German Blue Ram Stats
Minimum Tank Size: 29 Gallons (110 Liters)
Care Level: Difficult
Water Conditions: PH 4.0-7-0 Soft to Moderately Hard
Temperature: 78-85°F (25-29°C)
Maximum Size: 2 inches (5 cm)
The German blue ram cichlid (Mikrogeophagus ramirezi), is a small freshwater fish known for its vibrant colours. It is sold under many names: blue ram, Asian ram, butterfly cichlid, Ramirez’s dwarf cichlid, and dwarf butterfly cichlid. However, most pet stores will carry it under the name ‘German blue ram’.
Native to South America, these fish are found throughout the Orinoco Basin in Venezuela and Columbia. Their habitat varies significantly and includes seasonal floodplain forests, shaded forest tributaries, and streams and rivers in the savannah grasslands. The waters range from clear, to heavily stained with tannins.
The average lifespan for German blue rams should be around three years, but due to poor breeding practices in the far east, the use of hormones to brighten their colors, and possibly due to some them being artificially dyed, they rarely live much longer than 18 months. However, any German blue rams bred in the home aquarium will usually have a much longer lifespan.
There is a joke in the hobby that the average German blue ram’s lifespan is around 10 minutes. And that stems from the fact that these fish are incredibly sensitive to poor water conditions. Adding these fish to a new aquarium should never be attempted, and they should only be added to a mature, exceptionally stable fish tank.
German blue rams should be kept in an aquarium that is at least 29 gallons (110 litres), and this will allow for a bonded male and female to be comfortably kept together. These dwarf cichlids are among the few cichlids that do well in a community tank, and a bonded pair will do well with most peaceful, schooling fish.
These fish inhabit densely vegetated areas in the wild and this environment should be recreated as closely as possible in the home aquarium. A combination of floating plants and submerged plants help to accomplish this, but some areas of the aquarium should be left open for swimming. Hiding places should also be provided, and this can be done through adding ornamental caves, clay flowerpots placed on their side (the pots should never be painted or glazed), and driftwood overhangs.
While messy, the addition of leaf litter can be beneficial to an aquarium containing German blue rams. The decaying leaves and their tannins will help to recreate their natural environment, and the bacteria feeding on the decomposing leaves will provide a much-needed food source for the fry.
If breeding is desired, then several flat stones should be placed throughout the aquarium. However, if the substrate is gravel, then the breeding pair will dig a small nest to deposit their eggs in. But these fish prefer a soft, sandy substrate, so gravel is not ideal.
When choosing a filter, a hang-on-back filter is usually the best choice for an aquarium containing German blue rams. But care should be taken not to over filter the aquarium, as these fish don’t thrive in a strong water current. My personal recommendation for a filter is the Aquaclear Power Filter, and I use these filters on most of my tanks.
German blue rams feed on bottom dwelling organisms, and in the home aquarium, they will often be observed sifting through the substrate. They take large mouthfuls of the substrate, searching for anything edible in it, then spit out the unwanted material through their mouths and gills.
These fish should be fed a high-quality sinking pellet, and I strongly recommend Hikari Sinking Tropical Wafers for Bottom Feeders. This should be supplemented with live or frozen foods, with some of their favorites being bloodworms, blackworms (tubifex in Europe), brine shrimp, and daphnia.
It’s not unusual for wild collected fish to initially refuse to eat prepared foods, and frozen and live foods should be on hand when these fish are first purchased. It can often take a few weeks to train them to eat the prepared foods, and it helps to feed the live or frozen foods at the same time as the prepared fish food, so they come to identify it as a food source.
As these fish are poor competitors for food, if they’re kept in a community fish tank, it’s important to feed the different fish separately. Sinking pellets should be provided for the German blue rams and floating flakes for the other fish. Feedings should always be observed to make sure the German blue rams are getting enough food.
Years of poor breeding practices and hormone injections are believed to have rendered many of the male German rams infertile, and this is especially true in the ornamental strains. Because of this – and the fact that these fish form monogamous pairs – if breeding is to occur, they should initially be kept in groups of at least six. Once they are sexually mature, they will form monogamous pairs before spawning and the bonded pairs can then be separated out to breeding tanks.
It is relatively easy to sex these fish, as the males have extended fin rays on their dorsal fin and generally have more intense colors. When the females reach sexual maturity and are ready to breed, their abdomen will take on a reddish/pink color. The females will also have a blueish tinge to the area below the dorsal fin, along with a scattering of blue scales.
Males are very territorial prior to spawning, and they will chase off any other nearby males. While not as aggressive as other species of cichlids during spawning, aggression issues should be expected.
A substrate spawner, these fish will lay their eggs on stones, or in small depressions dug into the substrate. If no other viable spawning locations are in their aquarium, they will sometimes lay their eggs on the aquarium glass.
Somewhere between 100-300 eggs will be laid and the eggs will usually hatch between 48-72 hours after fertilization. But many eggs will often fail to develop, especially if they are kept in hard water. Fungus is especially a problem for German blue ram eggs.
Until the eggs hatch, the parents will fan water over them. The fry will become free swimming after five days and until then, they will feed on the egg sack. German blue rams are usually poor parents during the first few spawnings and will often eat their fry. But they usually get the hang of parenting after the first few tries.
Once the fry are free swimming, they will be escorted by one of their parents to find food in a tight school. The fry can be fed infusoria, microworms, or any of the other commercially available fry foods. After a few days, their food can be switched to baby brine shrimp.
These fish are among the most popular in the hobby, coming in a wide array of ornamental strains. But like the popular neon tetra fish, these fish have suffered from a loss of genetic diversity through poor breeding practices. Many of the fish available now are delicate, with poor fertility. Because of this, it’s very important to carefully select the fish before purchasing them. Reputable, private breeders are usually the best option if they can be found locally.