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Starting With Tropheus
by Brad Newton

Tropheus are often considered a fish for the advanced hobbiest, and there are several reasons for this.

  1. They are fiercely territorial, and along with Petrochromis, are amongst the most territorial of the Tanganyikan Cichlids. This means they must be kept in larger numbers to distribute the aggression, and should be kept in larger quarters to allow for the territories.
  2. They are, for the most part, herbivores, and specifically algae grazers, which have a very long digestive tract, and need to be fed often, with the correct diet. Many foods that are good for most Cichlids can be harmful (over the long term) to Tropheus.
  3. Since they are Tanganyikan Cichlids, they require stable water parameters, clean tanks, and regular water changes.
  4. They are quite easily hybridized. There are 5 recognized species of Tropheus, and within most of the species there are a number of geographic color morphs. It is very easy to select a type of Tropheus that looks alot different than another, but is still within the same species, and if this occurs, it often leads to the undesireable cross-breeding between Tropheus varieties.

Now, what to do to address the aforementioned sections?

1. When starting out it's best to find a particular Tropheus you prefer and just keep one type. Tropheus duboisi seem to be the best suited to start with, but I'd suggest going w/ whatever one you find most desireable/affordable/available, etc. and going with it. In my opinion it's best to start with F1 juveniles. They are readily available, will all be close in age, and you will experience the nice transition from juvenile to adult coloration (which can be extreme, in some varieties).

Try to keep them in the biggest tank you can afford, a 55gallon would be the minimum, and a 75 ideal for a single colony Tropheus tank.

Try to get a nice size colony from the start, adding to a colony later can be quite troublesome, and expensive. At least 12, but preferably 20 makes for a good colony size, and if you have the room, 30 is even better. If you're buying adult fishes, it's best to aquire them in a ratio of 4-6 females per male. With juveniles you won't get that luxury, but they'll grow up a bit more tolerant of each other. Eventually, you may have to "cull-out" some of the males, but that's for another time.

Try to keep several separate rock piles in the tank to keep the territories separated, at least in theory (some Tropheus claim the entire tank as theirs regardless of what you come up with). Sand is the substrate of choice, and Silica or "Blasting" sand is a cheap, attractive sand for them.

2. Tropheus are notorious for "bloat", an intestinal disorder that can be triggered by diets heavy in animal proteins. To minimize this, feed primarily algae based foods such as a good spirulina flake. During their algae grazing, they also ingest small crustaceans and other microorganisms, so a bit of protein is acceptable.You can feed a higher protein flake now & then, like Brine Shrimp flake or freeze dried Krill, but it shouldn't make up the majority of it's diet.

Try to feed often, I recommend 3x daily, or more if you can, but feed sparingly, about all they can consume in 3 minutes.

It's also a good idea to provide alot of light to encourage algae growth on the rockwork, your Tropheus will graze constantly, and it's quite a sight!

3. Tropheus prefer a stable Ph between 8&9, a KH between 10 & 18, and a GH over 10. A temperature between 77&81F is also desired. Weekly 25% water changes should become routine, and be sure to keep your changewater within the tanks' water parameters. Be sure to provide good oxygenation as well, Dissolved Oxygen should be close to saturation.

It is best, however, to keep your fish in STABLE water, so it's preferred to keep in water that you don't have to always be tinkering with. For example, if your PH &/or Hardness are a little low, say 7.7 and a KH of 7, it's better to use your water straight, and keep it changed often, than to add alot of buffering compounds & salts and have your pH & Hardness always shifting. Basically, try to keep it simple & stable and your fishes will benefit.

4. Tropheus are currently divided between 5 species: duboisi, brichardi, moorii, annectens, and moorii species "Black", w/ a couple sub-species that are loosely defined: moorii species "Red", and "Mpimbwe".

When keeping more than one colony in a tank (and you shouldn't keep more than 3) you need to select one from each different species. For example, keeping a group of duboisi with a group of moorii would work, but keeping two different morphs of moorii could result in cross-breeding. The subspecies closely resemble the species (sp. "Red" resembles moorii, "Mpimbwe" resembles brichardi) so extra research needs to be done when mixing them. One other note on mixing colonies, the colonies tend to have the most brilliant coloration & larger, more frequent spawns when kept as one colony per tank. When more than one colony exist in a tank the coloration tends to diminish a bit, but you'll have more variety, it's a trade off worth mentioning, In my opinion.

Each colony should add 60 gallons to the overall tank size, so for 3 colonies a 180 gallon would be the desired tank volume.

Tropheus are some of the most entertaining, colorful, and desireable Cichlids on the planet, hopefully you'll consider adding some to your life, you'll be glad you did!

I put together this article to answer most of the questions someone starting out with Tropheus may have, but please, post any problems, or further questions in the Tropheus forum, we're here to help.
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