by Eric Glab
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 groups.
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 them.
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 them.
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 adulthood.
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.