Frontosa Cichlid Care Guide | Diet, Habitat, Breeding, Accessories

Jul 16, 2021

Frontosa cichlid careguide

Credits: Chris on Flickr under Creative Common license

Natives of the beautiful Lake Tanganyika, Africa, frontosa cichlids are heralded as the most striking variety to exist among 16,000+ cichlid species. The iconic hump and unique coloration quickly set them apart from other fish in any tank setup. 

As exotic as they may be, frontosa cichlids are moderately easy to look after. However, there are specific rules set in stone. For instance, these fish need a large aquarium and constant maintenance. 

So, is frontosa the right cichlid for your tank? Let’s find out! 

Introduction To Frontosa Cichlids

Name Frontosa Cichlid
Scientific NameCyphotilapia frontosa
NicknameHumphead Cichlid 
OriginLake Tanganyika
Maximum Size14 inches (35 cm)
CareModerate
BreedingModerate
TemperamentSemi-aggressive
Temperature74.0 to 79.0° F (23.3 to 26.1° C)
pH Level8-9
Water Hardness12-14°dGH
Nitrate Level<25 ppm
Phosphate Level<0.5 ppm

For the longest time, this genus was believed to be monotypic with a single species. But breakthrough research in 2003 identified blue frontosa cyphotilapia and southern frontosa as their own species. 

Commonly also known as humphead cichlids, frontosas have at least a dozen different monikers based on the region of the lake they come from. Some of them are Seven Bar, Kavalla, Samazi Frontosa, Tanzanian Seven-stripe, Kipili, Zambian Blue, and Burundi Six-stripe. 

These cichlids have cemented a spot in the top tier for their amazing looks – but their personality is just as attractive, if not more. That’s why they’re on the bucket list of most cichlid enthusiasts, including myself! 

And that takes us to our next question. I’m sure it’s crossed your mind, too! 

Why Are Frontosa Cichlids So Expensive? 

Frontosas live in deep water – so collecting them takes much more time and resources than cichlids that live in shallow waters. Unlike cave dwellers, frontosas live in big colonies along the sloping lake bottom. They’re endemic to different parts of the lake ranging from 35-170 feet. Thus, catching them requires more elbow grease! 

However, thanks to commercial breeding in captivity, these prized fish are now readily available in most corners of the world at moderate prices. 

How Long Do Frontosa Cichlids Live? 

The average life expectancy for frontosa cichlids is 12-15 years in captivity. However, with the right care and diet, they reportedly live for up to 25 years! 

So, if you’re bringing home frontosa cichlids, it’s definitely going to be a long-term commitment. 

When Do Frontosa Cichlids Reach Sexual Maturity?

Frontosa cichlids take anywhere between 3-4 years to reach sexual maturity. Thus, it can be pretty challenging to sex them for a beginner fishkeeper. 

How Big Do Frontosa Cichlids Get?

Frontosa cichlids grow up to 14 inches (35 cm) long in the wild. However, most captive-bred males clock in at 12 inches (30 cm) and females at 10 inches (25 centimeters).

Now, let’s quickly look at their appearances! It’s pretty diverse. 

How To Differentiate Male And Female Frontosa Cichlids? 

Male frontosas are usually bigger in size, have a more pronounced hump, and have longer fins than their female counterparts. 

Frontosa Cichlids Appearance 

Frontosas are stout, heavy-bodied fish with big round heads and a broad underslung mouth. In addition, both males and females grow a characteristic large knob-like cranial hump on the head, which is missing in juveniles. 

They have unique 6-7 broad black stripes against a blue or white background for coloration. Some also sport beautiful gold accents in the dorsal fin. The fins are either light blue or white in color. The fins are longer in males. 

There are quite a few color variants based on the part of the lake they come from. The most common one is Burundi Six-stripe Fronosta. This fish has a high body with defined banding and a decent amount of blue tint. It’s the most readily available variant due to its long history of captive breeding. 

Zaire Blue Frontosa is the most intensely colored one in the lot – looking almost purple. 

However, given the constraints of collecting and transporting, not all varieties are equally available. 

Let’s have a quick look at some of the most exciting variants. 

8 Geographic Variants Of Frontosa Cichlids

Credits: Jean on Flickr under Creative Commons license

Kipili Frontosa 

Kipili is among the least exported varieties on this list. It has a faded blue body that looks quite pale in comparison to others. 

Samazi Frontosa 

Samazi frontosas aren’t too popular either due to their breeding difficulty. These fish have a high body and display sexual dimorphism. 

Males are usually colored rich blue, while females have little to no color. 

Zambia Blue Frontosa/Blue Face Frontosa 

Zambian variety boasts of decent banding and blue coloration on the face. The bands on the head fade right above the eye – giving the fish a string appearance. 

Kavala Frontosa 

Kavala frontosas are quite rare. They sport 6 distinct bandings with blue accents that can turn dark with mood. The dorsal fins are yellow with a colorful sheen. 

Burundi Six-Stripe Frontosa 

The most popularized frontosa variety, these fish have a high body and a prominent nuchal hump. The bandings have a lovely blue shade, although not the deepest color. Unfortunately, due to excessive inbreeding, most specimens today don’t have high bodies.

Zaire Blue Frontosa 

This variety is named after the Congo Republic’s old moniker, Zaire. These fish have the most tinted blue bands that even look purple at times. They also have a band on the head that runs between the eyes and down the gill plate. 

Some varieties have solid blue bands, while some have blue dots. 

Tanzanian Six Stripe Frontosa 

These fish look quite identical to Burundi six stripe fish and are rarely found in the United States. If we were to breed these two, the resultant fry would have slanted bands. 

Tanzanian Seven Stripe Frontosa 

The most sought-after frontosa variety, these fish are easily differentiated by the rare seventh band that looks more like a patch on the face. They have a large blue nuchal hump and dorsal fins with golden accents. 

Frontosa Cichlids Temperament 

Frontosas are known to be comparatively more peaceful than other African cichlids. They’re semi-aggressive and, in fact, quite gregarious. You can easily keep them in a community tank as long as it’s large enough and water chemistry is maintained. 

Although not too territorial, frontosas will defend a territory once they’ve established one. The male’s a tad bit more aggressive than a female. 

In the wild, these fish live in a large colony. Thus, you shouldn’t really keep them alone in a tank. They definitely prefer some company. The correct male-to-female ratio is at least one male for every three females. Also, the ideal school size is 8-12. 

For most parts, these fish are amicable. They’ll even eat right out of your hand and greet you enthusiastically from time to time. 

However, there’s a catch. 

These cichlids have a sharp predatory instinct, too. They’ll jump right at the chance of hunting if there are small fish in the tank. Any fish smaller than 3 inches is perceived to be a tasty snack. 

Frontosa Cichlids Tankmates 

Frontosas can thrive in a community tank. But given their docile nature, it’s best not to pair them with aggressive cichlids. You must pay extra attention to see if the younger ones are being bullied. 

Steer clear of aggressive Lake Tanganyika and Malawi cichlids. Also, the tank mates in question should more or less be just as big as frontosas. 

Electric yellow cichlid

What Do Frontosas Eat In The Wild? 

Frontosas are carnivores – or more specifically ‘ piscivores’. They will eat all kinds of live food in the wild – especially shellfish and smaller fish like snails and mollusks. However, captive-bred frontosas are known to eat plant-based food as well. 

What To Feed Frontosa Cichlids? 

Frontosas are slow feeders. They’ll eat all kinds of food in captivity, including pellets, live food, and even vegetable flakes. You can give meaty food like worms, and feeder fish and larvae, in addition to crustaceans like krills. Shrimps and mysis. 

Frozen food like brine shrimp is an excellent source of protein. In addition, you can give blackworms, mealworms, bloodworms, and glassworms – don’t be afraid of a bit of experimentation. 

The convenience of prepared food is enticing, but don’t rely on them all the time. For example, flakes are pretty easy to feed when frontosas are young. However, giving flakes often when they’re big will make the water messy. At this point, you can switch to pellets. 

You also need to channel caution when feeding feeder fish. Feeder fish like guppies and goldfish are often raised in an unhygienic environment, which propels the chance of them being infected with pathogens and parasites. Thus, make sure to buy feeder fish from reliable buyers or raise them yourself. 

Small whitings are pretty popular as feeder fish since they’re inexpensive, readily available, and come with skin on. However, when feeding fish, don’t remove the skin as it’s quite dense in nutrients. A few bones here and there could be a good source of calcium too. 

How Often To Feed Frontosa Cichlids? 

Instead of giving one large portion a day, spread it out into 3-5 smaller portions. This will help to keep the water pristine for a longer time. You can also fast your cichlid once a week or so as it helps with regulating metabolism. 

Tank Setup For Frontosa Cichlids 

Frontosas are natives of the world’s second-largest lake – Lake Tanganyika. Thus, given the lake’s size, the water chemistry, such as temperature and pH level, fluctuates very seldom. These fish are usually found near the deep waters along the coastal lake floor. 

Credits: Brian.ch on Flickr under Creative Commons license

Tank Size For Frontosa Cichlids 

Frontosas are active swimmers – thus, they need plenty of space. Therefore, you will need at least a 70-gallon tank to house a single frontosa. However, since these fish love to live in a group, you’ll need to keep at least 4 of them. Therefore, 8-12 is the ideal number. 

So, for a group of frontosas, you will at least need a 125-gallon tank. That being said, a 200-gallon tank would be perfect for the long term. It will also save you the hassle of upgrading. 

Water Chemistry For Frontosa Cichlids 

Water temperature 74.0 to 79.0° F (23.3 to 26.1° C)
pH Level 8-9
General hardness 12-14°dGH
Nitrate Level <25 ppm
Phosphate Level<0.5 ppm
Salinity1.0002
Water CurrentModerate 

Since the lake’s oxygen concentration is very high, you will need to keep the bubblers going 24 hours a day, even if it’s a planted tank. Likewise, nitrate level below 25 ppm and pH below 7 isn’t well tolerated by frontosas. The lake’s pH value is around 9 – so try to emulate that. 

The temperature in their wild habitat is very stable, so you should strive for the same for your tank setup. They don’t thrive in temperatures under 72°F and over 86°F. However, if you’re treating your fish for ich, you can turn up the temperature to 86°F for a couple of days. Likewise, the optimal temperature for breeding is 77.0° F.

None of these parameters are set on stones- don’t worry. Frontosas are reasonably hardy species and will do well in a community tank as long as the parameters are close to what they need. Just make sure the water’s chemistry doesn’t change too much or too often. 

You can maintain the water by buffering it and conducting partial but routine water changes. Salt is the most commonly used buffering agent to increase the tank’s carbonate hardness. 

Also, Tanganyikan cichlids need iodine to regulate their thyroid function. You can fortify iodine by adding iodized table salt. The rule of thumb for freshwater aquariums is 1 tablespoon per 11 gallons. This practice also helps with treating minor wounds and fungal infections. 

You can also opt for a chemical filtration method, where the water passes through layers of coral sand or crushed coral. 

Conduct 10-20% water change weekly or more if needed depending on the tank’s population. Frontosas don’t take too well to sudden or large water changes unless the new water’s parameters closely match the old. The intolerance to fluctuating water changes is because water deep in the lake is incredibly stable. 

Substrate And Decorations For Frontosa Cichlids 

Frontosas reside in the sandy lake bottoms. So, you can provide either a sandy or very small-sized gravel substrate. Sand or crushed coral used for saltwater tanks are great options as they help maintain a high pH level. 

While they need plenty of space for swimming, you should also add a few rocks and caves as they love to retreat once in a while. Also, make sure they’re well secured to the substrate, as these fish can be quite clumsy when startled. Although frontosas don’t dig or burrow plants, you can opt to go plant-free to give more swimming area. 

Our Pick For Top Equipment For Frontosa Cichlids 

You mustn’t cut corners when buying a heater and a filter for the frontases. However, if you shell out a bit more money and invest in good equipment, it will save you a considerable sum in the future. 

150-Gallon Starfire Glass Aquarium

Cascade Canister Filter For Tanks Up To 200 Gallons

Hygger 800 Watts Submersible Heater 

Do Cichlids Need A Heater? Find Out!

How To Breed Frontosa Cichlids? 

Small frontosa cichlid
Credits: Matt Frahm on Flickr under Creative Commons license

Frontosa cichlids have been bred in captivity for a long time now. And naturally, some varieties are easier to breed than others. These fish are egg-layers and form a matriarchal family. So if you are interested in raising the fry, you should raise them in a separate tank first. The only difficult part of breeding frontosa is waiting. It takes around 3-4 years for them to reach sexual maturity. 

You can readily buy a breeding pair of frontosas or get a group of 10-12 juveniles. As the youngsters grow, reduce the group’s size by removing the biggest fish, always a male, every six months or so. The ideal ratio now should be 1 male for 4-5 females. 

These fish form monogamous relationships. A single male will mate with several females. Once the female gets ready to lay eggs, you’ll notice her body get more rounder besides receiving a lot of male’s attention. You may also see the breeding tube. 

If you’re going to place the pair into a new breeding tank, it should at least have a 100 gallon (380 liters) capacity. Creating a layout with caves and rocks will also help the male create a territory and select a spawning site. 

The water parameters for breeding should be around 8 pH levels, 10° dGH, and a temperature between 77 – 82.4°F (25 – 28°C). Performing a large water change might induce spawning.

Females prefer spawning inside caves in the wild, but a fine substrate would work just fine in a confined setting. A healthy clutch would include around 50 eggs. Once the female lays her eggs, the male will fertilize them. Next, the male will guard the eggs as the female scoops them into her mouth.

The eggs will then hatch within the next 3-4 days. The matriarch will take care of the fry for the first 4-6 weeks. You can give baby brine shrimp for the first few weeks. Within no time, they’ll be able to eat crushed adult food. 

How To Strip Eggs From Frontosa Cichlid’s Mouth?

Sometimes, the mother cichlid will devour the eggs she keeps in her mouth, although the intention behind this isn’t clear. If this happens time and again, you will have to strip eggs from her and incubate them in a separate tank. 

When it’s time to strip her of the eggs, turn the lights off in the aquarium and let the fish relax for half an hour or so. Then, take a container and fill it halfway with the tank’s water. With the help of a net, gently take out the resting female and keep her in the container. Slowly open her mouth with your finger and force her to spit out the eggs. Once all eggs are deposited in the container, put her back in her place. 

Now, gently transfer the eggs into the rearing aquarium. Again, it’s critical to ensure the water’s temperature and chemistry are identical to the original tank. You will also need powerful air stones to rotate the eggs, so fungi don’t develop on them. 

And don’t forget to remove the unfertilized eggs as soon as you see them, so they don’t become breeding ground for bacteria and fungi. 

Common Diseases In Frontosas Cichlids 

For most parts, frontosas are a hardy species. They will easily complete their lifespan healthily and happily in a large tank. However, there are quite a few ailments these cichlids are susceptible to. Most of these stem from incorrect water parameters, wrong diet, and polluted environment. 

If the water is stale or poorly oxygenated, they may get stressed and sick quite easily. Also, overfeeding frozen food consistently may lead to a vitamin or mineral deficiency. Thawing the food first and sprinkling it with a nutritional supplement will help to maintain health.

The most common ailment in cichlids is ich. However, the treatment is fairly easy. First, increase the tank’s temperature 86° F (30° C) for around 3 days. If that doesn’t work, you will have to treat the fish with copper-based treatments (after removing the water conditioners). 

While using copper treatment, don’t forget to channel moderation and strictly follow the manufacturer’s instructions to avoid mishaps. You can increase the temperature and use the copper treatment simultaneously for faster results. 

Lastly, like most fish, frontosa aren’t immune to flukes, worm infestations, bacterial infection, and fungal infection. 

Conclusion: Frontosa Cichlid Care Guide 

So, are frontosas the right choice for you? We hope this guide helped you decide on that! But, I’ll be honest – frontosas are a big responsibility. They need a minimum tank size of 125 gallons, to say the least! 

But if you’re down to raise these excellent fish, I’m sure you’ll have a gratifying experience. I mean, not all fish greet their owners or eat right from their hands, right?

Previously, these fish were hard to buy and expensive. Today, they’re easily found in both online and offline stores at reasonable prices. The price varies depending on the fish’s age, coloration, and size. Usually, wild specimens are costlier than their captive counterparts. 

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rohit gurung author at urbanfishkeeping

About Rohit Gurung

My never-ending love and fascination with Aquascaping started when I received a red-eared turtle for my 10th birthday.

Apart from researching and writing, I spend hours gazing at my 3 turtles. And yeah, I bask alongside them too.