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Keeping And Breeding Frontosa Cichlid's

Collecting in the nature

The collecting is mostly done by two divers and must be started very early morning as they are emerging from deep water. The divers net the fish (1-2 pieces) and transfer them into plastic bags. The plastic bags are then collected by other divers. Afterwards the fish are moved into cages which are gradually pulled up to perform gradual decompression. The decompression must be slow and takes, depending on the depth, 1 day to 1 week. If the decompression is too fast, the fish suffer from sound disorders - they are floating and soon after often dies. This very long process of collecting is the main reason of its high price.

The other way how the fish are collected is based on luring them into open shallow water. The fish are very curious and they can be lured by bubbles of divers or pieces of cotton used for mending nets. The fish often try to catch waving pieces of old damaged net and sometimes the males even lose the eggs or fry.


Frontosa Cyphotilapia is a maternal mouth brooder, males reach the length even slightly over 30 cm weighing more than 500 grs while females are often smaller. The fish age is about 20 - 25 years when they live in good conditions. When kept in ideal conditions they mature in the age of 2-3 years. Alpha males usually has the biggest hump but there are also males having small hump and females with hump. Therefore the sex can't be clearly determined by the shape and size of the hump. The most reliable method of sex determination is by the shape of urogenital papila. 

Conditions to keep the fish

A big tank - minimally 500 liters. Sex ration - males to females - 1:4. Water quality for keeping and breeding - total hardness 10 dKH, alkalinity - 18 KH, pH 8.5, conductivity - about 600 μS, temperature 25 ° - 27 ° C. Food rich in proteins, fish meat, flakes or granules of good quality. 


The fish normally mature after 3 - 4 years. Females breed in periods of 6-8 weeks when kept in ideal conditions and from time to time they have a longer break. Females breed usually with only one dominant male. The breeding is very calm and the female lays the eggs into a hole in sand which she usually makes just before spawning. She lays the eggs when moving forward and immediately backs up and takes the eggs into her mouth.

Afterwards the male comes to control it above the female and goes down to release the milt into the sandy hole. The female then sucks the milt and fertilize the eggs in her mouth. The eggs are about 6 mm in diameter and after 5 weeks they reach size of about 20 mm. Females carry the brood for about 5 weeks. Eggs development is described in the following table.

Frontosa Fry Development

1 - Smooth ovoid shape
2 - Ovoid shape, first cleavage
3 - Cleavage continues
4 - First black spots and tail starts developing
5 - Tails, fins and head start to be apparent
6 - Parts of body start to be apparent
7 - Body and skeleton can be distinguished
8 - Eyes turn to blue
9 - Fry start to move actively
20 - First stripes could be distinguished, fry starts eating
25 - Yolk sac is a half of the original size
30 - Yolk sac almost disappeared, fry is fully developed

Young females often eat their first spawning. They sporadically take food during carrying period. In case the eggs disappeared after three days in the female’s mouth, it is mostly caused by the fact that they were not fertilized. Number of fry from a spawn is based on the variety and fish condition 10-50, exceptionally up to 100.

The most successful breeding and the most eggs is observed with Burundi while the Zaire variety seems to be the most difficult to breed and having much less eggs. If we want the female to carry the eggs until its full development and leave the fry, it is advantageous to move her about 3 weeks after spawning to a separate tank. In order to prevent spiting the fry, it is good to catch the female at night and quickly.

The female takes repeatedly the released fry in her mouth for another 1-3 days and after this time she normally doesn’t eat them but ignore them. Putting the female back into the group is normally no problem and she is fully accepted but she might be a bit uncertain therefore it is better to feed her before to get stronger. It is often more difficult to breed south varieties in captivity (Zaire, Mpimbwe) then northern ones. 

Crossbreeding and degeneration

The crossbreeding of different varieties sometimes occurs in tanks as the fish are very similar and it is difficult to distinguish between them. The result of crossbreeding could be seen with offspring e.g. by fade colors or by different deformations of vertical strips. There are mainly the following deformations of pattern and coloration:

Black touching strip lines

White spots which often disappear with age but in some cases traces of them could remain in maturity. 

Black spots – they could be found with some fish and there are few theories explaining this variation. On the other hand it is truth that the spots are also observed on fish caught in nature. The degeneration could occur also within one group therefore it is good to add one male from different breed but of the same variety to revitalize the gene pool. Commercial names of Cyphotilapia varieties are often confusing (sometimes on purpose).

For example in MOBA region the Moba fish don’t occur. They should be called M’toto as they are from this area. Next example could be variety Mpimbwe, which is caught at Karema and Masalaba regions. The fish are also often sold on purpose under different name for higher price or mixed of varieties are sold too. Name of varieties are sometimes changed on purpose or unintentionally. It is therefore important to pay an extra attention when you choose the fish. 

Frontosa Varieties not occurring in nature

There are two known non-natural varieties of Cyphotilapia – Black widow and Red frontoza. Both originate from Burundi variety.

Black widow is also called Cow or Panda frontoza. It was most likely bred from male of Burundi by selection. The variety was brought by an Asian company and then spread out of the market. Red frontoza is also called cupper striped frontoza. It was also bred from Burundi variety – most likely albino form. It was also reported that the red color is reached by coloration by means of chemicals. 

Floating Cyphotilapia

It seems they are two types of this damage – fish are floating on water surface and they have problem to dive. One type of damage is short-term lasting - only a few days. The second type is a long lasting damage and is more serious. The fish which cannot dive is often a subject of attack by other fish. This could lead to its mortality. Damaged fish also cannot take food easily and start getting weak. There are few theories trying to explain this phenomenon. One says that is caused by bad food which could produce gases in digestive tract or fish swallow too much air with food floating on water surface. In nature they practically don’t take food from water surface. Other theory says that the fish were brought to surface so quickly when collected and therefore their sound is damaged.

In nature the fish are caught in deep waters and they must undergo gradual decompression. Based on our experience, males which lost their eggs or just soon after spawning prone to fill they mouth with air bubbles and also swallow the air. They most likely want to fill the emptied mouth pouch. The same might happen when water is not enough oxygenated and fish swallow air bubbles. Excessive amount of swallowed air could leads to these problems. In live jeopardizing situations, the fish air bladder could be punctured by syringe and the excessive air sucked out. This intervention requires experience and appropriate skill and it is generally better to avoid it. 

Fish behavior

When fish are in danger they try to look smaller. Therefore small and big individuals in the group live in a certain relationship – big fish having a small fish in front is optically smaller. When fish are in danger they stay in vertical position head downwards manifesting subordination. In the opposite offensive behavior fish spread their fins and throat which make them bigger. In case of duel fish they hold each other by mouth and try to pull. Dark color means that they are not feeling well and they try to be invisible and hide. Sometimes they lose color which could be cause too much light, bad food, noise, injury, disease or stress.

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