Blue Ram Cichlid—How To Keep Dwarf Ram Fish; Are They Aggressive
By Eddie Waithaka @aquariawise
The German blue ram cichlid (Mikrogeophagus ramirezi) is a freshwater fish species native to the Orinoco River basin in Venezuela and Colombia.
The individual dwarf cichlids are small, good looking, peaceful fish (non-aggressive) hence a popular choice for tropical freshwater community aquariums.
Besides, blue ram cichlids thrive best in the company of other fish and should not be kept alone, but avoid keeping them with aggressive cichlids or quick, energetic fish that will devour food before the slower rams find it.
To keep your ram fish best, add them in a tropical fish tank with the temperature anywhere from 78°F to 85°F and a ph of 5.2 to 6.7 (soft-acidic water).
These fish also love slow-flowing water with few dissolved minerals and ranging from clear to darkly stained with tannins.
Feed them quality food as well and make sure your tank environment is well-decorated with live plants and maybe driftwood and rocks.
Read on to find out how to keep ram cichlids in your aquarium in more detail. We’ll look at fish and tank size, lifespan, diet, tank mates, breeding, and more.
Blue Ram Cichlid Overview
Mikrogeophagus ramirezi is a peaceful dwarf cichlid endemic to South America.
In the aquarium, the fish goes by a couple of different names which include ram, blue ram, German blue ram, Asian ram, butterfly ram, Ramirez’s dwarf cichlid, dwarf butterfly cichlid, and Ramirezi.
Wild forms are often more colorful than tank-bred fish, though numerous strains of the fish have been developed in Asia for the fish keeping hobby.
The morphs include forms like gold rams, electric blue rams, along with larger, fattened ballon forms, and long-finned varieties.
In the wild, blue rams inhabit watercourses in the Ilanos Savannahs of Venezuela and Colombia that generally have slow-flowing water and few dissolved minerals.
Blue rams are generally small, colorful cichlids with oval-shaped bodies ad high fins.
The fish are bright and attractive with red-eyes, yellowish and blue-violet iridescent bodies with a black spot on the side. They have black stripes across the face as well as bright fins.
You can tell a male blue ram from a female by its more spiniform dorsal fin with fewer rays extending, though breeding has made some females show this trait as well.
Moreoever, when close to spawning, female rams will have a pink to red blush on the abdomen and will also mostly have a blue sheen over the spot just below the dorsal fin.
If you notice a sparse scattering of blue scales in the upper half of the dark spot, that is most likely a female dwarf butterfly cichlid; males do not show this trait.
How Big Do Blue Ram Cichlid Get?
Although in the wild ram cichlids can grow to 4 inches long, especially in male fish which are usually larger than females, the fish average fish size in aquariums is about 2.5 inches for male fish and 1.9 inches in females.
Mostly, tank-bred ram cichlids grow smaller, less colorful and have weaker immunes systems (especially in the brighter and fattened morphs) occasioned by poor breeding. Plus some fish are injected with hormones for more color.
Hormone injections make as many as one in four males infertile as well.
How Long Do Blue Ram Cichlid Live? (Lifespan)
Approximately, German blue ram cichlids live for 3 to 4 years, which is not much, but given their small size, the lifespan is rather long.
As with other cichlids, proper maintenance of your fish in a fish tank that is decorated and well-planted, plus a good quality diet can prolong your blue ram’s life.
Blue Ram Cichlid Types
Technically, the dwarf butterfly cichlid (blue ram) is a single species of freshwater fish and a member of the family Cichlidae and subfamily Geophaginae.
However, the wild form has been bred and developed to include numerous strains (morphs) most of which are sold under the many different names used to refer to the blue ram cichlid.
Even so, some strains of the fish are more popular than others. Some of these strains include:
Strain #1 — Electric Blue Ram Cichlid
This strain is one of the more recent additions to the aquarium trade. It is a blue ram cichlid color morph that was developed in 2009.
The strain is less commonly available than other ram varieties and usually more expensive. For this reason, it is not uncommon for unsuspecting fish keepers to purchase fish treated with hormones for bargain prices.
This treatment mostly weakens the fish and reduces their lifespan, so only by your Electric blue ram from a reputable dealer or breeder.
Strain #2 — Blue Ballon Ram Cichlid
The blue balloon ram cichlid, also called the blue angel ram is another selectively bred variant of the common blue ram.
It is a color variant of the original wild form, but it’s breeding focuses more on altering the body for the fish to be taller, shorter or to stout the otherwise more streamlined standard ram body.
Strain #3 — German Gold Ram
The German gold ram is a beautiful color variation of Mikrogeophagus ramirezi, where selective breeding is used to accentuate the natural gold coloration of the fish.
Juvenile specimens tend to be a little bit dull or transparent in color but will quickly color-up as they mature into adults.
How to Care for Your Blue Ram Cichlid
Proper care for any aquarium fish (including blue rams) starts with understanding the fish’s natural habitat and diet, then replicate the conditions when setting up your fish tank.
Blue Ram Cichlids Tank Set up— Size and Water Chemistry
As I mentioned in the overview, blue ram cichlids are native to slow-flowing watercourses in the savannahs of Venezuela and Colombia. Where the climate is warm and the water pretty acidic due to tanning leaching from the vegetation in areas where the fish prefer.
Consequently, your tank water should be kept at a temperature akin to the waters in the tropics with the range between 78°F and 85°F, and a low ph anywhere from 5.6 to 6.7.
To lower the ph in your aquarium naturally, place peat moss, driftwood or almond leaves in the tank.
You can use a small amount of vinegar in your filter as well, but stick to distilled white vinegar as other types like apple cider may contain substances that are potentially harmful to fish and inverts.
The fish love being in areas that have some vegetation, so it’s better you add live aquatic plants in the tank to simulate their natural environment.
Go for dense background and carpet plants because you also want space for accessories and enough space for your fish to swim.
The South American slow-growing aquatic plants are especially suitable for keeping Ramirez’s dwarf cichlids. Also add bogwood roots, slate or flat rocks, clay-caves or coconut shells and plant-leaves to simulate the wild water biotopes.
Overall, anything thing safe and can be used by rams as a hiding place or can be used to determine a fish’s territory is gladly accepted.
That said, under no circumstances should gravel be used as a substrate in a blue ram cichlid tank because the fish wash sand through their gills while eating and can injure themselves with coarse pebbles.
Use a dark substrate to simulate the fish’s wild-biotopes; the fish like clear to dark water on a dark base mostly sand. Moreover, the flow in blue ram native habitat flows slowly, for this reason, care should be taken not to create strong flows with filters and air pumps.
Blue Ram Cichlid Tank Size
To start with, it is important to note that butterfly cichlids are not exactly beginner friendly, so a bigger tank is always the safe bet.
However, the fish don’t get too big, so any tank from 20-gallons should be adequate, especially if you have prior experience at keeping ram cichlids.
If you decide to go with a slightly smaller tank, 15-gallons should be the barest minimum.
That said, in a 15 to 20-gallon tank you can only be able to house a pair of ramirezi comfortably. But in a larger aquarium, starting from an edge length of about 36 inches, you can hold several pairs of ram cichlids.
Water Chemistry (Quality)
We’ve already determined blue ram cichlids water demands are considerably unique, plus the fish are quite sensitive to quality and susceptible to diseases.
Moreover, if you are keeping tank bred morphs, the slightest increase in nitrate values could harm your blue rams and can easily lead to death.
Because of that, pay close attention to your water chemistry to make sure the quality remains safe at all times. This is particularly crucial if you have a small tank (15-20 gallons).
To make sure your fish tank is safe, do 10 to 15 percent water changes weekly making sure you don’t destabilize the water chemistry too much.
A hang-on-back filter is usually the best choice for an aquarium containing German blue rams, though care should be taken not to over filter the tank. Also, remember the fish don’t like strong water current.
One other chop to know is never house blue rams in a newly set up aquarium. The fish are sensitive to organic waste hence need a stable environment free of contaminants from the start.
What Do Blue Ram Cichlid Eat? (Diet and Feeding)
German blue rams are omnivores, so are all strains of the wild type, so they need to be kept on a diet of both meaty and green foods.
Feeding them a wide variety of foods will also bring out their vivid, natural colors.
Give your rams with high-quality cichlid flake or pellets, but switch up the diet often to ensure they get all necessary nutrients.
Preferably, serve them occasional treats of frozen bloodworms or brine shrimp in place of the normal cichlid pellets.
Nonetheless, blue ram cichlids are known to stop eating or have a low appetite a few days after they have been introduced to an aquarium.
This is normal behavior and does not indicate that your fish are sick or stressed.
During this period, I recommend you feed your butterfly cichlids meaty nutrient-rich food like frozen brine shrimp or blood worms to kick-start their appetite. Live brine shrimp and mosquito larvae are great treats too.
Place sinking pellets in the water because rams are largely bottom-dwelling and rarely swim up to the water surface for food.
The fishes mostly take large mouthfuls of the substrate searching for anything edible in it, then spit out the unwanted material through their mouths and gills.
Blue ram fish keepers refer to this behavior as sifting through the substrate, and it’s also part of the reason gravel is not a good choice for ram fish tanks.
Tank Mates—Can Blue Ram Cichlid be Kept Alone?
Unlike most cichlids, rams are peaceful, non-aggressive fish that do best when housed in a community with other fish, but you can keep a single pair alone in a 15 to 20-gallon tank.
However, blue ram cichlids should not be kept in a community with other aggressive fish or quick and energetic species that will devour all the food before the dwarf butterfly rams find it.
Especially don’t maintain them with other dwarf cichlids.
Go with some peaceful and docile fish in your community aquarium and slow-moving species that won’t out-swim your rams during mealtimes.
Alternatively, place them on their own in a species only tank.
Having said that, keeping different species with German ram cichlids will make them less aggressive and more relaxed; adding a ton of hiding place has the same effect.
A few great ram tank mates include tetras, rainbow fish, and guppies.
You may notice the species I’ve mentioned don’t include any bottom dwellers, this is because most cichlids are territorial, so it’s always safer to let your butterfly cichlids have the lower part of the aquarium to themselves.
Breeding Blue Ram Cichlid
Although the ram cichlid has many varieties developed from the wild form -such as the electric blue ram- the breeding requirements for the different strains is largely identical albeit the morphs being less healthy and fertile in general.
Captive raised stock, particularly that have been selectively bred for unique aesthetic traits tend to be quite challenging to breed with lackluster parental instincts.
Even so, when conditions are ideal, the female will lay her eggs (as many as 300) on a flat stone, where they are immediately fertilized by the male fish.
New fry hatch after 3 to 4 days and become fry swimming a little later in a large cloud-like-mass. At this point, you may want to use a sponge filter or reduce the rate of your power filter to keep the babies from being sucked into the intakes.
Brine shrimp and commercial fry food should be provided a couple of times a day.
Move your new fish into a fry tank when they are 3 weeks old and maintain them there for a couple of months till they are large enough to live with other fish.
Sexing Blue Ram Cichlid
Blue rams can be quite difficult to tell a male fish from a female, and established couples are pretty expensive.
Therefore, to sex your butterfly cichlids, look for unique features like fin configuration and the general fish size.
If your fish has a slightly more elongated dorsal fin, it is most likely a male. The fin-ray extensions (third and fourth) should be longer.
Female german blue rams are smaller than males and their second ray of the dorsal fin is shorter.
When in breeding condition, the female belly area will be a brilliant red or pink in normal colored fish as well.
Blue Ram Cichlid Breeding Tank
Keep your breeding rams in water that is soft and acidic especially if you have a wild stock, but fish from a commercial stock will do well in water with a neutral ph of 7 and moderately-soft water.
You can put a substrate (sand) in your breeder, but it is not a must.
Add a group of plants like Java fern and small clay pots or coconut shells on the sides to provide shelter and a spawning area for the fish.
Maintain the temperature at about 78°F and add a good filter. A 200W heater and a sponge or homemade gravel filter should be adequate.
To condition your rams, feed them dry foods, frozen bloodworms and live foods such as white worms. Make sure you interchange the conditioning diet with the normal everyday cichlid’s food.
Usually, once the blue rams are ready, they get quite active and lay eggs that are amber colored in a couple of days. Both or one parent may guard the eggs, which means there is a chance they will get territorial and reasonably aggressive.
That said, breeding dwarf butterfly cichlids can become unsure and panicky and eat their young when disturbed, for this reason, you want to provide them with a peaceful and quiet environment.
In conclusion, it is crucial you understand that blue ram cichlids form monogamous pairs, so you may want to consider getting a paired couple if you intend on breeding your fish.
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