African cichlids are beautiful freshwater fish that come in a variety of vibrant hues and sizes. They are generally aggressive, and so, we don’t recommend them for beginners.

We have covered all you need to know about African cichlid species in this article – their diet, care guide, mode of breeding, and everything in between.

Let’s get down to business and share them with you.

Stats

Location Asia, Africa, South America
Lifespan 10 Years
Minimum Tank Size 20 gallons
Temperament Aggressive
Diet Omnivore
Care Level Intermediate

Species Overview

African cichlids are large freshwater fish endemic to Asia, Africa, and South America. There are numerous species in the African cichlids, each with a unique color and temperament. You can select from the innumerable color morphs and patterns to light up your tank but remember that their color is dependent on the quality of care they receive and their general health.

Typically, African cichlids are aggressive, and the spectrum of their aggression varies with the species. The aggression level of each should be considered when choosing tank mates for these African cichlids.

Although many of these species are readily available in the wild, far fewer species are available in aquariums as pets. Most of the African cichlids you will find in local aquariums are from the water bodies in Lake Malawi in East Africa. The others originate from Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika.

African Cichlids Species

Remember when we said there were numerous African cichlids types? We weren’t kidding. And the key to succeeding with these cichlids is understanding each species – from their color, temperament, behavior, tank set up, and care.

Whether you are a baby aquarist or a seasoned veteran, our advice still stands – learn all you can about the species. To help, we have listed some African cichlid species:

1. Maingano

Maingano cichlids are endemic to the shallow waters of Lake Malawi and have bold blue horizontal stripes. The females have softer colors and more enormous bellies. For best results, keep African cichlids in a tank with lots of hiding places.

2. Zebra Mbuna

Zebra mbunas, also known as zebra cichlids, have a unique coloration. Do you want to guess what it is? Yes, you were right; they have black and white stripes, just like real-life zebras. They are simply stunning and are littered all over the water bodies in Malawi.

3. Orange Zebra

Orange zebra or orange African cichlid is a unique freshwater cichlid that is endemic to Lake Malawi. They love tanks with lots of rocks and vegetation, so it is no surprise that they are found in lakes with rocky layouts and lots of plants.

4. Compressiceps

The compressiceps, also known as the Malawi eyebiter, is one African cichlid species that is stunning and fascinating. They are long, thin, and have a shiny silvery base color. And yes, like all cichlids, they can be very aggressive.

5. Electric Yellow

Electric yellow cichlids are less challenging for beginner aquarists because they are less aggressive than the other African cichlids. These fish are yellow just like their name suggests and have black markings on their fins. They are shorter than other African cichlid species, measuring only three inches.

6. Peacock Cichlids

Peacock cichlids or Aulonocara nyassae are some of the most popular African cichlids. They are reputed for their beauty and have stunning colors that range from dark tans to silver-blue hues. Trust us, they are just the right cichlids to have in your aquarium.

7. Sunshine Peacock

Sunshine peacocks are rare African cichlids endemic to East Africa. Due to their temperaments, they require large tanks – at least 50-gallons for juvenile fish and double the size with mature fish. They spot shimmering hues of yellow and blue.

8. Hap

Hap is short for haplochromis, a type of African cichlid that is popular in the local aquarium. They prefer swimming in the open and are not as aggressive as the other cichlids. It is easy to tell the female Haps apart from male Haps since the former have duller hues.

9. Electric Blue Hap

Electric blue haps are also referred to as the hap ahli. As their name suggests, this African cichlid species comes in vibrant blue hues. Although they are also cichlids, we wouldn’t advise that you place electric blue haps in the same tank as peacock cichlids because they do not do so well together.

10. Kribensis

Kribensis or kribs is one of the smallest African cichlids, measuring at most four inches. They are excellent schooling fish and are less aggressive than most African cichlid species. Kribs are commonly found in the coastal areas of Cameroon and South Nigeria.

11. Blue Dolphin Moorii

Blue dolphin moorii or blue dolphin cichlid is a hump-head African cichlid variety that has shimmering blue scales! They are typically large, measuring around nine to 10 inches. Their large size poses a bit of a challenge for aquarists, so they are best suited for more experienced aquarists.

12. Butterfly

The African butterfly cichlid is a pretty docile cichlid that does excellent in community tanks. They are common to the rivers and lakes in Liberia and Sierra Leone. They are generally small in size and are only about four inches long.

13. Buffalo Head

Buffalo head cichlid is known by a variety of names, including blockhead and lionhead cichlid. They are endemic to the Congo River Basin and favor fast-flowing waters. They are generally more docile than other cichlids and grow to a minimum size of four inches. Lionheads come in a variety of colors like gray, blue, black, and different tan colors.

14. Mbuna

The Mbuna is sometimes referred to as a Malawi cichlid in the aquarium circles. In the wild, they feed mainly on plants. They are also reasonably aggressive – as expected of African cichlids – and love tanks with many rocks and hiding spots.

Appearance

African cichlids come in a stunning array of vibrant hues. Usually, the males have brighter shades than their female counterparts. They use their colors to dazzle the females during the breeding season to get picked as suitable mates.

While we are on the topic of African cichlid colors, you must know that the healthier they are, the more vibrant their hues are. Aside from their overall health, African cichlids also spot brighter colors during their breeding season.

All cichlids have teeth; the fascinating thing is that their dentition differs from the type of food they eat. For example, algae eaters have specialized small rows of teeth to help them scrape the algae off the rocks. Other carnivorous African cichlids have fang-like dentitions to help them enjoy other smaller animals. Every 100 days, these teeth go through a regeneration process to help fix the damage or lost tooth.

African Cichlid Behavior

Like most cichlids, African cichlids are aggressive and territorial. A clear example is Jack Dempsey, that is more aggressive than tetras. We advise against taking cichlid aggression lightly: it can go from zero to a hundred real quick and stress out your other fish. The best line of action will be to get a massive tank with lots of hiding spots to minimize the aggression.

Another delightful thing about African cichlids is that they are very active, always looking to investigate the length and breadth of their tank without fear. Their high activity levels make these cichlids a delight to watch.

African Cichlid Care

– African Cichlid Tank Setup

The best way to set up an African cichlid tank is to mimic their conditions in the wild as best as you can. That means that once you stick to the basics, you will be fine: your tank will be filled with healthy, happy cichlids.

Let’s take a look at the nitty-gritty of setting up a tank for African cichlids properly.

– Tank Size

African cichlids are very active cichlid species with a reputation for being nasty and aggressive. Admittedly, they require a tank large enough to meet their needs. If your cichlid is under six inches long, you can opt for a small tank of around 20 gallons. However, don’t forget that the bigger your fish, the larger the tank you will need.

If you want a school of African cichlids, you will need an even bigger tank. Now, while you can start your juvenile cichlids off with a smaller tank, you will still need to upgrade the tank as they grow. And trust us, they sure do grow and swiftly too.

We always advise aquarists to get a tank with a tight-fitting lid to prevent them from jumping out of the tank and winding up stone dead on your tiles. Yes, you must take into consideration that African cichlids are avid jumpers.

– Water Parameters

Getting your tank water parameters right is a crucial focus area in tank setup. Get it wrong, and your fish could be dead as soon as they hit the water. Once again, we can’t stress the need to study your fish’s natural habitat and use the knowledge to design your aquarium.

Generally, since African cichlids reside in lakes and rivers, they are used to hard water. So, tank water should be a bit hard. As far as pH levels go, the recommended range is between 6.5 and 8.5. If you decide to keep these cichlids with other fish species, you must also consider their preferences.

An easy way to monitor the water parameters is with an aquarium test kit. Luckily, you can get a great test kit from your local pet store at pocket-friendly rates. Use this test kit regularly to ensure that all your tank parameters are within the accepted range.

– Water Flow

The speed of water in your tank should also mimic the African cichlids’ natural current. While some of these cichlids prefer calm, slow-moving water, others tend to favor slightly stronger currents. Hence, there is a need to study your African cichlid and set up its tank with its preference in mind.

One way to replicate the water flow in your tank is to get a powerful tank filter and extra water or air pump.

– Water Quality

Now that you know the proper water parameters, it is time to move on to the next phase of caring for your fish. Ensure that their tank water is cycled correctly, i.e., changed regularly, so that waste and toxic matter do not get a chance to build up. You can carry out this water change weekly or bimonthly, depending on how crowded your tank is.

As you well know, fish waste contains nitrate and ammonia, both of which are poisonous to your fish. Regular water changes keep nitrate levels in check. Remember to disinfect anything that has come in contact with the tank, such as your nets, poles, etc.

– Heat

Your freshwater African cichlid tank should have a regulated water temperature. To help, try and mimic the temperature in the wild. Since African cichlids are tropical fish, they favor warmer waters. So aim for a water temperature of 78-82F for best results.

We recommend getting a tank heater with at least five watts of power per gallon of water in your tank. That way, you can ensure the heater is powerful enough for your tank’s needs. Depending on the size of your tank, you may need to get two heaters.

It is best to place the heater close to the water filter so that every part of the tank gets water with even heat.

– Substrate

Avoid substrates with sharp edges or surfaces that can hurt your cichlid’s abdomen. We recommend that you use a fine grain substrate at the base of your tank. That way, your African cichlids can dig and sift through the sand without getting injured.

– Tank Decoration

Large African cichlids are very aggressive and territorial. Luckily, your tank setup and tank decorations can help reduce this aggression. The first step is to provide them with a large tank. The next is to fill up the tank with several hiding spots.

You can create hiding spots with smooth rocks, upturned flower pots, the base of trees, caves, and so much more. Let your imagination run wild. If you choose to use rocks, fasten them to the tank so that they do not fall over and hurt your fish. While setting up the caves, ensure you leave adequate open space for these avid swimmers to dart across.

African cichlids are very territorial, so having lots of cavities and hiding places is crucial for avoiding conflict. Aquarium plants, furniture, and rocky caves are suitable for this.

African Cichlids Tank Mates

Picking out suitable tank mates for African cichlids can be tricky considering their aggressive nature. However, stick to the rule of thumb of “Don’t keep African cichlids with smaller fish”. They will only serve as snacks for your cichlids. That, or they will end up stressed to death by the African cichlid.

While we are on the topic of fish to avoid placing in your African cichlids’ tank, avoid fish that prefer to swim at the water surface. They will be easy prey for your African cichlid, and since they are defenseless in that state, they will most likely be attacked. Keep South American cichlids out of your African cichlid tank, for example. They may look similar but will probably end up in heated fights.

Now that we have covered fish you shouldn’t place in the same tank as your African cichlid, let’s look at compatible fish. Large bottom feeders can be kept in the same tank as African cichlids.

Alternatively, you can play it safe and run a solo tank (raise only African cichlids). While these may not seem exciting, it is a great way to ensure that no other fish species suffer undue stress. The best part about a solo tank is that you still get to enjoy all of the beauty of cichlids and none of the horror scenes.

Diet

African cichlid species have different dietary preferences; some feast on algae, others greens, and others animals. However, most of them will happily dine on plants and meat in captivity. The key is including a little bit of everything into their food.

Try a variety of tubifex worms, small fish, meat, cichlid pellets, insects, brine shrimp, wafer, and green vegetables. Another touchy area is how often you should feed your African cichlid because overfeeding them can be disastrous. We recommend feeding them small portions of food that they can finish in under three minutes at least twice a day. This way, your fish is well fed without so much waste being produced.

African Cichlids Breeding

Provided with the right conditions, African cichlids will breed in captivity, and because they are capable of cross-breeding, you will find them breeding freely across species. Cross-breeding is something that happens more in captivity than in the wild.

As far as African cichlid conditioning goes, you have to ensure the temperature, pH, hardness, and water quality is top-notch. Then get your male and female pair into the tank.

Oh, one last thing: don’t change the size of the tank, layout, or design once you’ve gotten the pair into the conditioned tank.

– African Cichlid Spawning

Conditioning cichlids will get them in the mood to breed. The male performs the courting ritual, a display of vibrant colors and avid dances. The courtship ritual performed by the male is aimed at attracting the female and it is a delightful scene to watch. Once the eggs are laid, the male stands guard until they are hatched.

We should also let you know that the parental pair become more territorial and aggressive during the breeding season.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, assuming all African cichlids give rise to their young this way. Some hold the fertilized eggs in their mouth till they hatch. Usually, it takes the eggs at least 21 days to hatch.

Generally, the parent cichlids will take care of their young until the fry can stand on their own. However, not all of them have this parental instinct so, if you see that your fish is not taking care of its fry, it may be time to take it out.

Lifespan

The average African cichlid lifespan is 10 years. However, some aquarists say that their cichlids have lived past this mark. The common thing with these aquarists is that the top-notch care they provide their fish with. So if you want your African cichlid to live past that mark too, you simply have to follow our top-notch guide!

How to Raise Healthy, Happy African Cichlids

Raising healthy, happy African cichlids is not as hard as you think. We have outlined all you’d need to know to achieve this:

– Step 1

Start by deciding which African cichlid species you want and learn all about them. Once you do, set up their tank to suit their needs. Get a tank large enough for them, decorate it as it should be, pick out a smooth substrate and ensure the tank filter can handle all the activity in the tank.

– Step 2

Fill your tank up with clean tap water and use a water conditioner to rid it of toxins and harmful chemicals like chlorine. Use an aquarium test kit to ensure the tank water is properly circled.

– Step 3

Create the right temperature with an aquarium heater. You may need two heaters to cater to large tanks. But first, you must identify the correct water temperature for the African cichlid species you have chosen. Check the temperature at least once each week to ensure it is still within range.

– Step 4

Let your tank circle for at least a week so that all the water parameters are within range; then introduce your fish to the tank. But don’t just toss your fish into the tank. Read the next step.

– Step 5

Once you have identified a suitable supplier to get your fish from, go ahead and purchase your cichlid. Leave the African cichlid in the bag they came in and place them in the cycled tank for 15 minutes to acclimatize to the new environment. Then transfer the fish three at a time to the tank making sure that none of the water in the bag gets into your tank. Adding the fish in small bits allows you to see how the filter handles all the new action.

Conclusion

Here are the most important things we covered about African cichlids in this article:

  • African cichlids may be aggressive, but they are also a delight to watch, because of their beautiful colors and impressive swimming skills
  • They are avid swimmers and require large tanks with tight lids
  • They can come in a variety of species, so you can choose which one you want and learn everything about what they need to be taken care of properly
  • With good care, African cichlids can live for up to 10 years.

Like most cichlids, African cichlids are aggressive and best suited for experienced aquarists. You will find helpful information on the best way to raise healthy African cichlids.

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