German Blue Ram (Mikrogeophagus ramirezi) Keeping, Feeding, Breeding

German Blue Rams

German Blue Rams (I’ll refer to them simply as Rams from here on in) are surely one of the most stunning fish in the hobby. Rams display the most amazing rainbow colors from head to tail.

I first came across Rams over 30 years ago when I bought a small group from my local fish store, and I have been keeping and breeding them ever since. I think I have possibly bred and sold more Rams at this point than any other fish in my fish room (with the possible exception of Angelfish).

Overview of German Blue Rams

German Blue Rams are a super colorful member of the Cichlid family that originates from Venezuela and Colombia. Rams only reach around 2.5″ to 3″ (6cm to 7.5cm) long, but pack an awful lot into a small size.

Over the last few years, Rams have been bred into a number of different color morphs including Electric Blue Ram, Gold Ram, and most recently the Black Ram (also called the Dark Knight Ram).

Rams are relatively easy fish to keep and can be bred in the home aquarium with a little effort. The main reason people have difficulty keeping Rams is that they don’t keep their aquariums warm enough.

To flourish, German Blue Rams like their aquarium water to be 84-86°F (29-30°C).



German Blue Ram Characteristics

Common Names:Ram, German Blue Ram, Asian ram, Butterfly Cichlid, Ramirez’s Dwarf Cichlid, Dwarf Butterfly Cichlid, and Ramirezi
Scientific Name:Mikrogeophagus ramirezi
Family:Cichlidae
Origin:Venezuela and Colombia
Tank Distribution:Lower regions
Adult Size: 2.5″ to 3″ (6cm to 7.5cm)
Life Expectancy:3 to 5 years
Care Level:Beginner to Intermediate
Minimum Tank Size:20-gallons (75 liters)
Breeding Method:Egg layer
Temperature:84°F – 86°F (29°C – 30°C)
pH:5.0 – 7.0
Hardness:18 – 179 ppm

German Blue Ram Origins

German Blue Ram Origins

German Blue Ram Habitat

The German Blue Ram originates from the Orinoco River basin in Venezuela and Colombia. The river system itself is vast and covers a huge area of Northern South America.

The rivers where German Blue Rams are found are full of vegetation and the river bed is covered in fallen leaves, with many tree roots and branches in the water.

German Blue Rams are found in slower flowing sections of the rivers as well as flooded areas of forest.



Are German Blue Rams Wild Caught or Captive Bred?

The vast majority of German Blue Rams available in the hobby are captive bred. In fact, it is very rare to find wild-caught specimens available in stores these days.

German Blue Rams are one of the most frequently bred fish in the hobby. They are bred in vast numbers on fish farms in both the US and the Far East. German Blue Rams are bred in such large quantities that many professional breeders believe they have been bred to the point they have become genetically weak.

German Blue Ram Description

German Blue Rams are a riot of color. Their main body color is a light grey to silver color. Their face, tail, and fins are gold which becomes a more intense orange towards the edges.

German Blue Rams also have neon blue dots and patches spread across the whole of their bodies and fins.

German Blue Rams are one of the most distinctive fish in the freshwater fishkeeping hobby. They wouldn’t look out of place in a marine tank.

Are German Blue Rams Aggressive?

I have had German Blue Rams in my fish room almost constantly for the last 20 years or more, and in my experience, I would say German Blue Rams are not an aggressive species of fish.

The only exception I would say is German Blue Rams can be aggressive when they are spawning.

Like most fish in the Cichlid family, German Blue Rams make excellent parents and they will defend their young even if it costs them their own lives.


German Blue Ram Tank Setup

German Blue Rams work equally well when kept in a small, 20-gallon (75 liters) tank or a much larger setup.

Over the years I have kept German Blue Rams in their own dedicated tanks, keeping just a pair in a heavily planted 20-gallon, as well as part of much larger community aquariums.

At one time I had 30 German Blue Rams living with a large group of Neon Tetras in a 200-gallon (750 liters) tank.

German Blue Ram Tank Size

If you are planning to keep just a pair of German Blue Rams, a 20-gallon (75 liters) tank will work well. For a larger group, maybe 4 or 5 German Blue Rams, a 30-gallon (113 liters) is ideal.

The bigger the tank, the more German Blue Rams you could keep in it.

German Blue Ram Tank Substrate

German Blue Rams are a fish that definitely interacts with their aquarium substrate. They will sift through the substrate looking for food and they will often move it around when they are preparing to spawn.

Knowing substrate is important in a German Blue Ram tank, careful consideration should be given to which substrate you use.

I have had great success using this sand substrate that I ordered from Amazon.com. This sand looks natural, plants grow well in it and the Rams can shift it about when they want to.

Decorations in a German Blue Ram Tank

In their natural habitat, German Blue Rams are surrounded by live plants (see more below) as well as tree roots, fallen branches, and occasionally rocks.

For a natural-looking aquarium, I would recommend trying to recreate this landscape. Somehow German Blue Rams just look at their best when they are kept in a tank with wood and plants.

If you are not into live plants, have a look at these fake plants on Amazon.com. I have used them in a number of tanks where live plants weren’t practical, and they look really good.

German Blue Ram in natural-looking tank setup

Best Live Plants for German Blue Rams

Over the years I have tried a number of different plants in my German Blue Ram tanks. I think it is fair to say, German Blue Rams definitely appreciate having plants in their aquarium, but they are not overly fussy about which plants they have.

German Blue Rams like to be able to hide from time to time, and live plants make excellent hiding places. I have used all of the plants below to great success in my German Blue Ram tanks;

By using some tall plants like the Amazon Swords or Vallisneria and some shorter plants like Cryptocoryne wendtii you get a real sense of depth in the aquarium.

Filtering a German Blue Ram aquarium

German Blue Rams really do like clean aquarium water, and the clearer the water the better the fish will look. A good quality filter will solve both these problems.

I have had really good luck using hang-on-back filters with my German Blue Rams. Sponge filters work well in smaller breeding tanks and canister filters are good if you are keeping your Rams in a very large tank.

Heating a German Blie Ram aquarium

As mentioned above, one of the major reasons so many people fail to keep German Blue Rams is because they don’t keep the water temperature high enough. German Blue Rams like the aquarium water to be 84°F – 86°F (29°C -30°C).

The best way I have found to keep a German Blue Ram tank at the right temperature is with a good quality aquarium heater. The E Series heater by Fluval is a little more expensive than some on the market, but they are pretty accurate and the digital display on the front makes it easy to see what temperature your aquarium is.



You can check the current price of the E Series heater HERE

Lights for a German Blue Ram aquarium

There is no doubt that German Blue Rams look best when they have a proper aquarium light above their tank. I have found the Fluval Aquasky light to not only bring their colors out really well, but it also makes the plants grow well.


German Blue Ram Water Parameters

In their natural habitat, German Blue Rams come from waterways that are warm, soft, and slightly acidic. In the aquarium we need to try to recreate these conditions as best we can.

  • Temperature: 84°F – 86°F (29°C – 30°C)
  • pH: 5.0 – 7.0
  • Hardness: 18 – 179 ppm

If you are unsure of your aquarium water parameters, invest in a good quality water test kit. I currently use the API Master Test Kit as it measures pH, Ammonia, Nitrite, and Nitrate. I have found it to be the most accurate test kit for the money. You can check the current price of the API Master Test Kit on Amazon.com here.


What Do German Blue Rams Eat?

German Blue Rams are omnivores, meaning they require a diet based around both meat and vegetable matter. In the wild, German Blue Rams spend a lot of their time sifting through the river bed looking for food.

The German Blue Rams scientific name Mikrogeophagus actually translates as ‘small earth eater’.

Wild German Blue Rams spend much of their time taking in mouthfuls of the substrate, sifting for edible items. Any small worms or crustaceans they find are eaten and the excess sand etc is expelled through the gills and back out the mouth.

In our aquariums, we need to feed our German Blue Rams a varied diet to give them a fully varied and balanced diet.

I feed my German Blue Rams a selection of the following foods;

In an ideal world, German Blue Rams want to eat from the bottom of the tank, ideally directly off the substrate. As such, foods that sink are best for German Blue Rams.

As well as feeding my German Blue Rams commercial foods, I also try and feed them lots of live or frozen foods. I feed them many of the following;

  • Bloodworms
  • Mosquito Larvae
  • Daphnia
  • Brine Shrimp
  • Cyclops


How Often Should You Feed German Blue Rams?

When it comes to feeding my German Blue Rams, in fact, when it comes to feeding all my fish, I believe feeding little and often is better than feeding one large meal a day.

I aim to feed my German Blue Rams 3 or 4 times a day. I usually give them pellet food in the morning (Vibra Bites is my current go-to) followed by flake food in the afternoon and then live or frozen food in the evening. Sometimes, I will give them more pellets in the evening too.

The added advantage to feeding multiply times a day is, each time we feed our fish we interact with our tank, and the more times we interact with our tanks the greater the chance we will notice if a fish is sick or a piece of equipment has failed.


How to Breed German Blue Rams

German Blue Rams are an excellent choice of fish for those who have bred a few of the easier fish to breed and are now looking for a new challenge.

German Blue Rams are actually relatively easy to breed, providing you set the environment up correctly for them. The real challenge in breeding German Blue Rams is raising the baby fish.

German Blue Rams are egg layers, and like so many other members of the Cichlid family, they make excellent parents. Both parents will tend the eggs and take care of the developing baby fish.

Unlike Angelfish, which will only breed with a partner they have selected themselves, German Blue Rams can be paired by the fishkeeper. If you place a male and a female in a tank together there is a good chance they will spawn.

With that said, it should be noted that if a pair choose to form naturally, they will have a stronger bond and will often do a better job of raising their young.

Sexing German Blue Rams

German Blue Rams are sexually dimorphic, which means you can tell the males from the females just by looking at them. The males are not instantly recognizable from the females like guppies would be, but the tell-tale signs are there if you know what to look for.

None of the indicators below are certain for every fish, and you may need to have a group of 5 or 6 Rams together to be able to more easily identify a male from a female.

  • Male German Blue Rams are usually more colorful than females
  • The males are larger than the females
  • The first 2 or 3 rays on a male’s dorsal fin tend to be slightly extended
  • Males don’t usually have any blue color around the black spot on the side of their bodies
  • Female German Blue Rams are normally less colorful than the males
  • They tend to have a lot more blue color around the edges of the black spot on the body
  • The females are smaller than the males
  • Females will often have rosy red bellies, especially when in spawning mode
  • Generally speaking, females have black pelvic fins, whereas males do not


Conditioning German Blue Rams to Spawn

To get the best possible spawn from our German Blue Rams, we need to make sure they are in the best physical health they can be. This process is called Conditioning.

In my experience of breeding these fish, the best way to condition them is to feed them lots of live or frozen foods in the week or two leading up to spawning. I find feeding lots of bloodworms, brine shrimp and daphnia work really well.

High protein foods help the female develop lots of healthy eggs and the males develop viable sperm.

German Blue Rams Spawning Tank Setup

German Blue Rams will happily spawn in the community tank, providing their tank mates aren’t too boisterous. However, to get the best spawn from your Rams, or if you hope to breed them and sell the babies for profit, then you will need to set up a dedicated spawning tank.

A 10-gallon (38 liters) tank makes an ideal spawning tank for a single pair of German Blue Rams. I have also used 10-gallon tanks to hareem breed Rams, but that takes a little more effort.

The bottom of the tank can be left bare, or have a thin layer of sand. It is personnel preference really.

A small sponge filter is the best way to filter a spawning tank. You don’t want lots of flow like you might get from a hang-on-back or canister filter, you just want the water to stay clean and clear. I have used these sponge filters to great effect.

A small aquarium heater will also be required to keep the water temperature around 86°F (30°C).

The final piece a spawning tank will need is an actual spawning site. German Blue Rams like to spawn on a raised flat surface. A flat stone works really well, as does a small ceramic flower pot tray.

A flowerpot, a couple of large rocks, or a clump of Java Moss will provide the German Blue Rams some privacy and give the female a place to get out of the males’ line of sight if she needs to.

German Blue Ram Spawning

When it comes to the actual spawning you will know your chosen pair are preparing to spawn when one or both the fish start cleaning the site. They pass back and forth, checking the area and removing anything that may interfere with their egg-laying.

Once they are happy with their chosen site, The female will start slowly passing over the site in lines, depositing eggs as she goes. The male will then follow behind her, fertilizing the eggs. This will continue until anywhere from 200 to 500 eggs have been laid and fertilized.

Once the spawning is completed, both parents will stand guard of the eggs, driving away any other fish that get too close.

German Blue Ram with Eggs

German Blue Ram eggs usually hatch within 2 to 3 days and spend another 3 or 4 days as wigglers (small, non-swimming fish with their egg sacks still attached).

German Blue Rams make excellent parents, although they may take a few spawns to get the hang of it.

Once the fry become free-swimming you can either leave them with the parents or move them to a dedicated fry raising tank. Raising the babies yourself is more work than letting the parents do it, but you will probably end up with a larger brood in the end.

German Blue Ram with Fry

Raising Baby German Blue Rams

As mentioned above, the real skill in breeding German Blue Rams is raising the babies and getting them to full-grown adults.

When German Blue Rams first become free-swimming they are still tiny. German Blue Ram babies are about half the size of an Angelfish fry that are the same age.

The first food I feed my German Blue Ram babies is always First Bites, which is made by Hikari (see more about First Bites). Hard-boiled egg yolks also work really well.

I will usually feed First Bites for the first 3 or 4 days, then transition my German Blue Rams over to live baby brine shrimp. Live baby brine shrimp is a bit of a faff to produce at home, but it is so nutritious to the baby fish it is well worth the effort.

After about 6 weeks of feeding baby brine shrimp, I move on to crushed flake food, then on to other commercially available foods.



German Blue Ram Color Morphs

Over the years, some very skilled and dedicated breeders have spent years selectively breeding their German Blue Rams to produce new color strains. Some of these strains have become very popular and are now widely available in the hobby.

Electric Blue Rams

Electric Blue Rams

Electric Blue Rams are one of the oldest color morphs of the German Blue Ram and have been in the hobby for many years. As their name suggests, the Electric Blue Ram is primarily bright blue in color with a yellow to gold patch on their heads.

Gold Rams

Gold Rams

Gold Rams are essentially half gold and half white. Gold Rams have been popular, especially in the Far East, for many years. In my experience, Gold Rams are a little less hardy than regular German Blue Rams.

Black Rams/Dark Knight Rams

Black Ram/Dark Knight Ram

The Black Ram, which is also referred to as the Dark Knight Ram or the Midnight Ram is the newest addition to the Ram family. Black Rams were only introduced to the hobby a few years ago after they were developed by a fish farm in Isreal.

I have a couple of pairs of Black Rams, and in my experience, they do not always breed true, meaning only a handful of the babies show the black color, with the rest being regular German Blue Ram colors.


German Blue Ram Tank Mates

German Blue Rams are perfectly happy living in a community tank with other fish, providing those tankmates are chosen wisely. Over the years I have kept a wide variety of different fish with my German Blue Rams. Below I have listed some of my favorites.

Neon Tetras

Neon Tetras

Neon Tetras are super peaceful fish, and a school of them living in a 20-gallon (75 liters) tank with 3 or 4 German Blue Rams will be a bright, colorful tank. The red and blue colors on the Neon Tetras will really set off the color on the German Blue Rams. I have this exact setup in my fish room and is a tank that never gets boring to watch.

Dwarf Gouramis

Dwarf Gouramis

Dwarf Gouramis are another really peaceful fish that will barely bother interacting with the German Blue Rams. Much like with the Neon Tetras, the colors of the Dwarf Gouramis really complement those of the German Blue Rams.

Dwarf Gouramis want to occupy the mid and upper water whereas the German Blue Rams definitely prefer the lower regions. Add a few peaceful schooling fish to this setup and it will be an amazing tank.

Pearl Gouramis

Pearl Gouramis

I am such a massive fan of Pearl Gouramis. At first glance, their coloration is fairly drab, but when the light hits them correctly they have the most stunning pearl-like coloration, hence their common name.

Pearl Gouramis spend almost all their time at the surface looking for food and they will rarely venture down to the lowest regions where the German Blue Rams are. Pearl Gouramis get slightly larger, so consider a 30-gallon (113 liters) setup for a group of these fish with German Blue Rams.

Pygmy Corydoras

Pygmy Corydoras

Unusually for a member of the Corydoras family, Pygmy Corydoras like to swim mid-water and don’t find themselves tied to the bottom of the tank.

Pygmy Corydoras are silver to grey in color and they will really contrast against the colors of the German Blue Rams, making the Rams really stand out. Pygmy Corydoras are peaceful and will provide lots of movement in the tank. Just remember they are schooling fish so keep a group of 6 or more together.

Mascara Barbs

Mascara Barb

I know what you are thinking, Barbs are aggressive fin nipping fish right? Well not all of them. Mascara Barbs are peaceful and will take little to no interest in your German Blue Rams.

Mascara Barbs are full of color and will spend the majority of their day swimming back and forth mid-water. Mascara Barbs come from a similar part of the world to German Blue Rams and want very similar water conditions.

Silver Tip Tetras

Silver Tip Tetras

I think Silver Tip Tetras are seriously underrated in the hobby. They are one of the tightest schooling fish, and a large group of them will swim from one side of the tank to the other and back again in complete unison.

Bristlenose Pleco

Bristlenose Pleco

I think I have lost count of the number of articles I have written voicing the virtues of Bristlenose Plecos. I genuinely believe almost every community-style aquarium should have at least one Bristlenose Pleco. I currently have at least one in almost every tank in my fish room.

Bristlenose Plecos will keep almost the entire tank clear of algae, they will eat any uneaten food that makes its way to the aquarium floor, and they won’t bother any other tank mates in the aquarium.

Rosy Barbs

Rosy Barbs

Rosy Barbs are another peaceful member of the Barb family. I have found they work really well in a German Blue Ram tank, providing you keep a group of at least 6 together. When you have 6 or more Rosy Barbs in a group they spend the whole time being interested in one another and will take no interest in what the German Blue Rams are doing.


German Blue Ram Tanks Mates to Avoid

Clearly, the list of tank mates to avoid could be almost infinite, but I have listed a few of the most common mistakes fishkeepers make.

Large South American Cichlids such as Oscars, Green Terrors and Convict Cichlids should certainly be avoided as should Clown Loach who will want to occupy the same spaces as the German Blue Rams.

In my experience, I would also avoid Danios like Zebra and Leopard Danios. I have tried this combination and I found the Danios were so food aggressive they ate all the food before it got down to the Rams.


Common German Blue Ram Pests and Diseases

In my experience of keeping German Blue Rams, providing you keep their water temperature up, they are no more or less susceptible to pests and diseases than any other fish.

With that said, there are some common issues you will need to look out for. These include;

  • Ich (Whitespot)
  • Fin Rot
  • Tapeworms
  • Dropsy

Ich (Whitespot)

Ich is probably the most prevalent disease in the freshwater fishkeeping hobby. The main symptom of Ich is the white spots that give Ich its other common name (it is usually referred to simply as Whitespot in Europe).

The white spots are in fact not spots at all but rather they are cysts that develop after the parasite burrows under the fish’s scales.

Ich usually starts off on the fish’s fins or tail then, if left untreated, quickly spreads across the fish’s body. If treatment is not forthcoming Ich can prove fatal quite quickly.

After spending over 30 years keeping and breeding fish I have come up against Ich many times. The best treatment I have found is Ich-X which is made by Hikari. Ich-X can only defeat the parasite when the parasite is free-floating in the water, not when it is buried beneath the fish’s scales, so repeated treatments may be required.



Fin Rot

Fin rot is the result of a bacterial infection that literally eats the fish’s fins and tail. Fin rot is almost always caused when water quality is poor and the bacteria often takes advantage after a fish has been fin nipped.

Fin rot starts off with the end of the fins or tail looking like they have little bits missing. If left untreated the fins quickly start to look raggedy followed by the development of red, sore patches. Eventually, the fins and tail will rot away completely leading to the death of the fish.

Fin rot is easily treatable providing treatment is started early. Left untreated, fin rot will prove fatal.

There are a number of good treatments for fin rot on the market. One of the best is Maracyn (see more about Maracyn on the Aquarium Coop website). If you are in Europe, eSHa 2000 is a really effective treatment for bacterial infections.

Internal Tapeworms

Internal tapeworms are so common, especially in livebearers and fish that eat from the substrate, that I treat all fish that come into my care for internal tapeworms.

Tapeworms live inside the fish’s digestive system, consuming all the goodness from the fish’s food before the fish has a chance to. German Blue Rams with internal tapeworms can starve to death, even though they eat food every day.

Tapeworms can quickly spread through a tank of fish, so treatment is essential. I have found Paracleanse, which is made by Fritz, to be the most effective treatment for internal parasites.



Dropsy

Dropsy isn’t really a disease, rather it is the name given to a fish that swells up as a result of fluid build-up inside the fish’s body cavity, usually as a result of kidney failure or a bacterial infection.

Dropsy is notoriously difficult to treat and the prognoses for any fish is poor. Euthanasia is often the kindest thing for a fish.


My Final Thoughts on German Blue Rams

I have been keeping German Blue Rams for around 30 years, and I can honestly say they are amazing fish that always bring color to a fish tank.

If you are a fishkeeper that has bred a few of the easier species and you are looking to level up to the next stage, German Blue Rams may well be the next fish for you to try. Breeding and raising German Blue Rams is a real challenge but can be very rewarding, both in the feeling of achievement and in financial terms.


About the Author

I’ve been keeping, breeding, and showing tropical fish for nearly 30 years. Over that time I’ve done it all! I’ve had great success and I’ve made some really foolish mistakes (like the time I bought an Asain Walking Catfish). Read more…
Richard James
Editor

Article Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ram_cichlid

https://www.aquariumcoop.com/blogs/aquarium/ram-cichlid-care-guide

https://www.tfhmagazine.com/articles/freshwater/electric-blue-ram-full-article

https://www.thesprucepets.com/german-blue-ram-fish-profile-5088724

https://www.practicalfishkeeping.co.uk/features/how-to-breed-the-ram-mikrogeophagus-ramirezi/

https://www.seriouslyfish.com/species/mikrogeophagus-ramirezi/

https://fluvalaquatics.com/us/e-series/

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