Bolivian Ram 101: Care, Diet, Tank Size, Tank Mates & More

Surprisingly for a cichlid, the Bolivian Ram is an easy-going fish. It will quite peacefully swim by itself, and can get on well with other species. With unusual color markings and a relative hardiness, the Bolivian Ram makes a great fish for a new owner.

Found in the soft and acidic waters of Bolivia and Brazil, the Bolivian Ram is small for a cichlid. It swims in the lower and middle areas of water, sifting through the sand to find something to eat.

Thanks to their incredible coloring and lovely nature, they’ve become an increasingly popular fish in the aquarium trade. If you’re interested in owning a Bolivian Ram, this ultimate guide tells you everything you need to know.

Care Guide

Tank Size

A 20 gallon tank can be enough for a single Bolivian Ram, but 30 gallons is better. As a small fish, they don’t need the same amount of space as other members of the cichlid family. However, a larger tank will give them more room to swim, and make them happier.

If you want to keep the Bolivian Ram in a community tank, 5 to 10 extra gallons for each new fish is considered standard.

Tank Mates

A shy and peaceful fish, the Bolivian Ram can get on with any number of species which display a similar temperament. They’re quite happy to keep to themselves, and will rarely show aggression towards others. This makes them a better fish for community tanks than other cichlids.

Good fish species to share a tank with, the Bolivian Ram are of a similar size, and with a quiet demeanor. Silver Dollars, Rummy Nose Tetras, Emperor Tetras, Dwarf Gouramis, Guppies, and Corydoras Catfish all make decent companions.

Avoid any fish that are too small. The Bolivian Ram is omnivorous, and is likely to mistake these little friends for food.

Same Species Tanks

The Bolivian Ram is quite happy to share the tank with other members of the species, but it isn’t essential. They can be perfectly content living alone. However, when in a same species tank, they will often form into a school. 

If you’re keeping a same species tank, you may find the occasional squabble breaks out within the school. These aren’t anything to worry about, and are incredibly unlikely to result in any harm. As long as the tank is large enough, a school of Bolivian Ram will get along well.

Water Parameters

Stable conditions are best for the Bolivian Ram, although they can be tolerant of different water levels. The tank should mimic the waters to be found in the natural habitat of the Ram. These are slightly acidic, soft waters. Aim for a temperature of 72-79F (22-26 C), a pH level of 6.0 to 7.4, and 0-10 dGH.

Bolivian Rams are particularly sensitive to nitrates, so regular partial water changes are necessary. Invest in a high quality filter with a low water flow.

What To Put In Their Tank

A mixture of hiding places and open water is needed to replicate the natural environment that a Bolivian Ram likes. A sandy substrate is good, with the occasional larger pebble for variety. Unlike other cichlids, the Bolivian Ram isn’t a digger, so plants and vegetation will be left undisturbed. Heavy planting in areas is ideal, as the Bolivian Ram can use this to hide behind. They also appreciate rocks and stones, which can provide shelter when necessary. 

The Bolivian Ram dislikes bright lighting, so be sure to keep the tank shaded. Plant life and rocks can be used to increase the shaded areas of the tank.

Common Diseases

It’s important to be aware of the risks of infection for the Bolivian Ram. They can be affected by Ich, which causes white spots to develop on the fin. Try increasing the water temperature slightly, to kill the disease. Otherwise, commercial medicines are available. If in a community tank, any fish showing symptoms of Ich should be separated and quarantined.

Be aware of the risk of parasites. Any new fish or decorations added to the tank should be thoroughly cleaned. Placing new fish in a quarantine area for several days before introducing them to the rest of the tank can cut the risk of infection.

Food & Diet

In the wild, the Bolivian Ram is an omnivore that feeds on plant matter and small animals that they sift through the substrate to find. In a tank, they’re not fussy eaters.

A Bolivian Ram is often happy to eat almost any brand of commercial fish pellet or flakes available. Flakes are best, as they sink to the bottom faster, where the Ram is feeding. Supplement the diet with the occasional meaty treat. Brine shrimp and bloodworms make nice additions to the diet, as do chopped up earthworms.

The Bolivian Ram can overeat, so it’s best to feed them small pinches, several times a day. Feeding them a reduced amount 2-5 times a day prevents food from degrading in the tank and disturbing the water parameters.


When well looked after, a Bolivian Ram can live for up to 4 years. A good diet, and plenty of care spent on the tank, is necessary for a healthy and happy Bolivian Ram.


The Bolivian Ram is an enchanting fish, which is why it’s so popular in the aquarium trade. From a distance, it may not initially look like much. However, take a step closer, and the beautiful features reveal themselves. The Bolivian Ram has a yellow belly and head, which fades gradually to an olive green or gray sheen across the back of the body.

A striking vertical black band runs down the head and across the eye, echoed by the faded black stripes further along the body. The dorsal and caudal fins are flowing, and edged with a vivid red coloring. The anal and pelvic fins are red all over, decorated with bright blue dots. 


For a cichlid, the Bolivian Ram is quite a small fish. The males can grow to a length of 3.5 inches (9 cm), but are most likely to be around 3 inches (8 cm). The females are smaller again. A female Bolivian Ram cichlid is unlikely to grow any longer than 2.5 inches (6.5 cm).

Behavior & Temperament

A shy fish with a peaceful temperament, the Bolivian Ram is a wonderful choice for a first time tank owner. They swim mostly around the bottom and mid-layer of the tank, with an unusual “stop and go” motion. They’re happy to keep to themselves, and rarely cause problems with other fish. In fact, the only time you’re likely to see aggression from the Bolivian Ram is if it’s breeding, or looking after fry.

A graceful swimmer with some unusual habits, the Bolivian Ram is sure to bring joy to any owner.


One of the hardest parts of breeding the Bolivian Cichlid is in finding a mating pair. Two bought for the purposes of mating might not always form a bond. If you’re interested in breeding, it’s better to purchase several young Rams, and let them naturally pair off.

The courtship of the Bolivian Ram can be a surprisingly intense process. The male might spend up to 48 hours performing for the female, shaking their heads and quivering their bodies.

When a pair has chosen to mate, they don’t necessarily need to be separated. In a large tank, with plenty of hiding spaces, breeding can be successful. However, the Ram can become territorial. Separating them from others should prevent issues.

The female lays her legs in lines, and the male follows behind to fertilize them. Between 100 and 200 eggs might be deposited, and they’re small and brown. A flat rock is commonly used for laying. The female will take the primary role of caring for the eggs, fanning them with her fins and even covering them in sand. It takes roughly 2 to 3 days for the clutch to hatch.

Once hatched, the Bolivian Ram will transport the fry in their mouth, moving them to positions that are assumed safer. In 7 days, the fry are free swimming. They will then swim with their parents in a school, learning how to forage for food.

Gender Differences: Male vs Female

There are only minor differences between the male and female of the Bolivian Ram. The male is slightly larger on average, and can sometimes have longer caudal and dorsal fins.

Fun Facts

  • Although a peaceful fish, the Bolivian Ram cichlid has spiny rays on its fin that are used for evading predators. These can cut the predator’s mouth, allowing the Ram to get free. However, the fins are soft on the front, aiding the graceful swimming movement.
  • The Bolivian Ram has an unusual swimming style. It travels short distances, then stops and hovers in the water, showing incredible body control. Likely, this is done to sift through the sand, helping the fish to forage for food.
  • The Bolivian Ram is also known as the Bolivian Butterfly, or the Crown Ruby Bolivian Cichlid.