Sardine Cichlid (Cyprichromis leptosoma) Species Profile: Care, Tank Size, Food & Tank Mates

The Sardine Cichlid is a highly energetic, colorful fish that makes the perfect addition to any Lake Tanganyika tank. Known for its brilliant rainbow-colored scales and its playful, inquisitive nature, this beautiful fish zips around the upper portion of the aquarium with unmatched grace and agility. 

Whether you’re having guests over or just need something to help brighten up your day, the Sardine Cichlid is sure to bring plenty of energy and joy into your life.

If you’re considering bringing these little guys to your aquarium, there are some things you’ll need to know. The Sardine Cichlid is a fairly peaceful schooling cichlid, but it does require some care.

This comprehensive guide covers all essential aspects of Sardine Cichlid care. Keep scrolling and start making notes.  

Species Summary

Sardine Cichlids (Cyprichromis leptosoma), also referred to as Slender Cichlid, Blue Flash Cichlid, Lepto Cichlid, and Cyp for short, are endemic to Lake Tanganyika. These cichlids prefer living in large groups or shoals on sandy shores and scattered rocks, where they feed primarily on drifting zooplankton and shellfish.

Cyprichromis leptosoma is found in the southern part of Zambia and along the eastern shore shoreline of Tanzania. Available in a few different color pattern variations depending upon their geographical location, including:

  • C. leptosoma “Utinta”
  • C. leptosoma “Bulu Point”
  • C. leptosoma “Kekese”
  • C. leptosoma “Kerenge”
  • C. leptosoma “Malasa”
  • C. leptosoma “Kitumba”
  • C. leptosoma “Katete”
  • C. leptosoma “Livua”
  • C. leptosoma “Mupulungu”

All variations have similar body colors of blue and yellow morphs but can be differentiated based on their contrasting lines and various shadings. 

The genus Cyprichromis contains about five recognized species, and Cyprichromis leptosoma is one of the most popular species. Interestingly, most African Cichlids exhibit a robust look with a larger body, whereas Cys is a slender species with an overall streamlined appearance.

Scientific Name:Cyprichromis leptosoma
Common Name:Sardine Cichlid, Slender Cichlid, Blue Flash Cichlid, Lepto Cichlid
Care Level:Beginner
Lifespan:8 years
Max Size:4 ⅓ inches (11cm)
Temperature:75 – 81°F (24-27°C)
PH:8.0 – 9.0
Water hardness:10 – 25 °H
Minimum Tank Size:55 gallons


Photo: Nico (cichlids.tanganyika)

Sardine Cichlid has a slender, streamlined-shaped body. It is a colorful, eye-catching fish that would make a classic addition to many Tanganyikan tanks. The typical color pattern for male sardine cichlid rages from browns to lavender blues, with some yellow pattern on the fins and either yellow or blue tail. 

On the other hand, females are much less colorful compared to males. Based on the variety, they feature a pleasing beige color with some yellow in the fins. Cyprichromis leptosoma comes in various colors, including black, purple, white, yellow, fluorescent blue, and even turquoise. 

Female Sardine Cichlids are easy to tell apart from males – they are plain blue in coloration, while males feature multicolored patterns.

Like any other Cichlids, Cyps develop Pharyngeal teeth in the throat, along with their regular teeth. They also have one nostril on each side of their head, unlike other fish that have two.

Cyprichromis leptosoma (Sardine Cichlid) Size

Sardine Cichlid is the smallest of Cyprichromis genus. The maximum size of this species is about 4 ⅓ inches (11cm). Some specimens can also grow up to 5″ in the wild; Males tend to be larger than females.

Juvenile cichlids start to breed at lengths as small as 1 ¾ inches. They require around 2 years to attain the maximum size. The growth of this specimen is slow but steady, and consistent feeding and clean water play an important role in speeding up the growth process. 


Cyprichromis leptosoma (Sardine Cichlids) can live up to 8 years if kept with proper care and in a suitable tank environment. Sticking to the acceptable ranges water parameters ranges will also help to keep them happy and healthy for the long run. 

Care and tank setup

While sardine cichlids are small and peaceful, they need optimal care and tank conditions to thrive. These species are easy to feed and relatively undemanding aquarium residents. 

Sardine cichlids are best-maintained in a species-only aquarium but can be kept as part of the Tangyikan community with fish of identical size and temperament in larger quarters. 

Here’re some Cys care guidelines that you should follow to keep them comfortable. 

Tank Size

Tank size is the most important factor to consider. Some aquarists recommend a 30 gallons tank for Cys, but we disagree.

Our recommended minimum tank size for sardine cichlids is 55 gallons (48″ x 13″ x 21″) with a large footprint; after all, the sardine cichlid is a shoaling fish.

You can keep juveniles in 30 gallons tank without any other species present but upgrade to larger tanks as they grow. 

Water Parameters

Sardine Cichlids are intolerant to poor water conditions, so ensure to frequently perform small partial water changes. They do fine in freshwater or brackish freshwater but can’t s survive in a full brackish water tank and need a good water movement. Lake Tanganyika is an oxygen-rich lake, so do not forget to install bubblers in the tank, even if there are plants. 

Regularly check nitrates and pH of the water and avoid overfeeding and overstocking. Most Sardine Cichlids are fairly adaptable as long as conditions are close to their natural habitat. Do not change water chemistry much over time and maintain small but regular water changes. 

Being the quintessential Tanganyika cichlid in the hobby, Sardine Cichlids not only need hard and alkaline water, but they also require iodine to regulate their thyroid function. 

You can supplement iodine by using Cichlid Lake Salt, which is the best salt designed to replicate the natural environment of Rift Lake African Cichlids. 

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You will have these numbers handy for the Sardine Cichlid tank setup:

  • pH: 8.0 to 9.0
  • Temperature: 75 – 81°F (24-27°C)
  • Hardness: 10 – 25 °H
  • Specific Gravity: < 1.0002.
  • Ammonia: 0 ppm
  • Nitrite: 0 ppm
  • Nitrate: <30 ppm

Once again, Sardine Cichlids are very sensitive to new water. Water changes of 10-15% weekly will do the trick. Only do large water changes when you’re getting exceptional readings.

Because it’s so important to keep water parameters consistent, it’s smart to invest in a quality water test kit like the API Freshwater Master Test Kit. This will help you keep an eye on all your detailed readings so you can be sure there aren’t any issues. 

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Fill the tank with a coral sand or aragonite substrate, which helps maintain the hardness and alkalinity of the tank water. You can use live plants; these fish do not bother plants in the tank. What’s more, plants will provide protection to fry and increase their survival rate.

You can plant Jeva Fern and Anubias on porous rocks for a different and varied look. Aquarists can also include floating plants if desired. 

They inhabit near rocky shores; some rocks and driftwood should be used to create small caves and sloping walls.

They are an open water species and will spend a lot of time swimming in the upper areas of the aquarium. Additionally, they tend to jump out of the tank, so make sure you have a tight lid.

Sardine cichlids are active during daylight hours; hence, no special lighting is mandatory. 

Food & Diet

The Sardine Cichlid is an omnivore who generally feeds on drifting zooplankton and occasionally enjoys shellfish. However, they do not require an overly specialized diet and enjoy meaty items. Owners can offer them all kinds of fresh and commercial food. 

To balance nutrition in their diet, give them flakes and frozen foods, water fleas, shrimps, and cyclops. You can also feed them with good quality, small pellets, and it is recommended not to feed live foods and tubifex worms. 

Whatever food you choose, consider that a protein-rich diet is necessary to bring this cichlid into breeding conditions. You should feed them twice per day in smaller amounts rather than one large portion. 

Cyprichromis leptosoma (Sardine Cichlid) Tank Mates

In the wild, Cyps are found in large schools consisting of thousands of individuals. It’s a schooling species.

In the aquarium, they do well in groups of 12 or more, with 2 – 3 males, which will help reduce aggression and bring out their best colors as males will vie for female attention.

They are peaceful fish and mid-water feeders, making them perfect for a Tanganyika biotope and an excellent addition to any peaceful community aquarium. However, don’t keep them with these boisterous Mbuna.

If you want to keep them in a multi-species Tanganyika tank, give these tank mates a try:

Final Thoughts

Cyprichromis leptosoma is a gregarious species; hence, buying a shoal of at least 12 is suggested. However, if your tank can accommodate more, a more significant number is well worth considering. 

Sardine Cichlids are relatively peaceful but do not keep them boisterous fish, such as Mbuna. The ales may show territorial aggression towards one another, but that should not become a severe issue if kept in spacious tanks consisting of many females. 

Whether you’re looking for a flashy addition to liven up the space or just something interesting to watch as you enjoy your tank, the Sardine Cichlid is one fish that can’t be beaten.

If you have any questions about Sardine Cichlid care or have experiences to share, please leave a comment below!

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