Bolivian Ram

Bolivian Ram Dwarf Cichlid Care Guide

About Bolivian Ram

The Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosus) is a hardy and robust South American dwarf cichlid which is somewhat under rated.

Bolivian Rams originate from south America and are found in both Bolivia and Brazil. Despite being from the cichlid family Bolivian Rams are peaceful in nature which make them suitable for many aquariums.

As their scientific name Mikrogeophagus altispinosus suggests they are small geophagus, geophagus meaning earth eating. This fits in with their behaviour of sifting through the substrates for food.

Bolivian Ram Profile

Origin: South American, upper rio Madeira basin in Bolivia and Brazil.

Size: Up to 3 inches (8cm).

Minimum tank size: Minimum 20 gallons (75 litres) or more. Can be kept as a pair or in a group of 5 or 6 in a larger tank.

Tank region: Bottom region of the tank.

Water temperature: 22 to 27 degrees C (72 - 80 degrees Fahrenheit).

Water conditions: Soft slightly acidic water with PH between 6 to 7 is desirable.

Difficulty to keep: Easy

Bolivian Ram - Behaviour and Personality

Bolivian Rams are a peaceful south American dwarf cichlid which makes them suitable to the home aquarium.

Aggression is usually only seen during breeding if other fish approach the breeding site.

Bolivian Rams are curious fish who like to explore the tank often sifting through the substrate as they search for food.

In local fish shops the colours of the Bolivian Ram can often look a bit dull and pale but once looked after and in a habitat that suits them they brighten up and their colours really start to pop. The red highlights on the dorsal, caudal and anal fins are quite stunning!

Bolivian Rams are also one of the most durable and hardy dwarf cichlids and are fairly easy to care for.

It is for these reasons we say Bolivian Rams are underrated among aquarists.

Bolivian Ram, an underrated dwarf cichlid
Bolivian Ram, an underrated dwarf cichlid

Aquarium Setup For Bolivian Rams

Tank Size For Bolivian Rams

Minimum tank size of 20 gallons (75 litres) is required to keep an individual or pair of Bolivian Rams.

Bolivian Rams appreciate being kept in a group, if you wish to keep a group of 5 or 6 a 40 gallon (150 litres) or larger tank is needed.

Substrate For Bolivian Rams

A sand substrate is recommended as Bolivian Rams enjoy sifting the substrate as they look for additional food.


As for all aquariums a suitable filter is required when keeping Bolivian Rams. Ensure the filter and aquarium are well established and "cycled" before adding Bolivian Rams to the aquarium.

Depending on your climate an aquarium heater is most likely needed. Use a trusted brand (I like Ehiem heaters) and select the appropriate wattage base on the size of your tank. Most aquarium heater manufacturers state what size tanks their heaters are suitable for.

Aquarium Layout For Bolivian Rams

An aquarium which mimics Bolivian Rams natural environment with plants and drift wood offering hiding places is recommended.

Flat rocks, drift wood and plants will all be good additions to an aquarium housing Bolivian Rams.

Suitable Tank Mates For Bolivian Rams

Ideal tank mates include small Tetras, Corydoras Catfish and Dwarf Pencilfish.

As Bolivian Rams are peaceful the best tank mates will also be peaceful non aggressive species who are also not to big. Care should be taken to make sure tank mates do not out compete Bolivian Rams for food.

The addition of a schooling group of small tetras also help to act as dither fish, helping the Bolivian Rams to feel safe and less shy as other fish are around.

What To Feed Bolivian Rams

Although Bolivian Rams enjoy sifting through substrate to find food, they also readily accept sinking food in the water column.

Live foods are best, blood worms and brine shrimp and good choices. Frozen blood worms and brine shrimp are an alternative if live foods are not available. High quality sinking pallets are also a good alternative to supplement their diet.

Group of Bolivian Rams
Group of Bolivian Rams

How To Breed Bolivian Rams

Finding A Pair

To breed Bolivian Rams you will obviously need a male and female pair.

You can try to buy a male and female from your local fish store, if they have a tank of Bolivian Rams it is possible that a dominate male has already paired off with a female.

However if an obvious dominant male is not present or if the fish are still young the best approach is to buy 5 or 6 fish and then wait for a pair to pair off.

Bolivian Rams Male Vs Female

Males: The males are generally larger than the females and are usually slightly more colourful.

Females: Tend to be smaller and slightly duller in appearance.

Breeding Tank Setup For Bolivian Rams

There are a couple of options for a breeding tank for Bolivian Rams:

Full / Normal Tank Breeding Setup

For this approach the tank is setup is typical fashion for Bolivian Rams, with substrate plants and a few flat rocks or ceramic saucers in different areas of the tank to provide some different spawning site options.

Although this approach sets up the tank in a somewhat regular way it is recommended to have minimal tank mates. As tank mates can pose a risk to eggs and fry if not carefully selected. Ember Tetras are one of our favourite dither fish for breeding tanks as they have tine mouths and will not eat eggs or fry.

Of course regular equipment such as a heated and cycled filter are required.

Bare Bottom Breeding Setup

For this breeding setup a new tank is recommended and which would consists of a minimal setup. No substrate or additional plants just some driftwood with java moss, and a few flat rocks or ceramic saucers to serve as potential spawning sites.

Again the usual equipment of a heater and filter are required. For this setup I would suggest a air driven matten filter or sponge filter as they are simple and can not suck up fry like other filters may.

Dither fish such as Ember tetras are optional, but may help in helping the pair of Bolivian Rams feel more safe and secure.

The advantages of this breeding tank setup are:

Conditioning The Pair

In order to promote breeding the Bolivian Ram pair should be well conditioned.

Feeding them well and maintaining good water quality is the best way to do this. Live foods are recommended, brine shrimp, black worms and blood worms are all good choices. High quality flake or pallet foods can also be mixed into their diets for example feed live foods in the morning and pallets in the evening.

Ensure you do not over feed and remove any uneaten food from the tank in order to maintain good water quality.

Bolivian Ram Spawning Behaviour

The female will most often lay the eggs on a hard flat surface such as a rock or ceramic saucer. The female will pass over the spawning site laying the eggs on the surface, the male will thy swim over the eggs and fertilise them.

Both the male and female will look after the fry.

The eggs will hatch within 2 to 3 days, at which time the fry will be wrigglers and not yet free swimming. In another 3 days of so the fry will become free swimming.

If the eggs are left with the parents to raise the fry will likely be moved once they become free swimming. Bolivian Rams like to dig a pit in the substrate and move their young fry to this pit where they can keep a close eye on them.

Raising Bolivian Ram Fry

Once fry are free swimming they will require feeding.

Small live foods are recommended as they will be too small to accept flake or pallet foods at this stage. Live foods are also more beneficial for the fry and their development.

Micro worms and baby brine shrimp and recommended.


Often in local pet shops Bolivian Rams can look a little plain and can easily be underestimated by aquarists. Once you place them in a well thought out aquarium which suits their needs and they feel comfortable Bolivian Rams really start to shine!

Their elongated fins with red highlights really start to pop and can look fantastic in a home aquarium.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Are Bolivian Rams Hard To Keep?

Bolivian Rams are one of the most durable and hardy dwarf cichlids and are fairly easy to care for.

How Long Do Bolivian Rams Live?

Bolivian Rams can live up to 4 years old.

Can Bolivian Rams Live With Angelfish?

Yes, Bolivian Rams can live with angelfish. They generally occupy different levels of the aquarium and are easy going enough to tolerate one another.

Are Bolivian Rams Schooling Fish?

Bolivian Rams are not schooling fish. However they do enjoy some company and are best kept in a group of 5 or 6 if you have a large enough aquarium. Also when keeping them in a group you get to experience more of their interactions and behaviours among one another.