Lake Tanganyika Cichlids


The Cichlids of Lake Tanganyika are not as popular compared to those from Lake Malawi but they are still regularly found in the aquarium trade. These fish are quiet aggressive and most are best kept in species only tanks with plenty of fish to spread aggression. With overcrowding it means keeping them would require a tank size of at least 250L (with the exception of Frontosa which require an even bigger tank in the long term). The colour variations like the ones from Lake Malawi are fantastic and the adult fish will display deep bright colourations which means even an species only aquarium will be extremely attractive.

Fish from this lake are generally less tolerant to large water changes and it can cause great stress to the fish if a strict maintanance schedule is not in place. Smaller more frequent water changes are ideal so as to change the water parameters as little as possible. This is in line with the consistency found in Lake Tanganyika and it’s deep waters. Below is a list of some of the most popular Lake Tanganyika Cichlids in the hobby.

Cyphotilapia Frontosa / Frontosa – Probably the most well known of the Tanganyikan species and one of the largest cichlids you can buy in the hobby. Frontosa develop a unique bump on the head as they mature with the bump on the males being more prominent than on the females. The colouration of the fish are vertical black bars along the length of the body with a blue/purple hue to in-between them and on the fins. They grow large (up to 35cm/14inches but usually slightly smaller) so providing space is very important, they are also slow moving compared to other cichlids so would not do well with overly-aggressive tank mates. Still majestic fish!

Frontosa are slow growing fish but reach an eventual size bigger than pretty much any other African Cichlid in the hobby. They prefer to be kept in small groups so having 3-5 Frontosa would be ideal and would really make them the centre piece of your tank. For a group of up t0 5 make sure your tank is 300Liters as a bare minimum, the bigger the better especially if you plan on keeping other fish with them. These fish have some of the longest lifespans of any fish in the hobby and with proper can live for more than 20 years!


Frontosa are very sought after and usually don’t come cheap specially if not bought as juveniles. The Zaire Moba variety is thought to be the bluest Frontosa and the adult fish display light blue bars in between deep blue/purple bars. As far as I know these are pretty rare to find in the UK.

Size: 35cm/13.7inches // Temperature: 25C’-28C’ // Water Hardness: 12-15dGH

PH: 8-8.5 // Aquarium Size: 60Gallons (270L) for a single specimen, 400L+ for a group

Difficulty: Intermediate

Tropheus sp. Ilangi / Tropheus sp. Lupota / Tropheus – Smaller compared to the Frontosa. These fish grow to 15cm/6inches and sport amazing colours! Various patterns and colours are available in the hobby with the above named being some of the more commonly found varieties. Tropheus come in many colours and patterns such as red, yellow, bronze and orange (these are the most common) and are usually easily found in the aquarium trade which is one of the reason they are so popular and are found in most LFS that stock African Cichlids.

Aggressive in nature they are similar to the more aggressive Mbunas of Lake Malawi. A 280Liter tank can house a group of 12 of these fish with no other species mixed in which is actually the best way to keep these fish. A tank with a group of 12 or more of these fish will be beautiful in itself due to the amazing colours and the wide variety of them available in the hobby it will like you have mixed in different species. Tropheus are also very active fish and full of interesting characteristics which make them popular among the more experienced hobbyists who are willing to maintain water quality and provide the correct conditions, they are also more expensive compared to other African cichlids.

Size: 15cm/6inches // Temperature: 24C’-27C’ // Water Hardness: 10-15dGH

PH: 7.5-9 // Aquarium Size: 62Gallons (280L) for a group of 12, larger for bigger groups

Difficulty: Advanced

– Neolamprologus brichardi / Fairy Cichlid – Another of the popular imports from Lake Tanganyika, this appropriately named fish is an attractive little cichlid. It’s creamy/white body and flowing fins certainly give the impression of a fairy swimming in your very own aquarium. Like the Tropheus these can be kept in an all species tank with the added bonus that both sexes are equally attractive although the males will have slightly more points fins, more prominent the older the fish.

These are some of the smaller species from Lake Tanganyika, even smaller than a lot of the cichlids from Lake Malawi. However, their small size and pretty appearance should not fool you into thinking they are peaceful. While mild mannered most of the time, the Birchardi will become extremely aggressive when mating and mothers are very protective of the eventual brood of fry. This is normally not a problem in species only tanks but has been known to leave other species worst for wear, specially if they are smaller than the Birchardi. Appropriate tank mates for these can be Tropheus and Calvus, while a single Birchardi may have some levels of success in a mixed Tanganyika tank given it’s tank mates are larger.

Size: 13cm/5inches // Temperature: 22C’-25C’ // Water Hardness: 10-20dGH

PH: 8-8.5 // Aquarium Size: 20Gallons (90L) for a small group, much bigger for mixed species and large groups

Difficulty: Advanced

– Julidochromis Transcriptus / Masked Julie – This species endemic to Lake Tanganyika is one of the stranger looking cichlids in the hobby! Julidochromis have an elongated body that is very narrow vertically, they have very short fins compared to other popular African Cichlids and the tail fin is shaped like a round fan. These fish have beautiful stripes and patterns that are very much unique, however they lack the colourful and bright appearance most African Cichlids are associated with. These are still greatly attractive fish to have, sure to attract attention due to their body shape. The Masked Julie can be kept as a single specimen or in a pair however keeping groups should be minimised only for those with larger tanks.

This species will do well with other Tanganyikan cichlids so tank mates should be from this lake; this species is generally peaceful towards it’s own kind as well as other fish but can become aggressive during  breeding and also when protecting the fry. Like other Fish from Lake Tanganyika they are much more suited to small frequent water changes and large water changes of 50% or more should be avoided.

Size: 7cm/3inches // Temperature: 23C’-26C’ // Water Hardness: 8-14dGH

PH: 8.5-9.2 // Aquarium Size: 20Gallons (90L) for a pair, up to 3x bigger for larger groups.

Difficulty: Beginner

The Julidochromis Marlieri – Marlier’s Julie – is another of the popular varieties very similar in appearance but can grow to be twice as big.

Size: 15cm/6inches // Temperature: 23C’-26C’ // Water Hardness: 8-14dGH

PH: 8.5-9.2 // Aquarium Size: 26Gallons (120L) for a pair, larger for bigger groups.

Difficulty: Beginner

Other varieties:
  • Julidochromis Regani – Convict Julie / Regan’s Julie
  • Julidochromis Ornatus – Golden Julie