Bolivian Ram Stats InfographicThe Bolivian Ram has many different names, such as the Bolivian Butterfly, Butterfly Cichlid, Bolivian Cichlid, and Ruby Crown Cichlid.

While cichlids are one of the most popular types of freshwater fish in the hobby, they can be very hostile, which makes it a bit difficult to choose tankmates. However, the Bolivian Ram cichlid is different from its cousins.

In this article, we will get to know these peace-loving cichlids.

What Is Bolivian Ram?

Bolivian Ram is a freshwater fish endemic from the Amazon River Basin in both Brazil and Bolivia in South America. There, the water is soft and slightly acidic. Moreover, it is also scientifically known as Mikrogeophagus altispinosus.

The Bolivian Ram is a cichlid belonging to the same family as the Green Terror, Angelfish, Oscar and Discus. The Cichlidae family is the largest group of freshwater fish.

Bolivian Ram Stats

Family Cichlidae
Scientific Name Mikrogeophagus altispinosus
Common Names Bolivian Butterfly, Butterfly Cichlid, Bolivian Cichlid, Ruby Crown Cichlid
Size of Fish 3 inches
Prominent Features Large eyes, parrot-like beak, multi-coloration, ray-finned
Diet Omnivore
Temperament Non-aggressive
Lifespan 4 years
Min. Tank Size 30
Temperature 73 to 78 F
pH 6 to 7.5
Hardness 0 to 10 dGH
Care Difficulty Easy


– Bolivian Ram Size

The average Bolivian Ram size of an adult male is around three inches in length, but some individuals may get slightly larger. Females, on the other hand, usually don’t exceed three inches.

– Distinct Characteristics

Bolivian Ram Care Guide For This Peaceful CichlidThe Bolivian Butterfly is similar in profile to the large geophagine cichlids. It has an oval body, appearing at its widest around the dorsal and pelvic fins and tapering down towards the tail fin.

These fish are known for their large eyes, parrot-like beak and a body that nearly features all the hues of the rainbow.

As with other actinopterygians or ray-finned fishes, the Butterfly Cichlid comes with an interesting series of bony spines to help them against predators. These spiky rays help the cichlid to choke and suffocate the predator with them.

– Distinguishing Bolivian Ram Sexes Based On Color 

Sexing Bolivian Ram can be a challenge during the early stages. Both sexes look rather lackluster with their brown and gray coloration.

However, as the fish matures, fine details will start to pop:

  • The head and half of the body is yellow, fading to a shimmering tan or olive-grey at the rear. During the spawning season, the yellow coloration in females becomes intense.
  • A large vertical black stripe covers the head, running across the eyes.
  • The dorsal fin is transparent but its first few rays are black.
  • Both dorsal and caudal fins are edged in pinkish red
  • A faint black lateral line occurs along the body.
  • The anal and pelvic fins are the same shade of red.

Bolivian Ram Care

Bolivian Rams are hardy fish; they are quite forgiving with slight fluctuations in the water. That said, this makes it possible for beginners to have them as the centerpiece for a small community aquarium.

– Diet

Bolivian Butterflies are very easy to feed as they are omnivorous and thus, they will eat almost anything you feed them. In the wild, their diet comprises small invertebrates, plant detritus, etc.

In the aquarium, they will do just fine on dry fish feed that you can supplement with chopped earthworms, bloodworms, white worms, Tubifex worms and brine shrimp. The worms and shrimps can either be live or freeze-dried. Regardless, you should always break the food into tiny bits to ensure your fish can eat them.

These hearty feeders will also happily chow down on some blanched vegetables.

– Water Parameters and Maintenance

The ideal Bolivian Ram temperature is anywhere between 73 to 78 F.  To stimulate spawning, you will want to raise the temperature to 82 F. Also, in terms of pH, the sweet spot is anywhere between six to 7.5. The recommended water hardness is zero to 10 dGH.

Furthermore, do not forget that good filtration and weekly partial water changes can greatly help keep your fish healthy for much longer.

– Health Risks for the Bolivian Ram

Apart from their agreeable temperament, their resilience to disease is what makes the Bolivian Ram a suitable choice for beginning hobbyists. However, prolonged exposure to stress still causes them to succumb to common freshwater tank ailments like Ich.

Ich, which is short for Ichthyophthirius multifiliis, is an external parasite that clings to the body of a fish, including the fins and gills. The protozoa form tiny white capsules, resembling grains of salt when viewed from a distance.

Other symptoms may include lethargy, rapid breathing and loss of appetite. The affected fish may also rub themselves against tank walls in an attempt to get rid of the parasites.

The parasites would feed off your fish until they mature. Once they grow to maturity, the parasites would detach themselves off your fish to replicate themselves. Fortunately, there are numerous techniques for treating Ich. Depending on what your aquatic vet tells you to do, you can buy a bottle of medication online or over-the-counter.

– Lifespan: What Is Its Average Life Expectancy?

The average Bolivian Ram lifespan is about four years but as with other fish, their lifespan can be reduced by several factors. Disease, stress and poor diet can significantly shorten the lifespan of your Bolivian Rams.


Before breeding them, you have to note Bolivian Rams are bi-parental and polygamous. However, as discussed earlier, you will want to get a group of six to eight juveniles so bonded pairs can form naturally. This is due to the fact that introducing two adults does not always guarantee they will get along and mate.

To catch a female’s attention, the male will dance and its movements include head shaking and quivering. At this point, the male will also become aggressive and chase its rivals away, including any unsuspecting passersby.

You will know that a male and female have paired off because the couple will stick together. As soon as a pair is formed, they will spend some time preparing the spawning site.

Transferring a bonded pair to a separate tank is unnecessary as long as you make sure that the right conditions are met in the community aquarium. Tank size, decorations, and water parameters are the most important factors to consider.

But if there are two or more bonded pairs, then you may have to prepare a breeding tank for each couple. If the tank is large enough, you may also use a divider so that you can keep the two pairs in there but separate from each other.

Spawning, Eggs and Fry

When the courtship and preparation have been done, the female will hover above a flat surface or rock to lay her eggs. Bolivian Rams rarely lay their eggs in caves or pits dug in the sand. Now, it is the male’s turn to swim over the eggs and fertilize them.

A female could lay anywhere between 100 to 300 eggs in a single spawning event that lasts about an hour.

After the process is complete, the female will aerate the eggs using her pectoral fins. Bolivian Rams fan their eggs to increase the amount of oxygen interacting with them as well as clean the site of dead eggs

The parents may take turns protecting the eggs until they hatch. Meanwhile, the male guards the site against intruders that are often other fish for looking food or ubiquitous predators, such as tetras. Sometimes the parents would conceal the eggs using sand.

The fertilized eggs will hatch within 48 to 60 hours depending on the temperature. The fry will be free-swimming in a week and will be led in a loose school by the parents. From there on, the parents will move the fry to several locations. Lastly, the fry can be fed with baby brine shrimp and vinegar eels.

Ideal Tank Mates

The Bolivian Butterflies are the perfect cichlid for a community setup with your Bolivian Ram. These serene fish pay little to no attention to their tank mates, except during spawning. Their strong paternal instincts would kick in and these cichlids will do everything to protect their young.

So if you are planning to set up a community tank with different species, you need to choose fish with the exact needs to make maintenance easy. Otherwise, it will become a challenge to keep all fish happy and healthy if they have different requirements.

That said, here are the best tank mate options for your Bolivian Cichlid:

Tank Mates to Avoid

Bolivian Rams might mistake the Cherry Shrimp for food but larger species, such as the Ghost, Amano, and Bamboo shrimps will do just fine.

While these cichlids are non-hostile, it is best not to add other species of cichlids other than the Angelfish. Conspecific aggression may occur and unfortunately, Bolivian Rams don’t have a chance against large combative cichlids.

Tank Setup 

Simulating their natural habitat is the key to making a successful Bolivian Ram community tank.

– Tank Size

I recommend a 30-gallon tank for a group of six to eight Bolivian Ram cichlids. These fish require plenty of open space to swim around. Anything smaller may not be suitable because they can get quite territorial and aggressive during the breeding season.

Not to mention, the parents tend to travel from time to time when they tend to their young.

Moreover, you should definitely increase the tank size if you are planning on adding a few compatible species such as the ones mentioned above. While all mentioned species are rather peaceful and tolerant of other inhabitants, every fish needs to have their own space. This is because overcrowding can lead to disease induced by stress.

– Plants and Decorations

In the wild, these fish live in habitats abounding in branches and submerged roots that serve as shade. Therefore, you should also provide some form of shade in their tank. 

Add high-growing plants to give your fish a reprieve from light as well as a refuge in the face of a threat. Your choice of plants would be a useful element in the aesthetics of the aquarium as these fish look incredibly stunning against a backdrop of lush greenery. Since these cichlids might dig up your plots, we recommend placing them in terracotta pots.

Moreover, smooth rocks will be useful in your Bolivian Rams’ tank too. Remember that the females will lay their eggs on these surfaces if the conditions inside the tank are favorable. You may also introduce faux decorations and pieces of driftwood into the mix.

When you are arranging your tank, be sure to create large open spaces towards the center so that they can dart around without any issues.

– Substrate

We recommend getting a dark-colored substrate composed of black, deep reds and oranges. These fish will complement those colors fantastically.

However, we do not recommend blasting sand that some people use as dark sand because it is quite coarse. Rough substrates might damage the gills of the fish as they sift through, leaving some cuts that make them susceptible to bacterial and fungal infections.

– Aquarium Equipment

Bolivian Rams live in slow-moving waters and therefore, you need to use a filter that strikes the right balance between providing optimal filtration and minimal water flow.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Are Bolivian Rams Aggressive?

While these rams might be a little bigger and more boisterous, they are not as aggressive as other cichlids of the same size. The Bolivian Ram cichlid can get along with other peaceful species.

Bolivian Ram Care, Diet and Breeding Guide

The only time Bolivian Cichlids display aggressive behaviors is when they are breeding. Oftentimes, the hostility is directed only towards fish that approach their breeding area.

Intra-species conflicts may sometimes arise but these skirmishes are rather harmless. In such instances, males will initiate these fights to establish their place in the hierarchy.

As these cichlids don’t engage in vicious battles, you will find them hanging out among the plants or swimming in the middle of the tank.

2. Do Bolivian Rams Dig Up Plants?

Some owners say they have never seen their Bolivian Cichlids uproot plants but it is no secret that these fish are eartheaters. Throughout the day, these guys may take up a small amount of sand, sift it for food, and expel the substrate through their gills and mouth.

While the amount of substrate taken up each time is rather minuscule, it can disturb the substrate after an extended period.

3. Are Bolivian Rams a Schooling Fish?

The Bolivian Ram is not a species of schooling fish but they sometimes hang out in loose groups.

Purchase these cichlids when they are young, ideally in a group of six to eight specimens. This is how a bonded pair may naturally form in just a few months.

4. Bolivian Rams Have a Stop-and-Go Swimming Style

Bolivian Butterflies have a peculiar style of swimming. The fish will swim slowly and gracefully but after a few paces, they would often come to an abrupt stop. Bolivian Rams are also surprisingly quick when evading large predators or chasing away intruders.

5. Bolivian Ram vs. German Blue Ram

The “Bolivian Blue Ram” that many of us are wanting to keep is not a variety of the fish in question.

The blue cichlid is a different species bearing the scientific name Mikrogeophagus ramirezi. Surprisingly, this species does not originate from Germany; it is a freshwater fish endemic to the Orinoco River Basin in South America.

German Blue Rams are much smaller and more colorful than Bolivian Rams. Unfortunately, this species of fish is not for beginners as they are quite sensitive. German Blue Rams demand a specific set of water conditions; slight fluctuations can have a huge impact on their health.


The Bolivian Ram is one of the most desired cichlids in the aquarium hobby although this species is less popular than its close relative, the German Blue Ram. If you are looking to get one soon, then observe the following crucial points that we discussed in our article:

  • Males are going to be slightly larger than females but both sexes look similar in terms of coloration
  • The rigid rays serve as a defense mechanism against predators; they are sharp enough to pierce through a predator’s mouth
  • Bolivian Rams are peaceful and they seldom interact with their tank mates
  • When choosing a tank mate for this peaceful species, the most important factor to consider is size. Fish and invertebrates that are too small to fit into their mouths can be viewed as food
  • Bolivian Rams are hardy fish that can cope with slight shifts in water parameters but it is wise to always stick to the recommended temperature, hardness, and pH stated above
  • Start with a group of six to ten juveniles so they will partner off as they grow. Bolivian Rams are straightforward to breed once you find a pair
  • With regards to the aquarium decor, you should not forget to use fine sand. Be generous with plants but be sure to leave ample swimming space as Bolivian Butterflies are active fish
  • Ich is opportunistic and appears when your fish is stressed. The earlier you catch and treat the ich, the better your fish’s chances of full recovery

With that being said, will you consider adding Bolivian Rams to your community aquarium? Our article has surely helped you make an informed decision.

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