How to Care for Frontosa Cichlids?

The frontosa cichlid (Cyphotilapia frontosa), also called Humphead cichlid, is a coveted African cichlid in the aquarium trade. There are three species in the genus Cyphotilapia, although all of them were initially called frontosa.

The name of the fish comes about as a result of the large hump that develops at the front of their head. This hump is packed with fat deposits, and it gets larger with age. The fins of the fish also get more prominent with age, which makes the fish a fascinating addition to the aquarium.

The fish can have a light blue or white body with several black vertical stripes along each side. The dominant male grows a more prominent hump, and the hump on the females is typically comparable to those on the subordinate males.

On average, frontosa cichlids can grow to about 35 centimeters in length. Their body shape is somehow deep or compressed, giving them their unique appearance.

Also, they have two pectoral fins, round caudal fins, and extended white filamentous ventral fins. Their mouths are protrusive and relatively larger but very powerful. And their teeth are very fine but compressed.

Aquarists also appreciate the endearing nature of the fish, which engages in dog-like qualities once they get used to their owner.

Most frontosa cichlids on sale are from captive breeding programs since wild ones are hard to harvest. They demand a high price due to their commanding personalities and unique appearance.

Frontosa Cichlid Natural Habitat

The wild populations of the frontosa cichlids are only found in Lake Tanganyika. The fish is more widespread in the northern portion of the lake, with its cousin C. gibberosa is prevalent in the southern part. It inhabits the deep parts of the lake, at depths between 65-100 ft. But the Blue Zaire (Cyphotilapia gibberosa) has been found as deep as 200 ft.

To get these fish up on the water surface, you need special skills and equipment compared to shallow water cichlids.

They are not territorial but can defend their territories whenever they feel threatened. The fish moves to the top waters in the morning to prey on shoaling species.

Unlike other cave-dwelling African cichlids, the frontosa cichlids live in large colonies in the lake bottom. There are several geographical variants which vary in color. Some of the popular ones include the Tanzanian six-stripe frontosa, Burundi six-stripe frontosa, Zaire Blue frontosa, and the Zambian blue frontosa.

Frontosa Cichlid Fish Tank Requirements

The frontosa is among the biggest African cichlids, as males can reach up to 15 inches in size. Females are smaller, averaging between 8-10 inches. Therefore providing them with the right aquarium size, substrate and decorations is important.

Tank Size

While you can keep a small colony in an 85-gallon tank, it is best to invest in a 125-gallon aquarium.

The frontosa cichlid can live for 20 years, and your best bet is a 200-gallon tank for the long-term. Keep 8-12 of them in one tank.


You can layer a sandy bottom in the tank or use a fine substrate. The pH can also be kept up with aragonite sands and crushed coral. A pH augmenting substrate is the ideal choice for a tank with frontosa cichlid.

Plants and Decoration

This cichlid will not burrow or nibble on plants. The trick is to find the varieties that can thrive under similar conditions, and there are only a few options like anubias.

You can add a few artificial plants to the aquarium where your frontosa cichlids are living. Natural plants like anubias can also serve the same purpose as the artificial ones. Besides, Anubias are the only aquatic plants that can thrive in water parameters such as those inhabited by these fish species.

A frontosa cichlid should be characterized by cave structures to house shy individuals. The rocks should be firm on the bottom as the fish can get clumsy, and you can also use tubes to create additional crevices. Leave plenty of space for the frontosa to swim.

Frontosa Cichlid Water Conditions

Lake Tanganyika waters are alkaline at around pH 9 and very hard with a range of 12-14 dGH. The lake is incredibly vast, and its water parameters are, therefore, consistent. The fish will not do well with fluctuations in water conditions.

The PH should not go below 7, and a range of 8-8.5 is ideal. The suitable temperature range is 72-86 °F. While African cichlids have become adaptable to various aquarium environments, the fish will become prone to disease if there are drastic changes in the aquariums.

This means that the fish can do well with parameters close to the ideal range, but the water should be well buffered.

Some aquarists use salt to boost the water’s hardness, and you can even get a pre-packaged Lake Tanganyika mix. You may be in luck if the tap water around your area is sufficiently hard.

If you need to buffer the water, you can pair an under-gravel filter with a canister filter, where the water will pass through chemical media made of coral sand and crushed coral.

Lake Tanganyika is also known to be oxygen-rich, and you may need to use air stones to increase aeration. Keep checking the nitrate levels as the frontosa cichlid is quite sensitive to the element.

When you decide to keep frontosa cichlids, you should know that medium-to-high care is a requirement. So the right way to achieve his goal is to make sure that you change 10 to 20 %  of the water in the tank every week.

Water changes should only be small and infrequent. But you may be required to make frequent water changes to prevent ammonia and nitrate build up.

Keep in mind that your frontosa cichlid is not able to manage large tank water changes at one time. If you happen to make a complete water change, then you should ensure that new water parameters are as close to the older ones as possible.

In this regard, you may consider changing at least 10-15% of the entire water in the tank every two days.

This procedure will help in normalizing water parameters in the aquarium. The main idea behind these changes is that frontosa cichlids thrive best in a stable condition in deep water. This means that they will need similar conditions in the tank to feel comfortable.

Frontosa Cichlid Diet and Feeding Schedule

Wild frontosa cichlids prey on small fish and shellfish like mollusks. In other words, they will consume all types of live foods coming their way. They are slow hunters, and they feed at dawn and in the evening.

Young frontosa feast on crustaceans, especially those found in their wild habitat. Adults are piscivores despite the fact that they are extremely slow when it comes to catching their prey.

Surprisingly, their main diet consists of another type of Tanganyika cichlid, the Cyprichromis. These fish spend most of their time swimming at the bottom of the lake, just below the immense shoals of Cyprichromis.

They wait until evening hours to pounce on Cyprichromis in a bid to get their meal. They repeat the same hunting tactic in the morning before the Cyprichromis start to swim away.

The cichlids will demand high quantities of protein in the form of pellets, flakes, or live/frozen feeds. You can provide krill, shrimp, and mysis. While feeder fish is recommended, this cichlid is not a good hunter, and it may end up living next to the fish instead of eating it.

Frontosa Cichlid Tank Mates

The frontosa cichlid is a non-aggressive candidate for a community tank. It thrives in colonies, and you can keep one male with several females because the males can get territorial. You can even keep a group of 8-12 fish in one tank provided you create a lot of hiding spots.

This cichlid is a slow-eater, and its peaceful nature is not a match for aggressive cichlids. Some Tanganyika cichlids like the cyprichromis can become prey, and you should not buy smaller fish as well.

Some aquarists have, however, had success with keeping the frontosa cichlids with some Malawi cichlids.

Frontosa Cichlid Breeding

Begin with a group of 10 to 12 juveniles if you intend to breed the frontosa cichlid. This fish is a slow grower, and it may take up to four years to achieve sexual maturity.

The female frontosa is a mouth-brooder who will mostly spawn on the substrate. The breeding tank should be large, and caves and rocks will help the male to establish his territory. The PH should be around 8, with the temperature range at 77-82 °F.

The male and female do not touch during the breeding process. But the female will lay about 50 eggs between the rocks and sandpit. Then the male fish will fertilize them and after 3-5 days, they will hatch.

The female will take all the eggs in her mouth while the male defends the territory. However, the female frontosa cichlid will care for the fry in her mouth for 4-6 weeks. Thereafter, you may start feeding them on a diet of brine shrimp.


The frontosa cichlid is distinguished by the hump at the front of their head, and it is a unique African cichlid to add to your aquarium.

It is endemic to Lake Tanganyika, where the water parameters are always consistent. Ensure that the water conditions in your aquarium are stable and keep an eye on the nitrate levels.

African Cichlids   Updated: September 16, 2021
avatar Hey, I'm Fabian, chief editor at Aquarium Nexus. I really enjoy the aquarium hobby and love sharing my experience with others. If you have any questions feel free to contact me or leave a comment below.

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