Cichlid fish are an exceptionally diverse, vibrant, and vivid species. These bright and colorful fish range in size from just a few inches to over three feet long.

Fish enthusiasts favor cichlids as they are hardy and relatively easy to look after.

The Cichlid family offers a profusion of shapes, sizes, and stunning colors and patterns. In addition, these active and intriguing fish can be very personable as they readily greet their keepers and mooch for food. These unusual traits make cichlids a popular aquarium fish.

This article tells you more about this large, fascinating fish family with its innumerable species. Ichthyologists are continuing to discover yet more members of this family.

What Are Cichlids?

Originally from Africa and Central and South America’s salty lakes, Cichlids are a large family of bony, freshwater fish. Cichlids, pronounced ‘sick-lid’ with a short ‘i’ sound, belong to the family of Cichlidae. Cichlid is the ancient Greek word for fish.

Over five percent of all species of vertebrates are Cichlids. Although the precise number of Cichlid breeds is not yet known, scientists believe there are more than 1,000 species in the Cichlidae family.

It is staggering that more than 800 types of Cichlids live in just three lakes in Africa: Victoria, Malawi, and Tanganyika. Lake Malawi’s most famous cichlid group is the rock-dwelling mbuna, or “rockfish.”

Cichlids come in a multitude of brilliant colors and have a classical fish-shaped body. Some species are as small as two inches, but the largest Cichlid, Boulengerochromis microlepis or the Emperor Cichlid, can be as big as three feet.

While many Cichlids are a favorite with aquarium enthusiasts, some are considered an essential source of protein in many countries. Tilapia, a cichlid native to Africa or Asia, is valued as food in the tropics and subtropical and temperate climates.

Some Astonishing Facts About Cichlids

Unlike some other freshwater fish, Cichlids have a natural feeding territory that they defend from intruders.

Cichlid species can live together peacefully. About 250 of the 300 or so identified fish species in Lake Malawi, Africa, are Cichlids.

During the reproductive season, the male Cichlids can be pretty aggressive. They will sometimes lock mouths with other males to try and push them to the bottom.

Some cichlids communicate with each other by changing color. Marine biologists have documented vocalization in at least 16 types of Cichlids.

Aquaculturists have found they can alter the sex of some cichlid species by adding hormones to the water or changing the temperature of the water in the tank. By doing so, they create single-sex tanks that prevent overpopulation.

Cichlid Habitat

Cichlids seem to know no borders. They are found from southern Texas in America to Argentina in South America. They are also native to Africa and parts of the Middle East; Madagascar, Sri Lanka, and the south coast of India. However, Cichlids are not native to Australia or the Far East.

This species requires water warmer than 68 F, so they don’t generally live at high elevations. Although typically a freshwater fish, one Cichlid can be found in California’s Salton Sea, where salinity levels are higher than the ocean!

Cichlid habitats are very varied, and you can find them in lakes, rivers, swamps, and even puddles and ditches. However, they are particular in their preferences: some live only among the rocks, others in open water, and others along sandy beaches.

Each Cichlid type is distinct in the way it adapts to its environment. They have developed behaviors and tooth structures according to their lifestyle and diet. As each species has specific dietary requirements, Cichlid breeds do not often compete for food. Various Cichlids thus coexist peacefully.

What Do Cichlids Eat?

Cichlid’s diet is as varied as the species. Some Cichlids are herbivores, while others are predatory. Each breed’s physical features are adapted to the food it eats.

The herbivorous Cichlids feed on algae and plants. The carnivorous ones prey on small wildlife, other fish, and insect larvae, while detritivores eat all types of organic material.

Many cichlids swim through algae beds or the mud floor and filter out zooplankton and small plant matter from the surrounding water. Larger cichlid species eat hard-shelled mollusks by crushing the shell with their strong jaws or sucking out the prey.

A few Cichlid species eat the eggs or larvae of other cichlid species. They target mothers who store the eggs safely in their mouth and ram her repeatedly to make her release the eggs so they can gobble them up.

Cichlid Lifespan and Reproduction

Cichlid behaviors in feeding, reproduction and parental care are complex, and many species protect their feeding and breeding territories.

The Cichlid exhibits different mating methods, from monogamy to pure promiscuity. There are generally two ways they carry their eggs. Most species are substrate spawners, and the male fertilizes the string of eggs the female lays.

This fish is a very unusual breed among fish because the parents raise their young. Many species will carefully build and maintain a nest to lay their eggs. They search out food and bring it back to their babies.

Many Cichlid breeds are mouth-brooders. When a female lays her eggs near a male, he fertilizes them. She then collects the eggs in her mouth and swims away. The eggs incubate and hatch in her mouth. Some mouth brooders will carry the eggs in their mouth even after they hatch.

When danger approaches, the mother can signal her young to swim back into her mouth for safety.

Cichlids develop in three stages:

  1. The egg stage
  2. The wriggler stage (hatched but not free-swimming)
  3. The fry stage (free-swimming; still dependent on the parents)

If they survive the juvenile phase, Cichlids live from 10 years to 18 years in an aquarium.

Types of Cichlids

Cichlids are an attractive, active, and generally very hardy species. The Cichlid family offers the most extensive range of shapes, sizes, along with some stunning colors and patterns. Their highly complex yet ritualistic behavior further compliments these characteristics.

This species is intriguing, and many Cichlids can be very personable, readily greeting their keepers and begging for food. All these traits make cichlids a favorite aquarium fish.

Cichlids are a large family of fish with innumerable species. Here is a list of some breeds commonly available in pet shops.

1. Angelfish Cichlid

Angelfish are one of the calmest Cichlid breeds. These delicate fish with diamond-shaped, leaf-like bodies are popular with beginners and experienced fishkeepers.

2. Convict Cichlids

Also called Zebra Cichlids or Black Convict Cichlids, Convict Cichlids get their name from their bodies’ black stripes and gray backgrounds.

3. Discus Cichlid

The circular, orb-shaped Discus cichlid is very particular about water parameters. Thus it is best suited to more experienced fish enthusiasts.

4. Firemouth Cichlid

Firemouth cichlids get their name from the orange-red coloration under their jaws. This breed is a good choice for beginners as it adapts well to different water conditions.


5. Green Terror Cichlid

The Green Terror is spectacular with its bright green and blue metallic sheen. However, as its name suggests, this large Cichlid can get aggressive.

6. Jack Dempsey Cichlid

Jack Dempsey Cichlids are named for the famous boxer. This energetic fish’s exquisite coloring develops as it ages. This breed prefers to dig in the substrate or hide in caves.

7. Oscar Cichlids

Oscar cichlids grow quite large. These clever fish are well-known for their personality. They are happy to let their owners touch them, while some will even take food from their owner’s hands.

8. Red Devil Cichlids

Red Devil Cichlids are tiny, charming characters. They form close bonds with owners and even learn tricks. Just be watchful of these aggressive fish, as they can bite if you get too close!

9. Texas Cichlids

Texas Cichlids are the only Cichlid species native to the U.S. These beautiful fish are notable for their iridescent cream, turquoise, blue and green spots, and markings.

10. Livingstonii Cichlids

The Livingstonii Cichlid, also known as Livingston’s Hap, has a distinctive, spotted color pattern. It is a popular tank fish with intermediate and experienced Cichlid lovers.


Cichlids are probably the fish family with the most species. Scientists have discovered more than 1500 varieties, while other breeds are not yet fully classified. Let’s recap what we have read about them.

  • Cichlids are the largest and most diverse fish family.
  • The African Cichlids are certainly the most colorful among them.
  • Some African Cichlids and South American Cichlids reach an impressive size and are excellent specimens for a large show tank.
  • This breed will make a spectacular addition to any home aquarium.
  • However, some Cichlid species are too large for the home aquarium.
  • Most Cichlids have fascinating characteristics and are delightful to observe.
  • Cichlids are unique in their parenting style and care for their young.
  • Cichlids are both herbivores and carnivores.

Cichlids are popular among aquarium enthusiasts as they are hardy fish that get along well with other fish and are very engaging.

After learning more about them, you may like to add some of these colorful specimens to your tank.

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