Buffalo Head Cichlid (Steatocranus casuarius): Ultimate Care Guide

While technically an African Cichlid, the Buffalo Head Cichlid looks and behaves differently than many other Cichlids from the region. They are more docile, and less prone to fight with tank mates, though they can display aggression during spawning. Overall, Buffalo Head Cichlids are well-behaved, and stick to the lower areas of their tanks. This makes choosing tank mates easier, as this species will usually not bother fish which stay in mid to upper tank regions. Don’t expect your Buffalo Head Cichlid to be an active swimmer. This species prefers to stake out territory in caves or other protected hardscape features. A smaller Cichlid, males can reach a maximum length of 5 inches. Males also develop nuchal humps on their heads when mature. If you are planning on adding this species to your tank, you’ll need to be prepared to provide for their special needs. We’ve put together this guide to explain all you’ll need to know when caring for this uncommon Cichlid species!

Buffalo Head Cichlid Care

Buffalo Head Cichlids are a somewhat rare species with care needs that differ from other common Cichlids. Water quality needs to be high, and strong water currents are required to keep this fish happy and healthy. Provide rocks and other hiding spaces to help simulate this species’ natural environment.

Buffalo Head Cichlid are easy to care for, provided they have a balanced diet, clean water, and enough caves or other hiding spots to claim as territory.


Buffalo Head Cichlids prefer water temperatures between 75° – 81° F.

Water pH

Buffalo Head Cichlids need water that is alkaline, with a pH between 7.5 and 8.5.

Buffalo Head Cichlid Size

Buffalo Head Cichlid males can grow to nearly 5 inches, females don’t grow larger than 4 inches. This makes them one of the smaller Cichlid species.

Buffalo Head Cichlid (Steatocranus casuarius). Edited. 5snake5, CC0

Food & Diet

Buffalo Head Cichlids aren’t fussy eaters, and can be fed commercially prepared Cichlid pellets and flake foods. They are omnivores, and will benefit from occasional feedings of live and frozen foods. Frozen bloodworms and brine shrimp are common choices. Use caution when feeding live foods, as these can introduce parasites and other diseases depending on how they were raised. Prepared frozen foods are the safest meaty foods to give your Buffalo Head Cichlids. When feeding pellets, flakes, or frozen meaty foods, only feed what your fish can consume within five minutes. Uneaten food can rot and spoil tank water. Giving more food than necessary can encourage overfeeding which can lead to a range of health problems. It’s always best to err on the side of not feeding enough than feeding too much.

Buffalo Head Cichlid Lifespan

Buffalo Head Cichlids can live over 10 years with excellent care.

Buffalo Head Cichlid Tank Size

Buffalo Head Cichlids will need a tank of at least 50 gallons. Larger sizes are needed depending on how many tank mates you decide to include. This species likes to stick to the lower portions of their aquariums. Choose a tank that is wider and deeper than it is tall to increase living space for this bottom-dweller.

Tank Setup

Buffalo Head Cichlids are diggers and hiders. Be prepared for them to rearrange gravel, sand, and lighter hardscape. When preparing your tank, add hardscape items first before adding sand or gravel. This helps prevent heavy items from being dislodged by your Buffalo Head Cichlids, possibly causing injuries. This species’ digging behavior can also be a challenge if you’re planning on a planted tank, as they can easily uproot or dislodge most rooted plants. Planted aquarium substrates such as Aquasoil aren’t the best choice for fish which like to dig. One possible solution is to only include potted plants as these are harder to dislodge. Another choice are Epiphytes such as Anubias, Java Fern, and Buce. These plants can be anchored to hardscape and don’t need to be rooted in soil. You can use substrates which are intended for African Cichlids; these often include crushed coral which can increase water alkalinity to a comfortable level for this fish. Neutral substrates like gravel or sand won’t have much effect on your tank’s pH,

Buffalo Head Cichlids can be territorial, and like to spend much of their time hiding in caves. Be sure to include enough rocks, caves, and other hiding places to keep this species feeling secure and happy. Expect them to spend most of their time in lower sections of tanks, so make extra effort to include hardscape elements which allow them to hide when they want to; which is often.

Make sure you include enough filtration because this species does best with very clean water. Another reason to have lots of filtration is water currents: Buffalo Head Cichlids like strong currents and a powerful filtration system can make them feel more at home. Choose a filter which will turn over at least 5 times the volume of your tank’s water in an hour. For instance, if you have a 50 gallon aquarium, select a filter which runs at 250 GPH (gallons per hour) or greater. In larger aquariums, even powerful filters may not be able to generate enough currents to keep this species happy. If there isn’t enough flow in your setup, consider adding power heads or wavemakers. These devices are popular with marine aquarium enthusiasts and are similar to small electric fans which run underwater, creating powerful flow when needed. A side benefit to these devices is they will keep waste material churned up where it can be removed by your filter. This can reduce the need for hand siphoning waste from the bottom of your tank.

Buffalo Head Cichlid (Steatocranus casuarius)
Buffalo Head Cichlid (Steatocranus casuarius). Edited. 5snake5, CC0

Buffalo Head Cichlid Breeding

Buffalo Head Cichlids spawn and care for fry in enclosed areas such as caves. They are secretive about spawning, often the first time hobbyists are aware their Buffalo Heads have spawned is when fry emerge from the breeding cave. While it doesn’t need to be a fully enclosed cave, these fish spawn in secure areas where the male can easily stand guard. When planning on breeding this fish, be sure and have lots of rocks, caves, and other enclosed areas in their tank. It is easy to sex Buffalo Head Cichlids, as the males of this species are larger and have a nuchal bump on their heads when mature. It’s best to have one male for 2 to 3 females, watch carefully to see when a breeding pair forms.  The female will lay between 50 and 100 eggs which hatch in around 3 days. While they may have hatched, the parents will usually keep them protected for a few days, only letting them venture out to feed. Buffalo Head Cichlid fry are easy to feed and will eat small granular prepared food. They’ll also munch on blanched and cooled pieces of cucumber. Provide fry food near to the spawning cave entrance as they won’t swim far when young. When the fry start journeying further from their cave for longer periods, you can remove the adults to another tank and allow the fry to mature further.


Buffalo Head Cichlid are susceptible to common freshwater fish diseases including Ich and Malawi Bloat. Ich infections are visible as small, white dots along the body, face, and fins. Ich is usually treated with medications from your local fish store. Some hobbysits will increase water temperatures for 2 to 3 weeks, which can disrupt Ich’s life-cycle. Malawi Bloat is another condition which can afflict Buffalo Head Cichlids. This condition can result in loss of appetite, white or clear stringy feces, and a swollen abdomen. Sadly, this condition is very hard to treat, and often results in death. Help prevent your fish from contracting this disease by providing a balanced and varied diet, and avoid overfeeding. Maintain clean water with good filtration and regular water changes of at least 30% to keep ammonia and nitrate levels low.

Buffalo Head Cichlid Tank Mates

Buffalo Head Cichlids are usually docile, and can coexist with a range of tank mates. These fish spend most of their time near the bottom of tanks, so the best tank mates are fish which prefer the mid and upper aquarium regions. Firemouth Cichlid and Convict Cichlid are two species which can be a good match. Avoid bottom-dwellers such as catfish which might be seen as competition for food. Smaller fish which Buffalo Heads can swallow are bad choices for tank mates. While this fish isn’t aggressive and doesn’t actively hunt smaller fish, they also aren’t likely to turn down a bite-sized snack.

Where can I find Buffalo Head Cichlid for sale?

A somewhat rare fish, Buffalo Head Cichlids are seldom available from local fish stores, and aren’t always available from online sources. When they are in stock, expect to pay between $14 USD and $40 USD per fish.

Buffalo Head Cichlid vs Slender Buffalo Head Cichlid

The Slender Buffalo Head Cichlid (Steatocranus tinanti) is, as the name suggests, slimmer than the Buffalo Head Cichlid (Steatocranus casuarius). They also grow longer, with the males reaching almost 6 inches. Slender Buffalo Head Chchlid females only grow to around 4 inches. Slender Buffalo Head Cichlids have an unusual “scooting” swimming motion as they move along the substrate; this motion looks similar to the swimming pattern of Gobys.