Tropheus  spp.

All Tropheus species have the same requirements, so they are assembled into the same profile.

Last updated: 12/1 2007

Fighting Tropheus sp. "black" (Pemba) males

Images of different Tropheus

Distribution and variants:

All Tropheus are endemic to Lake Tanganyika. The different species are distributed along the shoreline, so that they have only little common ground, except T. duboisi, which lives at deeper levels, than the rest.

Tropheus Sp. black: Northern part of the lake. There are numerous variants, of which the best known are: Bemba (Pemba), Caramba, Kiriza,  Rutunga and Sisyeswe (Bulu point). The last mentioned, is found remarkably far from the other variants, and one might wonder, if it is not a different species, just like Tropheus sp. "ikola", which actually is found very close to Sisyeswe (As of now, this is just a private theory).

Tropheus Sp. red: Eastern part of the lake, overlapping T. moorii "territory". The best known variants are: Chilanga, Chimba, Livua, Lupota, Kachese and Moliro.

Tropheus duboisi: Spread in the lake. Generally there is not as much difference in between the variants, as seen in the other species. The best known variants are: Maswa (Halembe), Bemba, Kigoma and Karilani. It is thought, that the spread out distribution, is indicating a previously much larger population, which has been out-competed by other species, leaving these scattered remnants behind.

Tropheus Moorii: Southern part of the lake. The best known variants are: Chaitika, Ilangi, Lufubu, Kala, Kalambo, Kasanga, Kasakalawe and Mpulungu.

Size: 12-16 cm. Males are usually larger than females.
Sex differences: It can be difficult to see, without venting, but often the males are larger, and dominant males have deeper colours, and white lips (wear and tear from mouth-fights).
Natural diet: Aufwuchs (the layer of algae covering the rocks, including it`s  content of small animals).
Biotopes and general behavior:

Tropheus are typically found just below the surf-zone, at rocky coastlines. The exception to this, is Tropheus duboisi, which is usually found at a deeper level. Both sexes form territories, but the females do not defend theirs very vigorously, and often several individuals are seen, grazing very close together.

It appears that Tropheus benefit from sharing the biotope with various Petrochromis species, which is very efficient in grazing off loose algae, with the sediment found in these, leaving a cleaner surface, that Tropheus prefer. This could be the explanation to the larger feeding schools, which makes aggression from the much larger Petrochromis easier to avoid.

As mentioned, T. duboisi is found deeper than other Tropheus. This is probably the result of competition from other Tropheus, which has forced this species to a lower and less desirable biotope.

Breeding behavior: Maternal mouth brooder. Breeding usually takes place on a fairly secluded spot, often on a sloping surface, next to a rock or something like that. Prior to the actual breeding, there is a period, where the male accept the chosen female in his territory, and numerous skin breedings are seen. It would seem. that some kind of mating is taking place before breeding, and theories has been put forward, that the female is unable to complete the development of the eggs, unless she is under the "protection" of a dominant male. The Tropheus genus is thought to be fairly old, which could account for the lack of differentiation in colour between the sexes, which contradicts the fact, that only the female is active in the parenting. The explanation for this, is that maternal mouth brooding is considered an advanced development of bi-parental mouth brooding, a technique that logically requires the parents to look approximately  uniform. Tropheus is seen as a transition form between the two. Supporting this theory, is an observation in aquarium, where a male did actually help the female recovering an egg that was missed by the female. The egg was collected, brought back and immediately delivered in front of the female. A typical brood is 6-20, dependent on species.

Brooding female
Temperatures and water: 24-28 deg. Celsius. PH 7-8,5/DH 12-30
Feeding: Dry food, preferably in the form of discs or pills. Frozen food like Shrimp mix and cylops. Avoid food with high content of fat and protein!

Recipe for shrimp mix:
2 parts frozen shrimp incl. shell, 2 parts frozen peas and 1 part frozen spinach. If extra colour enhancing effect is desired, Cyclop-eeze can be added, but should be limited to max. 5% of the total weight. Spirulina powder can be added, but should be limited to max 1% (see above). Everything is run at least twice through a meat-grinder, put into zipper bags of suitable size before freezing, so it will be easy to break in suitable pieces for feeding.
Tank size: 325L/130 cm.
Best kept as: Group. How many males/females is less important, but an overweight of females is usually best.
Tank decoration and behavior:

The tank, ideally 150cm. or more in length, can be decorated either as 1): A typical rocky biotope, with lots of differently sized rocks, providing lots of cover and territorial borders, or 2): It could be totally without any decoration, and thus prevent territory building. A good water circulation (4-5 times the tank volume per hour) is necessary for the well-being of Tropheus.

Type 1): For this option, which is clearly the one that will give the best opportunity to experience Tropheus for better or worse, the number of hiding places is high enough to provide opportunities for one or more males to maintain a territory, while still allowing for the rest of the group to find plenty of shelter. This is, in My experience, best achieved by covering the bottom of the tank completely with rocks in different sizes, maybe with a "rock wall" on the Back glass. The important thing, is to create enough differently sized holes and crevices, to make sure, that smaller fish always has an escape option available, that is too small for a larger aggressor to follow. This is rarely possible in a traditional "garden fence" setup, with the adhering wasted open space at the front 2/3 of the tank. In a 530L, 5-8 males will typically do well, with 2-3 of them as territory holders, and 15-30 females as company. Tropheus exhibit large individual differences, so this should only be seen as a rough sketch, and adjustments will very likely be needed in regard to numbers and sexual distribution. It is worth remembering, that it is much easier and less risky to remove excessive fish, than to introduce new (read: Buy plenty to start with!). It is, unfortunately, hard to avoid, not least at startup, a very high aggression level, which could result in fatalities,  as especially the males, but also to a smaller extent the females, fight stubbornly for their slot in the hierarchy, a behavior that is at the same time fascinating and annoying, even unpleasant, to witness. Usually the group settles down to a (relatively) calm state of guarded truce, with only the occasional push or short chasing, to mark their spot. The males will still have some very spectacular fights (see photo at the top), with prolonged mouth-biting, which is the cause of the characteristic white area around their mouths. The initialization is considerably easier, and with far less likelihood of losses, if the group is started as juveniles, that can grow to maturity together, than if it is done with mature individuals.

Type 2): This setup is aiming at avoiding the mentioned aggressions, by removing any natural boundaries for territories, and by keeping the number of inhabitants too high, to make any deliberate harassment of a single individual impossible, by simple confusion. This requires a very dense population. In a 530L, 50-60 individuals would be suitable, with a male/female ratio of about 1 : 3. Under these conditions, the fish can not keep up their natural behavior, and resort to act more or less like schooling fishes. Strangely, this does not affect their willingness to breed, which has made this method very popular, despite the fact that any chance of seeing the behavioral uniqueness of Tropheus is totally eliminated.

It is at any circumstances imperative, that the tank is adequately stocked, to make sure that the fish at the bottom of the hierarchy is stressed to death, or downright attacked and killed. There have been exceptions to this, and groups numbering as little as 4-5, usually with a single male, has been known to coexist successfully, but these are fairly rare, and usually kept together with fish of different species.

One reoccurring problem, is adding or reinstating fish to an already established group. This disturbs the hierarchy, and upset the balance between the individual members. Often the resulting conflicts are very hard on the newcomer(s), which may not survive. The best thing to do, if the situation is unavoidable, is to completely redecorate the whole tank, so that established territories are broken down, and everybody starts (more or less) from scratch.

Suggested tankmates:

Tropheus are generally best kept by themselves, if their intra specific relations are to be experienced to the fullest, but Eretmodus or Tanganicodus species are exceptions to this rule. Furthermore, it is important to avoid species that necessitates too much compromise with correct feeding of the Tropheus. Adversely, make sure that the intended tank mates are able to withstand the somewhat rough company Tropheus are.

It is possible to keep more than one kind of Tropheus in the same tank, provided they are of different species, do not look too much alike, and that one of the species does not achieve too much dominance. It is very important to make sure, that there are a sufficient number of potential sexual partners from each species, so that none of them feel pressured to mate with a nonspecific partner. This is more and more difficult for each extra species in the tank, so limiting the number to 2 or max. 3 is best. The reason for not keeping different variants of the same species, is that they will see each other as natural sexual-partners, which for obvious reasons, is not desirable.

Breeding: If the Tropheus are kept by themselves and plenty of the aforementioned hiding places are provided, maybe supplanted with some bushy plants like i.e. Cryptocoryne, they actually take care of breeding themselves, without the need of interference form the aquarist, since they are fairly peaceful towards their fry. My own experience with a 530L tank, housing 4 males and 38 females, was that they produced 121 surviving juveniles in app. 6 months. These were collected in connection to a thorough cleaning of the tank. How many was lost in that same period is off course unknown, but the resulting fish, was very healthy, and I had avoided the whole set of problems caused by removing the females, with the following risky reintroduction, or the very stressing "stripping" procedure. Otherwise, the female should be separated 18-20 days after breeding.

Adult male, surrounded by fry. It appears like the large males ignores the small fry, but chases bigger juveniles away. This provides a relatively safe haven for the small fry, who often encounters a great deal of harassment from their elder cousins.
Extra information:

Tropheus is a fish, which has almost cult status, and has attracted many, almost fanatic followers, who has derived their own way of keeping these magnificent fish the "only right way", to an extent that resemble religion more than reason. The two above mentioned decoration methods, roughly covers these methods, but there are countless variations over these themes, that would be impossible to mention here, and which, quite frankly, are of next to zero importance. You will probably find Your own "true way" of doing it!

One of the things that there is quite a lot of dispute over, is actually whether Tropheus are difficult to keep or not, ranging from postulates that they are just as easy as any other cichlid, to claims of being nearly impossible to keep alive for any length of time! The fact is, that more Tropheus, in relation to their number, die prematurely, than cichlids in general, and when it is additionally considered, that they are usually not the first challenge chosen by the average Aquarist, it is probably hard to deny, that they are probably not exactly natural beginners` choice.

The challenges can be roughly divided into 3 main groups; Aggression, as described above, water quality, which should be nothing short of superb in order to avoid the third group, which is disease. Tropheus suffer from the same diseases as most other cichlids, but are extra prone to a disease known as Bloat. Bloat is an infection, which is normally found dormant in all fish, but may spread explosively, if the fish is exposed to stress and/or wrong feeding.

Aggression can also be a cause for stress, but how to manage this, has already been dealt with, in "Tank decoration and behavior", so We will concentrate on water quality and feeding. It is imperative, that a Tropheus tank is completely cycled in, before any fish is added. That means, the filter is completely matured, and all measurable values (Ammonium and Nitrite) are stable at virtually immeasurably low levels, since Tropheus have very little tolerance for suboptimal water conditions.

As for feeding, it is very important to use restraint when dealing with Tropheus, especially when they are recently moved. It is also necessary to change food gradually, which means, that You should always get some of the food they are accustomed to, when You purchase new Tropheus, so You can slowly change it to the food You want to use Yourself. Do not feed anything for the first couple of days if possible (small fry react fast to starvation), and then start up very cautiously. A good rule of thumb, is to measure up the amount of food deemed necessary for the fish to survive, and then split this into 5 portions, which can be given over the next 5 days! After that, the portions can be gradually increased in size over the next 3 weeks, until the optimal amount has been reached, or one or more fish shows signs of illness, in which case all feeding is suspended immediately.

Typical signs of Bloat, are that the affected fish is staying still at, or just above the substrate, with all fins raised, and characteristic slow waggling movements to the body. Treatment, which should be commenced IMMEDIATELY, could be Aquamor 1, which should be given at double the dose recommended on the package, and repeated after 3 days. During these 6 days, no feeding should take place, and extra aeration is advisable. After that, careful feeding, like if they were new acquisitions, is started. Alternatively the fish could be treated with Metronidazole, which, at least in My experience has proven more effective, but require a prescription. I have tried with a very high dosage (2gram/10L) without any signs of discomfort of the stock, and this has been fairly successful.

One "problem" worth mentioning here, is the difference between WC and TR individuals of Tropheus. With the exception of T. duboisi, WC Tropheus generally has the mouth pointed downward, whereas it has a tendency to point more forward in Tank-Raised specimens. This is most likely the result of different feeding. In nature, the mouth is constantly working, scraping off algae, which is often very hard to loosen from the rocks, whereas TR fish has never had this need, and often not even the opportunity. That is why I always use hard discs or pills for dry food, since they require the fish to make the same effort (to a much lesser degree, off-course) as in the wild, instead of picking it out of the water. Whether it makes an actual difference is debatable, but I think My tank raised Tropheus have smaller "noses" than many other I have seen around.