It wouldn’t be amiss to call the Frontosa a floating zebra crossing in the aquarium.

Frontosa Cichlid belongs to the most prominent fish family and is one of the 1741 diversified cichlid species identified to date.      

It is a popular fish belonging to the Cyphotilapia Genus, with historical evidence dating back to Ancient Egyptian times. These fishes are among the favorite food items in many parts of the world, especially the USA.

It has a small hump on the head that gives a slight anguish design to the face, while this sleek cichlid, with its active movements and controlling attitude, makes the fish tank entertaining & watchful.

Read the complete care guide on Frontosa cichlid that elaborates on species details, breeding information, and tank recommendation.

An Overview

About Species
Scientific Name Cyphotilapia Frontosa
Nick Names Humphead Cichlid, Frontosa, Burundi Frontosa
Family Cichlidae
Source Lake Tanganyika (Eastern Africa)
Max Age 25 years
Max Length 35 cm
Type Freshwater
Color Pattern Black strips on white or blue base

Source and Habitation

The Cyphotilapia Frontosa was first recognized in 1906, primarily found in the East African region. They are majorly concentrating in the northern half of Lake Tanganyika, which is a freshwater body.

These fishes prefer staying in deeper water, dwelling not too far from the water surface, between 30 to 50 meters, which is rare in cichlids species.

The Frontosas are observed to come up to the water surface in the shallow region during the early morning hours. They come up to catch shoaling fishes like sardine cichlids.

They are easily found dwelling around the rocks in the water, feeding over snails, mussels, or shellfish.

Size: How Big Do They Get?

The Frontosa cichlid looks pretty well in length when kept in a home aquarium; however, they attain an average size at full maturity. These fishes are slow growers and achieve their full length after spending a few years of life.

But the fact is that the Frontosa fish living in the wild may achieve a maximum length of 14 inches. While the ones reared in ideal conditions of aquariums only tend to grow up to 12 inches and rarely reach the entire length.

Defining Colors and Looks of the Fish

Frontosa has the ideal features of a fish and is glorified with an enticing personality, which is why fish lovers highly look up to these aquatics.

These fishes have a long body structure flattened on both sides, with extended brushed dorsal fin and long tail fin, while pectoral and anal fins are slightly small but of reasonable length.

The head is uniquely round-shaped. It is due to a small hump that appears on the forehead once the fish ages to maturity. The mouth is typically outward with small teeth.

Frontosa cichlids flaunt a white body with thick black zebra streaks that run horizontally all over their bodies in parallel formations.

The fish has a bluish shade which varies in intensity as per the species variant, while the fins are beautifully thin white or golden tint. As the fish gets older, the color of the fins starts darkening.

The Frontosa cichlids come in a variety of colors and traits that differ somewhat from one another.

Frontosa Cichlid Care Guide
Image Credit: Reddit User u/prestonium_

Blue Zaire Frontosa

They have blue-colored fins, with the upper half of the body and neck getting a darker blue shade. Pelvic fins with vertical strips are light bluish. The dark band near the eyes reaches the mouth.

Burundi

This fish has five dark stripes with a light blue shade over the body.

Kavala

It has five strips, and the dorsal fins have yellow membranes.

Kipili

This fish also has five strips with horizontal bands running from the eyes.

Kigoma or Tanzanian Seven-Strip Frontosa

It has six white or blueish-white strips with yellow dorsal fins and dark blue cheeks that turn to blackish. The dark band covering the eyes looks like a wound.

Blue Mpinbwe

The head and fins are blue,which brightens with aging.

Nord Congo

It has six strips with pale blue color on the body.

Blue Sambia

It has light-coloredstrips with blue fins, a head, and a peculiar dark band in the center of the eyes.

Moba Zaire

It is uniquely colored with light violet or ultramarine shade.

Tanzanian Six-Strip Frontosa

Though a rare breed, it is usually found in the USA, and being similar to Burundi, if crossbred, it will produce Frontosa cichlids with diagonal stripes.

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Life Expectancy

These are typically hardy and do not easily get affected by unfamiliar conditions. Frontosa can care for themselves very well and even stay protected from predation.

If provided with an ideal condition to live, the total lifespan of Frontosa cichlid is found to be around 25 years. But this is rarely achieved, and these fishes die off a bit early in life, completing around two decades.

Gender: How to Sex Frontosa

Gendering a Frontosa cichlid is a complicated task, and even the experts in the industry face difficulty in coming to the final result while declaring the sex of the fish.

Here are some of the standard methods applied to know the gender of the fish:

  • Groups: A standard method is to put them in groups and decide which ones are larger. The larger fishes are considered males. However, this may not be entirely true since there are chances that the specific male has yet not attained maximum length.
  • Behavior: If the fishes are in groups, the males generally show aggression towards other males to put off the mating competition.
  • The Hump: Males are generally observed to have more significant humps than females, although it is not true all the time, as there can be females too with a hump and males lacking it entirely.
  • Venting: In this process, some tools such as tubes are used to view the reproductive organ of the fish. This is a reliable method to determine the gender and works best in large fish.

Fish Availability and Cost

Frontosa was once considered a rare fish that was not easily found or bred and hence was quite expensive in the market. But with market expansion and advancement in artificial breeding techniques, these fishes are made readily available worldwide through online/ offline stores.

The price of the fish may vary depending upon the species variant, colors, age, and size, while it is also seen that the fish caught directly from the wild are sold at higher rates compared to the ones bred in tanks.

The current price of the Frontosa cichlid in the international market ranges between $20 to $30.

Care Guide

Quick Care Sheet
Care Level Medium
Social Territorial
Predators Yes, Piscivores (Can eat anything of small size)
Temperament Semi-Aggressive
Diet Carnivore
Breeding Mouth Brooding, Cave Spawning
Color Combination Blueish shade with six or seven dark stripes

Best Food for Them

The Frontosa cichlid is a meat-eating species that can consume both live and dead meat in freshwater bodies.

While in the lake, they prefer eating small aquatics, especially shellfish, but in a captive zone, they wouldn’t deny consuming green vegies or plants.

These are slow eaters and consume their feed from the bottom of the water surface instead of the floating food.

Author Note: A young juvenile can comfortably eat nutritious diets like flakes and pellets, but an adult fish will avoid these prepared foods and seek meat or live alternatives.

Something to be strictly monitored here is the quality of feed supplied in the tank. If you provide live feeder fishesto the Frontosa, then be sure that the little fishes are disease-free.

These cichlids are prone to illness transferable from unhealthy or unhygienic feeds. Hence to avoid causing diseases like pathogens to your pet, you should provide them with protein-rich frozen foods such as shrimps, pellets, or flakes.

Suitable feed for Frontosa cichlid may include the following items:

  • Mosquito Larva
  • Mysis Shrimp
  • Muscle
  • Snails
  • Blackworms
  • Bloodworms
  • Feeder fishes
  • Cockle (chopped)
  • Krill
  • Prawns
  • Bony Fish (For Calcium intake)
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Benthic Algae

Author Note: You should opt to feed these fishes in small amounts, dividing the diet into 4 to 5 portions instead of one big meal. This keeps the water quality at a high level most of the time while also not letting the frontosa overfeed.

Nature and Temperament

Frontosa is a peaceful fish and mostly avoids brisk fights with other mates in the tank. Although few males behave as if governing the area and show pro-active movements for some time, but are otherwise pretty social.

In the lake, they are pretty friendly with different variants.

These are pro-society fishes and stay comfortable in groups, preferably 1 is to 3 male-female ratios with 8 to 10 individuals.

Being complaisant and easy-going, these are vulnerable to attacks from other aggressive fishes in the aquarium.

So if you have them in a community tank, keep monitoring the behavior of other fishes towards them and remove the smaller fishes from the tank, as Frontosa cichlid is a predator and won’t hesitate to consume smaller ones as their feeders very soon.

Reproduction in Frontosa

These are among the best-known fishes for breeding in home tanks. They quickly reproduce and do not necessarily require a typical setup or controlled environment for mating and spawning.

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Initial Step

Though reproducing a juvenile in a tank is easy, but the process of breeding is quite hectic. These fishes reach their sexual maturity almost after four years of their age.

Now that you have a group of such adults, the first thing to do is separate the males from the female. Try multiple methods of gendering the Frontosa to be very sure before beginning the mating process.

Mating Process

The males are habitual of mating multiple partners in a season. Inducing more than one male in a mating tank may create unnecessary tension among them, leading to aggressive behaviors. It is suggestive of putting one male fish with four or five females.

You can set up rocks and pebbles, creating small caves where the fish may lay eggs. The mating tank for 4 to 5 fishes should have around 200 gallons capacity for easy movements.

The males, in general, seclude a specific area in the tank around the rocks or caves, etc., and attract females by displaying shiny body colors.

Once a female successfully mates, it is ready to lay eggs which can be observed from the bulging abdomen area of the fish.

Spawning & Fertilization

Best results of spawning can be achieved by maintaining tank warmth between 25 to 28 degrees Celsius. On average, a female can lay up to 25 eggs.

When the females are ready, it moves to the substrate area and releases the eggs in a secure space.

Males secrete and deposit milt (fish sperm) into female cichlids’ mouths, fertilizing the eggs and safeguarding the brood from predatory vertebrates. 

Eggs Hatching

The females being buccal incubators, put all the eggs in the mouth, incubate them in the oral cavity after fertilization, and retain the clutch for 3 to 4 days until it hatches. The parents will protect the hatchlings until they become 2.5 cm in size.

Note: A study found that larva sizes of 1.66cm were mouthbrooded by the female parent.

Initially, the babies can be fed with small brines until they are ready in a few weeks for adult food.

Illness and Health Issues

Though these fishes seem robust in nature & lifestyle but are usually prone to many common fish diseases, these diseases can be cured if undertaken in time. Otherwise, it may also infect other fishes too and lead to fatality.

Most diseases that trouble these fish are through food infection or adjustable water parameters. Their nature to eat any living or non-living meat makes them vulnerable to several food infections.

Few diseases that may infect the Frontosa are listed here, along with ways to cure them.

Parasitic Disease (Ich):

It might be the result of water contamination. To cure the disease, you should first consider increasing water temperature up to 30 degrees Celsius for three days. You may also try copper-based medications under expert guidance.

Bacterial Infections: It looks like a red spot or swelling of the abdomen and is best treated by antibiotics like penicillin.

Fungal Diseases (Flukes): These are gey or white bulging patches on the skin. It can best be cured with water-changing scenarios.

Other Health Issues: You need to protect the fish from physical wounds through tank mates or environmental issues like low oxygen levels leading the fish to gasp or withdraw from eating food.

Preventing Diseases

You may follow the following instruction to avoid illness:

  • Purchase best quality aquatics from reliable vendors.
  • Separate the new fish from the community for a few days and monitor its activities.
  • Do not let the fish over-stress itself due to aggressive mates or sudden change of environment. Keep the process slow.
  • Avoid over-feeding.
  • Instantly segregate the sick fish to avoid transmission of disease.
  • Avoid metallic objects in the water tank.

Tank Necessities

Tank Specification
Capacity 350Litres
Water Temperature 74 to 79 F
Hardness Range 8 to 12dGH
Tank Lighting Moderate – Dim lighting
Water pH Level 8 to 8.5
Tank Type Community tank
Nitrate Below 25ppm
Substrate A mix of sand & gravel
Brackish 10% Salt tolerance

Approx Tank Capacity

The Frontosa cichlid is a huge fish that may be petted in a tank. They are best to be kept in big aquariums not just because they are long sized but also because they prefer random movements.

They are inherently sluggish, but they like moving throughout the designated area. Small space may hold them for some time but will not justify their living style.

On average, a full-length adult cichlid requires 70 to 80 gallons of water in a tank to make easy movements and get familiar with the area.

However, they are usually kept in groups, and hence a higher tank capacity of 125 gallons or more is helpful to pet 4 to 5 individuals together.

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Tank Setup

Keeping bigger tank size capacity as an initial requirement, you can always design the interior settings using the following ideas.

Plants

Although plants are not essential for tanks with Frontosa dwellings, you may opt for some straight plants in the tank that do not take much space and leave the area for easy movements.

Although not naturally plant diggers, you may selectively plant java ferns, moss, or anubias as they get attached to driftwood instead of substrate.

Pro Tip: Since the fish only prefers dim light in the tank, it cancels out planting most of the greens that require proper lights for growth.

Substrate

These fishes do not have any specific choices regarding the different objects in their home, as they readily adjust in all situations.

Yet, you can put some gravel over sand bottoms for breeding seasons and keep the space naturally serene. You can add some crushed corals if salt is dissolved in the water.

Some rocks and pebbles would help create cave formations for these shy fishes, where they can hide if stressed out.

Lighting

Frontosa Cichlids are shy-natured and stay in deep waters where the natural light partially penetrates. These are nocturnal creatures and prefer to remain in the low light region.

You do not need to place lights in the tank while rearing them in home tanks; instead, maintain the tank in a location where vision is largely dim.

Filteration and Oxygenation

Frontosas are habitats of freshwater that is rich in oxygen. So, if you are keeping these fishes in an aquarium, retain the oxygen level high.

Regularly changing aquarium water keeps it clean and healthy while transmitting the gases to keep the tank oxygenated.

Using a filtration system in the tank will help maintain oxygen level, while alternatively, you should also keep shuffling the tank water for aeration.

Water Specification

Petting a Frontosa cichlid in artificial tanks will not be difficult because these are comfortable, peaceful, and adaptable in nature and can survive well in most situations.

But it is essential to manage a suitable environment for these fishes to keep them healthy and calm.

While setting up water parameters in the fish tank, you need to focus on specific points.

  • Maintain high oxygen level
  • Keep the water temperature between 22 – 30 degrees Celsius.
  • The acidity level or pH should be around 8
  • Water hardness to be about 8 – 12 dGH
  • Nitrate level below 25ppm

It may be hard to secure such parameters for a long time in a fish tank, but you can use dedicated tools and methods to keep the limits close to the requirements.

Suitable Tank Companions

Though territorial, these fishes are friendly and settle well with other fish species. They can thrive comfortably in groups of about ten similar species.

If you are keeping them in a community tank, make sure to arrange fishes of similar sizes and non-aggressive nature. The small-sized fishes are potential feed to the Frontosa cichlids since they are ready to swallow every living organism that fits in their mouth.

Also, the bigger cichlids that are more hostile, such as the flowerhorn cichlids, are bad for them.

Few suitable tank mates that you can choose to keep with them are listed here.

  • Malawi Cichlid
  • Frontosa Tanganyika Cichlid
  • Pleco
  • Blue Dolphin Cichlid
  • White Calvis
  • Peacock Cichlid
  • Haplochromis Cichlid
  • Clown Loaches
  • Synodontis Catfish

Frequently Asked Questions

How is Frontosa cichlid different from other mouthbrooders?

Frontosa cichlid is a bit different from typical mouthbrooding fishes. Unlike other mouthbrooders, the Frontosa prefer to release the eggs in deep water instead of the shallow region. Removing eggs in deep waters protects the fry from becoming easy prey to the predators on the top, while it also suggests that they can survive in low oxygenated areas.

Is keeping Frontosa a difficult task?

No! instead, these fishes are experienced to be much more comfortable to keep compared to other cichlids species. They accommodate with right temperament in community tanks, and though are piscivores in nature but utterly harmless to humans otherwise.

Do these fishes eat plants?

These fishes are typical carnivores in nature and do not go anywhere close to the plants to feed themselves. It does not mean they stay away from vegetation. If they are offered green leafy veggies, they happily accept it.

Which is the rarest of the Frontosa species?

The black widow Frontosa cichlid is considered the rarest species of the Tanganyikan. These are normally bred in an artificial environment. It prefers to stay in great depth of water and usually grows bigger than other cichlids.

What are red Frontosa cichlid?

Red Frontosaare a line bred color morph of the Tanganyika cichlid, created to capture the red color base on the body. They look stunning in the tank as the red color replaces the simple black striped pattern.

Final Statement

Frontosa cichlids are the ultimate choice for a fish tank. They present a handsome appearance at any time with bright strips, glittering fins, and enormous length for a tank, and hence are mindful wishes for aquarium keepers.

They pose low difficulty in petting and can sustain unsuitable conditions, too, without much panic. So, there are more chances of it to survive for long years in a closed setup, even on slight ignorance.

Due to high demand in the global market, these fishes are a bit expensive, but if you are planning a school of the Frontosa, it is suggestive to look up reliable sources for the best quality.

About the Author

Victoria Lamb

Victoria is a freshwater aquatics specialist, fish keeper, and amphibian enthusiast. She has had more than 6 years of experience caring for aquariums and keeping several fish species, and her home boasts of 3 aquariums and a garden pond. Her goal is to educate fish owners on raising healthy and happy aquatic pets.

Career Highlights:

  • Has worked with several aquarium manufacturers as a consultant
  • Organized and hosted workshops on freshwater fish keeping at retail stores, educational facilities, and libraries
  • Released content for the amphibian community through her writings

Educational Highlights:

Bachelor of Science in Animal Behavior and Welfare

  • University of Lincoln, Lincoln, UK (2014-2018)

Writing Experience

Victoria has done ghostwriting for many aquarium and pet websites in the past. She has also worked for Canada's largest natural health magazine- ALIVE, with 300,000 monthly circulations as a freelancer. She had six published articles on animal behavior and welfare during her graduation for her thesis.

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