Betta Trading

Bolivian Butterfly

The “Bolivian Butterfly”, “Mikrogeophagus altispinosus”, is also known as the “Bolivian Ram”, “Altispinosus”, “Bolivian Ram”, “Hifin Ram”, “Ruby Crown Cichlid”, “Crown Ruby Cichlid” and “Ruby Clown Cichlid”.  It is similar to the Blue Ram, Mikrogeophagus ramirezi, and some common names are used for both species, causing some confusion.

They are South American dwarf cichlids.


The Bolivian Butterfly is native to Brazil and Bolivia.  It is found in the Mamoré River basin in Bolivia, and the Guaporé River in Brazil and Bolivia, the Igarape river at Guarjara-Mirim and on its flood plains below Todos Santos.  These rivers are tributaries of the Amazon.  It is not usually found in the fast-flowing parts of these rivers, but rather in slow streams, under river banks and in ponds.

Length and Longevity

The male Bolivian Butterfly can grow to 10 centimetres (4 inches) while the female’s maximum length is a little less and they do not usually exceed 7 centimetres (2.75 inches in length.  They can live for 5 years.

Water Conditions

The Bolivian Butterfly is more accommodating in its water parameter preferences than the Blue Ram.  The ideal water is soft and neutral or slightly acidic.  A pH of 6-7.5 and a maximum general hardness of 12 degrees are good.  However, it seems more important that the water parameters are stable than what their exact values are; Bolivian Butterflies have been kept very successfully with a pH as high as 8.

It is also more important that the water be clean than its exact level of pH or hardness; this fish is intolerant of Ammonia and Nitrites and these two toxic pollutants should be zero.  The Nitrate level should also be kept low, and a maximum Nitrate level of 20 parts per million is suggested.  Good filtration in necessary, but avoid having turbulent water in the whole of the aquarium.

This fish should be kept in a very well planted aquarium but some open water for swimming should be provided.

If the plants grow well they will be removing the excess Nitrates.  Frequent partial water changes are also suggested.

This fish is one of the ones that will often attempt to breed in a community aquarium, and will sometimes succeed in raising a few babies despite the attempts of the other fish to eat them.  Their aggression increases a bit when breeding and trying to protect their eggs and babies.  Two or more corners of the aquarium can be set up with a flat rock, and natural protection in the form of rocks etc to provide a defensible territory for the fish to use if they attempt to breed.


In the wild they are usually found in places with sandy bottoms, so sand is the obvious substrate to use.  Some stones and aquarium wood should also be present.  A dark coloured substrate combined with a low level of light seems to intensify the colours of this fish.  However, the plants need sufficient light to grow, so it is probably better to reduce the amount of light reaching the bottom of the tank by using plants, including floating ones, to shade the bottom.  This is what would happen in the wild.


The Bolivian Butterfly is a tropical fish and needs a heated aquarium.  A temperature range of between 23 and 28 degrees C (between 73 and 82 degrees F) is suitable for keeping this fish although it will survive outside this temperature range.


The Bolivian Butterfly is susceptible to the normal diseases that aquarium fish get, and some people have reported that they are particularly susceptible to Ick (White Spot).  I have never had an outbreak of Ick on my Bolivian Butterflies, but this is because I do not tolerate this parasite in any of my tanks.  If your Bolivian Butterflies get Ick, I suggest increasing the water temperature to at least 32 degrees C (86 degrees F) for at least 5 days.)  If you only increase the temperature to 28 degrees C (82 degrees F), rather than getting rid of the parasite you are liable to simply increase the speed it goes through its life cycle and make the infestation worse much faster.  When the water temperature is increased, good aeration is particularly important.

Stress Colours

When this fish is stressed, 6 indistinct cross bars appear on its body.


The Bolivian Butterfly is an easily fed omnivore.  Their preferred feeding zone is the bottom of the tank where they will take food from the surface and top layers of the sand or gravel of the aquarium, often taking the sand into their mouths and sifting out any edible bits.  Their mouth is well adapted to do this.  They will also eat at the surface of the water, and happily take food in midwater.

As with nearly all animals, the Bolivian Butterfly needs a variety of food.  A good quality tropical fish flake can be used occasionally, but it needs to be supplemented with live or frozen food such as Daphnia, mosquito larvae, blood worms and brine shrimp.  Some people prefer to use a cichlid pellet as the basis of their diet rather that a general tropical fish food.


The Bolivian Butterfly is slightly more aggressive that the Blue Ram, but I still definitely class them as community fish.  They may not be safe companions for the smallest tetras and Danios, but can be kept without problems with most community fish, including other types of peaceful dwarf cichlids.

This fish is not suitable as a companion for aggressive fish.

In the wild there is evidence that this fish is often found by itself rather than with a group of its own species, and they mainly come together for breeding.  But in an aquarium a group of this species does seem to swim together, especially when they are young, and they look very nice.  If keeping a group, it is better to have more females than males.


With more than one male in the tank, some minor fighting may occur which may include mouth wrestling.


The male is larger than the female and has more pointed dorsal and tail fins.  He is also more colourful.  In breeding condition, the colours of both sexes are stunning in their brightness, but the male’s colours are generally brighter. 

The female gets plumper when loaded with eggs. Below is a picture of a female taken by Hélène Lagueux. The female fish is about to spawn, and her oviduct is extended.

Anal Fin

The anal fin of the male is more pointed with more obvious angles and is squarer than the longer more rounded anal fin of the female.

Breeding Tube

Just in front of the anal fin is a little bump.  In the male, it is smaller and more pointed than in the female whose breeding tube bump is larger and more rounded.  The actual breeding tube emerges when the pair is almost ready to breed.


Water Conditions

This fish may decide to breed with any water parameters, but seems more likely to with a temperature of about 28 degrees C (86 degrees F), and soft slightly acidic, or neutral, water.

This fish will often attempt to breed in a community aquarium and will sometimes succeed.  They are more likely to get a larger number of fry surviving in a specially set up breeding tank.  This is a less natural way of breeding than in with other fish.

This fish needs to form pairs by itself and our attempts at selecting suitable mates will not always meet with the approval of the fish.  The usual way of getting one or more pairs is to start off with a group of young Bolivian Butterflies, and let them sort themselves out into pairs.


They breed in pairs, not in groups, and display a high level of monogamy, often bonding into pairs for life.

Open Spawners

The Bolivian Butterfly spawns on a surface in the open, choosing a flat rock or pebble, or sometimes a large flat leaf.  This is in contrast to the types of fish that prefer to spawn in caves.

Bolivian Butterfly eggs. The picture was taken by Hélène Lagueux and are the eggs laid by the female above.


The pair of fish will choose and defend a territory in the tank.  In this territory, they will choose a nesting site which is often a flat stone.  Both prospective parents clean the surface of the nesting site, and often also excavate several shallow pits in the sand or gravel.


The male will display his gorgeous colours to the female.  While the preparations are proceeding the male becomes more aggressive than usual to other fish in the aquarium.  The male and female will swim alongside each other, displaying their increasingly bright colours.  The courtship may last a few days.


The female will often do a few trial runs over the nesting site while the male watches her.  At this time both fish will have protruded their breeding tubes.  The female’s tube is thicker than male’s and is blunt while the thinner tube of the male is pointed


The female lays her light grey eggs a few at a time.  She often does this in a pattern on the nesting site.  Sometimes she might lay them in straight lines with the male moving in to fertilize each row after it is laid.  Other females might lay the eggs in a circle

The spawning may take an hour or more, and usually between 50 and 300 eggs are laid.


The female takes her station over the eggs guarding them and also fanning them with one pectoral fin.  The male spends most of his time guarding their territory, but may relieve the female for short periods.


The eggs hatch faster at higher temperatures, but they usually take about 48 hours to hatch.  Females have been observed helping their babies to get out of the eggs.

At this stage, the babies are still living on the food reserves of the eggs and are not free swimming.


The female takes the babies into her mouth and transfers them to one of the pits that the couple prepared earlier.

She may transfer the babies several times to different pits.

Free Swimming

It takes between 5 and 8 more days for the fry to become free swimming.

The fry are very active, and follow the parents, often in a tight school.  They are very vulnerable to predation by other fish in the tank.

As soon as they are free swimming, the fry are big enough to eat newly hatched brine shrimp.  Other suitable foods include micro worms, infusoria and commercial fry foods, both the dry ones and the liquid sorts.

In six months the babies should be about 4 centimetres (1.5 inches) long.


Clean Water

The fry are particularly susceptible to dirty water, and care must be taken to keep it clean.  Very frequent partial water changes should be done.  Ammonia and nitrites are very poisonous to the young fish, and nitrates will severely slow their growth if allowed to get above about 20 ppm.


The whole process of spawning and raising babies is complicated for this fish and they usually do not get it completely right the first time and have to start again with another batch of eggs.  They improve considerably with practice.  If eggs are infertile they will turn white.

Conservation Status

Mikrogeophagus altispinosus has not been evaluated for the UICN Redlist, but there is no reason to think its existence is threatened in the wild.

Scientific Name

The accepted name of this species is Mikrogeophagus altispinosus (Haseman, 1911.)  Other names that have been used include Crenicara altispinosa  (Haseman, 1911),Microgeophagus altispinosus (Haseman, 1911) and Papiliochromis altispinosus (Haseman, 1911.)

Common Names

In German, the Bolivian Butterfly is called Der “Bolivianische Schmetterlingsbuntbarsch”, in Denmark and Norway it is “Boliviansk sommerfuglecichlide”, in Finland it is “Rusokirjoahven” in Poland it is “Pielęgniczka boliwijska”, in Thialand it is “ ปลาหมอแคระแรมโบลิเวีย ” and in China it is either “ 高棘小噬土 丽鲷 " or “ 高棘小噬土麗鯛 ”.

Pest Fish

As with any animal, normal precautions should be taken to prevent this fish getting into ecosystems it is not native to.

Sources and Picture Credits

The pictures of the female and her eggs were by Hélène Lagueux, and posted

in the Facebook group South American Cichlids.

They are used with her kind permission, but Hélène  owns the copyright of both pictures.

The picture of the group of Bolivian Butterflies above the companions section if from Sweet Knowle Aquatics.