German Blue Ram Cichlid: Complete Care Guide

These gorgeous little fish are some of my favorites. I love their bright colors and fierce personalities.

Although, a German Blue Ram does require some specific care and attention in order to thrive.

In this guide, I’ll teach you everything you need to know about caring for Blue Rams

Overview

German blue ram in planted tank
Blue Ram (Mikrogeophagus ramirezi) in Aquarium
  • Care level: medium
  • Tank size: 20 gallons (75 liters)
  • Temperament: peaceful (more aggressive when breeding)
  • Diet: omnivore
  • pH: 6.0-7.5
  • GH: 3-6 dGH (50-100 ppm)
  • KH: 3-5 dKH (53-89 ppm)
  • Temperature: 80°-83°F (26.7°-28.3°C)

Habitat & Appearance Of A German Blue Ram

Blue rams are a stunning little fish that almost looks too gorgeous to be real. 

They have a fusiform body shape, meaning that their bodies taper at their head and tail.

The base color of their bodies is a really pretty orange or yellow gold color. They have large, round eyes that are a bright neon orange and bisected by a thick black vertical stripe that runs along both sides of the face.

The back half of their bodies and fins are covered in metallic blue spots. The blue on these spangles is so bright and reflective that it looks like they’re glowing. They stand out strongly, even in low light.

Females may have a bright pink belly, especially if they are ready to breed. Males have an elongated dorsal fin with spiky points at the leading edge.

Also, blue rams have a single, large black spot on either side of their bodies.

Pictures on the internet make them look beautiful, but they just can’t do justice to how remarkable this fish is in real life. 

Blue Rams Are Also Known As

The scientific name of the blue ram is Mikrogeophagus ramirezi.

Thanks to selective breeding, there are many different color morphs and varieties within this species, sold under common names like:

  • German blue rams
  • Butterfly cichlids
  • Ramirez’s dwarf cichlid
  • Ramirezi
  • Dwarf butterfly cichlid
  • Asian ram
  • Gold ram (solid gold color)
  • Long fin blue ram
  • Electric blue ram (almost completely metallic blue color)

Lots of different names and colors, same species of fish.

What is the lifespan of a blue ram?

Blue rams live for about 3 years.

How large do they grow?

Rams stay fairly small. Adults usually reach lengths of 2-3 inches (5-6 centimeters).

Just don’t try to tell a ram cichlid that they’re small. They are pretty much convinced that they’re  the biggest fish in the tank.

German Blue Ram Tank Setup

Aquarium Size

Rams need pristine water quality so it’s best to put them in a larger tank. I would recommend keeping a single fish, maybe even a pair, in at least a 20 gallon (75 liter) tank.

Rams do best in a 20 gallon long since they are bottom dwelling fish and a long gives them more floorspace (referred to as a larger footprint in the aquarium hobby). 

If you want to keep more than one male ram, it’s best to go with at least a 40 gallon (151 liter). A tank that big would give each male the room to set up his own territory and hopefully keep them from fighting.

Pro Tip: Just because you see multiple males together in a small tank in the live fish store doesn’t mean you can house fish this way in the long term. The fish in store tanks haven’t been there very long and so haven’t tried to really establish a territory. 

They’re also usually juveniles whose behavior will change radically once they reach adulthood.

If you want to keep your rams in a community of other fish, I’d suggest going with at least a 30 gallon (113 liter) aquarium to make sure that water parameters can easily be kept in check.

Equipment

These fish can be sensitive to changes in water parameters, especially spikes in ammonia and nitrite.

It’s best to make sure that you have enough filtration so fish waste gets processed efficiently and ammonia isn’t able to build up.

I’d recommend going with a filter that has a lot of room for biological filter media, like a Seachem Tidal or AquaClear power filter. 

A heater is also an absolute must for these fish. They need high temperatures, over 80°F (>26.7°C). They just cannot thrive in lower temps.

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Substrate

In my experience, sand is the best substrate for blue rams. They spend most of their lives hovering near the bottom and digging around in the substrate in order to forage for food.

Sand lets them dig around the way they would in the wild.

You can use gravel or an aquatic plant soil substrate. They’ll pick along the surface, but sand really lets you see more of their natural behaviors.

Just avoid aragonite sand, sometimes sold as “cichlid sand.” Aragonite is made of pure calcium carbonate (CaCO3). This will constantly leach minerals into your water, increasing the general hardness (GH), carbonate hardness (KH) and pH.

All those extra minerals in the water are great for African cichlids, but that’s pretty much the opposite of what you want for blue rams.

So go with an inert sand that won’t change your water chemistry.

Plants and Decor

Rams have very specific needs when it comes to plants and decor.

The tank should have densely planted areas mixed with open swimming areas. 

You can plant species like Amazon swords, sagittaria, cryptocorynes, anubias, vallisneria and java ferns along the back and sides, leaving the front and middle of the tank open. These species are all from tropical areas and can tolerate the high temps of a ram tank.

They also need several small caves that they can use to hide in when they feel threatened.

You can use decor that has ready made hidey holes or construct your own from rocks and driftwood. Just make sure to provide a few different options so the rams always have a comfortable spot to retreat to.

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Ideal Water Parameters for Blue Rams

The Nitrogen Cycle

The nitrogen cycle is the natural breakdown of wastes in your aquarium, turning them from toxic substances to nontoxic ones.

It works like this:

Fish put off waste into the water that surrounds them. Not the best image to contemplate over dinner, but it’s the truth.

All that waste starts to break down and rot in the aquarium, which puts off ammonia (NH3). Ammonia is toxic, really, really toxic.

All it takes is 1 part per million (ppm) to kill delicate species of fish like blue rams. 

Just to put that in perspective, if you had a million gallons of water (that’s a lot!), adding just one gallon of ammonia to it would make it toxic to most species of fish. 

So, left to itself, waste would keep building up in the tank, putting off more and more ammonia until the water was just completely unlivable.

Fortunately, aquarium filters have a secret weapon for dealing with this evil scourge. Strangely enough, it’s bacteria that help aquarists make their tanks thriving ecosystems, instead of toxic waste dumps.

These beneficial bacteria detoxify waste. One kind eats ammonia and puts out something called nitrite (NO2 -1). Nitrite is also very toxic, even more toxic than ammonia sometimes, but luckily there is another kind of bacteria that quickly eats up the nitrite and turns it into a substance called nitrate (NO3-). 

Nitrate is much less toxic than ammonia and nitrite. It can be left to build up in between your weekly water changes. 

This whole process, turning ammonia to nitrite and then nitrate, is the nitrogen cycle. And getting beneficial bacteria to colonize your filters and start processing waste is known as “cycling” your tank.

Pro Tip: It takes time and preparation to get the nitrogen cycle going in your tank. The beneficial bacteria you need aren’t there the moment you set up your tank. 

For more information on how to properly cycle your tank, check out this article.

It takes time for a tank to build up enough beneficial bacteria to eat all the waste that a group of fish will produce. During this time, water parameters can fluctuate, ammonia and nitrite can spike and so conditions in the tank are unstable in general.

Pro Tip: DO NOT add blue rams until your tank is completely cycled and water parameters have remained steady for several months. 

Rams are very sensitive to unstable water parameters. They can easily die from ammonia or nitrite spikes.

Ideal Water Chemistry

  • Ammonia/Nitrite: 0
  • Nitrate: <30 ppm
  • pH: 6.0-7.5
  • GH: 3-6 dGH (50-100 ppm)
  • KH: 3-5 dKH (53-89 ppm)

Water Flow

Blue rams are native to slow-moving waterways. They don’t really like to be kept in a tank with super strong water flow.

A slower current is ideal so your rams won’t have to wear themselves out fighting it constantly. 

Pro Tip: If you’re trying to balance water flow and filtration, consider adding an air driven sponge filter. An extra sponge filter really ups the mechanical and biological filtration in your tank without creating a lot of extra current.

Diet Requirements and Feeding

In the wild, rams forage around in the substrate looking for both plant-based and meaty foods. They’ll eat pretty much any food small enough for their tiny mouths. 

What should I feed my blue rams?

Since rams are omnivores, they should be given a balanced and varied diet.

The problem that you might run into is they can be picky eaters, especially if they’re stressed after rough shipping and handling before getting to the store. 

A high quality flake or pelleted food could make a good staple, just make sure that it’s small enough to fit in their tiny mouths.

Go with something meant for omnivores like Omega One Tropical Flakes or Fluval Vegetarian Flakes (they contain lots of meaty ingredients despite the name).

You can supplement with freeze dried food like tubifex worms, bloodworms, brine shrimp and/or mysis shrimp.

For really picky eaters, you may need to feed them frozen or live foods like bloodworms, black worms, brine shrimp, daphnia or mysis shrimp.

Just be warned, if you get a ram cichlid used to eating just frozen foods, you likely won’t ever get them to accept dry foods. But, spending a bit more for food is better than the fish starving to death.

Related: Best Cichild Food

How often should I feed my blue rams?

Because of their size, it’s best to feed rams two to three small meals a day rather than trying to give them one big meal.

Their stomachs are tiny, which means they can only digest small amounts of food at a time.

Be sure to only feed them as much food as they can eat in about 30 seconds to a minute and remove uneaten food immediately.

Temperature

Temperature is really important when it comes to these little fish. They originate from Venezuela and Columbia, just north of the equator. These waterways stay very warm throughout the entire year.

Tank bred fish can adapt to many different water conditions, but temperature tolerance is the exception to this rule. It’s best to mimic the temperatures of their natural habitat.

So plan on keeping the aquarium really warm, somewhere in the neighborhood of 80°-84°F (26.7°-28.9°C).

German Blue Ram Tank Mates

There are two key questions to ask when you’re deciding on tank mates for rams:

  • Can this fish handle the warm temperatures?
  • Is this a peaceful community fish?

Blue rams are not flexible when it comes to temperature. That means that potential tank mates have to be able to thrive in temperatures in the 80s.

Rams are fairly small fish that are pretty peaceful. They will not do well if they’re placed in a tank with large, aggressive fish, like most African cichlids, large Central American cichlids, etc.

It’s best to mix rams with other small, peaceful fish that need similar water conditions, like tetras, livebearers, corydoras and/or plecos.

Despite their size, discus make good tank mates. But these fish can be sensitive and demanding and require advanced level care.  

Rams also mix well with freshwater snails and shrimp, but they will most likely eat baby shrimp that they find.

Sexing Blue Rams

Once they’re mature, it’s fairly easy to tell the difference between a male and female blue ram.

Females

Females are usually stockier, smaller and less colorful than males. They have a pointed head versus the male’s rounded one.

Their pectoral fins are much shorter than a male’s. When they’re folded they usually only reach the beginning of the anal fin.

The best and more reliable way to identify a female ram is to look at the big black spot on either side of the body. Females will have a few of the blue reflective scales inside the black spot.

Females generally have a few prominent rays at the front of their dorsal fins, but nothing like the big spikes that showy males have.

Males 

Males are quite a bit larger than females and have a slimmer body shape with a much more rounded forehead.

Their pectoral fins are almost twice as long, the tips almost reaching their tails when the fins are folded back.

Many males have very prominent second rays on their dorsal fins that spike up well beyond the rest of the fin.

A male’s black spot will have no reflective blue scales within it. It will just be a very dark, matte black.

Breeding 

It is fairly easy to spawn blue rams in an aquarium. Just give them the right conditions and they’ll gladly spawn every few weeks.

Just be prepared to provide space for hundreds of fry while they grow out.

It’s best to have a pair of rams in a tank by themselves. They’ll start to become more aggressive once they spawn and will harass other tank mates that come near their nursery.

Rams lay their eggs on a flat surface, like a rock, that lies on the surface. It’s best to give the pair several options for spawning sites. The new parents will also appreciate a clump of Java moss that they can use to hide their fry.

The temperature in the tank needs to be slowly increased to 84°F (28.9°C) over a few days time. 

Pro Tip: Only raise the temp by about one degree a day. Rapid temperature swings can shock and kill fish.

While the temperature is being raised, condition the parents by feeding them high protein foods like frozen bloodworms and brine shrimp.

If conditions are right, the female will lay around 200 eggs onto a flat surface and the male will swoop in to fertilize them.

A new pair may eat their first few spawns before they settle down and raise a brood. Some breeders recommend adding a small amount of  baby brine shrimp while conditioning the parents to increase the likelihood that they will raise the babies.

The thinking is that the parents will be more comfortable if they know there’s available food for the fry.

The eggs only take about 3 days to hatch and then 5 days after hatching they’ll become free swimming. Once that happens, they can be fed baby brine shrimp or a powdered fry food like New Life Spectrum Grow Fry Starter.

The parents will guard and corral their babies constantly. The male and female will share these duties equally. If a fry wanders too far away, one of the parents will gently scoop it up in their mouth and carry it back to the rest.

They will likely herd their young into the Java moss you provide so they are more protected.

Is a blue ram right for you?

These gorgeous little fish are some of my favorites. I love their bright colors and fierce personalities. They really are a big fish in a tiny little body and are convinced they can take on just about anything.

I do consider this species to be a bit more advanced when it comes to their level of care. They need nearly pristine water conditions or you run the risk of them getting sick and dying. 

So they aren’t really the most beginner friendly fish.

I highly recommend that you keep to a strict maintenance schedule for your aquarium if you own this species and make absolutely sure the tank isn’t overstocked. Tight control of your water parameters is the key to keeping them healthy.

It’s critical that your tank is thoroughly cycled and water conditions are stable before you add blue rams. It’s better to wait a month or two for the system to settle down than to add rams and have them die from a sudden ammonia spike.

These should not be the first fish you add when your cycle is barely finished.

It’s best to add a bit of extra filtration when you keep this species. You can always augment your main filter by adding on something like an air-driven sponge filter.

Make sure to provide the right environment by mixing areas of dense plant growth, small caves and open swimming areas.

Rams are best kept with other small, peaceful tank mates. Make sure the other species can handle the extremely warm temperatures that rams need to thrive. Since rams live primarily at the bottom of the tank, it’s great to mix them with fish that live mostly at the surface so there’s not a huge competition for space along the substrate. 

If you want to, breeding these fish is relatively easy. Just be prepared to suddenly have 200 more blue rams!

These little guys might mean a bit of extra maintenance, but I really think they’re well worth it. Their brilliant colors make them a jewel in the aquarium hobby.

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