Frontosa Cichlid Stats InfographicThe Frontosa Cichlid, also called Cyphotilapia frontosa, is a stunning tropical freshwater fish popular amongst cichlid fans.

Their delightful colors and fascinating humped head make them an intriguing choice in any aquarium.

Although this fish makes a great addition to your tank, it is still important to nurture it properly. Learn everything there is to know about the Frontosa cichlid, including its origin, appearance, size, lifespan, diet, tank setup, tank mate, and care.


Lifespan 20 years
Other Names Humphead cichlid
Temperament Semi aggressive
Breeding Type Livebrooder
Feeding Omnivore
Size 15 Inches
Minimum Tank Size 200 gallons
Temperature 74-80 F
pH 7-9
Hardness 10-20 dGH


The Frontosa Cichlid was first described by scientists in 1906. It is native to Lake Tanganyika in Africa that has a depth of 10-50 meters. Owing to their preference for deep waters, fishing them is not easy, and as to be expected, they are relatively expensive and not commonly found in pet stores.

There are three species in Cyphotilapia, and all of them were initially referred to as Frontosa. This fish’s other geographical variants include

  • Tanzanian six-stripe frontosa
  • Zaire Blue frontosa
  • Burundi six-stripe frontosa
  • Zambian blue frontosa

Frontosa cichlids are semi-aggressive and get even more territorial during the breeding season. To manage the aggression, you will require a tank with enough space and hiding spots. When stressed, their colors get darker and less vibrant, so we advise that you care for them well.

A fun fact about Humphead cichlid is that they have a large lump at the front of their head packed full of fat deposits. Thanks to this fatty lump, they are now commonly referred to as humphead cichlid.

– Appearance

Frontosa cichlid female fishHumphead cichlids are large but surprisingly elegant, with a distinctively humped head that grows bigger as they age. The size of their hump acts as a reliable marker for identifying the dominant male species. Their entire body has a somewhat compressed look that makes them even more distinct.

Frontosa cichlids come in different color forms. Some have a light blue body peppered with several black stripes that run vertically along their sides; others are whitish with black bars at both sides. There is also a grey-blue and grey variant of this fish.

The mature male Frontosa cichlid has long dorsal and pectoral fins that end in strings. The older your fish grows, the darker its colorings and longer its fins. Their mouths protrude from their mouth and are very powerful. They also have excellent but compressed teeth.

1. Red Frontosa Cichlid

Red frontosa cichlidThe Red Frontosa cichlid comes from the Taiwan-bred frontosa species. They lack organization in their DNA, responsible for their reddish-brown stripes instead of the usual black vertical lines. They also have white bodies with blue hoes.

It is essential to realize that although this fish is still part of the same family as the Frontosa Cichlid, it has a different color form and lifespan.

2. Blue Zaire Frontosa

Blue frontosaThe Blue Zaire Frontosa is a very dominant cichlid species. Its stunning deep blue and purple patterns will melt your heart and light up your tank.

They have a blue or white base color that is offset nicely with six to seven black bands. Their dorsal fins may sometimes have gold accents.

The Blue Zaire Frontosa is very rare and is the most sought-after frontosa cichlid today. Its beautiful shade of blue can almost appear purple under certain lights.

3. Burundi

Burundi frontosaBurundi has a pale blue body with five black stripes that run vertically down its back. The sixth line runs from its forehead, along with its eye, and down to the opercle insertion.

The Burundi Frontosa is the most commonly found hump head species in aquariums today.

– Frontosa Cichlid Lifespan

The Frontosa cichlid Lifespan, on average, is about 20 years, but some species of this fish live for only 15 years. Your best bet to keeping this fish for that long is keeping them in a tank large enough to cater to their needs. We recommend at least a 200-gallon tank; with it, you can house about a dozen of this fish comfortably.

– Differentiating Between the Sexes

One sure way to differentiate between the male Frontosa cichlid and female of this species is to look closely at their sex organ between their anal fin and anus. The female sex organ is round, while that of the male is more triangularly shaped.

Another way is to look at their body structure; the females are plumper, especially as they fill up eggs. Males also have more prominent humps at the front of their heads.

– Size

The Frontosa cichlid’s growth rate is fast, and it can reach up to 15 inches in length. The female cichlids, however, are smaller, averaging only 8 to 10 inches.

To get your fish to reach its maximum length, you must provide it with the right tank size, substrate, diet, and care. The tank decorations are also crucial to its growth.


The Frontosa cichlid is straightforward to handle once you know how to care for them. In simple terms, caring for these fish involves creating a conducive environment similar to the conditions they have in their natural habitat. It also involves proper diet and wise selection of tank mates.

– Diet

As alpha predators in the wild, Frontosa cichlids require a lot of protein to meet their dietary requirements. Some essential protein sources include live and dead fish, chopped shellfish, worms, shrimps, bloodworms, micro worms, and other animal-based food.

Although smaller fish make up a bulk of their diet, we won’t recommend feeding them this pet store feeder fish because unless you can confirm they are disease-free, you may end up transmitting the disease to your Frontosa.

You can also feed your Frontosa with plenty of commercial foods in the market that cater to carnivores. Be sure to select the high-quality feed options. You may need to get feeding tongs to ensure that your Frontosas get their fair share of nutrients because they are slow feeders and are unwilling to compete with other fish for their food.

Tank Setup

– Size

Frontosa cichlid tank size requirement is enormous thanks to its slow-moving nature and love for swimming all around the tank. Thus, they require a spacious tank. We recommend at least a 200-gallon tank for one humphead cichlid. Of course, if you intend to keep them in groups, you will need a much larger tank.

– Filtration

Hump head cichlids are very sensitive to water parameters and purity, so we advise that you get an efficient high-powdered canister filter. You should also change the water in your tank frequently to prevent the build-up of waste and toxins. All these measures help increase the oxygen concentration of your water.

– Water Conditions

Frontosas, like all Rift lake cichlids, are largely undemanding except when it comes to water chemistry. The hump heads natural habitat is highly alkaline due to its tropical location and the accumulation of dissolved salts and minerals. Lake Tanganyika is six times as salty as Lake Victoria, thanks to its age and higher concentration of salts.

The Lake has little or no fluctuations in temperature, pH, and hardness through the seasons. It is important to replicate all of these water conditions in your aquarium so that your fish does not suffer a considerable amount of shock while it tries to acclimatize. To help out, we have listed the recommended range for the various water parameters below:

  • Temperature – 74-80 F
  • pH – 7-9
  • Hardness – 10-20 dGH

An aquarium test kit makes monitoring all these parameters super easy. You can purchase one from the local pet store closest to you.

– Plants and Decoration

African Cichlids are legendary aqua scapers and can frustrate your attempts at aqua scaping. They love to dig up the plants and upturn every ornament, even when not in their breeding season. Always use plants with solid rhizomes like Anubias and Java ferns to prevent them from being uprooted.

Fill your tank with large caves and overhangs that your Frontosa can retreat to when the need arises. Remember that they are generally shy; hence, the hiding spots make them feel more secure.

– Substrate

You can layer the bottom of your tank with sand or fine gravel. To help keep the pH in the tank constant, we recommend that you use pH augmenting substrates like aragonite sand and crushed coral. Also, the pure white color of the aragonite offers a striking contrast to the dark colors of the mature Frontosa.

– Lighting

Frontosa cichlids do best in subdued lighting because it encourages them to stay in the open. Also, bright lights can induce stress in these fish since they prefer deep waters with low light concentrations. Thus, we advise that you keep the lighting in your tank to a minimum.

– Tank Mates

Although Frontosas are not overly aggressive, they are still predators willing to eat any fish small enough to fit into their mouths. So how do you ensure that they don’t eat their tank mates? Well, it’s pretty simple, really; choose the suitable tank mates.

The simple rule of thumb when selecting compatible tank mates for your Frontosa cichlid is to choose fish species with similar size and temperament as your cichlid.

As far as cichlids go, Frontosas are mild-tempered, so putting overly aggressive fish in their tank won’t do. Fish species larger than them are also a no-no as far as tank mates go. Here are some fish that are not overly large and aggressive that you can house in the same tank as this fish.

  • Medium to large Rift Lake cichlid
  • Large rainbowfish
  • Cuckoo catfish
  • Central American Cichlid

Be careful while choosing American cichlids because they are generally more aggressive so, we advise you to stay away from the Jaguar cichlid but choose the Jack Dempseys instead.

While you don’t want to choose giant aggressive fish, you also don’t want to choose timid small fish as tank mates for your Frontosa cichlid. Take care to select fish that can survive the extremely hard, alkaline conditions that your cichlid thrives in.

– Poor Tank Mates

You may be tempted to go for Livebearers because they can survive the water conditions in your Frontosa Cichlids tank; however, that would be a poor move. That is because they are generally too small and will end up becoming a snack for your cichlid. Here’s a list of fish that make poor tank mates for Frontosa cichlids

Temperament and Behavior

Frontosa cichlid male fishFrontosa Cichlids are semi-aggressive and, most of the time, not territorial. However, they can defend their territories when they feel threatened, especially near their breeding season.

Unlike other cave-dwelling African cichlid species, these cichlids prefer to stay in large colonies and dwell at the bottom of the tank.

Their aggressiveness is in part due to their large size. Nonetheless, Frontosa cichlids are regarded as one of the calmest African cichlid species available because they are tolerant of other fish species. The tolerance largely stems from the fact that their natural habitat (lake Tanganyika) is home to over 250 different fish species.

Frontosa Cichlids are lazy swimmers; they swim slowly and clumsily, preferring not to expend so much energy. They have also ambushed predators, lying in wait for smaller fish to swim past them.

Clumsiness is not enough to explain all the escaping this fish will do once your back is turned. Yes, they are well known for redecorating their fish tank just as they want; that includes knocking over objects, uprooting plants, and moving the substrate around. Frontosa cichlids, regardless of their number, can and will destroy your beautifully scaped fish tank in minutes.

– How Many Frontosa Cichlids Do I Need in a Tank?

We recommend you keep at least six to eight Frontosa cichlids in your tank. Ensure that of these six fish, only one is male to create a form of harem for this fish. You can raise fewer than six of these fish, but trios and duos will not work well for this fish.

The number of Frontosa cichlid you keep in your tank plays a role in how they behave with each other. Their interactions with humans, however, are either a hit or miss. According to some aquarists, their Frontosa cichlids are big, friendly, and act happy to see their keepers. They even swim to greet them!

Other aquarists say that their Frontosa are shy and run to hide when their keepers approach them. Sadly, there is no apparent reason for this behavior; we are left to assume that, like humans, each of these humphead cichlids has different personalities.

Frontosa Cichlid Breeding

Unlike a host of other fish species, it can be quite challenging to differentiate between the sexes of the Frontosa cichlid because they are nearly identical until they reach sexual maturity. It takes three years for them to reach sexual maturity; the males develop a prominent nuchal hump and extended fins.

Frontosas are very selective when it comes to mating. Thus, we advise that you raise a group of them together so that they pair up on their own as they grow. You can start with 10 fish and remove the males as they mature until you are left with one or at most two male frontosas. This helps to create a natural harem like the one they favor in the wild.

– Conditioning and Raising Frontosa Cichlid Fry

Once a proper harem has been created, it is time to set the tone for Frontosa breeding; it is easy to ensure success by conditioning them. Thankfully, you do not need to initiate massive water changes since Lake Tanganyika is a stable environment.

Feed them high-quality food rich in protein to fuel their gamete production. Limit the quantity of prepared and commercial food you give to them at the conditioning stage. Ensure that your water is clean and that the parameters are within range.

Once they are successfully conditioned, the females begin to get plumper because of the eggs in their abdomen. She lays her eggs and takes them back into her mouth to keep them safe from predators until they finally hatch.

Yes, Frontosas are livebrooders – their eggs are incubated in their mouth. While the female fish is incubating the eggs, she does not feed; the male defends their territory from predators.

Once the eggs hatch, the female lets them out of her mouth, and they form a loose cloud around her head while the male remains on guard to keep them safe. At the hint of any threat, the female gathers the fry and takes them back into her mouth.

Around 50 days after they hatch, they become independent and begin to explore their tank. At this point, they can be moved to a separate aquarium and nurtured until they can hold their own against predators.

– Feeding Frontosa Cichlid Fry

Frontosa cichlid fry is relatively large, measuring roughly half an inch once they are hatched. You can feed them any food tiny enough to fit into their mouth. Brine shrimp, powdered flakes, micro worms, mosquito larvae, and nauplii are great choices. There is no need to provide the fry with infusoria.


Here’s a summary of what we’ve covered above:

  • Frontosa cichlid care tipsFrontosa cichlid is a large, semi-aggressive African cichlids
  • They have a unique hump on their forehead that gets larger as they age
  • Frontosas have an average lifespan of 20 years
  • It’s quite difficult to sex the Frontosa cichlid, and they’re selective in mating

Keeping Frontosa cichlids is relatively easy once you know enough about them. We have outlined all that you need to know about this fish and simplified their care for you. Go ahead and do leave us comments on how it goes.

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