The Bolivian Ram: or is it a Butterfly?

The Bolivian ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosus) is one interesting freshwater fish. Also called the Bolivian butterfly, it is from the family of dwarf cichlids.

Mikrogeophagus altispinosus also known as Bolivian ram swimming against aquarium rocks near by gravel
(source)

It has beautiful, extended fin rays and a brightly colored body. Prized for its beauty, it is also a personable fish, forming mating bonds and even recognizing their owners.

Easy to care for, peaceful in nature, and omnivorous eaters, they are perfect for those looking to add a splash of color and fun to a tropical fish tank.

They do like to sift through the substrate and can nibble on a plant or two, but they are generally mellow fish.

They are not prone to any specific diseases beyond common freshwater tank ailments.

As with any fish, it is important to keep the tank clean and water parameters stable to keep your fish healthy.

Read on for some more information on this amazing fish. We will also share some tips on tank setup and care.

At a Glance

Tank Size: 44 gallons minimum
Group Size: 6 to 8
Water Temperature: 73.4 to 79°F (23 to 26°C)
pH: 6.0 to 7.5
Hardness: 5 to 15 dGH
Lifespan: 4 to 7 years
Breeding: Egg scatterer
Adult Size: 3 to 3.5 inches (7.5 to 9 cm)
Usual Place in the Tank: Middle to bottom

Natural Habitat

The natural habitat for the Bolivian ram is wide, encompassing areas of the Amazon River Basin in both Bolivia and Brazil.

The waters in these areas are slow-moving and shallow. Plants and trees hang over these rivers, creating shady areas.

The riverbeds have sandy or muddy bottoms and plenty of plant life.

Appearance and Biology

The Bolivian ram is one beautiful fish! Its body is pale yellow, with a splash of bright orange on its head and chest.

Vertical gray stripes accent the body from the midsection to the base of the tail.

This fish has large eyes, with a vertical dark stripe passing over the head and directly through the eye. A black spot is on the middle of the body.

The fins on the Bolivian ram are especially beautiful. They are elongated, rigid rays.

Each fin is transparent and has red edging. The dorsal fin has a black stripe at the front, and the anal and pelvic fins contain light blue streaks.

On close observation, you can determine sexual dimorphism between males and females of the species.

Female Bolivian rams are slightly smaller than the males. Males can have longer dorsal fins.

Size

Bolivian rams are smaller than other cichlids. Expect your fish to grow to about 3 inches in length (7.6 cm).

Males can grow a little larger, up to 3.5 inches (9 cm).

Lifespan

The Bolivian ram has a lifespan anywhere from four to seven years. As with any aquarium fish, the lifespan is directly impacted by the water quality and environment you maintain for your fish.

Behavior

You will enjoy watching the behavior of this highly intelligent fish. They spend most of their time in the open swimming spaces of your tank.

Bolivian rams also enjoy checking out any hiding spaces along the tank bottom and kicking up some of the sandy substrate to look for food.

They are a peaceful species and will get along with most other similarly-tempered fish. They can get somewhat territorial when breeding if other fish get too close.

How many per gallon?

This species does best in a group of six to eight, so plan on a minimum tank size of 44-gallons.

This will give your fish plenty of swimming space as well as room for plants, driftwood, and open areas along the bottom.

Tank Setup

Tank setup for your Bolivian rams is simple. The goal, as always, with tank setup, is to replicate their natural environment as much as possible.

You are looking to create a tank with adequate swimming space, places to hide, and shaded areas.

Decorations

Mikrogeophagus altispinosus also known as Bolivian Ram swimming in a planted aquarium near by the gravel
(source)

Line the bottom of your tank with a sandy substrate. Get creative with objects along the bottom for your fish to explore.

Consider stones, caves, driftwood, and areas with live plants. Some great plants to consider are Java ferns, Vallisneria, Cryptocoryne, or Water wisteria.

Floating plants on the surface will provide shaded areas and reduced light that your fish need.

Remember to leave open water space for your fish to swim as well as open sandy areas. These fish love to sift through the sand to look for food.

Water Conditions

The Bolivian ram, although tolerant of a range of water conditions, needs attention to ensure conditions are stable.

The optimal water conditions are as follows:

  • Temperature between 73.4 and 79 degrees Fahrenheit (23 to 26°C),
  • pH level between 6.0 and 7.5 (slightly acidic),
  • Hardness between 5 to 15 dGH (soft water).

Once a week, replace 20-25% of the water. Remove any organic waste or uneaten food.

Equipment

Because they inhabit slower moving waters in the wild, install a filter that maintains a lower water flow.

An exterior-mounted canister filter will work and provide adequate aeration.

Consider installing a heater to maintain the water temperatures in the optimum range.

Keep the lighting low or include plants to provide shaded areas.

Tank Mates

Bolivian rams are not necessarily schooling or shoaling fish. That said, they do best with a group of six to eight other Bolivian rams in the tank.

For larger community tanks, you can keep Bolivian rams with other peaceful fish of similar size.

Consider the following to pair with your Bolivian rams:

Avoid the following:

Food and Diet

Omnivorous, the Bolivian ram will eat a wide variety of foods. Start with a commercial flake or pellet food as a base.

Make sure whatever food you select is sized correctly for the small mouths of these fish.

To make their diet well-rounded, add the occasional meal of bloodworm, brine shrimp, tubifex, or daphnia.

Your fish will also sift through the substrate for organisms and may even nibble on your plants.

Feed your fish small portions multiple times a day so that they do not overeat, nor is there a large amount of leftover food.

Breeding

Bolivian rams reach reproductive age anywhere between nine to 10 months old. At this stage, they are only about 1.5 inches (4 cm) in length.

At this size, there is little sexual dimorphism. With older fish, you can differentiate between males and females of the species with a bit of close observation.

Breeding Tank Setup

To avoid other fish eating the eggs or fry, prepare a separate breeding tank of at least 15 gallons.

Place a group of breeding fish in the tank to allow them to form their own breeding pairs.

Line the bottom with fine substrate and include large, flat stones or small-leafed plants.

To stimulate spawning, raise the temperature to between 80.6 and 82.4°F (27 to 28°C). Keep the pH between 7 and 7.5 and the water softness at 10 dGH.

Spawning and Care of Young

The female will lay from 100 to 200 eggs in less than one hour. The male will then fertilize them.

Both parents take care of the eggs. They will fan the eggs to keep water moving over them, removing any eggs that are not developing. The male will guard the eggs.

In two to four days, the eggs hatch. The larvae will eat their egg sacs for about a week, then become free-swimming.

Once that happens, feed the young baby brine shrimp, nauplii, or vinegar eels.

Keep the young in the breeding tank until they are two to three months old. At that point, they will be ready to join a community tank.

Hardiness

The biggest issues you will have to face with your Bolivian rams are common tank ailments, such as ich.

Ich can be treated by correcting tank conditions and adding medication to the water.

Most common freshwater fish diseases can be avoided with proper tank and water condition maintenance.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Bolivian rams easy to keep?

Yes. Bolivian rams are easy to keep and are appropriate for those new to aquarium keeping.

Are Bolivian rams aggressive?

Bolivian rams can become aggressive during mating. Otherwise, they are peaceful fish.

Can Bolivian rams live alone?

No. Bolivian rams, while not a shoaling fish, prefer to be in groups of around six to eight fish.

Do Bolivian rams eat plants?

Occasionally, Bolivian rams will nibble on aquarium plants.

Will Bolivian rams eat shrimp?

Yes. Shrimp are not recommended tank mates for Bolivian rams.

Will Bolivian rams eat snails?

Bolivian rams have been known to eat snails every so often.

Are Bolivian rams schooling fish?

No. Bolivian rams are not schooling fish. However, they do prefer the company of other Bolivian rams in their tank.

Can Bolivian rams live with Angelfish?

Yes, the two species can live together in a tank.

Can Bolivian rams live with guppies?

Bolivian rams can live with adult guppy fish.

How many Bolivian rams in a 29-gallon tank?

A 29-gallon tank would be suitable for two pairs of Bolivian rams.

Final Recommendations

Bolivian rams are certainly a great addition to any aquarium keeper’s tank.

They cost around $5 per fish, but remember that they enjoy being kept in groups.

Keep up on your tank maintenance and your water conditions, and you will have your Bolivian rams gracing your tank for many years!

We would love to hear from you!

Give us some feedback on the best tank mates you have found for your Bolivian rams.

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