Lake Tanganyika Cichlids – A Care Guide For Keeping African Cichlids In An Aquarium:

Lake Tanganyika Geography:

Lake Tanganyika, the second largest lake in Africa, is situated inside the Great Rift Valley in Eastern Africa and is home to at least 150 different African Cichlid species, 98% of which are unique to Lake Tanganyika. It is fed by mountain rivers and streams from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Zambia, but only has one outlet. Lake Tanganyika Cichlids are popular aquarium fish because there are so many bright colors, body shapes and sassy attitudes to discover. They generally live around rocky or sandy substrates scattered with shells in the wild. Creating an environment for Lake Tanganyika aquarium fish is a rewarding experience when one takes the time to understand the habitat, temperament and dietary requirements of these fascinating Cichlids.

Setting Up A Tanganyika Aquarium:

Water ParametersWater Parameters:

Lake Tanganyika is one of the largest bodies of freshwater in the world, and the African Cichlids that live there have adapted to water with a high-mineral content and a low current. When setting up an environment for aquarium fish, use a filter that keeps the water fresh without creating much current. The pH level of the water where most Lake Tanganyika Cichlids live ranges from 7.8 to 8.8, with a hardness level between 7 and 12 dH. The ideal temperature range for these fish falls between 75-84°F (24-29°C). Lake Tanganyika Cichlids also thrive best on frequent, but incremental water changes. Changing 25% of the water on a biweekly basis, taking extra care to keep the temperature and all other parameters constant, will help the fish stay healthy and avoid shock.

Preferred Substrates:

Lake Tanganyika Cichlids live in a variety of niches along the lake, but most can be found living in either rocky or sandy substrates. The rocky shore areas with plenty of crevices and cave-like structures for hiding and spawning attract species such as Altolamprologus Calvus, Altolamprologus Compressiceps and a number of the Julidochromis varieties. On the other hand, Lamprologus Ocellatus and Neolamprologus Brevis prefer sandy bottom substrates scattered with shells, which they use for shelter and spawning. Using coral sand in the aquarium helps to keep the water pH in the correct range. A large enough aquarium setup can easily accommodate a community of both types of fish, as long as each fish has adequate territory and all of the fish are about the same size. A small community of fish can be kept in a 32′ (80 cm) or 30 gallon (114 L) aquarium, but larger communities will naturally require more space. Considering that Lake Tanganyika is one of the largest lakes in the world, it is important to provide the aquarium fish with plenty of open swimming areas in addition, to their preferred substrates. Lake Tanganyika Cichlids, as with many other species of African Cichlids, can be quite aggressive and territorial, so making sure each fish has its own space is critical for a healthy tank community.

Popular Tanganyika Cichlids:

With so many Lake Tanganyika Cichlid species available, it’s impossible to create a complete list of issues between the various species of fish, but there are general patterns that are important to keep in mind. First of all, Lake Tanganyika has unique water parameters, so fish living in the same community need to have very similar water requirements. Second; while it’s possible to mix carnivores, omnivores and herbivores in one tank, it’s necessary to keep each species about the same size so that the larger fish are not tempted to make a meal out of the smaller ones. It’s also possible to create communities that include catfish and other robust varieties of fish that have the same water requirements as Lake Tanganyika Cichlids. Third, it’s critical to understand the various temperaments of each fish before putting them into the same tank. African Cichlids can be notoriously aggressive when it comes to competing for food and mates, and protecting their young. Keeping species with noticeably different body shapes and colors seems to help alleviate this issue.

Altolamprologus calvus and Altolamprologus compressiceps: Both of these slow-growing cichlids prefer piles of rocks with sandy substrates. Males can grow up to 6 inches, while the females grow to about 4 inches. Mix only with other Lake Tanganyika Cichlids of a similar size that are not terribly aggressive (like the Julidochromis).

Cyphotilapia frontosa: Also called Frontosas or Humphead Cichlids, these slow-growing, big fish (Males can grow to 14 inches) need a lot of space (at least 100 gallons) and will eat smaller fish, so it’s best to keep them with other large fish. They need arrangements of large, smooth, stable rocks, or ceramic or PVC pipes to create caves where they can spawn.

Cyprichromis leptosoma: This smaller, less aggressive omnivore Cichlid (up to 5 inches) does well in groups made of more females than males. They need a large tank with plenty of open swimming space, and do well with other less aggressive, rock-dwelling Cichlids.

Julidochromis dickfeldi: Commonly called a Brown Julie, this smaller (up to 4 inches), less aggressive omnivore prefers a rocky tank with a sandy substrate and does well in a community with other small Lake Tanganyika Cichlids, than open areas of tanks.

Julidochromis marlieri: Also called a Checkered or Plaid Julie, this Cichlid can grow up to 6 inches and is aggressive and micro-predatory, so it should be kept away from smaller fish. It can become violent if the spawning/mating cycle is disturbed.

Julidochromis ornatus: Also called a Golden Julie, its’ an omnivore/micro-predator that can grow to 4 inches. Because it is aggressive, it should not be in a community with other Julies, unless it’s a very large tank. Male/female breeding pairs can turn on each other violently if the breeding cycle is disturbed.

Julidochromis (Gombi): Another Julie micro-predator that should only be kept with similar Lake Tanganyika Julies, the Gombi also prefers rocky, crevice-rich areas for hiding and spawning.

Neolamprologus multifasciatus: Also called “Multis”, these are small (2 inches max.) They do best in groups containing more females than males in a small species tank. They live in sandy substrates with snail shells for shelter and spawning.

Lamprologus Ocellatus, Also called Gold Ocellatus, these are small (2 inches max.) They are feisty Lake Tanganyika Cichlids that do best in harem-like groups. They live in sandy substrates, using snail shells for spawning and will even defend their fry from larger fish when threatened.

Neolamprologus brichardi: Goes by such monikers as Lyretail, Fairy Cichlid, and Princess of Burundi, and grows to a maximum of 4 inches. It does best in small groups (with similar Lake Tanganyikans) with a rocky, crevice-rich substrate.

Neolamprologus brevis: Another small, less aggressive shell-dwelling omnivore Cichlid that lives in sandy substrates. Sometimes, the male and female of a pair even share the same shell dwelling.

Neolamprologus cylindricus: This is a very aggressive fish that will attack others of its own species, or fish of different species that look similar, so it should be kept on its own, or as part of an established breeding couple. It grows up to 5 inches and prefers a sandy substrate with a lot of rocky features.

Neolamprologus leleupi: Also called Lemon Cichlid because of its vibrant yellow color, it needs a sandy substrate with plenty of rocky crevices for spawning. These Cichlids should only be kept with similar Cichlids because they can be aggressive.

Neolamprologus tretocephalus: Can grow to 6 inches and digs pits in the sand, usually under rocks, for spawning. It is an omnivore who does best with similar Cichlids.

Caring For Tanganyika Cichlids:

Dietary RequirementsDietary Requirements:

With so many species of Lake Tanganyika Cichlids, it is important to remember that not all of them have the same dietary requirements. Some African Cichlids even chomp on the fins and scales of other fish, so be careful when selecting different species for the aquarium community. While many Cichlids from Lake Tanganyika are carnivorous and prefer live food such as aquatic insects, larvae and small crustaceans, others are herbivores that eat algae. While Lake Tanganyika Cichlids living in an aquarium can easily be trained to eat flakes and small pellets, it’s important to read food labels. For instance, any flake food labeled American Cichlids may be harmful for Lake Tanganyika Cichlids because their dietary requirements are so different from South American Cichlids.

It is important to change a minimum of 10% of the tanks water each week. Fish that live in a healthy environment often display the best colors. Lake Tanganyika Cichlids are some of the most beautiful fish in the entire world. Some of these Cichilds will rival saltwater fish in color and attitude. Maintaining proper living conditions in an aquarium is the responsibility of every fish keeper. An aquarium is not a lake and each fish tank needs to have fresh water added weekly. A gravel vacuum is probably one of the best tools that a fish keeper can buy. They are not expensive and most can be purchased for under $20.00.

Choosing Tank Mates:

Cichlids are never predictable, and the possibility for extreme aggression can be high. Cichlids also like a lot of space. It is essential to research each species before adding them to an aquarium. Some African Cichlids are social fish, which means that they like to live in loose groups but are not schooling fish. Frontosa, for example, are a social fish. Social fish are sometimes referred to as harem fish. Some African Cichlids are schooling fish. Demasoni are a Lake Malawi Cichlid that are a great example of a schooling Cichlid. There is a great deal of difference between Cichlids from Lake Tanganyika. This is because the lake is so long and deep. Frontosa (Cyphotilapia Frontosa) are found in depths between 30 -170 feet.

When choosing tank makes size is important, since larger fish can and usually do eat smaller fish. If planning to keep larger and smaller fish together, it is critical that the smaller fish have places to hide. Cichlids are smart. Many choose hierarchy through observation and not aggression. This does not mean they are not aggressive. Observation is one of the first steps in logical thought. For the aquarium master, this means that nothing can be left to chance because these fish will figure it out. When working with Cichlids, the first thing that is discovered is that they will use objects within the tank almost as though they are tools. Space is also a critical consideration. It is just not appropriate to over populate an aquarium with Cichlids. When tanks are over populated, the best part of keeping these beautiful fish is removed. Tanks that are over populated can lack the brilliant colors and the amazing personalities that these fish can bring to a home. This is why research is so important, when choosing Cichlids and tank mates. Many professional keepers keep their fish in species tanks. This allows the fish to thrive in an environment that is suited to their needs. It also allows the fish keeper to observe the fish as they were meant to be observed.


Keeping Tanganyika Cichlids is a wonderful and rewarding hobby. This article is meant to be a guide to help newer fish keepers set up and enjoy the wonderful benefits that keeping these marvelous fish can bring to a home. Please feel free to leave comments about fish you keep.