Astatotilapia Burtoni (Burtoni Cichlid)

astatotilapia burtoni

Last updated on August 24th, 2022 at 07:56 am

An African cichlid, Astatotilapia burtoni, also known as the blue zebra cichlid, Burtoni cichlid, or Burton’s cichlid, originated in the southern tributaries of Lake Tanganyika in East Africa. This freshwater fish grows to about 4 inches (10 cm) and can live up to 7 years. It has been found in both rocky and sandy substrates in the wild but does not appear to favor either over the other as long as there are plants and rocks for shelter and caves for spawning sites.

One of the most unique species of fish you can add to your aquarium, Astatotilapia burtoni, hails from the African rift lake of Lake Tanganyika. A relatively rare species, it’s no wonder you might want to learn more about how to care for these fish and what special requirements they have that differ from other freshwater aquarium fish species. Keep reading to find out more about Astatotilapia burtoni care and species profile.

Abbreviated as Astatotilapia burtoni, this species of fish belongs to the Cichlidae family and the genus Astatotilapia that includes closely related species such as Astatotilapia pharaonis (which includes subspecies pharaonis and robusta).

Also referred to as Nyassachromis burtoni, Astatotilapia burtoni is a beautiful species of freshwater fish that thrives in oxygen-rich, shallow, tropical waters with sandy bottoms and lots of rocks and other aquatic plants to hide in.

Origin and description

astatotilapia burtoni

Astatotilapia burtoni is a species of cichlid fish endemic to Tanzania, where it occurs in Lake Malawi, although introduced populations also exist in Lake Malombe and other smaller lakes along its coastal range. Astatotilapia burtoni is sometimes known as jumping or push-up cichlid due to a characteristic behavior that results from its reproductive behaviors, one being mouthbrooding.

The Burton’s mouthbrooder (Astatotilapia burtoni) is native to Lake Tanganyika in Africa. It prefers hard substrate in its natural habitat, including rocks and coarse gravel. Though it has a lot of habitat overlap with Astatotilapia calva, Astatotilapia burtoni usually favors deeper waters. In captivity, they can be maintained at temperatures between 72-78 degrees Fahrenheit, pH levels between 7.5-8.5 and dKH levels between 10-12; males tend to prefer cooler water than females.

Species profile

astatotilapia burtoni

Astatotilapia burtoni is a species of African cichlid fish from the family of Cichlidae. It is endemic to Lake Tanganyika in Burundi, Tanzania, and Zambia. The fish has a distribution that extends throughout all major habitats in Lake Tanganyika. It can be found at depths ranging from, preferring rocky areas with nearby open water (salt pans).

Black Phantom Tetra Fish (Hyphessobrycon megalopterus)

It spawns from January to July; its eggs are demersal and adhere to rocks. Parental care may occur, with parents defending against nest predators until their offspring grow up. They are omnivorous; their diet includes small molluscs, algae, diatoms, phytoplankton, and detritus.


The Astatotilapia burtoni originates from Lake Tanganyika, a lake located in eastern Africa. Specifically, they are found in Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia. The lake can be split into different sub-regions based on physical characteristics of water chemistry.

Due to their wide distribution area, populations of Astatotilapia burtoni exist that have adapted to habitats with high or low levels of dissolved oxygen. Owing to its native habitat, Astatotilapia burtoni should not be kept in aquariums that contain substrates such as sand or gravel. They prefer fine-grain sandy substrate or rocky habitat with plentiful crevices and caves.

Astatotilapia burtoni size

These fish species can grow up to 4-6 inches (12-15 cm) in length.

Astatotilapia burtoni tank size

The minimum recommended tank size for this fish is 55 gallons (208 Liters)

Tank set up

Adult males of Astatotilapia burtoni, like most cichlids, can be territorial and aggressive. Males will defend their territory, which may encompass several females’ territories. To house multiple males you’ll need a large tank and many hiding places, such as rockwork and wood (Astatotilapia burtoni are excellent diggers), to allow them to display without harming each other.

Adding plants is a good idea for additional cover and will also help keep nitrates low in your aquarium. Because they dig so much, it’s best to use either plastic plants or plant with tough roots that won’t be uprooted during digging sessions.

Ideally, you want about 20-30 cm (8-12 inches) of substrate; don’t worry if some of it gets dug up by your fish, though—the species has adapted well to their African lake habitat and there is plenty more sand where they came from! Like all cichlids, Astatotilapia burtoni needs lots of oxygen and water movement, provided mostly by efficient filtration.

Hypostomus Plecostomus (Suckermouth Catfish)

Aim for around 10 times tank volume per hour of flow-through power filters and around 5 times per hour for canister filters. About 15 watts per gallon should work fine; make sure your filter(s) have efficient biological media included to ensure adequate bacteria growth for converting ammonia into less toxic nitrites and then into non-toxic nitrates.

Astatotilapia burtoni tank mates

Astatotilapia burtoni can be kept with other species of Lake Tanganyika Cichlids, but should not be kept with species from other African lakes. These include Haplochromis, Lamprologus, Tilapia sp., and Copadichromis lamena, Melanochromis auratus and Oreochromis niloticus to name a few. It will eat any of these if it gets half a chance, so keep these fish well separated.

Some good tank mates are Julidochromis ornatus, Maylandia callainos, Micronema marlothii, Neolamprologus brichardi, Neolamprologus georgiae, and Petrotilapia sp. Pseudotropheus greshakei and Pseudotropheus nyererei are also suitable because they do not pose a threat to it.


astatotilapia burtoni

Astatotilapia burtoni is a mouthbrooder species that is relatively easy to breed in captivity. Many females will spawn at one time when males are present, so breeding multiples is not uncommon. Raising fry can be accomplished with a bare minimum of equipment and effort;

In natural populations, spawning occurs in mixed aggregations with eggs and sperm released directly into open water. It is not uncommon for hundreds of individuals to gather at these spawning sites and release their gametes simultaneously through violent synchronous contractions of their body muscles (coined pushups).

This manner of reproduction may be explained by an adaptation to avoid egg predation by maternal mouthbrooders like Stomatepia whose embryos have been shown to feed on eggs before hatching. Although Astatotilapia burtoni’s eggs are relatively larger than those of Astatotilapia calliptera, once hatched they require parental care similar to most small mouthbrooding haplochromines like Astatotilapia calliptera and Pareutropius vittatus.

Captive breeding protocols for Astatotilapia burtoni differ, depending on whether fries are reared alone or in groups; but fry seems to thrive best when raised communally, especially if provided with live foods such as brine shrimp. Adults will readily eat dead food sources but freshly hatched brine shrimp would provide both protein and moisture for captive fry.

Longear Sunfish "Lepomis Megalotis"

Are Astatotilapia burtoni aggressive or peaceful?

This species is generally peaceful. Its only notable behavioral note is that it tends to be somewhat territorial, which means it may get territorial about its territory. It shouldn’t be a problem if you choose your tank size wisely and maintain a tight lid (they are excellent jumpers). However, its territorial nature might indicate some aggressive actions toward other fish that seem out of place in its tank environment.

Astatotilapia burtoni care

astatotilapia burtoni

The Burton’s mouthbrooder is a peaceful fish, so they can be housed with most other aquarium fish. They require a tank that has plenty of swimming room and clean water. A temperature of 72–78 °F (22–26 °C) will keep them happy, although they are more active at 78°F (26°C). The tank should have plants and structures for hiding places, as these fish will eat smaller fishes if kept in crowded conditions.

Provide a sandy bottom or some pebbles to help ensure smooth and regular shedding of their scales. Also, make sure there are no sharp rocks or rough spots on decorations. Plastic plants and backgrounds may become torn from sharp fins or rough play from other fish, so use rocks instead where possible; leave open space between decorations to avoid overcrowding your tank when adding new inhabitants later on.

Astatotilapia burtoni diet

The diet of Astatotilapia burtoni varies depending on location, with their preferred foods varying according to food availability in local waters. Laboratory-reared fish were fed a diet consisting of 20% soybean meal, 20% lettuce, and 60% commercial dry fish food pellets. Juveniles feed on zooplankton while adults consume aquatic insects. Wild specimens are known to eat plant material as well as small crustaceans like copepods and cladocerans.

Water parameters

astatotilapia burtoni

Water pH must be 6.5-7.8; dH range: 8-20; temperature range: 25-28°C (77-82°F) ; and salinity: 1.008–1.020 SG. They also require a substrate of fine gravel, sometimes with large rocks and flat stones arranged to create suitable spawning sites, as well as hiding places from which they can ambush prey. The substrate should be deep enough to completely cover their eggs and young fish, so plan accordingly when choosing tank size.

Pea Puffer Fish (Dwarf Puffer Fish)

Astatotilapia burtoni lifespan

On average, adults will live a full 7 years in captivity, though they may reach their reproductive peak sooner. With good care and water chemistry, they can live more than 10 years in captivity.

Parasites and diseases

When they’re housed in ponds or aquariums, like most fish, African cichlids can easily become infected with parasites and other illnesses. They are especially vulnerable to disease when they’re young, so it’s especially important to provide them with clean water and healthy foods. As a common precautionary measure against illness, make sure your African cichlid has access to plenty of salt and iodine—these minerals will help kill off any potential pathogen in its water.

Some of the common illnesses are

  • Gill disease, which is caused by bacterial infection of fish gills. It’s spread by infected water and contact with other sick fish.
  • Red Pest (or Yoko Disease), which comes from a parasite carried by snails; it’s transmitted to fish when they eat contaminated plants or feces from infected snails.
  • Anchor Worm, which is a parasitic skin disease that can cause large swellings on its host and requires regular treatment to stop further growth.


Several African cichlids have been found to prey on Astatotilapia burtoni; in Tanzania, they are known to be consumed by Aulonocara jacobfreibergi, Copadichromis borleyi, Pungu sajae and Pungu somaliensis. Other fish such as Ctenochromis horei and Haplochromis elegans are known to feed on juvenile specimens.

Do they make good pets?

Yes. As with most fish, Astatotilapia burtoni is a great addition to an aquarium. They’re relatively small and easy to care for, so they make good beginner fish.

They’re active swimmers and need plenty of open space to swim around in; however, they can be territorial towards their own kind and other bottom feeders like suckermouth catfish species.