Frontosa / Humphead Cichlid – Species Profile & Facts

The Frontosa Cichlid (Cyphotilapia Frontosa) is very popular among aquarists thanks to its beauty and grace. They were also very expensive in the past because it was hard to collect them from the depths of Lake Tanganyika. They are large and very decorative with their vertical white stripes on the black background.

Not to mention the shape of their head, which is why many fish keepers call them Humphead Cichlids. The stripes running through their body are not always white, as they can be shades of blue as well. Either way, this fish looks amazing and it will be a great addition to your community aquarium.

If you are looking forward to keep this magnificent fish at home, then this article is going to be of great use for you. We are going to discuss the diet, breeding, water conditions and tank setup this species requires in order to thrive in captivity.

Taking care of the Frontosa is not hard, therefore it is ideal for beginner fish keepers. After reading this article, it is going to be even easier.

Humphead Cichlid Quick Facts

Scientific Name Cyphotilapia frontosa
Care Level Intermediate
Size 10-12 inches (25-30 cm)
Tank Size 75 gallon or more
Temperature 72-78 °F (22-28 °C)
pH 7.8-9
Lifespan 10-20 years
Behavior peaceful
Diet omnivorous
Origin Africa, Lake Malawi

Frontosa Cichlid Natural Habitat

The Frontosa Cichlid is one of the most attractive deep-water species that aquarists like to keep at home. They come straight from Lake Tanganyika which is located in Africa. These bottom-dwellers live in beautiful large colonies there. They were discovered back in 1906 and were very expensive at first.

The ideal depth for them is from 35 to 170 feet in the lake. Therefore, the Frontosa is certainly not the easiest to collect, which is why they made it so late to the wider market. People had to wait until aquarists figured out how to breed them in captivity and start selling them to fish keepers.

As they get older, they usually descend to up to 350 feet and live there. They prefer rocky environments, which is where they can find all their food.

Frontosa Cichlid Aquarium Requirements

For a single Frontosa Cichlid, you will need to buy a 70-gallon tank. As we mentioned above, they prefer living in colonies, which consists of 6 or 8 fish. A colony like that will require an aquarium of 150 gallons of size or bigger. Now, the Frontosa shows no mercy toward decoration that is easy to move.

If you put light decorations and weaker plants in the tank, then those are going to be quickly rearranged and uprooted. The solution to this is to keep it simple. Don’t overdo the decoration part and use plants with stronger roots or even fake, plastic plants.

Use sand as substrate, as the Frontosa Cichlid loves to rummage through it. The most important elements of the aquarium should be rocks and caves. They will not only mimic their natural environment but also provide them with plenty of hiding places.

Since they are skittish, they need something that allows them to disappear from the line of sight of other fish. This is especially important if you have other fish in the tank with aggressive or semi-aggressive temperaments.

Being the bottom-dwellers of Lake Tanganyika, they are used to dim light. They are not going to like bright lighting in the aquarium either. Being exposed to bright light only builds up their stress levels. As a result, their overall coloration is going to become darker.

Frontosa Cichlid Water Conditions

If you want to see your Frontosa Cichlid thriving, you need to keep the temperature between 72 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit and the acidity between 7.8 to 9.0 pH. Make sure that the water is rich in dissolved oxygen at all times. This can be achieved by pouring some fresh water in the aquarium every day.

You can ensure really good water quality by changing 20 percent of it each week. You should only change a bigger amount if the ammonia and nitrate levels are too high.

It will also keep the water clean from potentially harmful chemicals and other contaminants such as nitrates and ammonia. Pour in small portions of fresh water every time. The more water you add, the more it is going to change the water conditions which is not good for your pet. It is best to keep this species in moderately hard water.

Since they are used to slow-moving water, you either need to buy a weaker filter or use a more powerful on a lower setting. This will reduce the water current, making your Frontosa feel comfortable in the tank.

Frontosa Cichlid Diet and Feeding

The Frontosa Cichlid is a carnivorous species. There is a wide range of live foods you can include in its diet. In Lake Tanganyika, there are plenty of shellfish, snails and different small fish for them to eat. You can provide them a pretty good meat-based diet by giving them worms, shrimp, krill and feeder fish.

There are various pellets to choose from at the pet shop as well. You can even introduce some variety to their diet by adding frozen brine shrimp to the list. The main goal here is to give them protein-rich foods so that they can thrive. Besides that, you should give them vitamins and supplements every now and then.

Those are beneficial for every type of fish when it comes to their health. It might be tempting to feed the Frontosa Cichlid a big portion once a day, but that’s not a good way to go about it. An ideal feeding schedule is to feed them 3 to 5 times throughout the day.

By feeding them small portions, you will ensure that the water stays clean instead of being contaminated by the leftover food.

Frontosa Cichlid Tank Mates

There is not much to be concerned about when it comes to the temperament of the Frontosa Cichlid. They are not aggressive toward other fish. Therefore, you can already look forward to setting up an exciting community aquarium.

Since it enjoys the company of other fish, we don’t recommend keeping it alone. There are going to be very little territorial disputes if it depends on this cichlid. The Frontosa is prepared to defend its territory at all times but with the right tank mates, it is not going to be necessary. It is best to keep 6-8 of them in the same tank with a one to three male to female ratio.

You can add a few other durable fish species to the tank as well. Just make sure not to include aggressive fish because those can bully them, causing a lot of stress. Of course, since the Frontosa is a carnivore, you shouldn’t keep it with small fish either. They are going to be eaten without hesitation.

Keep it together with species that grow bigger than 3 inches in size. Recommended tank mates for the Frontosa Cichlid are Bichirs, Plecostomus or other fish that come from Lake Tanganyika. In a community tank, they are going to spend most of their time near the bottom.

Frontosa Cichlid Breeding

It is rather straightforward to breed the Frontosa Cichlid in captivity. The males tend to fertilize the eggs of all the females they can find around them. When the female is ready, she lays down around 50 eggs on the sandy substrate or in a rock crevice. Then, the male comes around and fertilizes those eggs.

Now, since the Frontosa is a mouth-brooder, the female stores those eggs in her mouth. Her mouth basically functions as a natural incubator. While she does this, the male is going to stay around and guard the territory. After 3 or 4 days, you are going to notice the fry swimming around in the tank.

The Frontosa female is a good parent, as she will take care of her fry for 4 to 6 weeks. In the meanwhile, you can feed the little cichlids some baby brine shrimp to help them grow. If you want the breeding to happen, then you should definitely buy an aquarium that is 100 gallons of size or bigger.

After the fries have left their egg, you need to check back every 6 months and remove the biggest juveniles. Those are the males and they should be kept in a separate tank.


Taking care of the magnificent Frontosa Cichlid is not a big deal at all. You just need to respect its basic needs, keep the water clean every day and ensure consistent water conditions. A single-species aquarium with a Frontosa colony of 8-12 individuals is going to look awesome.

It is even better to set up a community tank of a few additional species that are compatible with them. If you do it right, you can end up with a pretty interesting and decorative aquarium. For cichlid lovers, the Frontosa is one of the most desirable and aesthetically pleasing one.

Their interesting personality and the way they interact with other fish are a delight to watch. On top of that, it really doesn’t require any special effort to keep this fish healthy and thriving in a home aquarium. If you follow our advice and take care of them the right way, you are going to have a lot of fun in the long run.

avatar Noah
I’m Noah, chief editor at VIVO Pets and the proud owner of a playful, energetic husky (Max). I’ve been a volunteer at Rex Animal Rescue for over 2 years. I love learning and writing about different animals that can be kept as pets. read more...

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