Maximum size : 8 cm

African Butterfly Cichlid - Anomalochromis thomasi : Complete Fish Profile & Care Guide

Table of contents


The African Butterfly Cichlid (Anomalochromis thomasi) is a peaceful and sociable species of Cichlid. However, unlike many other Cichlid species, these fish are best kept in small groups, preferably with equal numbers of males and females. With the abundant cover of floating plants and appropriate dither fish, any shyness displayed by these Dwarf Cichlids will be effectively eliminated. If you are a beginner aquarist looking to keep Dwarf Cichlids, the African Butterfly Cichlid is an excellent choice.

These fish are peaceful, relatively undemanding, easily bred, and quite attractive once accustomed to your aquarium. Dwarf Gouramis, small Rainbowfish, small Barbs, Corydoras Catfish, small Loricariids, Tetras, Rasboras, and other Dwarf Cichlids make ideal tankmates for the African Butterfly Cichlid. However, ensure that their tanks are large enough to avoid cramped and aggressive conditions for breeding pairs. When selecting dither fish for African Butterfly Cichlids, avoid fast-swimming species that can outcompete them at feeding time, such as Congo Tetras, Giant Danios, or larger Barbs.

To ensure the health and well-being of your aquarium inhabitants, it's crucial to provide a suitable environment that mimics their natural habitat. For fish that require a soft substrate, such as the African Butterfly Cichlid, a spacious tank with soft sand or fine rounded gravel substrate is essential. In addition to substrate, providing plenty of hiding places is crucial for the fish's mental and physical health. Areas of dense planting, driftwood, and caves will provide shelter and serve as potential spawning sites.

In addition, it's advisable to include a few smooth flat rocks in the tank to provide additional spawning options. Efficient filtration is necessary to maintain water quality, but it's important to strike a balance between filtration and water movement. Water flow that is too strong can be stressful for some fish species. Small partial water changes regularly can help keep nitrate levels in check and ensure a healthy environment for your fish. These Cichlids won't uproot plants like other Cichlid species, and they will successfully coincide with rooted vegetation, even during periods of sexual activity. 

The African Butterfly Cichlid has a pale bronze body with iridescent blueish-silver highlights under its eyes and on its scales. The fish's head is silvery-grey, with a silver "flash" under the eyes. There are eight rows of pearl-like dots running horizontally from the gill plates to the caudal peduncle on the body, and there are two false eyespots on the fish, one located in the middle of the body and the other at the back of the caudal peduncle. The tips of their fins may also be reddish-brown, and their ventral and pectoral fins are generally transparent.

African Butterfly Cichlid Photos

Sexual Dimorphism

When it comes to differentiating male and female African Butterfly Cichlids, it can be challenging to do so when they are still juveniles. However, once they reach adulthood, the distinctions become much more apparent. Generally, female African Butterfly Cichlids are smaller in size and possess more rounded bodies, along with more defined colouration. Meanwhile, male African Butterfly Cichlids tend to be larger and have longer dorsal and anal fins, which end in pointed tips. Additionally, females tend to have less distinct black markings than males, who often have more prominent ones.

Quick Facts

Scientific NameAnomalochromis thomasi
Year Described1915
Other NamesNone
OriginsLiberia , Sierra Leone , Guinea
Max Size8 cm
Aquarium LevelBottom - Middle
DifficultyBeginner - Intermediate
Best kept asPairs
Diet & FeedingOmnivore
ReproductionEgg Depositor
LifespanUp to 5 Years

Water Parameters

Water TypeFreshwater
pH 5.5 - 7.5
GH 3 - 12
TDS 18 - 268
Ideal Temperature
73 - 80
22 - 26

Natural Habitat

The African Butterfly Cichlid originates from the picturesque landscapes of West Africa. Found in the beautiful waters of Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, these fish thrive in warm, slightly acidic water rich in oxygen. In their natural habitat, they can be seen swimming along the muddy substrate of small forest streams and savannah wetlands, enjoying the dense shade provided by the lush vegetation above. The water in these areas is heavily stained with tannins, resulting from the natural decay process.


The African Butterfly Cichlid, unlike many West African Dwarf Cichlids, is quite adaptable to various water chemistry conditions and can even breed in slightly acidic or somewhat alkaline environments. In terms of filtration, a gentle air-driven sponge filter is sufficient. Ensure to provide a wealth of broad-leaved plants and flat stones to serve as possible spawning sites.

To acquire a breeding pair, you can purchase a group of six or more young individuals and grow them together, where pairs will eventually form naturally. It's important to condition the group on high-quality frozen and live foods. Once couple formation occurs, it's evident that these Cichlids are monogamous and will fiercely defend their territory from intruders.

When African Butterfly Cichlids are ready to spawn, you will observe the female cleaning multiple potential sites on broad-leaved plants or flat rocks around the male's territory. The male will join her in cleaning a single selected area for spawning. Spawning is similar to other Cichlids, with the female laying a row of eggs before the male fertilizes them. Up to 500 eggs may be laid and fertilized in this manner.

Around 48 hours after laying, the eggs will typically hatch, and during this time, the male will guard the spawning site while the female cares for her eggs. The fish may occasionally swap roles, and during this period, the couple will dig multiple shallow holes in the substrate around the spawning site. Once all the eggs have hatched, the parents will move the entire brood into one of these pits. Then, they will move the babies into different holes several times before they become free-swimming, usually around 72 hours later.

Once the fry is free-swimming, it usually takes another 12 hours or so for them to consume their yolk sacs entirely. At this point, you can begin feeding them on brine shrimp nauplii and microworms. The parents will continue to care for their brood for approximately another month, after which they may reproduce again. It's worth noting that these babies typically develop pretty slowly.

Diet & feeding

African Butterfly Cichlids have an adaptable palate and are not particularly selective when it comes to their diet. Therefore, it's recommended to include high-quality dried food, such as Cichlid pellets or flakes, as a staple in their diet. However, to ensure their nutritional needs are met, it's vital to vary their diet with regular feedings of live and frozen foods. Offerings such as bloodworm, daphnia, mosquito larvae, and vitamin-enriched brine shrimp are excellent sources of nutrition for these Cichlids.

Other African Cichlids of interest