Calvus Cichlid (Altolamprologus calvus): Ultimate Care Guide

Native to Lake Tanganyika in Africa, the Calvus Cichlid is a slow-growing and mostly docile Cichlid species. This fish is best kept in species-specific tanks or with other fish native to Lake Tanganyika. Keeping a pair or a group of up to 6 individuals is common; this isn’t the type of Cichlid which can be happy on its own. Their natural environment includes rocky elements, and this fish’s narrow body is perfect for wedging into crevices in search of prey. While this fish is a predator, they are mostly docile around larger fish which they can’t fit in their mouths. They won’t usually display aggression against larger tank mates, but smaller fish and invertebrates are at risk of being eaten. Calvus Cichlids have specific care needs, making them a poor choice for beginning Cichlid hobbyists.

If you’re planning on adding Calvus Cichlids to your collection, you’ll need some information first. We’ve put together this guide to show you how to properly care for this unique African Cichlid variety!

Calvus Cichlid Care

Calvus Cichlids need excellent water quality, the proper diet of live and frozen meaty foods, and a rocky tank environment which mimics their natural habitat. This can be a challenging species to care for successfully and is best suited to experienced hobbyists.

Are Calvus Cichlid easy to care for?

Calvus Cichlids can be a challenge to care for. This isn’t the best beginner fish, but experienced hobbyists should be able to successfully raise this species.

Calvus Cichlid
Calvus Cichlid (Altolamprologus calvus)


Calvus Cichlid does best in tanks with temperatures between 76° and 81° F.

Water pH

Like many African Cichlid species, Calvus Cichlid likes alkaline water between 7.5 and 9.0 pH.

Calvus Cichlid Size

Calvus Cichlid males grow up to 6 inches, while females only reach 4 inches. This is a slow growing species, and can take 5 years or more to reach maximum length.

Food & Diet

Calvus Cichlids are carnivores and need a diet based around meaty foods, both frozen and live. Good frozen food choices include black and white mosquito larvae, vitamin enriched brine shrimp, and krill. Prepared pellet and flake foods shouldn’t be the primary diet of this fish. Without meaty foods their health will suffer and they’ll be more difficult to breed. This heavily carnivorous diet presents a problem: iodine content. Commercial prepared Cichlid pellets and flake contain iodine, which is necessary for their metabolism. Live and frozen meaty foods may be lacking this important element. Depending on your feed source, it might be necessary to supplement with iodine. Iodine supplements are common in marine aquariums but are an unusual addition to freshwater tanks. Read all iodine supplement instructions to make sure you properly dose your tank.

Calvus Cichlid Lifespan

Calvus Cichlid can live up to 10 years will proper care.

Tank Size

Calvus Cichlids need a tank that’s at least 55 gallons. That’s large enough to support a group of 4 to 6 members. When selecting a tank, choose one that is long and wide as this species likes room to swim.

Calvus Cichlid (Altolamprologus calvus)
Calvus Cichlid (Altolamprologus calvus)

Tank Setup

The best tank environment for Calvus Cichlids will include rocky hiding spaces, with a substrate which can buffer alkalinity. Plants aren’t common in their natural habitat so it isn’t necessary to keep a planted tank. Ideal substrate choices will include crushed coral or aragonite sand. Coral will slowly dissolve and increase water alkalinity. Most hobbyists choose darker colored substrates as these provide better contrast with this fish’s coloration. Rocks are a big part of Calvus Cichlid’s natural habitat. Be sure to include enough to provide hiding spaces while allowing plenty of open areas for swimming. This species’ narrow body makes it perfect for exploring narrow crevices, so select rocks which can be piled so many gaps and crevices are formed. Pay attention to stability: rocks should be added before substrate and shouldn’t be easy to rearrange. Unstable rocks might shift, which can trap and injure fish.

Water quality and currents will need extra attention. Calvus Cichlids do best in well maintained water; regular water changes and excellent filtration are needed. You’ll need a filtration system which can turn over at least five times the volume of your tank in one hour. For instance, a 55 gallon tank needs a filter which runs at 300 GPH (gallons per hour). Another reason to have excellent filtration is water currents: this species is happiest in tanks with lots of water flow. A powerful filter can provide water movement along with filtration. Some large tanks may need additional water currents to keep Calvus Cichlids happy. Wavemakers and powerheads can add additional water flow to your tank. These devices are popular in marine aquariums, and are essentially small underwater electric fans. Many include controls which allow flow rate adjustment to get the right amount of water current.

Calvus Cichlid Breeding

Calvus Cichlids are substrate spawners, and will breed in a home aquarium. Make sure you have a breeding pair: males are longer and have longer fins while females are shorter. To prepare your fish for spawning, feed them a varied diet of live foods. It may also be necessary to supplement tank water with iodine if they have been feed iodine deficient foods. The female will select a crevice or cave which is small enough to keep the male out. She will lay up to 200 eggs before the male releases milt at the cave entrance; both fish will fan the water to direct this milt over the eggs. The female guards her eggs inside the cave while the male guards the entrance. Eggs hatch in around 48 hours, and fry are free swimming in 7 to 10 days. Male Calvus Cichlids are known to eat fry, so remove the male to another tank before fry are free swimming. This can be a challenge, as it’s hard to know when these fish have spawned. Often, the first hint that these fish have bred is seeing free swimming fry in the aquarium. Feed the fry with baby brine shrimp and other small live food. It may be necessary to separate fry by size as larger fry can sometimes eat smaller fry.

Calvus Cichlid (Altolamprologus calvus)
Calvus Cichlid (Altolamprologus calvus)

Calvus Cichlid Disease

Calvus Cichlids can suffer from Malawi Bloat along with other common freshwater diseases and infections such as Ich and parasites. Malawi Bloat is visible as a swelling in the abdomen with lack of appetite and swimming or floating at odd angles. This condition can affect all freshwater fish, but is most common in African Cichlids. Malawi Bloat is closely related to constipation and linked to poor diet and overfeeding. The best way to avoid this condition is by feeding a varied diet of quality foods without feeding too much. Underfeeding is preferable to overfeeding.

Ich is a parasitic infection which is seen as white spots along body, fins, gills and face. The most common treatments are copper-based medications. When treating Calvus Cichlids with medicines containing copper, make sure this can be tolerated by any tank mates. The best way to avoid Ich and other common diseases is by keeping a quarantine tank (QT). A QT lets you check the health of new fish for 6 to 8 weeks before adding to your main aquarium. It’s always best to allow a quarantine period for all new fish or other tank additions.

Calvus Cichlid Tank Mates

While Calvus Cichlids aren’t aggressive, they are predatory carnivores which eat smaller fish. Larger fish aren’t usually harassed or attacked. An exception is during spawning: Calvus Cichlids are territorial, and this trait is especially strong when mating. Bad tank mates are any smaller fish or invertebrates which this species can fit in their mouths. Avoid aggressive fish or Cichlids such as Mbunas. Calvus Cichlids aren’t aggressive, and are more likely to be targets of violence by other fish. The best choices for tank mates are other species from Lake Tanganyika such as: Cyprichromis, Julidochromis and Neolamprologus.

Where can I find Calvus Cichlid for sale?

Calvus Cichlid aren’t common in local fish stores but can be bought through online sources. Expect to pay between $16 USD and $70 USD depending on size.

Calvus Cichlid Types

Calvus Cichlids can vary in coloration depending on where they were collected. Here are some of the top Calvus Cichlid variations available:

Black Calvus Cichlid

Black Calvus Cichlids have deep black coloration instead of the more common dark gray. This appealing color pattern has especially good contrast against darker substrates.

White Calvus Cichlid

The White Calvus Cichlid is a variety with lighter coloration which makes the usually dark stripes light gray, and the already light body color nearly white.

Yellow Calvus Cichlid / Gold Calvus Cichlid

The names: Yellow Calvus Cichlid and Gold Calvus Cichlid likely refer to the same variation which has a pronounced yellowish cast. This is an uncommon variety and may be more difficult to find.

Inkfin Calvus Cichlid

Inkfin Calvus Cichlids have darker colored fins and a more irregular striping pattern. They often have a slight yellowish cast, mostly visible in areas of lighter color.

Calvus Cichlid vs Compressiceps Cichlid

Calvus Cichlid (Altolamprologus calvus) and Compressiceps Cichlid (Altolamprologus compressiceps) look similar with a couple of notable differences: Compressiceps, despite the name, have a thicker and wider body than Calvus. Compressiceps also feature an indentation between their eyes giving their face the appearance of having a “snout.”