Blue dolphin cichlid care guide

Blue dolphin cichlid (lat. Cyrtocara moorii) is an unusual tank fish which came from Malawi Lake in Africa. Blue dolphin cichlidis rather popular among cichlid-fans first of all due to its bright-blue color and also to its unusual body shape with a big bump on the fish head.

Habitation in the wild

Cyrtocara moorii was discovered and described by Boulanger in 1902. African Malawi Lake endemic is rather spread through all the lake. It can be seen in the coastal regions 3-15 meters deep, it inhabits in the coastal biotopes with sandy bottom and performs feeding migrations along the coastline.

Blue dolphin cichlid forms stable multiple aged and intergroup communities. In the wild usually one male takes a dominant position and the rest of the fish has a dependent position. They are peaceful enough, but males can be rather aggressive to each other and it’s better to keep them in a harem consisting of one male and 3-4 females.

Such a harem inhabits in its own territory which is thoroughly guarded only during the spawning period. However, during the rest of time blue dolphin is more tolerate. There are some evidences that Cyrtocara moorii used to join some other species with alike habits and they used to feed together.

Scientific NameCyrtocara moorii
Common NamesBlue dolphin cichlid; hap moorii; moori fish; dolphin moorii
Range and habitatLake Malawi in east Africa
Size25 cm (10 in)
Lifespan10 years
Ease of keepingMedium
Minimum tank size250 liters and more
Temperature21–27 °C (70–81 °F)
Water hardness5-25 dGH


At that blue dolphin cichlid isn’t a small fish at all. Max size can be 25 cm and longer. Blue dolphin cichlid can live to about 10 years. It is a big fish with elongated body and with a head somehow reminding a dolphin that’s how the fish got its name.

Body is elongated and stocky with a hump on its head and its snout is a bit pointed. Body color is blue with different number of black spots on the fins depending on the cichlid habitat.

When becoming older both males and females develop so called lump (also referred to as nuchal bump or hump) on their forehead. When the fish skirmish their fins and neck color changes up to almost black and the body color changes to bright blue.

Difficulties in keeping

Keeping in a tank is rather easy under the condition that they live in a spacious aquarium with clean water that has stable parameters and the aquarium is designed appropriately. It’s better to design it as a biotop with a sandy bottom that has a big number of rocks and different covers which leave enough space for the fish to swim.

Is a fish to be recommended both to experienced and advanced aquarists. The blue dolphin cichlid isn’t the one for amateurs since it requires a spacious tank, frequent water renew and correctly chosen tank mates.

Although the fish is rather peaceful they aren’t good for a community tank. The best tank mates are some other Malawi fish types or african catfishes.

Care and keeping in a tank

Tank size

The main requirement when caring for the blue dolphin is a tank capacity. Its volume has to be at least 200-250 liters otherwise the fish would feel uncomfortable. Besides, in the big tanks fish can reach max size about 15-20 cm, if the tank is smaller the fish will be smaller correspondingly.

Also the main feature of male its big forehead won’t develop enough in a small tank. The covers are necessary, but the space for swimming should also be enough. Fish inhabits mainly in middle and low water layers.

Tank decor

As for the tank design – the bottom is better to be sandy where fish likes to dig. They don’t need any plants since they either dig them out or eat them.

It’s better to add lots of big rocks, snags and other types of covers in a tank. Also it’s recommended to keep blue dolphin cichlid in a species tank, since the fish is rather timid. In general, the fish is peaceful enough, though the males can sometimes have fights as for their dominance.

It’s desirable to have more females than males in a tank: for example, one male and two females or two females and three males.

Cichlid has a specific manner of behavior: it’s not fussy and its movements are slow. In Malawi Lake water parameters change insignificantly, plus the water is very hard and it has alkali reaction.

Water parameters

Optimal parameters for blue dolphin cichlid keeping are the following: pH 7.0-8.0, 10 – 25 dGH, the temperature 21–27 °C (70–81 °F).


As for the feeding type blue dolphin cichlid is closer to benthos feeders, but it doesn’t have a strict specialization in feed. Along with worms of benthic spineless the blue dolphin also feeds on organic debris, different kinds of drifting life and soft supreme phreatophyte.

In the tank eats all types of feed – artificial, live, frozen, plant one. But the feed should have high contain of proteins, for example, blood worms or brine shrimp, earthworms.

Tank mates

It’s a rather quiet cichlid, but the fish is sure not for the community tank. They are good tank mates for with the fish of equal size, but smaller fish is treated only as feed.

Blue dolphin cichlid can inhabit together with other Malawi fishes, but it’s desirable to avoid mbuna, because its very aggressive and disquiet. It’s good to have frontosa cichlid and big african like sailfin pleco as tank mates.

Gender differences: male vs female

The hump gradually develops on the forehead of cichlid males and females. Males are more often larger and brighter. It’s easier to distinguish a male from female by its indicative vertical stripes the number of which varies from 4 to 7 stripes.

The blue dolphin cichlid female can have several black marks on its body instead of the stripes. Also this cichlid male fluke is blue and the female one has red marks on it. With the age male forehead becomes yellowish.


They are polygamous, they create a family consisting of a male and several females. There can be 3-6 females for one male. Since the gender of a fish is difficult to be defined, the best way is to create a harem of 10 juveniles and grow them together.

The blue dolphin cichlid juveniles become reproductive when reaching the body length 12-15 cm and then they should be separated. Water parameters for breeding are the following: hardness 5 -20°, pH 7.5-9.0, temperature 25 – 28 °C. The couple takes part in spawning.

Male becomes rather aggressive when protecting its territory, as for the female it becomes timid (when it gets scared it can swallow the eggs) therefore it should be protected from stress.

The blue dolphin cichlid female breeds on a flat rock or into the hole dug by the male in advance, or just on the bottom. The female breeds 1-3 eggs in a time, then she takes them into her mouth and gets to the male anal fin to fertilize them.

The fruitfulness of the couple is from 20 to 90 eggs. The female carries eggs in its mouth for 21 days. During this period the female doesn’t eat a thing and it can get weak, therefore some aquarists try to grow the eggs in an incubator. To do so they take a spawned-out female and release the eggs from her mouth.

They put the eggs into the tank with clean water, soft lights and water passage. The water should have the same parameters that the one in the big tank.

On the 7th day the blue dolphin cichlid juveniles start going outside and feed, but hey hide back into the female mouth with the slightest sign of danger or for the night time. Start feed is brine shrimp eggs.

The juveniles from the beginning are silver colored with black stripes and than when reaching 4-5 cm in size they become blue and grow very slowly.