Frontosa cichlid care 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.

Habitation in the wild

Frontosa cichlid was first described in 1906. Inhabits in Lake Tanganyika in Africa where the fish is rather spread. Unlike other cichlid fish which like living in covers and rocks frontosa cichlid prefers to live in a big colonies along the sandy coasts of the lake.

The frontosa cichlid inhabits almost trough all Lake Tanganyika but they always prefer depth about 10-50 meters, which is rather deep in the water. This fact made frontosa fishing not such an easy task, therefore during several years the fish was rather rare and expensive.

Nowadays cichlid can be easily found on sale due to its successful fish-farming. Feeds on fish, shellfish and other spineless species.

Scientific NameCyphotilapia frontosa
Common NamesFrontosa cichlid; frontosa fish
Ease of keepingMedium
Lifespan10 years and more
Tank size110 gallon (500 liters)
Tank typeCommunity of large fishes
Temperature22–30 °C (72–86 °F)
Water hardness12–14 dGH
SizeUp to 14 inches (35 cm)

Description and types

Frontosa cichlid has a high and elongated body, flat on both sides. In a tank max size can be up to 30 cm, however the female size is rather small – about 25 cm long. In the nature is larger with an average size 35 cm, though there are species over 40 cm long. Lifespan can be about 20 years.

The cranial 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 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 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.

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 is a carnivore fish type, but in a tank it can be fed with dry feed. 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.

When being fed with a bloodworm fish bowel gets inflated, motion coordination suffers and the fish floats to the water surface. Granules and flakes can serve as an additional feed, though flakes are better for juveniles, since large mature fish may ignore such feed type.

Frontosa cichlid tends to overfeed and lipotrophy, that’s why it’s desirable to introduce a hunger day for it once a week. Also the fish is rather demanding as for the feed quality.

Care and keeping in a tank

Tank size

It is a large and slow fish that swims around all the tank and needs it to be rather spacious. For one cichlid the tank capacity should be 300 liters, but it’s better to keep them in groups of 4 fish.

For such a group the required tank capacity is 110 gallons and more.

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. 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. 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.

Also it’s a slow fish and it eats slow, too. Quite often Malawi cichlids can be tank mates, but such tank mates are very stressful ones.They are active, fast, and they scurry everywhere. 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.

Sex differences

Although it’s rather difficult to differ frontosa cichlid male from a female, their size is helpful in this case – male size is larger and the hump on its forehead is more


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.