In my years of fishkeeping, I cannot recall a fish that causes more
frustration and controversy to more people than the Tropheus complex of
Lake Tanganyika. In this multi-part article I will discuss the keeping and
breeding of Tropheus.
Tropheus are demanding compared to other Cichlids, yet they can be one
of the most rewarding. Basically the Tropheus can be split into four
groups; Duboisi, Brichardi, Annectens(Polli), and Moori. Ad Konings has
further split these groups up but for our discussion these are the four
basic groups. Unless mentioned, anything stated applies to these four
Tropheus come in a multitude of color variants. This is one of their
nicest features. No one has seen them all. Some are rather drab while
others are some of the most beautiful Cichlids in existence. Great debate
has occurred on which are the nicest; beauty is in the eye of the
beholder. Even some that are not very colorful have striking markings that
make them very desirable. The canary cheek variant would be a good
example; it is a brown fish with a yellow patch on the gill plate. It is
not as colorful as a Red Rainbow but I wouldn't mind a tank full of
I have seen prominent people in the Cichlid hobby write about which
color variants you can mix together without risk of inbreeding; don't
believe it! I have seen large colonies of Tropheus with sufficient sexes
in each color variant interbreed. These are the same variants that
previous authors claim you can mix together freely. These articles are
done by assumption, yet they get into the most prominent of books and
magazines. It works on the most part, but not always.
Water is of utmost importance in the Tropheus aquarium. I find that the
use of Epsom salt with a little kosher salt helps the fish with the
dreaded "Bloat". Bloat is a disease that can be the cause of death in many
aquarium fish; it is probably the number one killer of Tropheus in the
aquarium. Paul Loiselle does an excellent job of explaining bloat in
Cichlids in the Aquarium. Basically it is hypothesized that bloat in warm
water fish is caused from the protozoal parasite Spironucleus. It is said
to live in the intestine of the fish, with a healthy fish keeping their
numbers in check. Once a fish becomes stressed, their numbers multiply and
cause death by secondary means. The fish does not, but could, actually
look bloated. The interesting thing is that once one fish gets it, others
usually follow. Even if you introduce a healthy fish into an already
healthy colony, mass death can follow. Fellow aquarist Viral Surati has
tried using a UV sterilizer to inhibit the passing of bloat. This was
ineffective. My guess is that it is passed when a fish mouths the fecal
matter from an infected fish. Whatever the reason, when your Tropheus get
bloat, and they probably will, be ready. I prefer to have a large bottle
of Clout on hand in order to treat the fish at the first sign. If one of
your Tropheus is not eating with a frenzy, do a water change and medicate
immediately! Hopefully you will be able to save all the Tropheus. If you
wait, you can lose almost all of them. This is why it is majorly important
to watch your Tropheus eat everyday.
Some have theorized that the feeding of brineshrimp or other meaty
foods can cause Bloat in Tropheus. I disagree; others and I feed meaty
foods to Tropheus with no ill effects. Some believe Tropheus are pure
vegetarians, they are not. In fact, they do very well with a combination
of Spirulina flake and brine shrimp. I would however avoid some of the
dirtier foods i.e. Tubifex worms. I think it is important not to have any
leftover food in the aquarium because this does harbor bacterium that
tends to cause problems.
Water circulation seems to be another necessity of Tropheus. Many
Tropheus live near the surge habitat and seem to handle it quite well.
Their fry also seem to grow faster for me in a tank with good circulation.
This goes true with other fry that I have raised.
There are as many ways to set up a breeding colony of Tropheus as there
are Tropheus. I don't know everyone's methods and I'm sure many of them
work, but for the sake of keeping this short I will describe the methods I
have seen and experienced that work best.
In no other fish does the term F1 become more overused than with
Tropheus. Everyone wants F1's but many don't know more than that. It's an
easy concept to learn, I wish it wasn't. It is abused especially when
talking about Tropheus, but that's another article. Since most hobbyists
want F1 Tropheus, it doesn't make sense, from a money point of view, to
breed anything but wild fish. If you breed F1 you will subsequently have
F2 fry that most new Tropheus people will never touch, too bad for
To me, wild fish are instantly gratifying and are much easier to keep
than their reputation lets on. Wild Tropheus are almost always available
as pairs or even more commonly as trios. I find that a group in either of
these ratios to be fine but you can have as little as one male per colony
if you wish. The key is to get as big a colony as possible in order to
increase your chances of a colony that doesn't self-destruct, the more the
merrier. The Duboisi seem to be more mellow than the rest of them and are
a good beginner fish. I like to think 25 adults as a good number to shoot
for and fit into a 75 gallon tank or larger nicely. Now I know that some
of you are thinking that this is adding up to a lot of money, and it is.
Let's do a little math. The average wild adult Tropheus is going for about
$22.00. Multiply that by 25 and you have a total of $550.00. Do you have
to grow these fish up to breed them, no they are already adults. They are
sometimes holding eggs or fry when they come in from Africa, instant
reward. Sell them at $5.00 a piece and all you need to do is sell 110 fry.
If you have eight adult females that each breed twice with ten fry (the
spawns are small as the eggs are large and they are maternal
mouthbrooders, 10 fry would be a conservative average) per spawn you have
160 fry with a return of $800.00. Sounds too simple? Afraid they will kill
each other? Don't be cheap on the initial investment and you will be
rewarded. It works; I have seen it over and over again. Buy six fish and
your odds of this working are much tougher.
If you would like to grow fry up, go ahead and do it. I have taken this
route and have spawned hundreds of Tropheus this way. It can be very
satisfying to see another hobbyist with fry, born of the fry that you grew
up and raised to breeding size. Just make sure you buy a large group and
don't forget that chances are you will lose a couple on the way to
If you have ever seen a huge, happy colony of smokin' Tropheus, you
will never forget it. Don't ever mess with it. Taking out one fish after
the colony has been established can be disastrous. I have seen it and have
heard it over and over again.
Juvenile Tropheus are, well, I hate to say it but, cute. They look
almost like miniature adults, except for coloration. Most have some sort
of striping that is not very colorful. There are a few exceptions.
Tropheus Brichardi "Uwile" juveniles have a nice yellow-orange color with
dark brown stripes, they look good but not as good as juveniles I have
seen pictured in the wild. It may be diet or lighting that plays a role
there. Exporter, African Diving, has a nice Tropheus juvenile pictured on
their web site they call Tropheus Brichardi "Fiery Fry" from Namansi Reef,
the fry are striped with an orange red color and the adults are shiny
yellow with black fins. The most famous fry belong to Tropheus Duboisi.
The fry are pitch back with white dots all over, a striking fish. This
fades as the fish gets older until the heads become blue, the black
becomes a bit gray and there may be a white, yellow or no stripe at all on
the flank. This all depends on location. The fry will hold their juvenile
colors longer if you put them with adult fish. I have seen them over two
inches with not a hint of the adult coloration, very nice! Tropheus fry
require no special food, as the fry are a good half-inch when released
from the mother. You can strip the fry or let the mother release in the
same tank. Just provide a pile of small rocks in the corner that the
adults can't get into. Soon you will see baby Tropheus in the aquarium.
The great thing is the adults will leave them alone.
Another thing I forgot to mention previoulsy was sand. In
the Lake, Tropheus are eating constantly and eating food that is not very
nutritional. They are passing enormous amount of indigestible material
through their guts. The sand in your tank will actually be eaten by the
Tropheus and help keep your fish healthy.
Most importantly remember, the key to Tropheus is
attention. Spend time watching your fish to see that they are eating like
ravenous Tropheus do. Do your water changes. These fish will not take
kindly to the aquarist who doesn't have time to do a proper siphoning
under the rocks and filters. If all this seems like work to you, maybe
this is the wrong fish for you, maybe the wrong hobby. □