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Fairy Cichlids: A Fascinating Favourite

30 August 2021

Lake Tanganyika is over 400 miles long and is the second largest freshwater lake in the world. The lake spans over four countries; Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Burundi, and Zambia.

It accounts for almost a fifth of the world’s accessible supply of fresh water. The biodiversity and distinctively individual ecosystem is home to at least 300 species of fish, with over 200 of these being cichlids.

The Fairy Cichlid

First imported in the 1970s, the Fairy Cichlid Neolamprologus brichardi (previously Lamprologus brichardi) showed itself to be a hardy cichlid with an enchanting, wispy appearance. They are often described as elegant, calm, and full of personality.

Growing up to 8-10cm, this stunning species is usually blue eyed and have a light, beige coloured body. Different variants or species are decorated with different colour pattern or bar along their side with a stunning lyre shaped tail and white tip fins with long flowing filaments convey an impression of slenderness. This is where the name fairy cichlid was born from. They also possess highlights of metallic blue around the eyes and at the edge of the fins. A school of these attractive fish creates a beautiful exhibit for both new and old tropical fish hobbyists. These wonderful fish interact and socialise with each other in such a mesmerising way by building thriving colonies full of personality and life.

Water Parameters

Keeping fairy cichlids are not overly complex, novice cichlid keepers would agree. Saying this, there are a few conditions which are important to maintain, such as attempting to recreate the environment of Lake Tanganyika as closely as possible. Water should be hard and alkaline with a pH 8-9, 150 to 300+ ppm and a temperature of 24-26 C. Many choose to use commercial substrates which are meant for aquariums with Tanganyikan cichlids.

Another way to try and achieve similar water conditions is to invest in some commercially available cichlid salts which are designed for the very purpose of environmental replication. Anther way to attempt to match Lake Tanganyika’s water profile is to carry out a twice weekly water change (20-25%). The water should be aerated for 72 hours prior to use.

Recreating the Biotope

Keeping your cichlids healthy and happy is so important. To achieve this, it’s best for you to create an environment which reflects the main features of the fairy cichlid’s original biotope. One way to do this is by creating some sort of a rocky maze mixed with sandy patches and other areas of vegetation (e.g. Vallisneria spp. or Ceratopteris spp.)


Fairy cichlids are best kept in a species only tank. A benefit of this is that it allows the parents to spawn and raise their fry safely and more easily. If you must attempt to add other species, they should be kept in a spacious aquarium with species of a not too dissimilar size e.g. Julidochromis ornatus. A 250 litre set up is the minimum size advised. Many choose to keep the aquarium as a single species set up. In fact, many fish keepers typically start out with a 6-8 juveniles so they can grow up together and eventually find their match and pair up. Starting with this number of juveniles, one should get at least two pairs, which would then establish their own territories at either end of the aquarium.


Although the behaviour of these fish can range, generally speaking they are usually intolerant of conspecifics, unless they were raised together or they are related. In their natural habitat, these wonderful Fairy Cichlids are plankton feeders, so you will see this taking place in the aquarium. Your cichlids will love you for giving live foods such as tubifex worms and brine shrimp alongside some frozen foods like mysis, mosquito larvae, and crustaceans.

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