Ram Cichlid: Care Guide, Breed Info, Pictures & More
The Ram Cichlid is a popular choice for aquarium lovers and enthusiasts. Brightly colored and on the smaller side, they don’t take up much room in the tank and make beautiful additions to aquariums. They’re also not that expensive, costing around $6.00–$10.00 each.
Also known as Dwarf Cichlids, they reach only 2–3 inches in adulthood. The flashes of color that these Cichlids display as they swim around are delightful to watch. They come in various yellows, blues, greens, purples, reds, and pinks. Their dorsal fins are spiky, and their bright pectoral fins are set low on the body.
While they are fish that everyone might want, they aren’t the best for novice owners. These fish are generally easy to own and have a mostly peaceful temperament, but they do have specific requirements for their care, including very specific water conditions, in order for them to live happily and stay healthy.
If you’re a first-time Ram Cichlid owner, this care guide will tell you what you need to know to prepare for this lovely little addition to your tank.
Housing the Ram Cichlid
The Ram Cichlids enjoy space. While they can live in a community tank, they do best in an aquarium where they can really thrive.
This is a social fish that enjoys interacting with other non-aggressive fish that aren’t threatening. It’s not recommended to keep just one Ram Cichlid. You’ll want a pair because these fish don’t do well alone. The minimum-sized tank requirement for a pair of these fish is 20 gallons. If you have space for a bigger tank, that’s even better.
Their environment should closely resemble where they live in the wild. Ram Cichlids like slow-moving water with plenty of plants where they can hide. They’re native to South America, making their homes in the Orinoco River Basin that flows through Colombia and Venezuela. These freshwater fish enjoy warmer temperatures than many other fish.
If you’re keeping Ram Cichlids with other kinds of fish, the water temperature must be acceptable to all the species. A common mistake that first-time Ram Cichlid owners make is not keeping the water warm enough. A heater is required for these fish to make sure they don’t get too cold.
Preferred Water Conditions
In addition to warm water, Ram Cichlids need clean water. While you’d think that goes without saying, dirty water is something that Rams just won’t tolerate. It can lead to stress and infections for them. A filter specifically for your tank size will help keep the water clean, but you’ll need to partially change the water regularly to keep things like odor, discoloration, and ammonia at bay.
The water should also be slightly acidic, with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0. The pH of the water can change due to fish waste, leftover food, and plant refuse. Kits to test and adjust the water’s pH are recommended to make sure it is always at the proper levels. The water should also not be too hard. These fish prefer softer water, with 6–14 dH.
If you have hard water, you may want to invest in a water-softening system for your tank or look into tank supplements to soften the water.
In the wild, Ram Cichlids like to rest on and bury themselves in the sandy bottoms of the river. A sand substrate is best for their tanks and will enable them to perform their natural behavior. The substrate can be mixed with a bit of gravel if you prefer the look.
Ram Cichlids like plenty of plants. They want to minimize their light exposure and take cover under the plants. They also use plants in the wild to hide from predators. Many plants help these fish feel safe. Floating plants work well, and plants that anchor into the sand can be placed in the back and along the sides of the tank. This will leave your Ram Cichlids adequate room for swimming.
Caves and tunnels will provide entertainment for your fish and can serve as additional options for hiding and resting. When these fish get nervous, proper hiding spots will prevent them from getting too stressed. Flat rocks for resting (and breeding, if you’re interested in that) and pieces of driftwood can also mimic their natural environment.
Feeding the Ram Cichlid
Here is where a novice fish owner might not notice that their Ram Cichlid is slowly starving to death.
Slower moving than other fish, the Ram Cichlid may not notice food in the tank. Even if they do, they might not be able to get to it before the quicker fish snatch it up. It’s important to make sure you see that your Ram Cichlid eating, especially if these fish are housed with others.
Another thing that makes it difficult to feed a Ram Cichlid is the fact that if they’re upset in any way, they will refuse to eat. They will actively ignore food and need to be enticed in order to start eating again. Stress, a recent tank change, new tank mates, etc. can all be reasons that the Ram Cichlid has decided that a hunger strike is best.
If this occurs, give them something that they have a difficult time refusing. Freeze-dried bloodworms, mosquito larvae, and brine shrimp might work to please your Ram Cichlid’s palate.
Ram Cichlids are omnivores, so they need plants and meat. This mix should be about half and half to give them a well-balanced, healthy diet. When they’re not refusing all food, they aren’t picky eaters. Live food, frozen food, freeze-dried food, flake food, pellets — they love it all.
The most common diet for them is a mix of flake food, pellets, and live or frozen food. You can also add fresh vegetables to the mix. Ram Cichlids enjoy peeled and blanched veggies, like cucumbers, zucchini, and spinach, cut up into small enough pieces for them to eat. Peeling and blanching are important because Ram Cichlids can’t eat the vegetable skins or anything too tough.
Some Ram Cichlids prefer to eat on the bottom of the tank instead of the top. Sinking pellets would work best in this case.
Frequency of the Ram Cichlid’s Meals
This fish is one that tends not to eat sometimes and needs to be fed three times a day to keep them happy and healthy. Since they don’t compete for food that well, watching your Ram Cichlids at mealtimes to make sure they’re eating is recommended.
Only give your Ram Cichlid the amount of food that they can comfortably consume in 5 minutes. Remove any leftover food from the tank so it doesn’t contaminate the water.
When choosing tank mates for your Ram Cichlid, remember that this fish wants a friend of their own species. These are social fish that don’t want to be the only ones in their environments. At least one pair of Ram Cichlids is always recommended. You can keep males and females together.
If your tank is over 40 gallons, you can keep more than one male Ram Cichlid, but if it’s smaller, more than one male may lead to fights over territory. This is especially true around breeding season.
Ram Cichlids can be in the same tank as any other docile fish and enjoy a good community around them, but the sizes of the fish friends are important to note. Since Ram Cichlids eat live food, any fish housed with them that is small enough to fit in their mouths can become dinner.
The same goes for fish that can fit Ram Cichlids in their mouths. Those spiny dorsal fins can also cause injury to any fish that attempts to swallow them. Peaceful fish of the same size are good tank companions. Specific species include:
- Rummynose Tetra
- Clown Loaches
- Cardinal Tetra
- Other South American Ram Cichlids: Bolivian Ram, Electric Blue Ram, German Blue Ram, and Angel Ram
With any fish that you’d like to house with your Ram Cichlid, make sure they can tolerate the water conditions necessary for your Cichlid’s health.
How Long Does a Ram Cichlid Live?
The Ram Cichlid has a reputation for being a difficult fish to keep alive. They’re known as a fragile fish that isn’t as hardy as some other species.
It’s not hard to keep these fish alive if you provide the proper conditions for them to thrive and live happily. They do require specific water conditions and diet, but as long as these conditions are met, the Ram Cichlid can live for up to 4 years.
Common Health Problems of the Ram Cichlid
The Ram Cichlid wants clean, warm water and won’t tolerate anything less. They also don’t tolerate ammonia. Poor water quality can kill a Ram Cichlid. If it doesn’t, it can at least cause health problems. These beautiful fish are delicate when it comes to their environment, and if conditions aren’t just right, you might notice the following:
- Flatworms: These are parasitic worms that can cause anemia in fish.
- Ich: Formally Ichthyophthirius multifiliis, also known as “white spot disease,” this is a parasite that infests the skin and gills of the fish, causing white spots to appear on the body.
- Fish Tuberculosis: Signs of this disease are weight loss, not eating, lethargy, and skin ulcers; this condition can also be spread to humans through direct contact with open wounds.
To avoid potentially making your fish sick, keeping up with the water is a must. Your fish will be happy swimming around in clean, clear water that’s just right, and you’ll be happy watching these beauties live their best lives.
Breeding the Ram Cichlid
If you’ve got their care down and you want to create more of these gorgeous little fish, there are ways to do that. First, you need a male and female. Telling them apart can be tricky, though. You can buy these fish already paired, or you can try your luck at guessing which is which.
When Ram Cichlids mate, though, they mate for life. You might be able to find a pair that’s already bonded and add them to your tank.
It’s said that females are smaller and stockier than males, with shorter fins and pinkish-orange abdomens. Females also tend to have foreheads that slope forward and are pointer, while the males have rounder foreheads and faces.
You can either move your breeding pair to their own tank, or you can leave them in the community environment. They’ll still breed, but keep in mind that the male might be more aggressive to other fish during this time.
The babies also have a chance of being eaten by other fish in the tank or their own parents. For optimal success, a breeding pair in their own tank is best. Smooth, flat rocks are what the female prefers to lay her eggs on, so you’ll want to add them or breeding slates to the tank.
The water temperature should be increased by 1 degree each day until 84 degrees is reached. Adding healthy food to the tank, like java moss, will inform the parents that their babies will have enough to eat. After the eggs are laid on the surface of the female’s choosing, they will hatch in 3–5 days.
Both parents take an active role in watching over their young, but if any signs of aggression toward them or eating them are witnessed, remove the parents from the tank and put them back into their community. The female likes to dig a pit in the sand at the bottom of the tank and guard her young from there.
The Ram Cichlid is a beautiful fish that makes a brilliantly colorful addition to any tank. If the conditions are just right, these fish will live happily for up to 4 years. While they require a bit more attention to detail in their care than the average freshwater fish, they’re not difficult to care for overall. The right food, water temperature, water cleanliness, and tank mates are things to pay attention to with this fish.
They’re not ideal for newbie fish hobbyists, but with the proper commitment to their needs, a Ram Cichlid can thrive with anyone.
Featured Image Credit: veronika_tvrda, Shutterstock