Frontosa Fish Care: A Comprehensive and Beginner-Friendly Guide

Frontosa cichlid (Cyphotilapia frontosa) is a very beautiful freshwater fish and it’s very popular among cichlid-fans. Etymology of the fish name Cyphotilapia is the following: Cypho from Greek means a “hunchback” and Tilapia when translated from the local dialect means “fish”.The translation of the specific name from Latin means “with a big forehead”. Frontosa are perfect for the experienced aquarists. Fish is large with very nice, deep and contrastive coloring.

Habitat in the wild

The frontosa family refers to a group of fish species belonging to the Cichlidae family, specifically from the genus Cyphotilapia. The most well-known and popular member of this family is the Cyphotilapia frontosa, commonly known as the frontosa cichlid.

Frontosa are native to Lake Tanganyika, which is located in East Africa, bordered by Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, and Burundi. Lake Tanganyika is the second deepest lake in the world and is known for its incredible biodiversity, including a wide variety of cichlid species.

In their natural habitat, unlike other cichlid fish which like living in covers and rocks, frontosa cichlid prefers to live in a big colonies along the rocky coasts of the lake. They inhabit both the shallow and deeper waters, typically staying close to rocky outcrops, drop-offs, and sandy substrates. These areas provide them with shelter, hiding spots, and places to establish territories.

Lake Tanganyika has a diverse range of habitats, including rocky shorelines, sandy bottoms, and areas with submerged vegetation. Frontosa cichlids are often found near rocky structures where they can establish territories and create spawning sites. They are known to dig pits in the sandy substrates for breeding purposes.

In terms of water parameters, Lake Tanganyika has relatively high mineral content, with pH ranging from 7.8 to 9.0 and water temperatures around 24-27°C (75-81°F). It is home to a variety of fish species, with cichlids being one of the dominant groups. Frontosa cichlids coexist with other cichlid species in their natural habitat, and their behaviors and interactions are influenced by the complex ecosystem of the lake.

Nowadays cichlid can be easily found on sale due to its successful fish-farming.


Frontosa cichlids have a deep-bodied shape, which means their body is tall and elongated rather than flat. This gives them a robust and powerful appearance. The body color can vary between grey blue and grey white, also there is a black colored type of fish. The head and fins have bluish coloring and there are 6-7 vertical black stripes of different width on the body sides. The exact pattern and intensity of the stripes and spots can differ depending on the geographic variant or locality.

One of the most prominent features of Frontosa cichlids is their humped forehead. The forehead bulges outward, creating a distinctive profile. The size and shape of the forehead can vary between individuals. The hump develops on the forehead once the fish is more then 10 cm long. Male has a larger hump then the female. With aging the forehead bump becomes larger and it also indicates age and strength.

The older the frontosa cichlid is, the darker is its coloring and the longer are its fins. The mature male dorsal and pectoral fin have kind of stings at their ends. The female fins are relatively short. The dorsal fin, located on the fish’s back, is elongated and extends along a significant portion of the body. The anal fin, located on the ventral side, is also elongated but shorter than the dorsal fin. The pectoral and pelvic fins are relatively small in comparison.

How big do frontosa get?

Frontosa cichlids (Cyphotilapia frontosa) can grow to be quite large, especially the males. On average, adult males can reach a size of about 14-16 inches (35-40 cm) in length from the tip of the nose to the end of the tail. Females tend to be slightly smaller, reaching lengths of up to 10 inches (25 cm).

As Frontosa cichlids are known for their deep-bodied shape, they can also have a significant weight to match their size. Large males can weigh several pounds, further emphasizing their impressive presence in an aquarium.

How fast do frontosa grow?

Frontosa cichlids have a relatively slow growth rate compared to many other aquarium fish. Their growth rate can be influenced by various factors, including genetics, diet, water conditions, tank size, and overall care.

On average, it can take Frontosa cichlids several years to reach their adult size. They typically experience a growth spurt during their first year of life, and their growth rate gradually slows down as they get older. They can reach a length of 2-3 inches (5-8 cm) in their first 6 months. By the time they are 1 year old, they can reach a length of 4-6 inches (10-15 cm). After that, their growth rate slows down a bit, but they will continue to grow until they reach their maximum size. However, as they mature, their growth rate tends to slow down, and they may only gain a fraction of an inch per year.

Here is a table of the average size of Frontosa cichlids at different ages:

6 months2-3 inches (5-8 cm)
1 year4-6 inches (10-15 cm)
2 years6-8 inches (15-20 cm)
3 years8-10 inches (20-25 cm)
4 years10-12 inches (25-30 cm)
5 years12-14 inches (30-35 cm)
6 years and up14-16 inches (35-40 cm)

How long do frontosa live?

Frontosa cichlids have a relatively long lifespan compared to many other aquarium fish. With proper care and a suitable environment, Frontosa can live for 15 to 20 years or even longer. Some individuals have been reported to live well into their twenties. However, the lifespan of a Frontosa cichlid is determined by a number of factors, including genetics, diet, and water quality.

It’s important to note that individual variations can occur, and not all cichlids will reach their maximum lifespan. Additionally, certain health issues or stress factors can impact their lifespan. Monitoring their behavior, ensuring proper care, and addressing any issues promptly can help promote a long and healthy life for frontosa cichlids in captivity.

Scientific NameCyphotilapia frontosa
Common NamesFrontosa cichlid, Frontosa
SizeMales: Up to 14-16 inches (35-40 cm)
Females: Up to 10 inches (25 cm)
Lifespan15-20 years or longer with proper care
Body ShapeDeep-bodied and elongated
ForeheadProminent humped forehead
ColorationBlue-black body with white or blue stripes and spots
BehaviorGenerally peaceful, but can be territorial and aggressive if crowded or during breeding
HabitatLake Tanganyika, East Africa
Preferred Water ParametersTemperature: 24-27°C (75-81°F)
pH: 7.8-9.0
Hardness: 8-12 dH
DietPiscivorous in the wild, but can be fed high-quality pellets supplemented with occasional live or frozen foods
Breeding MethodMouthbrooders, females hold eggs in their mouths until hatching
Conservation StatusNot evaluated, but stable populations exist in their natural habitat

Types of frontosa

Within the species Cyphotilapia frontosa, there can be regional variations in coloration and patterning due to geographic isolation within Lake Tanganyika. These variations are often referred to as “variants” or “localities” and are highly valued by enthusiasts.

Types of coloring

  • Burundi — the body is pale blue with 5 vertical black bands, the 6th one goes from the forehead along the eye to the opercle insertion.
  • Blue Zaire Kapampa — the fish has saturated moderately blue colored fins. The body upper part and nape are opalescent. The dark band between the eyes reaches the mouth. The pelvic fin and light vertical bands are also moderately blue colored.
  • Kavalla — the fish has 5 bands and yellowish membranes on the dorsal.
  • Kigoma — has 6 bands, dark blue cheeks which can transform to almost black. The dorsal is yellowish. The vertical bands are white or white and blue. The band going over the eye is rather stumped and it looks almost like a stain. Dorsal and fluke membranes are yellowish.
  • Kipili – is a 5-striped type of fish that simultaneously has black opercles just like Kigoma has and a horizontal stripe between the eyes – just like Blue Sambia has.
  • Blue Mpimbwe — its head and fins are blue, besides with aging the color becomes more saturated and bright. Blue color of these collective species is something in the middle between Burundi and Nord Congo fish types color.
  • Nord Congo — the body color is pale blue with 5 vertical bands, the 6th one goes from the forehead along the eye to the opercle insertions.
  • Blue Sambia — the head and fins are blue, the bands on the body are light colored set off with blue. There is a distinct dark band between the eyes.
  • Moba Zaire — the color varies from ultramarine to light violet.
Cyphotilapia Frontosa Burundi
Cyphotilapia Frontosa Karilani
Cyphotilapia frontosa var. Red
Cyphotilapia Frontosa Black Widow
Cyphotilapia Frontosa Ikola “Lightning Blue”
Cyphotilapia Frontosa Blue Zaire Moliro
Cyphotilapia frontosa Kipili blue
Cyphotilapia frontosa Blue Zaire Kitumba
Cyphotilapia frontosa Blue Zaire Moba
Cyphotilapia frontosa Kavala
Cyphotilapia frontosa Kigoma

Difficulties in keeping

Is a fish for experienced aquarists, since the frontosa cichlid requires a spacious tank with clean water and frequent water renew and also tank mates should be chosen correctly.

This is one of the most calm cichlids that can be even kept with other large fishes, however as any large raptorial feeder and it’ll feed on small fish. Frontosa cichlid is a slow fish which doesn’t keep it from being Lake Tanganyika queen cichlid and raptorial feeder. In the wild cichlid spends a little energy to stalk its prey. These fish advantage is that they are nocturnal feeders and they don’t need a lot of light.


Frontosa cichlid are primarily piscivorous in the wild, meaning they feed on other smaller fish, but in a tank their diet can be varied to ensure proper nutrition.

Of course, live food is preferable. Diet can consist of prawns, earthworm, small fish (fresh or frozen one), but don’t feed it with a bloodworm. It is beneficial to supplement their diet with occasional live or frozen foods to provide additional nutrients and variety. Suitable options include brine shrimp, bloodworms, daphnia, and small feeder fish (such as small guppies). These can be offered as occasional treats or as a part of their regular feeding routine.

The primary component of a frontosa’s diet in captivity should be high-quality, protein-rich pellets specifically formulated for cichlids. Look for pellets that contain a balanced blend of animal proteins, vitamins, and minerals.

Frontosa cichlids are not overly active feeders, so it is best to feed them once or twice a day, offering an amount of food they can consume within a few minutes. Overfeeding should be avoided as it can lead to obesity and health issues.

Care and keeping in a tank

Tank size

Frontosa cichlids are large fish and require a spacious tank to accommodate their size and behavior. A larger tank not only provides adequate swimming space but also helps to reduce territorial conflicts among the fish. Here are some general guidelines for frontosa tank size:

  1. Minimum Tank Size: For a single fFrontosa cichlid or a small group of juveniles, a minimum tank size of 75 gallons (284 liters) is recommended. However, keep in mind that this is the minimum requirement, and providing a larger tank is always better.
  2. Group Size: Frontosa cichlids are social fish and tend to do well when kept in groups. If you plan to keep a group of adult frontosa cichlids, a larger tank is necessary. Ideally, a tank size of 125 gallons (473 liters) or more is recommended for a group of 4-6 adult cichlids.
  3. Tank Dimensions: In addition to the tank’s volume, consider the tank’s dimensions. Frontosa cichlids appreciate a tank with a length of at least 4 feet (120 cm) to allow for their elongated body and swimming behavior.
  4. Vertical Space: Frontosa cichlids have a deep-bodied shape and appreciate vertical swimming space. Consider the height of the tank to provide enough vertical swimming area. A tank with a height of 20-24 inches (50-60 cm) or more can accommodate their needs.

Water parameters

Lake Tanganyika is considered to be the second largest lake in the world which means that its water temperature and pH changes are rather small and the environment is a rather stable one. All Lake Tanganyika cichlids require a stable temperature and high amount of oxygen dissolved in the water.

Apart from the fact that a frequent water renew is needed also a powerful canister filter should be installed on a tank, since all types of cichlids are rather sensitive to water purity and parameters. All these measures increase water breathing and saturate the water with oxygen which is important for fish that in the wild inhabits in the water rich with dissolved oxygen.

So, even though you have a good powerful filter the additional aeration won’t hurt.

The ideal temperature for keeping is 22–30 °C (72–86 °F). Also the water in the lake is rather hard (12-14° dGH) and acidulous (pH 8.0-8.5 ). Such parameters are troublesome to maintain for aquarists who live in the areas with very low hardness water and therefore they have to take some measures to make the water more hard, for example, they add coral pebbles into the tank.

Besides, it’s necessary to check the water quality using tests and to avoid overfeed and overpopulation of the fish.

Frontosa cichlids survives rather good in a tank if the water is close to all above mentioned parameters. At that it’s important that water parameters don’t change abruptly, water should be renewed frequently with small portions.

Tank decor

Plants in aquarium are of little importance, but you can put some stiff-leaved and large types of plants in it. Frontosa cichlids are not known for heavily interacting with plants, adding some hardy and robust plants can provide visual interest and enrichment. Consider using Java ferns, Anubias, or Vallisneria, as these plants can tolerate the higher pH and alkaline conditions preferred by frontosa cichlids. Be aware that cichlids may uproot or damage plants, so secure them firmly or use plant-safe weights.

Frontosa cichlids are bottom-dwelling fish, and a sandy substrate mimics their natural habitat. Use fine-grained sand as the substrate, which allows them to sift and dig without injuring themselves. Sand is the best choice for the bottom layer, also some covers are required in a tank, for example, big rocks or snags.

Despite cichlid size it’s a bit timid and it likes to hide. Frontosa cichlids naturally inhabit rocky coastal areas in Lake Tanganyika, so incorporating plenty of rocks and caves in the aquarium is essential. These structures provide hiding spots, territories, and breeding areas for the fish. Use sturdy rocks to create cave-like structures and arrange them in a way that allows for open swimming spaces.

So, make sure that all rocks are hard enough and when this large fish tries to hide using them they won’t fall.

Tank mates

In general the fish isn’t very aggressive. But it’s a territory-dependent one so it guards its territory rather fervently, therefore it’s better to keep fish alone in a tank without any tank mates. Of course, it shouldn’t be forgotten that it’s a raptorial feeder and it’ll feed on any fish that it can swallow. So, still it’s perfect to keep frontosa cichlid separately from other fishes, in a small school – one male and three females or in a big school – 8-12 fish.

Here are some suitable tank mate options for frontosa cichlids:

  1. Other Frontosa Cichlids: Keeping multiple Frontosa cichlids together can work well, especially if you have a larger tank. It’s best to keep them in groups of six or more to spread out aggression and establish a natural hierarchy. However, be prepared for potential territorial disputes and ensure adequate space and hiding spots.
  2. Lake Tanganyika Cichlids: Selecting other cichlid species native to Lake Tanganyika can be a good choice. These include other peaceful or semi-aggressive species such as Julidochromis, Neolamprologus, or Altolamprologus. It’s important to research the specific requirements and temperaments of the species you choose to ensure compatibility.
  3. Synodontis Catfish: Some Synodontis catfish species, such as Upside-down catfish or Pictus catfish, can coexist with frontosa cichlids. These catfish are bottom-dwellers and can help keep the tank clean while avoiding direct competition with frontosa cichlids.
  4. Larger African Tetras: Some larger African tetra species, like Congo tetras (Phenacogrammus interruptus), can be considered as tank mates for Frontosa cichlids. These fish have a similar size and can handle themselves well in a cichlid community.
  5. Other Large, Peaceful Species: In a spacious tank with appropriate hiding spots, you can consider other large, peaceful species such as Silver Dollars (Metynnis spp.), Giant Gourami, or certain larger barb species like Tinfoil Barbs (Barbonymus schwanenfeldii). It’s crucial to ensure the tank mates are not overly aggressive or prone to fin-nipping.

When introducing new tank mates, monitor their interactions closely for signs of aggression or stress. Be prepared to make adjustments if any conflicts arise. It’s recommended to have a backup plan or a separate tank available in case certain tank mates need to be separated.

Sex differences: frontosa male vs female

Here are some general characteristics that can help differentiate between male and female frontosa cichlids:

  1. Size: Males tend to grow larger than females. Adult males can reach sizes of about 14-16 inches (35-40 cm) in length, while females are slightly smaller, reaching lengths of up to 10 inches (25 cm).
  2. Body Shape: Males typically have a more elongated and slender body shape compared to the females, who often have a slightly rounder and fuller body.
  3. Forehead Hump: Males generally have a more pronounced and larger forehead hump compared to females. The hump on males becomes more prominent as they mature.
  4. Coloration: In terms of coloration, both males and females exhibit a blue-black body with white or blue stripes and spots. However, some individuals may exhibit more vibrant or intense coloration than others. There can be variations in the specific patterns and intensity of the stripes and spots, depending on the geographic variant or locality.
  5. Behavior: Males often display more territorial and aggressive behavior, especially during breeding periods. They may exhibit dominance and attempt to establish and defend territories within the aquarium. Females, on the other hand, are generally less aggressive but can still display some territorial behavior, especially when breeding.

To determine the sex of frontosa cichlids more accurately, some enthusiasts look for additional characteristics, such as the shape of the genital papilla or the presence of an egg tube in females. However, these methods require a trained eye and can be challenging to observe in some individuals.


One should be patient enough to make frontosa breed, since the fish becomes reproductive only at the age of 3. Spawning pond should be large in capacity – 400 liters and more, with rocks and covers for the male to find a territory.

However, frontosa can also spawn in a community tank. Water pH should be about 8, hardness 10° dGH, temperature 25 – 28 °C.

During the breeding process male moves his fluke down and so in fact he shows a female where to breed. After laying the egg the female takes it into her mouth and gets some milt from the male.

The egg is fertilized in the mouth.

Frontosa cichlid breeds around the whole tank and this makes it different from Malawi cichlids, which spawn around the one chosen area. Female can lay up to 80 eggs 6-7 cm in diameter.

The egg stage is from 40 to 54 days. In 40 days juveniles start leaving their mother’s mouth since by this time they are rather large and independent.

Juveniles have the same coloring as the mature fish but it’s a bit lighter. The juveniles can be fed with baby brine shrimp.