Discovering Buffalo Head Cichlid: Care and Keeping

Buffalo head cichlid (Steatocranus casuarius) got its name due to the huge hump on a male’s forehead. Nowadays, such specific features can be seen among many fishes (for example, flowerhorn) but earlier it was rather unusual. However, this cichlids also differ from others in the way they swim.

Habitat in the wild

The buffalo head cichlid belongs to the family Cichlidae. This family is one of the largest and most diverse families of freshwater fishes, comprising hundreds of species. Cichlids are known for their unique behaviors, interesting coloration, and wide distribution across various freshwater habitats, mainly found in Africa, South America, Central America, and parts of Asia.

The family Cichlidae is further divided into numerous genera, each containing multiple species. Steatocranus is the genus to which the buffalo head cichlid (Steatocranus casuarius) belongs. Within this genus, there are several other cichlid species, each with its own specific characteristics and geographic distribution.

Fish was first described by Poll in 1939. Buffalo head cichlid inhabits in Africa from Malebo Lake to the Congo River Basin. Especially the fish prefers Malebo Pool which is located higher then Victoria Waterfall. In its natural habitat, this species inhabits slow-moving or stagnant waters with rocky substrates and plenty of hiding spots. The water in these regions tends to be relatively warm and has a slightly acidic to neutral pH.

Typically, you can find buffalo head cichlids in areas with slow currents, where they can find shelter among rocks, crevices, and submerged tree roots. These hiding spots are essential for them to establish territories and seek protection from potential predators.

The aquatic vegetation in their native environment may be sparse, and the water may be somewhat turbid due to the presence of organic material. In these conditions, buffalo head cichlids have adapted to their surroundings and developed behaviors and coloration that help them survive and thrive.

The fish leans on a bottom as peacock gudgeon do and swims jerkily which doesn’t look like the way the majority of fishes swim. This is due to the fact that in the wild inhabit in the basins with fast and strong water flow. The lionhead cichlid under fins act as supports and its swim bladder has decreased in size significantly to make it heavier and thereby the fish can resist the water flow strength.



Lionhead cichlid has an elongated body with big head and blue eyes. Male has a nuchal bump on its head and it develops with age. The body color is olive-green with some brown, blue or gray inclusions. Nowadays, dark-blue species can be seen.


Average size of lionhead cichlid male is 11 cm and female is 8 cm long, but larger species also can be encountered – they are up to 15 cm long. This makes them a suitable choice for smaller aquarium setups, but it’s still essential to provide them with enough space and appropriate tank mates to ensure their well-being and reduce any potential territorial behaviors. As with most fish species, individual sizes can slightly vary, but the size range mentioned above is typical for adult buffalo head cichlids.


In captivity, when provided with proper care and suitable conditions, buffalo head cichlids can live for about 5 to 8 years on average. Regular water changes, proper filtration, and monitoring water parameters are essential aspects of their care that can impact their longevity.

Scientific NameSteatocranus casuarius
Common NameLionhead cichlid, buffalo head cichlid, buffalo head fish, blockhead cichlid
OriginWest Africa, rivers and streams of Nigeria and Cameroon
SizeApproximately 3 to 4 inches (7 to 10 centimeters)
LifespanAround 5 to 8 years in captivity
HabitatSlow-moving or stagnant waters with rocky substrates
Preferred pH6.5 to 7.5
Preferred Temperature74°F to 78°F (23°C to 26°C)
BehaviorTerritorial and can be somewhat aggressive
DietOmnivorous, feeding on small invertebrates and plant matter
ColorationBrown, gray, or black with various spots and patterns
Aquarium SetupPlenty of hiding spots, caves, rocks, and driftwood
Tank MatesCompatible with other peaceful cichlids and similar-sized fish with caution
BreedingMaternal mouthbrooders, females carry eggs and fry in their mouths

Difficulties in keeping

Max size is about 11 cm, so it is rather small and therefore it’s good for the aquarists who deal with small capacity tanks. The fish isn’t demanding to water hardness and pH, but it is to the water purity and oxygen content in it (keep in mind that the fish lives in fast and pure streams in the wild).

It is rather good-tempered to its tank mates so it can be kept in a community tank with other fast fishes that inhabit in the middle water layers.

Care and keeping in a tank

Tank size

For a single buffalo head cichlid or a pair, a minimum tank size of 20 to 30 gallons (75 to 113 liters) can be suitable. However, it’s important to note that these fish do best when kept in small groups. A group of 4 to 6 individuals would ideally require a larger tank of at least 55 to 75 gallons (208 to 284 liters) to provide enough space and minimize aggression.

The larger tank size not only provides more swimming space but also allows for the establishment of territories, which can help reduce stress and aggressive behaviors among the cichlids. Additionally, having plenty of hiding spots, caves, and rocky structures within the tank will help create distinct territories and minimize conflicts.

Water parameters

Maintaining appropriate water parameters is crucial for the health and well-being of buffalo head cichlids in an aquarium. Here are the recommended water parameters for these cichlids:

  1. Temperature: 74°F to 78°F (23°C to 26°C) is the ideal temperature range for buffalo head cichlids. This temperature range simulates their native West African habitat and supports their overall health and natural behaviors.
  2. pH Level: Buffalo head cichlids prefer slightly acidic to neutral water conditions. Aim for a pH range of 6.5 to 7.5. Regularly monitoring and maintaining the pH within this range will help keep the fish stress-free and encourage breeding behaviors if you have a compatible pair.
  3. Hardness: The general hardness (GH) and carbonate hardness (KH) levels in the aquarium should be moderate to slightly hard. Aim for a GH of 4 to 10 dGH and a KH of 2 to 8 dKH. These levels can be achieved through the use of appropriate substrates and occasional water changes.
  4. Ammonia and Nitrite: Ammonia and nitrite are toxic to fish and should be maintained at zero. Regularly test the water for these parameters, especially during the initial cycling of the aquarium, and ensure that the filtration system is functioning properly to process these toxins.
  5. Nitrate: Nitrate is a byproduct of the nitrogen cycle and is less harmful than ammonia and nitrite but can still be detrimental at high levels. Aim to keep nitrate levels below 20-30 ppm through regular partial water changes.
  6. Filtration and Aeration: Regular water renew and syphonage of the bottom are also required. Fish isn’t very demanding to the water content, but the fish needs strong water flow and the water with high oxygen content, so a powerful and high quality filter is necessary. It’s desirable that the filter creates strong water flow which will remind the fish about its natural habitat. Good water aeration is also important.


For buffalo head cichlids, the ideal substrate in their aquarium should mimic their natural habitat, which typically consists of sandy or fine gravel riverbeds with rocky areas. Avoid using coarse or sharp substrates that may harm the fish as they dig and explore.


Buffalo head cichlids appreciate a rocky setup with plenty of caves and crevices. These rocks can be arranged to create hiding spots and territories for the fish. Make sure the rocks are stable and won’t collapse on the fish.

Sadly, this cichlid is a reticent one, it likes hiding and you can watch it rather seldom. The main part of the time you will observe its big-forehead head sticking out from a cover.


Buffalo head cichlids are omnivorous fish, which means they eat a varied diet consisting of both animal and plant matter. In their natural habitat, they primarily feed on small invertebrates, insects, crustaceans, and some plant material.

In a home aquarium, it’s important to provide a balanced diet to keep these cichlids healthy and thriving. A good diet for buffalo head cichlids may include:

  1. High-quality cichlid pellets or flakes: Look for pellets or flakes specifically formulated for cichlids. These should be a staple part of their diet and provide essential nutrients.
  2. Frozen or live foods: Offer them occasional treats of frozen or live foods like brine shrimp, bloodworms, daphnia, and small insects. These foods are rich in protein and can help mimic their natural diet.
  3. Vegetables: Supplement their diet with some vegetable matter, such as blanched spinach, peas, or zucchini. Some buffalo head cichlids will graze on algae in the tank, but providing additional vegetable options is beneficial.
  4. High-quality cichlid pellets or flakes: Look for pellets or flakes specifically formulated for cichlids. These should be a staple part of their diet and provide essential nutrients.
  5. Variety: Offering a varied diet is essential to ensure they get all the necessary nutrients. Rotate between different types of foods to provide a balanced and nutritious diet.

It’s essential to avoid overfeeding buffalo head cichlids, as they can be prone to obesity and related health issues. Feed them only what they can consume in a few minutes, and observe their behavior to adjust the feeding frequency as needed.

Tank mates

It is rather good-tempered to other fishes in a community tank. The main requirement is for the buffalo head cichlid not to have any competitors in the water bottom layers. Ideal tank mate is a fish that prefers upper or middle water layers. At that the fish shouldn’t be small so the cichlid won’t swallow it.

Lionhead cichlid can be kept with other not large sized cichlids, – for example, it can be firemouth cichlid or convict cichlid. But the tank has to be spacious enough in this case.

This cichlid forms a stable couple, so it often happens that the fish which has lost its match refuses to spawn with another fish. As for attitude to other cichlid fishes – they are territory-dependent ones, especially during their spawning period.

Gender differences: male vs female

Distinguishing between male and female buffalo head cichlids can be a bit challenging when they are young or not in breeding condition. However, as they mature and approach breeding age, some physical and behavioral differences become more apparent. Here are some characteristics that can help differentiate between male and female buffalo head cichlids:

  1. Size: In many cichlid species, males tend to be slightly larger than females. This size difference may become more noticeable as the fish reach sexual maturity.
  2. Coloration: During the breeding season, male buffalo head cichlids may exhibit more vibrant and intense coloration compared to females. They might develop brighter hues and patterns to attract potential mates.
  3. Fin shape: Males may have more elongated and pointed dorsal and anal fins compared to females. Females’ fins, on the other hand, tend to be more rounded.
  4. Body shape: Some mature male buffalo head cichlids may display a more pronounced hump or forehead than females, leading to the “buffalo-like” appearance that gives the fish its common name.
  5. Behavior: During breeding, males may become more territorial and aggressive, particularly when defending their chosen breeding sites or courting females. Females might display a more submissive behavior during this period.
  6. Breeding tubes: In some species of cichlids, males have a genital papilla called a “breeding tube” that is more visible and pointed compared to the less prominent and rounded breeding tube in females. However, this may not be as easily distinguishable in all cichlid species, including the buffalo head cichlid.

It’s important to note that while these characteristics can be indicative of the sex of buffalo head cichlids, they are not foolproof methods. Sometimes, the differences between males and females can be subtle, and the best way to identify their sex with greater certainty is through experienced observation as they mature and display more distinct behaviors and physical traits.


This cichlid species are described as ones that spawn on a substrate, but it doesn’t happen often. Lionhead cichlid usually lays the eggs in a pit, but not always on a substrate. They often spawn in nooks and cracks of rocks, however, the eggs without a sticky shell can’t be attached to the walls.

A good option is to keep buffalo head cichlid in a tank with other fishes, since co-inhabitance of several species only stimulates natural behavior during the spawning period and awakes parental instincts of lionhead cichlid.

However, to maximize the number of survived juveniles it’s better to remove the fish couple into the spawning tank.

It is rather difficult to see the courtship behavior of blockhead cichlid since it happens in a cave. Because of that the majority of aquarists doesn’t know that they have juveniles in a tank until they swim out of the cave.

The lionhead cichlid couple chooses the cave itself and breeds only there. Generally, female stays inside the cave and the male stays outside and guards the territory.

When the male is ready to breed starts to brag in front of the female – he pushes the female from a side and this way he incites her to breed. When the female is ready to spawn the couple gets into the cave where they lay the eggs and fertilize them.

The female lays about 50-100 eggs depending her size. In about 3 days the juveniles appear from the eggs. But sadly, they can’t be seen because they are hidden in the cave.

Juveniles are rather simple in feeding. They eat науплий артемии as well as flakes and granules which are more preferable. Any type of the feed should lay down on the tank bottom. If water parameters are optimal and juveniles diet is balanced they will grow rather fast.