Bolivian Ram Cichlid: Care, Tank Mates, Diet & More!

The Bolivian Ram is an incredibly interesting freshwater fish that we can’t recommend enough. They’re beautiful, mellow, and easy to care for!

For these reasons, this species has quite the avid following in the aquarium community. The fact that they’re fun to watch and approachable for beginners is a big draw.

But that doesn’t mean you should go into ownership without the proper info.

This guide will teach you the essential elements of Bolivian Ram care. You’ll learn about their recommended tank mates, diet, tank size, and even how to navigate the breeding process.

Species Summary

Bolivian Rams (Mikrogeophagus altispinosus) are a beautiful addition to any community tank. While they are part of the Cichlid family, Bolivian Rams are far more peaceful than other Cichlid species. They’re a peaceful freshwater fish that can get along with others without any issues.

These fish are endemic to parts of the Amazon River Basin. As their trade name would suggest, the fish are most often found in Bolivia. Though, they inhabit fresh bodies of water throughout Brazil.

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Also known as the Bolivian Butterfly and Ruby Crown Cichlid, these eye-catching fish have become quite the crowd-pleaser in the fish community. Not only are they easy to care for, but their unique personalities can add a touch of playfulness to your aquarium.


The average lifespan for a Bolivian Ram is about 4 years. Like any other fish, their lifespan is dictated by several factors. Poor water conditions and an inadequate ecosystem can shorten that lifespan significantly.

To help your fish reach the end of their lifespan, it’s important to plan out their habitats accordingly. Top-notch care, water quality, and a stress-free environment are key to helping these fish live long and happy lives.


Bolivian Rams have several subtle physical details. They have an elongated oval body. The fish are at their widest around the dorsal and pelvic fins. Then, their shape tapers down to the tail fin.

The first thing you’ll notice is that the fish have a relatively muted body color. The base of their coloration is usually tan or silver. This is complemented by subtle yellow hues towards the belly.

The appearance of a Bolivian Ram

Upon closer inspection, finer details start to really pop! A large vertical black stripe covers the head. It crosses their eyes, which also have a black stripe.

Faded black stripes can be seen on many specimens. Like the head stripe, they run vertically along the length of the body.

The fins have some special color patterns as well. All Bolivian Rams have rayed fins. Rigid rays act as a defense mechanism against predators. The rays are sharp enough to pierce the inside of a predator’s mouth when swallowed! They also help improve agility in the water.

The dorsal fin features a small black stripe on the front. The rest of the dorsal fin is transparent. However, bright red edging provides a pop of color. This red edging can be found on the tail fin, too.

The anal and pelvic fins have more subtle red tones. They are complemented by streaks of light pearly blue.

Bolivian Rams are sexually dimorphic. There are some physical differences between males and females. Typically, females are a bit smaller than males. Plus, males often have elongated filaments on their dorsal fins.


The typical Bolivian Ram size is around 3 inches in length when fully grown. Males can get slightly larger and reach sizes of about 3.5 inches.

On the other hand, female specimens usually don’t reach 3 inches at all. They often stay closer to 2.5 inches.

Bolivian Ram Care

Bolivian Ram care is not very difficult. In fact, they’re relatively hardy and won’t have too many problems with slight fluctuations in water quality.

That said, it’s important to stick to their preferred parameters. Like any fish, Bolivian Rams have their own unique needs. Failing to meet those needs can lead to a host of health issues in the future. Here are some care guidelines you need to follow.

Tank Size

The commonly recommended Bolivian Ram tank size is around 20 gallons for a small group of these fish.

However, we recommend using a 30-gallon tank. These fish love to swim and will fair better with plenty of room to explore.

You should definitely increase the tank size if you’re planning on keeping a larger community tank. While they are peaceful, every fish needs to have their own space. Overcrowding will only lead to stress and disease.

Water Parameters

The best thing you can do for your Bolivian Rams is to replicate their natural habitat. This doesn’t just apply to the things you have in your tank, but also the water conditions.

The freshwater bodies they inhabit in the wild are relatively warm. It’s on the acidic side and doesn’t have a flow that’s too powerful.

Stick with these parameters and your fish should have no problem thriving.

  • Water temperature: 72 to 79 degrees Fahrenheit
  • pH levels: 6.0 to 7.5 (around 6.5 is ideal)
  • Water hardness: 0 to 10 dKH

Author Note: Even though these fish are pretty hardy, you should still make a concerted effort to monitor the condition of the water in their tank. Go out and pick up a good testing kit and use it on a regular basis!

What To Include In Their Tank

When it comes to tank decor, natural items are always best. The Amazon River Basin is teeming with life. The waters are filled with natural plants. These plants act as a natural hiding spot for Bolivian Rams. You can replicate the same environment in your aquarium.

Start with a nice sandy substrate. You can introduce some larger pebbles into the mix for variety too if you want.

A Bolivian Ram Cichlid in a home aquarium

Bolivian Ram cichlids are unique in the fact that they don’t like to disturb the substrate too much. They will try to sift through the sand for things to eat, but they go about the activity very differently than other fish.

We’ll get into that in a bit.

Once your substrate is prepared, introduce live plants of varying sizes. Aquatic plants like Java Fern, Amazon Swords, Water Wisteria, and more are all great. They provide some shelter while also giving your fish a reprieve from light.

Introduce some rocks and driftwood into the mix as well. Like plants, driftwood is a good place to rest and hide. Meanwhile, smooth rocks will act as breeding grounds for these fish.

We recommend creating some caves with rock is possible. Alternatively, you can invest in faux rock decor. Either way, those caves are a good place for your fish to lay eggs. They’re protective and can keep eggs hidden from other fish in the tank.

When you’re arranging the tank, consider how the fish will swim. Create large open spaces towards the center of the tank so that they can dart around without any issues.

A standard filtration system will do. You can use a canister system (like the Fluval FX4) or a simple hang-on-back model.

Whichever filtration method you choose, just make sure that it’s powerful enough to treat the tank efficiently. The fish are sensitive to high nitrate levels. In addition to frequent water changes, your filter will work to keep those levels low.

You also need to make sure that the filter doesn’t create too much flow. Bolivian Ram Cichlids prefer light flow. The same goes for lighting. Don’t utilize a powerful light unless you have plenty of shading.

Diseases To Watch Out For

Bolivian Rams are susceptible to diseases just like any fish. While they aren’t at risk for any major problems, you will have to deal with common ailments like Ich if you’re not careful.

Ich is, for the most part, a byproduct of stress. It’s caused by poor water conditions or an uninhabitable environment. Some fish can also be affected by Ich if they share the tank with an aggressor.

You can treat Ich in several ways. Some aquarists like to increase the water temperature to about 86 degrees for a bit to see if the fish heal. If that doesn’t work, copper-based medicines are available as well.

Ich is highly contagious, so it’s important to quarantine any sick fish that you see.

Author Note: The most effective way to deal with freshwater diseases is to prevent your fish from getting them in the first place. Maintaining great water quality and giving your fish a healthy habitat will decrease the chances of them getting sick significantly.

Food & Diet Recommendations

These fish are omnivores and will pretty much eat anything that you give them. In the wild, they will sift through the substrate for small organisms. They can also chow down on some plant material.

In captivity, they do just fine on dry food. Because they stick to the bottom and middle of the aquarium, stick to sinking pellets. You can complement a dry diet with chopped up earthworms, brine shrimp.

We recommend feeding the fish multiple times throughout the day. They have hearty appetites!

Keep the meals small. This avoids overfeeding and can prevent large quantities of food from affecting water conditions.

Temperament & General Behavior

Bolivian Rams are very peaceful fish. The only time they might show aggression is during breeding.

Usually, that aggressive behavior is only towards fish that get too close to the breeding area. Aside from that, these fish will get along with any other peaceful species.

Mikrogeophagus altispinosus being peaceful

Throughout the day, you’ll see your fish swimming around the open spaces and exploring hiding spots. You may also see them looking for food through the substrate.

Remember how we said that they don’t like to disturb the substrate too much while they search for food? They do this by swimming in short quick bursts. They’ll dart through the water for a bit, stop, then dart again.

This allows them to kick up some substrate for sifting. They can search for food without digging like other fish species. It’s a ton of fun to watch!

Bolivian Ram Tank Mates

While they are not a shoaling species, Bolivian Rams do appreciate the company of others. They do great in pairs or larger groups of 4 to 8 fish

Aside from other Bolivian Ram Cichlids, you can introduce other peaceful fish into the aquarium. The only thing you need to consider is size. Smaller peaceful fish might be viewed as food, so try to stick to similarly-sized fish.

Here are some good Bolivian Ram tank mates to consider:


Breeding Bolivian Rams is a pretty straightforward process. But, they do require a lot of space. They are more likely to breed if you have a very large tank with plenty of room to move.

You don’t necessarily have to separate the fish for breeding, but we recommend it. Separating the fish from others will prevent aggressive behavior and increase the survival rate for fry.

Bolivian Rams are egg layers. However, they do exhibit some unique behaviors.

You can start off by placing a bonded pair into a large tank. If you don’t have a bonded pair, you can get a large group of juvenile fish and let them pair off naturally. You’ll know that the fish have paired off because the males and females will stick together.

The female fish will usually start the breeding process by looking for a nice flat rock or cave to lay her eggs. Once she’s done that, the male will fertilize the eggs externally. The two fish will then guard the area.

In about 2 to 3 days, the eggs will hatch. The parents are quite protective of the baby fish. They will put them in their mouths to transport them to other areas of the tank. They may even attempt to camouflage the babies!

You can feed the fry baby brine shrimp. When they’re about 7 days old, they can swim freely. At this point, the parents will lead the fry in large groups to go find food. When they are about 2 months old, they will be big enough to feed with standard dry food.

Putting It All Together

Now that you know the essentials of Bolivian Ram care it’s time to get some for yourself! These fish are extremely approachable and can be kept by aquarists of all experience levels.

Not only that, but we think they’re one of the most entertaining species to spectate. Between their stunning beauty and peculiar mannerisms, you won’t have trouble passing time looking at your tank.

If you’re interested in learning more about Bolivian Ram Cichlids or have any stories you’d like to share about yours just let us know. This is one of our favorite species, and we love talking about them!

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