas kept in the right aquarium environment, with the right care, can easily live 15 years.

Some specimens even live for longer than 25 years. For this reason, keeping these fish should definitely be looked at as a long-term commitment.

Are They Aggressive?

These fish are generally classed as semi-aggressive cichlids. This can be a little confusing because, on the one hand, you’ll hear about some keepers having problems with aggression, while others describe them as really calm, peaceful fish.

The key to preventing aggression is to keep these fish in a big enough tank and to keep the right number of individuals.

They are carnivorous animals that eat other fish in nature, so you shouldn’t be surprised to learn that they will eat other smaller fish in your home aquarium too. The obvious way to prevent this problem is to keep them only with other similarly sized and equally non-aggressive fish.

As a species, Frontosa Cichlids are not very active, and relatively speaking, they are very peaceful for a cichlid. These fish have a social dominance structure with a dominant male and subordinate males and females. In a larger aquarium, more than one alpha can occur and the pecking order can be more complex.

How Much Do They Cost?

The price of the Burundi Frontosa Cichlid can vary tremendously depending on the variant and purchase size of the fish. Another important pricing factor is whether the specimen was wild-caught in Lake Tanganyika or tank-bred.

You can usually expect to pay between $20 and $40 for a small, tank-bred specimen. Wild-caught fish are of course far more expensive and difficult to find.

Tank Requirements (Care)

Although Frontosas are fairly easy cichlids to care for, they do have some pretty important aquarium requirements that have to be met. These are not small fish so you will need to be sure you have enough space to house them.

You’ll also need enough time to keep up with regular water changes, and enough funds to buy a good quality filtration system and good quality nutrition to keep them healthy in the long term.

Let’s take a closer look at what you’ll need to keep these awesome cichlids.

Filtration and Water Quality

As with all the rift valley lake cichlids from Africa, these fish prefer alkaline water chemistry with a high pH of up to about 9. The vast majority of Cyphotilapia frontosa available in the aquarium trade are farmed, however, and have become acclimated to lower pH water conditions.

The Burundi Frontosa Cichlid needs excellent water quality so it is important to provide excellent filtration and keep up with weekly partial water changes. An external canister filter, sump system, or both are recommended.

This cichlid is adapted to a lake environment where there is usually little water flow and current so they will do best in aquariums with a lower flow rate. If you have a power filter, you can reduce the flow in your tank by aiming the outflow upwards towards the water surface.

Your aquarium must be fully cycled before introducing these fish so that the water parameters stay stable and you don’t get any dangerous spikes in ammonia and nitrite levels.

A weekly 25-50% water change is recommended and the new water added to your tank should be treated with a water conditioner to make it fish safe. Regular vacuuming of the gravel or substrate in your tank is also important for maintaining great quality water.

Tank Environment

Frontosa Cichlid with Live Plants

A rocky habitat with low light will most closely recreate the habitat this African cichlid prefers in the waters of Lake Tanganyika. Make sure to provide plenty of hiding spaces, with at least one for each individual fish.

Aquarium rocks can be arranged to create caves but make sure they are stable for the safety of your fish. Alternatively, old flowerpots make great shelters and can even be used as a breeding site. Use smooth rocks or pots without sharp edges that could damage your fish’s fins though.

Whatever you use to create shelters in your aquarium, make sure some are large enough to accommodate the dominant male and some are not large enough to accommodate him so that subordinate fish will always have a place to hide if necessary.

A deep tank is best because this will provide your fish with plenty of swimming space. Crushed coral sand or aragonite makes the best aquarium substrates because they help to maintain the high pH and water hardness that rift valley cichlids prefer. Alternatively, you can use sand or gravel as a substrate.

Live Plants

Being a relatively deep water fish species, these cichlids are happy to live in an environment without plants. That being said, it is possible to keep the Burundi Frontosa cichlid in a planted tank. One important point to remember is that Frontosa Cichlids should not be kept in bright light environments and this rules out most plant species.

Low light aquarium plants like Java Ferns and Anubias that are not rooted, but rather grown attached to aquarium driftwood or rocks are your best bet here. So all in all, Frontosas are not ideal for planted tanks, but it’s not impossible to keep both.

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Tank Mates

The best tank mates for Frontosas are other peaceful African cichlids from Lake Tanganyika. This is mostly because these fish enjoy the same water conditions. Other fish like Malawi cichlids can also make great tank mates though.

These fish are piscivorous, which means they feed on smaller fish species in nature. Even if you provide them with high-quality commercial fish food, they will not pass up the opportunity to snack on small fish or inverts so be careful about introducing other fish that are not of a similar size.

Another point to consider is that Frontosas are very slow growers, so juveniles might be outgrown by their tank mates if they are all stocked at the same time.

Some good tank mates for Cyphotilapia frontosa include:

How To Breed

Breeding fish is a post in itself and the Frontosa is no exception. However, the video below from Ricky Kenerly Cichlids is a great overview on how to breed these fish.

  • Fish need to be at least 2-3 years old (They take a while to reach sexual maturity)
  • Stable pH (7.7 – 8.5)
  • Use sandy substrate (for nest building)
  • Diet – be solid on your diet plan. See diet info earlier in the post
  • Focus on smaller water changes to lower stress on your fish
  • Use at least a 55 gallon breeding tank for breeding pairs

Check it the full video below:


Are they aggressive?

The Burundi Frontosa Cichlid is a pretty peaceful fish by cichlid standards. They are usually not aggressive unless they are kept in an aquarium that is too small or kept in groups of less than 6 individuals.

Why are they so expensive?

The main reason for the high price of Frontosas is their slow growth rate and the fact that they are only ready to breed at the age of 3 or 4 years. This makes breeding these fish a pretty expensive process and therefore the fish need to be sold at a high price to cover costs.

What fish can you put with them?

The best tank mates for Cyphotilapia frontosa are other freshwater fish from Lake Tanganyika since they prefer the same water parameters. Some Malawi cichlids are also compatible with Frontosas.

Are they hardy?

Although the Burundi Frontosa Cichlid may look tough and robust, they do need excellent quality water and the right environment or they can be susceptible to health problems.

How big do they get?

Cyphotilapia frontosa is a large aquarium fish. This species can reach a length of about 13 inches, although they are slow-growing and take many years to reach their full size.

Final Words

The Burundi Frontosa Cichlid, Cyphotilapia frontosa, is an outstanding aquarium fish that is fairly easy to keep, as long as you can provide it with the space and water quality it deserves. These large and beautiful fish are a firm favorite among aquarists and should be at the top of any fishkeeper’s wish list. Leave us a comment below if you have anything else you want to add about these amazing Aquatic creatures.

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