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Saratherodon caroli

Above Sarotherodon caroli. Photo by Rick Borstein. 


Sarotherodon caroli
is a medium to large tilapia-type cichlid from West Africa, more specifically from the crater lake, Lake Barombi Mbo, Cameroon. This species, along with all other endemic species from this crater lake are very much endangered due to not only pollution and human encroachment, but also because this lake sometimes emits a large amount of carbon dioxide (CO2). A large release of CO2 from this volcanic crater lake could destroy the 15 endemic fish species in it at any time.

Some of the more rare tilapiine cichlid species have been available in recent years (e.g. , in part due to more information made available by cichlid researchers like Dr. Anton Lamboj and his 2004 book, The Cichlid Fishes of Western Africa . This book and others have made a greater variety of tilapia-related species more available in recent years.

Sarotherodon caroli are not highly sexually dimorphic. Male Sarotherodon caroli (up to about 7 or 8 inches) turn jet black when in breeding mode. Most of the time, both sexes remain gray to black and are large bodied fish that have a large throat structure, making them look like they’re holding fry much of the time even when they are not.


Sarotherodon caroli is found only in Lake Barombi Mbo, an isolated crater lake in Cameroon.


Sarotherodon caroli is generally a robust fish, however, it probably needs a large tank as an adult, and I do not recommend keeping any large tankmates with them. The reason for this is that Sarotherodon caroli are sometimes skittish and will dart off at full speed ramming into the sides of the tank and other fish, more than I’ve seen with most other cichlids. I had some large Malawi cichlids in with them (such as Taeniochromis holotaenia), but they started dying off, I thought from bloat. Now, I think it’s more likely due to injury from the high speed panic and possible impact of the Sarotherodon caroli. Other than that, they are simple to keep. They are not overly aggressive with each other and started breeding regularly after several months. Also, they were less skittish after several months in the tank without any tankmates.


Sarotherodon caroli should primarily have spirulina or other veggie-based foods. While they will eat voraciously, and will accept a variety of foods, they should only get meatier foods once in a while. In nature, adults mostly eat phytoplankton and plants, while juveniles will eat a meatier variety.


I obtained eight Sarotherodon caroli from GCCA member, Rick Borstein. Rick (and his PhD student son, Sam Borstein) keep many rare fish, and I was lucky to get a chance to work with this fish while Rick was redesigning a new fish room. Rick added the following note:

The fish came to me from my friend Rich Birely of Sacramento, CA and were originally thought to be Myaka myaka, another Lake Barombi Mbo cichlid. The identity of this fish was a question and I asked consulted with several experts by sharing pictures. The mystery was solved when Dr. Anton Lamboj visited my fishroom in 2014 and he positively identified the fish as Sarotheredon caroli. Dr. Lamboj literally wrote the book on West African Cichlids, so it doesn't get any better than that! With only a few short weeks to break down my fishroom prior to the sale of my home, I was so happy that Mike was able to house, and eventually breed, the fish. 

I placed the Sarotherodon caroli in a 125 gallon tank with four sponge filters, some plastic plants and fake rock decorations and a thin layer of pool sand on the bottom.
Broods are about 15 to 30, and parental care is like most other mouthbrooders. The parents do not always immediately eat the young, but will pick them off over time, so you’ll need to raise the smaller fry separately. Once the fry get up to around 1 to 2 inch juveniles, they can live with the parents and grow fast in the larger tank. Be careful with breeder boxes and smaller fry containers because the fry are skittish like the parents and can jump out fast since they panic easily. Over time, as I kept fry in a Marina hang-on-the-tank type breeder box, the fry grew and came to associate me with providing food and did not panic unless I removed the cover or moved quickly.

 Retail Price

Sarotherodon caroli is probably only available through hobbyists interested in rare West African species. The only price I’ve seen recently is from a West African exporter, and the minimum cost for a group or box of this species would be $200-$300 USD minimum to buy and ship and receive these in the U.S.

Report June 2016 by Mike Helford.

Saratherodon caroli group