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Tropheus sp. "black" Bemba

Tropheus sp. black BEMBA location map

Distribution: Africa, northern part of the Tanganyika Lake, Sambia coast
Size: about 10-12 cm

Conditions in my tank:
Temperature: 25-26 °C, 29 °C in summer
Temporary hardness: 8 °dKH
Total hardness: 16 °dGH
pH: 7.57
NO2: 0 mg/l
NO3: 40-60 mg/l

Tropheus sp. Coloration
Tropheus of the „black“ group are characterized by black or black-brown basic color with the bright band of the various width and color. Tropheus sp. "black" Bemba is in its original form black with the vivid orange band covering the middle third of the body. The continual breeding in the aquariums causes the variability in the band width. Some of the individuals have narrower orange band colored sometimes more like yellow-orange, eventually it looks like dirty-orange. This dull orange color depends sometimes on the breeding conditions. For example, a small amount of males when the dominant one has no chance to fully display his behaviour and coloration. Another factor affecting the color may be a bad water quality, especially the high nitrate level. I have found in my breeding that the fish are the best colored after the partial water change. Unfortunately, I have 40 mgNO3/l in my tap water and it is quite high level of nitrates for Tropheus. Another factor affecting the Tropheus coloration which is mentioned by other Tropheus keepers is the bright bottom and it being too light in the tank. I can’t confirm this fact from my observations because when I use to keep Tropheus in the tanks with the white sand, lighted with four 36 W/400 liters and also the background is light. However, the color is often varying and depends on the actual fish mood. The situation is different when all the fishes are relatively silent and another when they show dominancy. The coloration is most attractive at that moment. The coloration is also changing during the feeding when most of the fishes are excited and the color fades. The first third of the body is then lighter. Anyway, one of the most important factor affecting the coloration is a food quality. I’m not able to confirm (but also except) the positive effects of the feeding the food presented as “a color boosters” for their higher carotenoid or algae content. Even there are some positive effects they don’t appear in a short time. The Bemba fry are dark brown striped at the beginning and later the band is yellow-brown orange. It looks more orange gradually and the strips disappear. The fishes are most beautiful in the middle of their life. As they get older, their bright orange coloration fades and changes to brown-orange.

Tropheus sp. black BEMBABembas like other Tropheus are kept best in the bigger tank (about 400 litre). It is possible to keep them in smaller tanks sure, but I think that tanks under 250 litres are not suitable. The tank decoration need not be complicated. Some fine sand at the bottom and a few rocks is enough. It is not good idea to make a rock piles with many of the hiding places like when someone is keeping the mbuna cichlids. It increases the effort to master some territories by few males and then the fights appear. It stresses the fishes. A few bigger rocks layed one by one or creating a small pile located near the tank side is a good choice. A rock line in the middle of the tank works for me. I have the polyuretane or rock background in my Tropheus tanks.

One of the most important principle in the Tropheus keeping is to keep them in groups at least 12, better 15 and more. An ideal group consists of 30 fishes. The sex ratio may be 1:1, particularly in the bigger groups. The aggressivity is dispersed much better than with 2 or 3 males in the group. It is very applicable to make a group using the young fishes in size of 3 cm. In that age the fishes don’t exhibit the aggressivity* and the strong relationships are created between them because they are acquainted with each other. Later, the dominant males develope (also females) and some strong, rarely changing hierarchy. Every individual in the group knows his place. The fish probably control their position all the time by means of the sound. It is cited that Tropheus make six different tones. Which differs from other fish species disposing mlostly with two kinds of sound. The Tropheus lover easy finds that their behaviour is different of the other cichlids, I would say calmer, more inteligent. One experienced fish keeper told me once: it is enough to look at Tropheus badly and there are problems. In a synchronized group, everything is fine and there are also not the health problems. Those are the main reason of the failure in Tropheus keeping (more in an article on Malawi bloat). That is the reason why adding the new fishes to the well established group is not recommended, particularly at a higher age. Then the signs of territorial behaviour are the first attempts to spawns appear. Adding the new fishes to the group is not impossible but it is risky considering the added fish loss. The fewer new fishes the worse result. If there is not other choice the changes in the tank decoration are necessary. The relationships break and the new fishes integratioin is not as painful. It is right to switch the lights off, add the fishes at evening, change the rock formation or take some rocks out of the tank. The habitudes of the fishes change and the territory of the dominant males disrupts.

Spawning fishes - male on the rightTropheus sp. black BEMBA - juvenile colorationTropheus sp. black BEMBA - holding female

T. sp. black BEMBA - 2 weeks old fryIf there are good realtions in the group then spawns. will appear. The fishes try to spawn at size of 5-6 cm. The first spawns are mostly unsuccessful and the eggs disappear often next day. The fishes are not mature in that age. When accurately fed and with good water quality there are not many problems with breeding these fishes. The spawn is typical „dance“ around like in other mouthbrooders. The beautifully colored male is shaking around the female and attracts her to the spawning place. It can be done at the bottom of the tank or on the rock 20 cm above the bottom. When the female is ready to spawn the ejected urogenital papila can be seen 1 or 2 day before the spawn. If the female follows the male he will shake his curved body showing the egg spots at the anal fin. The female moves closer to the male’s anal fin, he changes his position and shares the place with female. Then the female like the male before slightly shaking releases the yellowish egg (or eggs) and quickly takes it to the mouth. The male shows his egg spots at the anal fin and female trying to catch the fake eggs takes the sperm released by male into her mouth. This action repeats few times until the female’s mouth is full. The female is holding about 4 weeks and after that period he releases about 10 fry. The fry are quite big after they leave the mother’s mouth and take to all kind of food, i.e. newly hatched brine shrimp, live cyclops. Despite the fact that Tropheus are the herbivores, it is a good choice to feed the live food from safe sources. Later, the quality flakes or pellets with spirulina is fed.

The feeding of Tropheus is another important thing in keeping them healthy. Only high quality food with higher content of vegetable components is recommended to feed. I use to feed Sera Flora, Sera San, Tropical Spirulina as basic feeds which is fed daily. I mix Sera Flora with another quality flakes, i.e. Sera San and add small amount of crushed dried shrimps. I used to feed also the frozen cyclops (2-3 times per week) and a frozen spinach. Later, I cut off the feeding the frozen cyclops. Another feed I had started to food as a basic food was New Life Spectrum (NLS) from USA. I had no success with lettuce leaves at the beginning because the fishes didn’t mind it when fed whole. If it is cutted to smaller pieces it is consumed. Later, I put the whole raw leave on the water surface and at evening nothing left. I use to feed 3 times a day in smaller doses. Tropheus must not be overfed. They are very ravenous and feed everytime you allow them to feed. It is suitable when you have an opportunity to add algae covered rocks to the tank. The fishes love to graze all the day on the rocks. It is their all day job in the lake. After and during the meal they look for the food in the sand and take it into the mouth and spit again and again. They swallow the sand grains at the same time. The sand probably serve in their digestive tract for better feed processing and ingestion.

I will add an interesting observations from the breeding of these fishes.

*The book of very well world known ethologist, Konrad Lorenz, named „On Aggression“ is a very good tool to understand the cichlid and other not only freshwater fishes aggressivity basics and aggressivity in the world at all.

Copyright © 2003 - 2012 Robert Toman

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