African Cichlids

Amy Tokic
by Amy Tokic
fast facts

About African Cichlids

Aquarium Size
Large (50+ gal)
Swimming Region
Fish Water Condition
Varies depending on species
Suitable Tank Mates
Various species of African Cichlids
Difficulty Of Care
Weekly care
Top Breed
African Cichlids General Description

African cichlids are considered to be one of the most diverse, intelligent, active and colorful families of freshwater fish in the modern aquarium hobby. Most species are also fairly hardy and are perfect for both novice and experienced aquarists. They can be a bit more aggressive than your average tropical fishes, though, so not all types of African cichlids will get along well with other tank mates.

That said, it is very important that aquarists carefully research each species’ specific requirements before attempting to raise them.Whether it’s which other species they tolerate or what food they need to eat, it’s crucial to get all the details right if you want your cichlids to thrive. To find out if any of the varieties of African cichlids is the right choice for your aquarium, read on.

African cichlids are considered to be one of the most diverse, intelligent, active and colorful families of freshwater fish in the modern aquarium hobby.


As their name suggests, most species of African cichlids originate from one of Africa’s three great lakes – Lake Malawi, Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika. Even though they make up just one branch of the enormous and diverse Cichlid family, these freshwater fishes come in many different types and varieties. Some African cichlids thrive in the depths of the Lake Malawi, finding their home 490 feet under the surface, whereas others prefer shallow waters.


African cichlids come in a dazzling array of colors ranging from red, blue, orange, yellow, green, brown and black. In fact, it’s precisely their stunning variety of vibrant colors what makes this family of fishes so popular among aquarium owners.

Colors of African cichlid differ between sexes, and males will be much more flamboyant than females, who tend to be a bit toned down in comparison. The vibrancy of the colors of your fish will also be a good indicator of their health. Fishes whose colors are dull or seem faded are highly likely to be sick, as healthy African cichlid has bright scales.

Maintenance and care
Despite their highly exotic appearance, African cichlids are actually one of the hardiest families of freshwater fish. In fact, they are resistant to most diseases that plague other species of freshwater fish and can easily live for 5 to 8 years in a well maintained aquarium.

Whenever you’re introducing a new species of fish into your tank, you should pay attention to what their original habitat was and try to recreate the conditions as closely as possible. Of course, in the majority (if not all) cases, the fish you’ll be keeping are bred in captivity, but it doesn’t mean that their needs are not the same as they are in the wild. There are many different types of African cichlids, but, in general, they all have similar requirements.

The aquarium in which these fishes live should be spacious enough. Most varieties are around 6 inches in size when fully mature, and will do well in a 20 gallon tank. Those who are slightly bigger and grow to be about 8 inches in size should have a 30 gallon tank. As for the water inside your aquarium setup, these fishes need moving water to be happy. For some species, the current generated from the filter will be enough, but those like Lionhead Cichlid or Nigerian Green Cichlid will need a water or an air pump to mimic the stronger currents of their river habitat.

The water in the great African lakes is actually quite hard, and these cichlids will prefer it to soft water. The ph of the water should be between 7.8 and 8.5, depending on the specific variety you have. Naturally, the temperature of water in their place of origin is warm, so you’ll have to make sure the heater keeps water toasty at a temp of 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit (24 to 29.4 degrees Celsius).

In their natural habitat, African cichlids dwell in lake bottoms littered with vast amounts of rock and rubble. It is advisable to recreate this type of atmosphere in the aquarium. Not only will this help most species feel at home, but it will also minimize territorial fights because each fish will have an ample number of hiding places to choose from to guard as its own. They will also like to dig at the bottom of the tank, so it’s advisable you choose a fine aquarium substrate that won’t cause injury.

Another important thing to keep in mind when keeping African cichlids is that they are aggressive and territorial. For this reason, they are best kept in aquariums with their own kind as they can often harass and sometimes kill easier going species of fish. When matching various species in an aquarium it is important to carefully research their specific water requirements, temperaments and regions beforehand. A general rule of thumb is not to mix fish from different regions of Africa.


African cichlids are gregarious eaters and will readily devour most types of foods. They should be fed on a varied diet consisting of both frozen and processed foods like pellets, brine shrimp, bloodworms and beef heart.

Despite their highly exotic appearance, African cichlids are actually one of the hardiest families of freshwater fish.


The various species of African cichlids have vastly different and extremely interesting breeding habits. For the most part they are parental and zealously guard their eggs and young from other fish.

Aquarium varieties

Electric Yellow Cichlid, Electric Blue Cichlid, Lake Victoria Cichlid, Red Zebra Cichlid, Moorei Cichlid, Blue Peacock Cichlid, Hap Cichlid, Buffalo Head Cichlid, Mbuna Mixed Cichlid, etc.

Photo credit: Julian Matz/Wikimedia; Chrumps/Wikimedia
Amy Tokic
Amy Tokic

Amy Tokic, Editor of, is a passionate animal lover and proud pet parent of Oscar, a Shih Tzu/Chihuahua cross, and Zed, a Japanese Chin. Her love of animals began in kindergarten, when she brought her stuffed dog Snoopy into class with her every day. Now, she writes about her adventures in pet ownership and tirelessly researches products, news and health related issues she can share with other animal enthusiasts. In her free time, Amy loves perusing used book and record stores, obsessing over the latest pet products available and chasing squirrels with wild abandon (a habit attributed to spending too much time with her pooches).

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