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The Frontosa Cichlid Cyphotilapia frontosa (originally Paratilapia frontosa) is a very handsome fish and held in the highest regard by cichlid keepers. With its large size and very pronounced coloration it immediately draws attention and dominates an aquarium display. Some can reach a length of up to 14 inches (35 cm) or more. They have rich bold pattern of 6 or 7 broad black bands on a white or blue background, sometimes with nice gold accents in the dorsal fin. This is truly a regal beauty and an awesome fish for a large show aquarium.
This species is also commonly known as the Humphead Cichlid. Both the male and female have the same attractive coloration and will develop a cranial hump, the large knob on its head, but that is not seen in juveniles. A mature male will become larger in size and develop longer fins, but these fish are challenging to sex as they are slow to grow. It can take three to four years before they reach breeding age.
These cichlids are deep water fish that come from Lake Tanganyika, Africa. Rather than being cave dwellers like many rock dwelling rift lake cichlids, they live in large colonies along the sloping lake bottom. They are found in many locations around the lake but are always at depths anywhere from 35 to 170 feet (10.7 – 50 m) or more. This makes them a difficult fish to collect, which made them quite rare and expensive for many years. Now however many are bred in captivity, so they are readily available and at a modest cost.
There are several different color variants, depending on the region of the lake they come from. Localities with distinctive varieties include Kigoma, Bulu Point, Mpimbwe, Samazi, Kasanga, Chaitika, Kapampa, Kavala, and Zaire. The most regularly seen variety is the Burundi Six-stripe Frontosa. It has a high body, nice banding, and a good amount of blue. Due to long time captive breeding this variety is the most readily available. However the most colorful variety is the Zaire Blue Frontosa. It has the most blue, sometimes looking almost purple. Due to the difficulties in collection not all of these variants are exported, and some are only infrequently exported.
This genus was once thought to be monotypic with just one species. However as recently as 2003, the Southern Frontosa or Blue Frontosa Cyphotilapia gibberosa was identified and described as its own species. The Cyphotilapia genus is still under investigation, so some of the other variants may eventually turn out to be their own species as well.
Frontosa Cichlids are moderate to easy to care for, but they do need a good sized tank and regular maintenance. They make a great fish for intermediate and experienced aquarists. They are not overly aggressive and are quite gregarious, so they can be kept in a community environment. A minimum group needs to be at least one male with three females, but they are best kept in groups of 8 to 12 individuals in a very large aquarium with plenty of swimming space. A single fish could be kept a tank that is at least 48″ in length and about 70 gallons, but as a group they need a minimum of 125 gallons or more. A 200 gallon aquarium is recommended for long term care. Provide a sandy bottom and some rock structures creating fissures for them to hide in. Though plants are not essential, they do not burrow and will not harm them.
This cichlid is a gently tolerant community fish and doesn’t look for trouble, but it will defend a territory once it has established one. Even though they are quite peaceful beware of keeping smaller fish in your aquarium. The Frontosa will stealthily snatch up a small fishy snack if it is available. Ironically they themselves are a snack in their native lands, where they are considered a delicacy.
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Video of Frontosa Cichlid (Cyphotilapia frontosa)
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