Bolivian Rams

Bolivian Rams: A Complete Care Guide 

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If you have a tropical fish tank and you’re looking for a peaceful, colorful fish to add to your collection, the Bolivian Ram might be a species to consider.

These fish are pretty shy and won’t hassle other fish or invertebrates in your tank, making these beautiful fish an ideal addition to an established community setup. These beginner-friendly fish can also be bred in captivity, so if you’re looking for a fun project, the Bolivian Ram could be an excellent choice.

Keep reading to find out how to care for these gorgeous fish, including feeding advice and how to breed them.

Bolivian Ram Background And Overview

Bolivian Rams (Mikrogeophagus altispinosus) are also known as Butterfly Rams, Ruby Cichlids, and Bolivian Butterfly Rams.

These fish belong to the large family of Cichlids. Many Cichlids are known to be aggressive, but Bolivian Rams are peaceful and amenable fish that get along with most other species.

These fish are a hardy and healthy species with a life expectancy of around four years, provided they are given the right care and correct water conditions.

The Bolivian Ram comes from South America, specifically from the freshwater systems of Bolivia and Brazil, and does not appear as endangered on the IUCN Red List. As these fish are easy to breed in captivity, they are widely available from good fish stores and online, and you can expect to pay around $10 for a nice quality specimen.


Bolivian Rams are peaceful fish and not aggressive like many other Cichlids. These fish tend to swim mostly in the middle to lower areas of the aquarium.

One of the most unusual and appealing features of this Cichlid species is its swimming behavior.

The Bolivian Ram swims for a few strokes and then stops abruptly, repeating this odd swimming style over and over again. It’s thought that the reason for this unique swimming behavior is to prevent the fish from stirring up the substrate while sifting through it, searching for food.

What Do Bolivian Rams Look Like?

Bolivian Rams are small, brightly colored fish with an oval-shaped body that grows to around 3.5 inches in length at maturity. As is typical of most ray-finned fishes, these rams have spiky, ray-shaped finnage, which is orange around the edges, including the caudal fin.

The fish’s body color ranges from grayish-blue to a drab brown, with a yellow belly. The Bolivian Ram has a distinctive black spot in the center of its body, and some fish have a fine black line between the eyes.

Male and female Bolivian Rams are the same in color, but males are generally larger than females and have a pointed dorsal fin and longer filaments along the length of their tails. Female fish usually only reach 2.5 inches in length.

Bolivian Ram Care Guide

In this section of our guide, we discuss how to care for your Bolivian Rams to keep them happy and healthy.

Health And Diseases

One of the good things about the Bolivian Ram from a beginner’s perspective is that these fish are quite hardy and disease-resistant, provided that their aquarium is clean and well-oxygenated. That said, there are a few common tropical fish diseases that can affect these Rams.

The most common disease that affects Bolivian Rams is a typical aquatic parasite called Ichthyophthirius multifiliis. These parasites exist in most fish tanks but only attack fish that are already weakened by stress or disease.

Ich or White Spot disease causes fish to flick or flash against objects in the tank, including the substrate, to rid themselves of the parasites and the irritation that they cause.

As the parasite’s life cycle progresses, a rash of tiny white dots like grains of sand appears across the fish’s body, gill covers, and fins. Severely affected fish struggle to breathe, become lethargic and have a poor appetite.

Bacterial infections and skin parasites, including flukes and anchor worms, can also affect these Rams. 

Fortunately, most of the fish diseases that affect tropical tanks can be cured relatively easily with an over-the-counter treatment that you can pick up from your local fish store. 

One way to prevent diseases from entering your main display tank is to place any new fish and plants in quarantine for a couple of weeks before introducing them to your aquarium.

This way, you can keep an eye on the newcomers to ensure there are no signs of disease before adding them to your main tank.

Tank Size

The minimum tank size recommended for a single Bolivian Ram is 30 gallons. If you decide to add a few more of these gorgeous fish to your setup, allow an additional 5 to 10 gallons per fish.

Bolivian Rams are very active fish, and a larger tank allows the fish plenty of space to swim without overcrowding them.

Tank Decoration

For the fish to be happy, it’s best to replicate their natural habitat as closely as possible. 

In nature, Bolivian Rams live in lagoons, pools, and streams where the vegetation is dense, and there are lots of roots and submerged branches where the fish can find shade and shelter.

The substrate here is muddy and sandy, and thick with organic matter and tiny crustaceans that provide a source of food for the fish.

So, in your aquarium, you’ll need to provide plenty of heavy planting interspersed with flat rocks, caves, and driftwood. Good aquatic plants to use for aquascaping in a Bolivian Ram tank include:

These fish prefer dim to moderate lighting levels, and you can use a few floating plants to create that essential shade.

Bolivian Rams are active swimmers, so you also need to allow plenty of free space where the fish can swim and explore their environment.

A sandy aquarium substrate is best for these fish, as they like to sift through the substrate in search of morsels of food. Decorate the substrate with pebbles and stones to recreate a natural look.

Water Parameters

Bolivian Rams are tropical fish that need a water temperature of between 74.0° and 78.0°F. The water pH should be between 6.0 and 7.4 with a water hardness of 6 to 14 dGH.

These fish do not appreciate too much water movement, so you’ll need to choose a filtration system that doesn’t generate a strong flow.

To keep your Bolivian Rams in good condition and thriving, you’ll need to monitor and maintain the correct tank conditions.

Carry out weekly water changes to keep the water clean and remove nitrates. Use an aquarium thermometer, and check the temperature daily to ensure that it’s within the acceptable range. Remove dead and decomposing plant material so that it doesn’t decay and pollute the water.

Tank Mates

Bolivian Rams are peaceful Cichlids that make the ideal choice for a community tank. That being said, avoid housing these shy fish with aggressive fish species and bullies.

There is a wide variety of choices for a peaceful freshwater fish to go with your Bolivian Rams, including:

One crucial thing to be aware of when choosing tank mates for your Bolivian Rams is that they may view tiny fish as prey and eat them.

Although you can keep most species of invertebrates with your Bolivian Rams, very diminutive shrimp species might be seen as lunch. So, we advise you to stick with the larger freshwater shrimp species, such as Amano Shrimp, Ghost Shrimp, and Bamboo Shrimp.

Snails can be kept safely with Bolivian Rams and will be left untouched by the fish.

Although Bolivian Rams are not naturally schooling fish, they do well when kept in small groups together. You can also keep them alone or in pairs.

If you’re interested in breeding these amazing fish, we recommend that you have a group of between four and eight individuals. The fish will naturally form breeding pairs, which you can then separate.

Diet And Feeding

Bolivian Rams are not fussy feeders and will happily munch on just about anything. 

These fish are omnivores. In the wild, the fish mostly eat seeds, plants, small aquatic organisms, and general detritus that they find by sifting through the substrate. The fish also eat plants and insects that they find at the water surface. 

In the tank, feed your Bolivian Rams a varied, balanced diet of pellets, together with live and frozen meaty foods, including white worms, bloodworms, brine shrimp, and chopped earthworms.

These fish are bottom feeders, so avoid feeding flake foods since pellets are more likely to sink to the substrate than flakes.

In addition, feed your Bolivian Rams several small portions of food each day, offering just enough food to keep the fish busy for a few minutes at a time.

Avoid overfeeding your fish, as a build-up of uneaten food will quickly pollute the water, leading to disease and poor health.

How To Breed Bolivian Rams

Once you’ve found a mated pair, it’s pretty easy to breed Bolivian Rams in your home aquarium.

Bolivian Rams are open spawners in the natural environment, producing around 100 eggs per spawning. Breeding these fish in an aquarium is somewhat more challenging. As mentioned earlier in this guide, the best way to find a breeding pair is to buy a group of four to eight juvenile fish and allow them to pair off naturally.

You don’t necessarily need to use a spawning tank, provided the conditions are right for breeding in the community tank. If you have a large setup, these awesome fish will most likely pair off, establish a territory, and begin breeding naturally.

Breeding Conditions

First, you must have a spacious tank of at least 50 gallons for one pair of Bolivian Rams. In addition, keep the light in the tank at a low level and the water temperature ideally between 77° to 82°F.

You must also include plenty of shelter in the form of caves, plants, and large stones that the fish can lay their eggs on. 

Spawning Behavior

Once the conditions are right, the breeding pair will begin preparing and cleaning their chosen area before spawning. The female then swims over the nesting area a few times, laying her eggs as she goes.

During this time, the male Bolivian Ram protects the area and drives away any fish that might attempt to eat the eggs.

Once the eggs have been deposited, the male swims over them, fertilizing them externally. Both parents then fan the eggs to keep them oxygenated and to prevent fungus from forming.

The eggs usually hatch within around 60 hours, and the fry will be free-swimming within about seven days. Over the following few weeks, the parents will carefully relocate the fry to different parts of the tank.

Initially, you can feed the fry with Vinegar Eels or Shrimp Nauplii. Once the babies are around two months old, you can offer them the same diet as their parents.

As the fry grows, you’ll need to carry out daily water changes of around 30% to keep the water fresh and maintain low nitrate levels.

Are Bolivian Rams A Good Choice For Your Community Aquarium?

The Bolivian Ram is a peaceful South American Cichlid that makes a great choice for a beginner’s community tank.

These fish are easy to care for, have beautiful colors, are relatively hardy, and are simple to feed.

When it comes to choosing tank mates for Bolivian Rams, most species of non-aggressive fish that share the same water parameters will fit in well. You can keep invertebrates, too, but beware of choosing very tiny creatures that may be mistaken for food items by the Rams.

If you are ready for a project, breeding Bolivian Rams in your home tank is a relatively easy project to take on. Essentially, you just need to provide the fish with the right conditions and let nature take care of the rest.

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