African Cichlid Guide: Types, Tank Mates, Tank Size, Care, Etc.

African Cichlid is one of the famous tropical fish. They are found in diverse colors and patterns. They will make your aquarium look alive with their colorful appearances.

However, these beautiful fishes are not easy to maintain. They are bigger and more aggressive than other fishes like Guppy, Tetra, and Gourami. They are not suitable for beginner aquarists.

There are many varieties of African Cichlid, but Peacock Cichlids are the most popular ones. In this guide, we will discuss everything from their appearance to how to care from them.


Category Rating
Family Cichlidae
Temperament Aggressive
Lifespan Up to 15 Years (species dependent)
Care Level Intermediate
Size 3-8 inches
Color Form Various
Diet Depends on species
Compatibility Depends on species
Minimum Tank Size 30 Gallons
Tank Set-Up Freshwater: Rocks and Caves


African Cichlids Overview


Cichlid family has a wide variety of fishes, and they are found in diverse colors and patterns. Most of the species of this family are found mainly in the three lakes: Lake Malawi, Lake Victoria, and Lake Tanganyika. Lake Malawi is the most famous one.

There are approximately 1500 species that belong to this family. Each one of them having a unique and beautiful appearance. Their vivid appearance is the reason for their popularity.

These colorful fishes are quite active, hardy, and social. They can also get aggressive at the time of mating. Hence, finding a suitable companion can become challenging.

Their price range depends on their appearance.

The bigger and brighter colored fish will be expensive than the normal fishes. The cheapest Cichlids you can buy is available in the range of $5-$15. the price also depends on their age and health as a juvenile Cichlid is less expensive than adults.

How long do African cichlids live?

African cichlids may live up to eight years in your aquarium. African cichlid lifespan depends upon your care. African cichlid lifespan may differ species to species.

Typical Behavior

African Cichlids are intelligent, interactive, and active swimmers. As soon as they sense a movement, they follow it in the hope of getting fed. They can happily eat the whole day, but it can lead to overeating and make them sick.

Their activity and interaction make them more attractive and liven up the aquarium.

Apart from these qualities, you should look out for their aggression. They can get aggressive in mating season and can kill the other fish over it. So, make sure there are as many hiding places for each of them.

Their active lifestyle includes pulling off the decorations or digging through the substrate for finding food or hunting. They can also jump out of the tank in excitement, so make sure everything is well covered and protected.

Many of their species show unique behaviors, and it includes playing dead until a prey crosses them.

African Cichlid Types

As we have already learned that African Cichlids have a diverse variety, here, we will learn about the popular and most common types of them.

Yellow African cichlid fish

Yellow African (Labidochromis Caeruleus)

This little yellow African Cichlid is easy to look after and less aggressive than the others of its family. They are found in Lake Malawi. They can grow up to only 3 inches and easy to find a companion for.

They have a yellow body with fins having black tips making their appearance stand out from the other fishes. Their dorsal fins are found behind their head, which spans all over their body. Their bright yellow color looks like they are going to produce electricity.

African Butterfly (Anomalochromis Thomasi)

Butterfly Cichlids are also very peaceful and hardy. These small fishes can grow up to 3 inches and are easy to breed. They are usually found in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Rivers.

Their whole body has five black vertical bars with horizontal rows of spots either in blue or green color. This adds more beauty to their appearance. They are not very demanding or fussy and hence, make perfect fish for beginners.

Orange Zebra Cichlid (Maylandia Estherae)

These fish can grow up to 5 inches, but they are not ideal for a small aquarium.

They are known for aggression, and limited swimming space will only fuel the aggressive behavior in them. So, beginners shouldn’t have them or start their aquarium with them.

These bright orange fishes are found in Lake Malawi. They have a round head and sometimes can have black tips on fins, just like the yellow Cichlids.

African Peacock (Aulonocara Nyassae)

From the name peacock, it is obvious that they are colorful, just like peacock’s tail. This breed alone has 22 different species, and all of them can be found in Lake Malawi.

Just like the peacock bird, only the male Peacock Cichlid has vivid appearance while the female is drab in appearance.

Their maximum size can reach up to 4 to 6 inches, and they will add variety and vividness to your aquarium. However, some of their species can be aggressive.

General Appearance and Color Varieties

As we already know, they have a vivid appearance, and each species have their unique quality. If you are raising a fry, then you have to be a little patient to see their color and pattern. It depends on specie to specie and can sometimes vary between individuals of the same species as well. It usually takes a year to show color.

The female Cichlid doesn’t look as attractive as the male ones. They usually have a dull appearance and pattern.

The brightness of color and pattern of Cichlid says a lot about them. Their colors are brightest when they show dominance or aggression and also at the time of mating. The brightness also depends on their diet. So, if you see the color fading, it can be a signal of poor health.

Cichlid also has a set of teeth. It also varies from specie to specie and the type of diet they are having. Their teeth have been subject to study for scientists, especially dentistry. Some of them have evolved teeth to scrape off algae from rocks while some have fang-like to hunt small fishes. Some species can even bite you.

The fact that their damaged or lost teeth are replaced in every 100 days makes Cichlid more fascinating.

African Cichlids Size

A mature African cichlid may grow up to 4 to 6 inches.

African Cichlid Habitat and Tank Conditions

African cichlid types

To make the conditions hospitable for the fish, you have to copy their native environment. The Cichlids are usually found to be living in the gaps between the rocks in their native place.

To set up an aquarium for Cichlids, you have to create many hideout places for them. You can use caves and even rocks for this. Make sure the rocks are properly glued together, use safe aquarium glue, to avoid any mishappening.

Conditions Parameters
Water Temperature 75-85°F
Water pH 7.8-8.6
Water Hardness 4-6 dH
Plants Java fern, Anubias and Amazon Swords
Substrate fine-grained
Lightning Moderate
Nature of Water moving

You only need filter and heater in equipment to make the conditions stable and hospitable for them. These filters will be enough to keep water moving and for creating small currents. You can use the air pump to create a strong current.

The heater should be enough for the size of your tank. Don’t use under gravel filter as fine gravels are not suitable for them. Also, make sure the filter can process water 3-5 times an hour.

African Cichlid Tank Size

What size tank do cichlids need?

The tank size for African Cichlid varies from specie to specie. Smaller Cichlid, like electric yellow Cichlid, needs a minimum of 30 gallons tank. If you want to add more yellow Cichlids, 3 gallons for each fish will be required for each fish.

In contrast, the larger ones like blue Cichlids need a 50 gallons tank. They are active swimmers, and if they don’t have ample space, they can get more aggressive. Always remember to research your species and their needs before deciding the size of the tank.

African Cichlid Tank Mates

If you are keeping Cichlids for the first time, I will suggest you go with one in the beginning. They are aggressive and can harm or kill the other fish of the same species if threatened.

If you want to keep them with others, then make sure they share the same size and temperament. Otherwise, your Cichlid will attack the smaller or peaceful fish and turn them into a meal.

African catfish are perfect for them as they are bottom dwellers and fast swimmers. They can defend themselves.

If you want to keep more than one Cichlid, make enough hiding places or caves for them to claim their territory. Also, the tank should be large enough for them to swim without crossing each other’s territory.

While mixing different species of Cichlids, don’t put African and South American Cichlids together. They are raised in different water conditions, and their immune systems are different. They can make each other sick.

African Cichlid Diet and Food

African Cichlids can have different diets. It usually depends on their species. Some of them are herbivores like Tilapia, while some are insectivores like Peacock Cichlids. Some feed only on small fishes such as Butterfly Cichlids. In contrast, some can have a mix of two or all three diets. Like Yellow Cichlids, they feed on meat and plants.

Research about the specie of your fish before feeding them anything. In your aquarium, you can also feed them with flakes as supplements. Apart from that, you can add bloodworms, wafers, or live food.

For the herbivores, you can feed them raw fruits and vegetables. You can also give algae pellets or wafers to the bottom dwellers.

African Cichlid Care

Red African cichlid fish

To keep your Cichlids healthy, you should know about their diseases. Always look out for the symptoms. It will help in early diagnosis and cure. Let us take a look at the commonly found diseases in fish.


Disease Symptoms Cause
Gill Flukes Breathing difficulties Flatworm parasite – slime-covered around the gills
Malawi Bloat Abdomen swelling – kidney or liver problems
Cotton Wool Disease White growths Fungus – due to poor water conditions
Hexamita Loss of appetite and lesions Parasite and poor water quality
Swim Bladder Disease Difficulty to stay submerged Physical injury or poor nutrition
Tuberculosis White blotches and a loss of appetite
White Spot (Ich) White spots Parasite


  • Clean the tank
  • Change the water in every 1-2 weeks
  • Check toxin level and try to reduce the nitrate level
  • Don’t put Cichlids from a different origin in the same tank as they have different immunity

Now, you know how do you take care of African cichlids.

Breeding African Cichlids

African Cichlids can be bred in captivity if the conditions are suitable. They also perform cross-breeding as in captivity, there are fewer males of the same breed. In the breeding season, make sure the water parameters of the tank are consistent.

To encourage breeding, avoid adding any new fish to the tank. The male African Cichlids show different moves to attract female Cichlid. Their colors are usually brighter at this time.

All the Cichlids lay eggs. They lay eggs in the safety of a cave and guard it, or some of them are mouthbrooders. They carry them in their mouth until it’s time to hatch. It takes around 3 weeks.

You can separate the eggs from the main tank as the parents, or other Cichlids can eat them. Once the eggs are hatched, the mother fish take care of the fries for one or two weeks. After that, she leaves and is ready to breed again.

The color of fry is fully visible within 3 months, and they will be ready to breed in a year. However, both of these qualities depend from specie to specie.

Should You Keep African Cichlids?

African Cichlids are not for the aquarium that has peace-loving and small-sized fishes. They are aggressive and can hunt small fish for food.

The experienced aquarist should only keep them. They are beautiful, active, and will keep you entertained and add vividness to your aquarium at the same time. Once you keep them, you will know why they are so popular among the aquarists.

Are you planning to keep African Cichlids for your aquarium? What are the qualities that you loved most about them? Let us know in the comment section below.