Bolivian Ram – A Complete Guide (Care, Diet, Facts)

The Bolivian ram cichlid is a colorful and unique fish with the added bonus of a peaceful disposition and a manageable size. This exotic fish is native to the river basins of Bolivia and Brazil but can now be found in tanks and aquariums worldwide.

Beyond its calm disposition and smaller size, the ram is a beautiful and unique fish that serve as a wonderful addition to any tank. As long as you keep the tank in the right conditions since rams have specific environmental needs.

Keeping Bolivian rams can be difficult for beginners but their distinctive markings and their funny swimming technique give this fish a lot for tank keepers to love. If you enjoy exotic fish with unique personalities the Bolivian ram is an excellent choice.


Natural Environment and Lifespan

The Bolivian ram, also known as the Bolivian butterfly, Bolivian ram cichlid, and ruby crown cichlid is native to the waters of Bolivia and Brazil. They live in the Rio Madeira, Mamoré, and Guaporé river basins which pass through northern Bolivia and parts of Brazil. Bolivian rams primarily live near the bottom of tributaries, riverbanks, and lakebeds with sandy or muddy bottoms.

Bolivian rams are bottom feeders who operate by filtering food from the water and sediment around them while swimming. They will eat almost anything they can filter out of the water including plants, nuts, seeds, and small organisms like worms. Bolivian rams are also known to swallow other small fish off riverbeds as well as fallen plants and insects off the surface of the water. While they are not nocturnal they enjoy dark conditions due to coming from an area where plants regularly block light to the water.

Rams are a generally peaceful species of fish that rely on avoiding predators by hiding in order to survive. To help in warding off dangerous rams have spines in their fins which can catch in the mouths and throats of predators to prevent the ram from being swallowed. Bolivian rams will generally live between 4-6 years if properly taken care of.


Bolivian rams are a small species of aquarium fish with oval-shaped bodies that measure on average around 3½ inches long. Males of the species tend to be larger measuring up to 6 inches long while females can be as small as 2 inches long. Young Bolivian rams bought from stores will typically be 1½ to 2 inches long.

The Bolivian ram can range in color from brown to bright blue but their undersides are always yellow or white. Sometimes their sides will also be the same color as their underbelly. Bolivian rams have distinctive black spots on their sides as well as black stripes over their eyes. Sometimes black spots show up on other parts of their bodies such as their fins.

Bolivian rams have spiny fins with pointed tips designed to help ward off predators. Their spines are often orange or white while their fins are translucent. In the wild, if a Bolivian ram is swallowed by a larger fish the spines on its fins will dig into the predator’s mouth and throat keeping it from swallowing the ram. The front and sides of their fins are soft so they can move their fins and swim. Watch out for their spines when trying to handle a Bolivian ram.


Bolivian rams are omnivores and not picky about their food eating plant or meat-based foods easily. In the wild Bolivian rams are bottom feeders that eat by filtering the water they swim through for food. They are also bottom feeders and will hover around the bottom of any tank when feeding. They will surface for food but consider foods that sink when feeding your Bolivian ram.

Pellets are a good choice when feeding Bolivian rams because they will sink to the bottom of the tank where they feed. Frozen foods such as bring shrimp, blood worms and white worms are also a good choice. Alternatively, you can chop up earthworms and feed those to your fish. If you give your Bolivian ram live food make sure it is free of any parasites and diseases that might infect your fish.

It is important to keep the diet of your Bolivian ram varied so it will get all the nutrition it needs and stay healthy. Switch between live foods, frozen foods, flakes, and pellets often to keep their diet varied. Bolivian rams should be fed 2-5 pinches of food per day since they have big appetites but feeding them all that food at once will lower their water quality.

Tank Set-Up

Bolivian rams do not need a large tank with 30 gallons being enough for one fish. If you have more than one ram add 5-10 extra gallons per ram. They are a tropical freshwater fish so keep the water between 74 and 78 degrees Fahrenheit and do not use saltwater. Bolivian rams are a hardy species of cichlid but they are best kept in waters with a рН 6.0-7.5 and a hardness of 5 – 15 dGH.

Bolivian rams enjoy a dim environment with plenty of obstacles to swim through or hide under. Keep your tank in a low light area or use floating plants to block out some of the surrounding light. Also make sure to add stones, driftwood, artificial caves, and rocky shelters for your rams to hide in.

Bolivian rams also need a good base of substrates which are objects used to fill the bottom of fish tanks. Bolivian rams are river fish so sand is the best choice for them mixed with a small amount of gravel and stones. Good plants to include in a Bolivian ram tank are the Java Fern, Amazon Sword, Vallisneria, Anubias Nana, and Wisteria.

The water in your Bolivian ram tank should be filtered regularly with weekly water renewals replaced between 10-15% of the tank water. Bolivian rams need a clean environment in order to thrive. The water in your tank should also be moving slowly so consider a slow wave or bubble maker for your tank.

Bolivian Ram Care

It is important to carefully manage the environment and diet of your Bolivian Rams so that they stay healthy. Overfeeding or underfeeding a fish can result in numerous health problems. Underfeeding especially can lead to conflicts among fish for food access. If your fish are well fed but are not getting the nutrients they need this can also lead to health issues.

Bolivian rams are also susceptible to many different infections and parasites that can cause lethal problems for them. The most common is Ich, also known as white spot disease, a parasite that appears like small white dots across a fish’s body. This condition can be treated by raising the water level to 86 degrees or with over-the-counter medications.

A living matter like live food and plants can carry bacteria or fungus that is dangerous to your fish. Non-living décor such as rocks and driftwood can also carry diseases and other dangers into your tank. To protect against infections and parasites make sure that you check and disinfect everything that you put in your tank.

Behavior and Tank Mates

In the wild Bolivian rams are bottom feeders and so will spend most of their time at the bottom of any tank or aquarium. They are not a very active species and are known for a quirky method of swimming where they will only swim a few strokes before stopping. This behavior helps them filter feed without churning up the sediment at the bottom of the tank too much.

Cichlids have a well-earned reputation as aggressive fish who will bully or even attack their tank mates. Bolivian rams are the exception to this rule and are a generally peaceful species that get along well with other fish. They are generally shy and will prefer to avoid other fish by hiding around the tank in caves and under decorations.

Bolivian rams are not completely harmless, however, and you should be careful when picking tank mates for them. Small fish like neon tetras may be mistaken for food or bullied by the larger Bolivian ram. On the other hand, the ram is not large or aggressive enough to protect itself from more dangerous fish like other cichlids.

Bolivian rams can also be territorial if their tank is too small or if they have to compete with other bottom feeders and shy fish for space. For the best results pair Bolivian rams with fish that swim in higher levels of the tank and will not compete with your rams for hiding spaces.

Keeping Multiple Bolivian Rams

Bolivian rams are a social species and live best in schools of 4-8 individuals. While in schools like these rams may break into small conflicts with each other. This is to be expected and small school fights like this rarely result in any real damage to your fish.

You may have real fights among your Bolivian rams, however, if they have to compete with each other for resources. Make sure you have enough space for your rams as well as enough hiding spaces and food for them to use. If rams have to compete for space and resources they will violently attack each other.


The best way to encourage your Bolivian rams to breed is to purchase around 8-10 young rams at once and let them form natural pairs. Males can be identified by their larger size and brighter colors while females are smaller and duller. If you keep your tank at the correct conditions, have plenty of space, and keep places for the rams to hide they will begin to breed on their own.

Bolivian rams will often choose a rocky area or a dip in the sediment to lay their eggs. A female Bolivian ram can lay between 100-200 eggs by making multiple passes over their nest. The male will switch between guarding the nest while the female lays eggs and fertilizing the eggs while she rests and keeps watch. Occasionally Bolivian rams will eat their first batch of eggs rather than let them hatch but by the second or third spawning, they will not eat their eggs.

The eggs will hatch 60 hours after fertilization at which point the parents will take their fries and move them to another location in the tank. They will do this by taking the fries in their mouths and carrying them across the tank. After 7 days the fries will be able to free swim on their own but the parents will still move them around in their mouths from time to time.

Throughout the entire breeding process, you need to be careful about the ram’s environment as well as other fish. Bolivian rams are fiercely protective parents and will attack any fish that gets too close to their eggs, even their own fries from a previous spawning. Ram fries can also be eaten by other aquarium fish or sucked into filters.

The sheer number of fries created in one spawning can also be a problem. While most rams will only lay around 100 eggs at a time and not all of those eggs will hatch this can still lead to overcrowding and competition among fries. Make sure you have enough tank space, hiding places, and food to satisfy all of your fish while breeding.


The Bolivian ram is difficult to care for but beautiful addition to any fish tank. They have a unique color scheme and their schools can be quite eye-catching if made up of many individuals with many different shades.

They are largely peaceful and shy but can be ferocious when competing for space or defending their eggs. They will eat just about anything while having massive appetites and can handle sharp shifts in temperature but need proper shade and space. If you can balance the many different needs and quirks of the Bolivian ram they are a worthy addition to any tank.

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