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Family: Cichlidae, Sub-Family Cichlinae

Common Name: Bolivian Ram

Origin and Habitat: Rio Guapore and Rio Mamore systems, Bolivia and Brazil. Found in slow-moving streams and still waters (ponds).

Compatibility/Temperament: Peaceful, an excellent cichlid for a community tank of characins, smaller catfish species, rasbora, small loaches, gourami; will co-exist with angels and discus. Fish will sometimes display aggression toward members of their own species including simple chasing, ramming, and lip-locks; while usually non-harmful, targetted fish may be weakened to the point of death. This can apply to mates especially if they did not bond on their own. Best kept as a single fish, or in a bonded pair.

Bolivian Ram Diet

They are omnivores and--as suggested by the somewhat inferior mouth position--feed from the substrate, rarely if ever at the surface. Most prepared foods that sink (tablets, pellets) will be accepted; frozen bloodworms are relished. Live foods like shrimp and worms would be a treat.


Males attain 3.5 inches, females 2.5 inches.

Minimum Tank Suggestion

20 gallons for one fish, 2 fish in a 36 inch tank; 3+ in 48-inch tank.

Water parameters for Bolivian Ram

Soft to moderately hard (hardness to 12 dGH), acidic to slightly basic (pH to 7.8) water, temperature 24-27C/76-80F. While adaptable, seems to prefer soft, acidic water and will spawn more readily. Habitat parameters: < 6 dGH, pH 7-7.6, temperature around 27C/81F.


The Bolivian ram is sometimes confused with its cousin the popular common or blue ram. Unlike M. ramirezi, the larger Bolivian Ram is more adaptable with respect to water parameters (temperature, pH and hardness as noted); however, both species require stable water quality and should not be introduced to new setups but only an established aquarium. This fish can live up to four years.

The tank should be densely planted but provide some swimming space; a dark substrate and subdued lighting will intensify the pattern (stripes) and colours of this species. Males are territorial, and suitable territories can be provided by plants and bogwood or rocks. Males will defend their territories against other males of the species, but with sufficient space they seldom inflict damage to each other. Non-species tankmates are usually ignored except at feeding when the fish may "push" others like Corydoras out of the way, but without any injury.

Sexual dimorphism is rather limited with males larger in size and showing longer extensions on both the caudal and the posterior of the dorsal fins; these characteristics are more reliable in mature fish. Examination of the ovipositor can sometimes also indicate sex with the female displaying a larger, rounder appearance to pass eggs through, while the male displays a more pointed appearance; this may only be evident when the fish is ready to spawn. The first photo below shows a pair (upper fish male, lower female) over a clutch of eggs. The Bolivian ram is a substrate spawner, laying the eggs in a depression in the substrate or on a flat rock or piece of wood cleaned by the female. Both parents, though primarily the female, fan the eggs and the female tends the fry while the male defends the territory.

Observations made in the habitat suggest that this species lives in solitude (individual fish alone) apart from reproduction periods (Linke & Staeck, 1994). Single fish are therefore good cichlids for a community aquarium. More than one can be housed if the tank provides sufficient floor space for individual territories. The fish remains in the lower third of the water column, spending most of its time browsing the substrate for bits of food.

Originally described as Crenicara altispinosa by Haseman in 1911, for a time it was considered in the genera Microgeophagus and Papiliochromis until 2003 when the Swedish ichthyologist and cichlid authority Sven Kullander placed it in Mikrogeophagus along with the closely-related species M. ramirezi; these are the only species in this genus that was established in 1968 by Meulengracht-Madsen. The genus name derives from the Greek mikr [= small], geo [= earth] and phag [= eat], literally "small eartheater." The species epithet is derived from the Latin alt [high] and spinos [spiny], referring to the elongated first ray of the dorsal fin. The valid spelling is altispinosus, not altispinosa, to agree with the gender of the genus name.


Bednarczuk, Radnek (2008), "Mikrogeophagus altispinosus: A Colourful Butterfly for the Aquarium," Tropical Fish Hobbyist, March 2008, pp. 90-95.

Kullander, Sven O. (2011), "Nomenclatural availability of putative scientific generic names applied to the South American cichlid fish Apistogramma ramirezi Myers & Harry, 1948 (Teleostei: Cichlidae), Zootaxa 3131, pp. 35-51.

Linke, Horst and Wolfgang Staeck (1994), American Cichlids I, Dwarf Cichlids, Tetra-Press, 1994.

Contributing Members

The following members have contributed to this profile: Byron, burnsbabe


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