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Bolivian Ram – Mikrogeophagus altispinosa


Bolivian Ram – Mikrogeophagus altispinosa

Cichlids are a very ancient and extensive classification of fishes dating back millions of years before, for example, dinosaurs. Cichlids probably originated around 550 million years ago (give or take a month or two 😀) and there are somewhere in the region of 2,000 to 3,000 different species, of which around 1,700 have been classified (at the time of writing).

Cichlids can make excellent community fish but you should take care because not all Cichlids are good community fish and may devastate an established aquarium, treating their tankmates as food, so before choosing a Cichlid, please ensure that you know whether or not your choice will be appropriate to your needs.

Is Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa) a good community fish? Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa) should be considered to be an excellent community fish assuming that the community is one of non-aggressive, non-predatory species. Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa) is suitable for all community aquariums although it can be territorial, particularly during breeding. 

Key Facts about Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa)

CategoryKey Facts
Common name(s)Bolivian Ram Cichlid – also known as:
Bolivian Butterfly and
Ruby Crown Cichlid
Scientific nameMikrogeophagus altispinosa
FamilyCichlidae
Originate fromFound in the soft, acidic, warm waters of the Mamoré and Guaporé River drainages in Bolivia and Brazil
Care requiredEasy to care for and very beautiful
TemperamentRelatively placid, biparental Cichlid
Colour & FormTall body with very elegant finnage
LifespanUp to 6 years
Adult size3 inches – Male larger than female
DietOmnivorous – eats Daphnia, Bloodworm, Tubifex worms and pellet food in the aquarium. Prefers to sift food from the substrate (geophagus).
Aquarium size36 inches in length or greater
Compatible withMost other Tetras, Barbs, Danios, Guppies and other livebearers, dwarf cichlids, smaller Gouramis, catfish and loaches that live in fairly neutral, soft water
Avoid keeping withLarge and/or aggressive species in too small an aquarium and further avoid known fin-nippers.
BreedingEasy if you put the fish in the right environment.
Water temp72 – 82 Fahrenheit
Water pH6.0 to 7.4
Water hardness (dGH or dH)6 to 14 dGH

Origins of Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa)

Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa) is found in the soft, acidic, warm waters of the Mamoré and Guaporé River drainages in Bolivia and Brazil. The word “mikro” is the Greek word for small, “geophagus” is Greek for earth-eating, “altis” is Latin for high or tall and “spinosa” is Latin for thorny or prickly and, in the context of this species, refers to its dorsal fin and the Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa) certainly fits the Greko-Latin description.

It is usually found in nature in slow-flowing streams, on the margins of larger rivers, in marshland, in ponds and also in lakes but seldom, if ever, in stagnant water.

Basic Characteristics of Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa)

Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa) will grow up to around 3 inches in length in the aquarium – the males will generally grow to be larger than the female. In young fish, it is difficult to distinguish between the sexes so if you are purchasing young fish then buy half-a-dozen and you should have a mix of the sexes. 

The adult male of the species tends to have a more vibrant color than the female and will grow to be larger than the female. The extended dorsal fin of the Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa) has an elongated upper tip at the rear which is not present in the female and the ends of the caudal fin (top and bottom) are also extended in the male but not in the female. The adult female will also have a visible ovipositor (egg duct) just in front of the anal fin This ovipositor is visible in the female shown in the featured image above..

The lifespan of Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa) is around six years or more but this can vary enormously depending on tank conditions and general health.

Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa) prefers fairly soft, acidic water with a pH of 6.0 to 7.4  and a temperature range between 72 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit and from 6 to 14 dGH.

Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa) enjoys soft to medium, slightly acidic, or neutral water conditions so it will be comfortable with other species of similar size that prefer this type of water chemistry.

As the Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa) has elongated finnage it is advised to avoid keeping them in company with any fin-nippers. Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa), being Cichlids, will defend themselves and, especially in respect of smaller fin-nippers, they are likely to retaliate with prejudice.

Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa) will generally dwell near the bottom of the water column and will enjoy a fine substrate, as it is something of a “sifter” when feeding in that it will take in a mouthful of the substrate and sift out any food, expelling the remaining substrate – the “geophagus” part of its name translates to “earth-eater”.

Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa) also has a particular style of movement in that it will swim forwards for several inches and then remain absolutely static in the water, irrespective of the current.

The physical appearance of Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa)

Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa) has a tall, softly rounded body in profile, It is not a slim species in the way that an angelfish is slim, rather it has quite a substantial mass, without being rounded, as a carp would be. The body has silver, grey color with some black marbled scales which is further distinguished by some vertical stripes. From the gill plates to the rear of the ventral fins the body tends to be yellow, though this extends to just above the spinal line. A few more characteristics may be described as follows:

  • There is a vertical stripe starting below the eye (almost at the belly of the fish) and it continues up through the eye and to the top of the dorsal area in the form of a gently, backward curving crescent.
  • There is a black patch just below the leading edge of the dorsal fin and this continues up to the tip of the first five rays of the dorsal fin, which is both tall and spiny.
  • Behind these black rays, the tips if the rays on the dorsal fin show a reddish/ping tip and this, in a fainter form, leads down the trailing edge of the dorsal fin.
  • With the exception of the pectoral fins, the other fins all have pinkish leading and trailing edges and, apart from the black rays on the leading edge of the dorsal fins and the pink highlights described here, the fins are all clear (hyaline).
  • All of the stripes on the body (apart from the stripe under the eye) are a blue-grey in color and are fairly indistinct (unless in the male at breeding times) and tend not to extend much below the spine.
  • Along the rear of the body from the leading edge of the anal fin to the rear of the caudal peduncle there is a fine, mesh-like tracery of blue-grey coloring.

Please note that different color variants will breed together, creating offspring with an increasingly diverse range of colors over several generations.

The Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa) is a fairly small Cichlid. It has an extended dorsal fin. The fins of the male can tend to be longer than those of the female. It is advised not to include this species with known fin-nippers.

The living environment for Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa)

Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa) enjoys being in the shade so a well-planted tank is beneficial to it.

Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa) will appreciate floating leaves and pretty well any broadleaf will assist the condition of the tank, as not only do such leaves provide shade but also, as they decompose, they provide infusoria for any fry in the tank. This also helps adults to determine that breeding conditions are good because they will appreciate the fact that there is a ready source of food for newly-hatched fry.

Note that Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa) will not generally mate for life but they will make good parents for the brood that they are rearing.

It is recommended that Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa) are kept as a small shoal. The male, in particular, can be territorial but setting up the tank so that sightlines are broken up will mitigate the risks of territorial behavior in general. When purchasing Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa) it is generally recommended to buy around six fish. It may be impossible to sex the fish when purchasing them as immature specimens but, in due course, they will find their own mate and are, from that point, generally biparental for the purposes of rearing a specific brood.

Having a clear, broad area of a fine substrate will protect the elegant finnage of your Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa).

Overall, Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa) are the most attractive and most elegant addition to your aquarium.

The diet of Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa)

Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa) is primarily omnivorous and has a preference for live food, feeding on a range of invertebrates in nature. In the aquarium a diet of live or frozen Artemia, Bloodworm and Daphnia is recommended and Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa)  will readily eat pelleted food and flake food. That said, they prefer to stay close to the bottom of the water column and sift through the substrate for their food. For this reason, a fine substrate is recommended.

Sexual differences in Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa)

It is reasonably easy to distinguish the sex of the adult Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa) because the adult male is often larger and has a deeper color, especially at breeding times. The rear of the male’s dorsal fin is more extended than that of the female. The male has extended tips at the top and bottom of the caudal fin, not present in the adult female. The female is also fuller-bodied when viewed from above, especially when carrying eggs (gravid). The female has a visible ovipositor (egg duct) just in front of the anal fin.

Aquarium size for Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa) 

It is generally advised that the minimum tank size for Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa)  should be one of at least 36 inches in length or more due to the fact that a shoal of around six per species should be maintained and the adult fish will be around six inches long. This will enable your small shoal to move around freely. A smaller tank will be too restrictive (unless it is a breeding tank) and the fish will suffer as a result whilst a larger tank is always to be recommended.

There is a predominance of so-called “Nano tanks” available but, being old-fashioned, I prefer my fishes to live in an environment which, at least, attempts to mimic nature, rather than living in what I would liken to a piscine prison cell. The tank should be well-planted but with clear areas where the fish can swim freely. The water should have a certain amount of movement, as Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa) enjoy a flow of water.

Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa) – Videos

Are you keeping tropical fish as a hobbyist or as a breeder?

This is a question too often ignored in my humble opinion. If you are a breeder (either commercially or as a hobbyist who gives away young fish to other hobbyists) then you will need the resources to move fish into breeding tanks in order to maximize the yield of fry that will grow up either for sale or to give them away.

If you are keeping fish for the joy of observing them in something resembling a natural habitat then you may feel that it is appropriate to allow nature to take its course and, as and when different species breed, then many of the eggs (and surviving fry) will be eaten either by their parents or by other fish in your aquarium. This is the natural order of things because this is what will happen in nature. The fittest may well survive to reach adulthood.

Ultimately, the choice is yours to make.

How do Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa) breed?

In total, the female Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa) could lay up to 200 eggs during a single spawning. 

At around 79 degrees Fahrenheit, the eggs will hatch in around two to three days and the fry will become free-swimming after around seven days.

It is generally true that Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa) make good parents and will not prey on their own young. In general, the male will protect the territory whilst the female will tend to care for the eggs and fry but these roles are interchangeable.

The female Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa) will generally lay her eggs in a line along a slate, rock or sometimes a broad leaf. The male will then swim over that line of eggs and fertilize them. This process will then be repeated until the female has laid all of her eggs and the male has fertilized then and the result will be several rows of fertilized eggs.

Once the spawning is completed and until the fry become free-swimming, provided that the parents remain with the brood, they will move the eggs in their mouths several times, depositing them in the substrate or under cover. Inexperienced parents may inadvertently consume the eggs but, with practice, they will perfect this technique.

The Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa) takes responsibility for post-spawning care and may become extremely aggressive if it feels that the brood is threatened. For this reason, if possible, a breeding tank is recommended.

It takes around two to three days for the eggs to hatch, depending on the water conditions and temperature and around a further five days or so for the yolk sacs to be depleted and the fry to become free-swimming.

In a well-planted aquarium, the Cichlid will often spawn in the community tank and at least some of the fittest fry will survive to adulthood.

In a breeding tank, it is always a good idea to include a few aquatic shrimp, as they will consume any unfertilized or dead eggs but won’t tend to predate on viable eggs.

Breeding tank for Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa)

You should prepare a tank of around twenty to thirty gallons in size with mature, soft, flowing water. The water should have a low level of light and broad-leaved plants together with some well-cleaned slate inserted at an angle upon which the female will lay her adhesive eggs. It is recommended that the substrate consists of a fine substrate (sand) without sharp edges. The Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa) may also lay eggs on broad leaves or in rows in the substrate.

Arrange your tank heating so that you can slowly remove up to half of the tank water and then replace it with collected rainwater (slightly cooler than the aquarium water – but not so much that White Spot could result) and repeat this daily until the Cichlids spawn. This water and temperature change will encourage spawning, as it mimics nature. The rainwater is most important.

Cichlids prefer to spawn where the water is flowing so a decent pump is required to synthesize that flow.

Feed up your Cichlids on bloodworm, which will sink to the bottom and burrow into the substrate. Your Cichlid will love rooting out the bloodworm and it can help to trigger spawning.

You may also wish to introduce baby brine shrimp, mosquito larvae or tubifex worms as an inducement to reproduction and live food will be very much appreciated. This will also tend to divert the attention of the Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa) from preying on their own eggs and fry though cannibalism is not characteristic of Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa).

Reduce the water movement by turning down the pump once the eggs are laid – only regular aeration is now required. Keep the lights off (or very low) and the tank dark (of fairly dark)  because eggs and fry can be particularly sensitive to the light.

The eggs will hatch typically in two to three days depending on tank temperature and conditions and the fry will become free-swimming after around seven days after hatching. 

Keep the tank more-or-less unlit for the first week or so then gradually increase the lighting. Bear in mind that the eggs and fry of a fish as small as the Cichlid will be tiny indeed so you may need to use a magnifier “app” on your smartphone or a macro lens to see anything at all. A collection of eggs is generally easy to spot, as they look like a collection of tiny, brown pearls.

The newly hatched fry will feed firstly on their yolk sac and remain static but, once free-swimming, can be fed infusoria and will also thrive on egg yolk during the first two to four weeks. 

Once the fry are free-swimming and their yolk sacs are depleted, then add baby brine shrimp and/or white worms. Once the fry are sufficient in size not to be treated as a snack then they can be introduced into the community tank where they will join the existing shoal. Before moving the adolescent fish into the community tank ensure that you have balanced the water temperatures to mitigate the risk of White Spot or other diseases being triggered.

Unless you are breeding commercially, you may wish to consider moving the fry into the community tank sooner rather than later. It may seem harsh but the adult fish in the tank will deal with any fry that are unlikely to survive to adulthood in the wild and you are synthesizing, to the best of your ability, a wild environment. The fittest fry will probably survive whilst the rest will be dealt with by the community.

Should your Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosa) have a special diet for breeding?

Adult Cichlids don’t need any particular inducement to breed. That said, it has been suggested that adding tubifex, bloodworm, or mosquito larva may encourage them, presumably because the addition of a new food may “fool” the fish into thinking that it is breeding time. From my own experience, I would always recommend keeping all of your fish in the best possible condition at all times, as this is good for the wellbeing of your fish.

Mike Wheeler

I started keeping freshwater tropical fish in 1972 and it has been something of a passion ever since. In this website, my aim is to build up an everyman's guide to help the everyday aquarist get the best from this inspiring and entertaining hobby.

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