Lionhead cichlid or buffalo head cichlid care guide

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

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.

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.

Scientific NameSteatocranus casuarius
Common NamesLionhead cichlid, buffalo head cichlid, buffalo head fish, blockhead cichlid
Ease of keepingEasy
Lifespan10 years and more
Tank size100 liters (25 US gallons) and more
TemperamentPeaceful but territorial
Tank typeCommunity of large fishes
Temperature75–81 °F (24–27 °C)
Water hardness9–20 dGH
SizeUp to 10 centimetres (3.9 in)


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.

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

Starting capacity of a tank should be from about 25 US gallons or 95 liters. It’s important to control water purity and content of nitrates and ammonia in it.

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. Lionhead cichlid don’t care for the plants presence in a tank, but it can dig the bottom, so it’s better to keep the plants (if any) in flowerpots.

However, still the fish likes digging the tank bottom and change the tank interior as it prefers better. For the fish comfort it’s good to have lots of covers in the tank.

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.


In the wild feeds on different insects and benthos. In a tank it eats both live and frozen feed, as well as branded cichlid feed. In general, the fish isn’t troublesome or demanding as for the feeding.

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

It’s easy to see between male and female at the condition that they are reproductive. The female is smaller in size and the male has a hump on its head.


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.