About Lake Tanganyika

Lake Tanganyika is home to at least 250 species of cichlids and another 75 or so species of non-cichlid fish.

Tanganyikan cichlids are some of the most interesting African cichlids around, ranging from the shell-dwelling Lamprologus species to the hefty Cyphotilapia Frontosa which can reach 12” or more.

Lake Tanganyika

Lake Tanganyika is the longest rift lake in Eastern Africa, stretching 420 miles from north to south. It is estimated to be the 2nd largest freshwater lake in the world by volume and the 2nd deepest (behind Lake Baikal in Siberia on both) and is divided between four countries – Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, and Zambia.

Natural environment:

The average water temperature of Lake Tanganyika is 78 °F, with a pH that varies from 7.8 to 9.0 and a general hardness (GH) around 10-12. In summary, the water is very hard and very alkaline.

Lake Tanganyikan Species

Tanganyikan cichlids range from mildly aggressive to downright belligerent, and generally will not do well in a peaceful community tank (with a few notable exceptions). Many species are considerably less aggressive than their Lake Malawian cousins, and are likely to be victims of more aggressive Malawi mbuna if kept together.

Popular Lake Tanganyikan Cichlids


Shell Dwellers
These dwarf cichlids hail from a number of different families, and include members in the Lamprologus, Neolamprologus, Lepidolamprologus and Telmatochromis genera.

As their nickname indicates, these small fish live and breed in discarded shells such as those of large snails. They are active diggers and will rearrange their décor to their own sensibilities.

Neolamprologus multifasciatus is one of the more readily available “shellies” and is well-suited to these homes, with females barely growing to 1” in length and males under 2”.

These fascinating little fish are suitable for a smaller tank (~20 gallons), but be sure to provide plenty of shells as they prefer to have multiple choices available.

Neolamprologus Brichardi

N. Brichardi, sometimes known as a fairy cichlid for its long filamentous tail and fins, are a mildly aggressive species from Lake Tanganyika that are very popular in aquaria.

They are bigger than the shell-dwellers and a pair will bond and typically spawn on the walls or roof of a cave. The most fascinating behavior with this type of fish is that they will form multi-generation families; that is, older generations of fry will form a protective “cloud” around newer fry to help keep them safe from predators.

These cichlids will accept most fish foods and should be kept in a rocky aquarium, preferably with a sandy substrate as they do enjoy digging. These are a great choice for someone wanting to venture into the world of African cichlids.


Julidochromis species are torpedo-shaped cichlids that typically live in rocky areas of Lake Tanganyika, typified by Julidochromis marlieri shown above.

These fish display tons of personality and grow to around 5” in length, with the females typically being larger than the males. “Julies” are exceptional parents, forming a strong pair bond and guarding their eggs and fry from potential threats.

In the wild, Julidochromis sp. are predators, and their diet in the aquarium should reflect this, with treats of daphnia and brine shrimp appreciated.


Cyprichromis species are small cichlids which are found throughout Lake Tanganyika, often in schools of several thousand.

They are surface dwellers during the day who come to relative rest on or near the substrate at night. In an aquarium setting, Cyprichromis sp. are a vital part of a Tanganyikan community tank, and their presence will often make their rock or shell-dwelling tank mates more active and bolder.

Peaceful by nature, Cyps display sexual dimorphism, with the females normally quite plain but with the males in brilliant colors. They are best kept in groups, and the larger the group the happier and more relaxed they will behave in the aquarium.

Cyps are maternal mouthbrooders who are quite easy to breed in a dedicated tank. These are one of the few African cichlids who are compatible with a variety of live plants, and in fact, such plants will offer cover for fry.

Altolamprologus Compressiceps

With a name derived from a body which looks like it was squeezed from both sides, literally “compressed” laterally, this beautiful and uniquely shaped cichlid is a hunter who preys on young cichlids and invertebrates, snatching them from rock crevices.

As such, these fish are fairly incompatible with smaller species or juveniles, and they prefer a diet with plenty of live foods.

Unlike most African cichlids, Comps are not particularly territorial, and may hide for some time after introduction to a new tank, but they make ideal tank mates for other Tanganyikan or Malawian cichlids (provided you aren’t trying to breed and raise fry of course).


Tropheus are some of the most interesting and difficult fish from Lake Tanganyika to keep. They belong to one of five different species which all display unique color variants.

Females and males are the same color, but males are typically larger. Depending on the species, adults will range from 4” to 6” in length.

Tropheus sp. are fiercely territorial, and are best kept in the largest tank you can afford, and in a fairly large colony (12+) to diffuse aggression.

This is one fish that really is best kept in a single species tank, as they’re also notoriously susceptible to “bloat”, an intestinal disorder that is triggered if they are fed too much animal protein. To avoid this, a strictly vegetarian diet is required based around a high quality spirulina flake.

As with some mbuna, the hobbyist can supplement their diet occasionally with something like a romaine lettuce leaf anchored to a rock – this is likely to be quite entertaining as they attack it like vegetarian piranha. Tropheus sp. mouthbrood their eggs and fry, and this in fact gave their name, since “trophos” is Greek for “to nurture”.


Cyphotilapia Frontosa has been dubbed the “king” of Lake Tanganyika, and can attain lengths of 12”.

“Fronts” have white or blue bodies with 6 or 7 black vertical stripes and adults of both sexes will develop a distinct hump on their heads, with the males normally being larger and more pronounced.

Tropheus are relatively sedentary fish; slow swimmers who are compatible with many other Tanganyikan species.

In the wild, they are predators who primarily snack on Cyprichromis species at night when they are dormant and provide easy pickings.

Due to their size, Fronts require large tanks – preferably 150 gallons or more.

Final Thoughts

Lake Tanganyika is home to a hugely diverse group of cichilds, most of which make colorful and interesting tank dwellers in an aquarium setting.

This diversity presents its own challenges involving compatibility and diet, so care should definitely be taken when designing a multi-species tank involving Tanganyikans. Most of these exhibit milder temperaments than the mbuna from Lake Malawi, although some can be successfully mixed with a few of the milder fish from that region if desired.

The big disadvantage of Lake Tanganyikan cichlids in an aquarium is their relative rarity and cost, but for many the rewards of keeping them far outweigh these challenges.