For beginning aquarists, the African Jewel cichlid might prove to be a handful. Adding these fish to a regular community tank is not the brightest of all ideas. Their innate tendency to aggression makes them suitable for a monospecies aquarium.
But as with any tropical cichlid fish, there is a glimmer of hope that they can live in harmony with other fish. The question is, are you willing to take the risk?
Read on and obtain a better understanding of the African Jewel Cichlid. This article should help you decide if this species is right for you.
Jewel Cichlid Stats
|Scientific Name||Hemichromis bimaculatus|
|Max. Size of Fish||6 inches|
|Colors and Patterns||
|Min. Tank Size||30 gallons|
|Temperature||75 – 80 °F|
|pH||6.5 – 7.5|
|Hardness||4 – 12 dGH|
|Temperament||Aggressive and territorial|
Hemichromis Bimaculatus Background
The Jewel cichlid, scientifically known as Hemichromis bimaculatus — and sometimes called Dwarf Jewel cichlid — belongs to the Cichlidae family of West Africa. Other common names for this species include Jeweled cichlid, African Jewel cichlid, and African Jewelfish.
These stunning fish make fantastic pets for home aquaria, but because of their combative attitude, it is ill-advised to add them to community tanks. You will need to exert major efforts should you wish for these cichlids to live in harmony with other types of fish.
– Whee Do Jewel Fish Come From?
The African Jewel cichlid is widely distributed throughout the west coast of Africa. Albeit rare, some specimens can also be found in the coastal lagoons of Egypt and Algeria. The cichlids live in smaller bodies of water, including rivers and streams that are neither too bright nor too dark.
– Is the African Jeweled Cichlid Getting Extinct?
Fortunately, no. However, the community is not giving the Hemichromis bimaculatus the attention it deserves. One of the chief reasons for them being underrated is their violent nature. These guys can be troublemakers and while this is something to be aware of, it shouldn’t be a reason to give them the brush off.
African Jewel Cichlid Appearance
Although the African Jewel cichlid might be a bellicose species, their beauty is undeniable.
– How Big Do Jewel Fish Get?
The average captive-raised African Jewel cichlid is usually no more than six inches in length, although wild specimens can grow a foot long. The reason for this significant gap size is not yet completely understood, although it is a known fact that all fish species tend to be much larger in the wild.
– Distinct Features and Color
The African Jewel cichlid has a narrow, pointed body. Its head slants upward starting from the mouth. Juveniles have a pronounced bump at the back, but it flattens out as the fish matures.
Jewel cichlids come in two variations:
- one with a red and orange base
- and another in grey and blue
The most popular is the red and orange coloration, although my personal choice would be the latter. Regardless, both variants are covered with either light blue or turquoise spots. These shimmering spots are so stunning to look at under aqua lights! The fish will have the same colors on their fins, but some specimens can have stripes, instead of spots.
Juveniles look lackluster when you first purchase them but with the right living conditions, your Jeweled cichlids will grow to look more vivid each day.
– How Do You Tell the Difference Between Males and Females?
As with most fish species, males have some control over their coloration. When the breeding season comes around, the flirtatious males make themselves more vibrant and saturated since they are competing for the females’ attention.
I have also seen these cichlids go from bright red to purple due to their excitement. Other than that, there is hardly any major gender disparity, making it hard to distinguish a male from a female Jewel cichlid. Both males and females have coveted iridescent spots, as well.
Jewel Cichlid Care
– African Jewel Cichlid Diet
Managing these cichlid fish’s aggressive behavior has more to do with how much and how often you feed them rather than what you give them. Jeweled cichlids are not picky eaters. They tend to accept all types of commercial food. On the downside, they are crabby when hungry.
While these fish will accept flakes and pellets, it is best to break the monotony and offer your pets a variety of frozen or live food at least three days a week. A protein-rich diet consisting of bloodworms, Tubifex worms, and brine shrimp is a surefire way to help the fish maintain their beautiful coloration.
– Water Parameters
When it comes to Jewel cichlid care, one of the factors that need utmost priority is the water conditions. Since they are tropical fish, you will need to replicate their natural environment. The optimal parameters that will ensure a close match are the following:
- Water temperature: 75 – 80 F
- pH Level: 6.5 – 7.5
- Water hardness: 4 – 12 dKH
The water hardness should be neutral ━ not too hard nor too soft. It should not exceed 12 dKH. Staying within the recommended range is as vital as keeping the tank water clean.
– Health Risks
Common diseases that affect African Jeweled cichlids include Ich, swim bladder disease, and intestinal parasites. These diseases are often treatable and preventable. As with most aquarium fish, the key to keeping your fish in tiptop shape is to provide them with a nutritious diet and maintain the recommended parameters.
Jewel Cichlid Tank Setup
In Africa where they hail from, Jeweled cichlids live in sandy or muddy waters found at the bottom of streams, rivers, or lakes. We can use this information to establish the best home for these cichlid fish.
– What Size Tank Do You Need for a Jewel Cichlid?
Again, I would like to reiterate that the African Jeweled cichlid is best kept in a single-species or cichlid-exclusive tank. If you are to keep only one fish, you will need a tank that can at least hold 30 gallons of water.
On a side note, you will need to keep a small group of these cichlid fish if you wish for them to breed, as they can be difficult to sex while young. It is recommended that you opt for a 55-gallon tank to mitigate their tempers.
As discussed earlier, aggression can also be rooted in their strong parental care. An even larger-sized tank is crucial if other cichlid fish species are present.
– How Do You Decorate a Cichlid Fish Tank?
In addition to space, it is vital to replicate the original habitat of these territory-dependent fish. So be generous when it comes to decorations. Rock formations and caves are splendid options for their tank. These decors mimic their natural environment, as well as also offer them privacy.
Cichlids, however, are notorious for destroying live aquarium plants. The fish would dig them out and damage the fragile leaves. Even fake ones will be uprooted, too.
– Can You Keep Plants with Cichlids?
Of course, you can. Although cichlids have a bad reputation for destroying plant life, there are several plant species you can keep in your African Jewel cichlid tank. These include the following:
- Anubias: Anubias come in varying sizes, leaf shapes, and colors. These plants are a cinch to care for as they are undemanding in terms of nutrition and water parameters. What’s more, they easily attach to stones, driftwood, and other decorations.
- Microsorum Pteropus: These hardy plants are also an excellent choice for a cichlid tank since they cling onto stones and other decorations.
- Crinum species: Plants of this genus are robust enough to be used in a cichlid tank, including the bulbous Crinum calamistratum. This specific plant, however, requires more lighting than other plants of its genus.
- Vallisneria: The plants of this genus are planted into the substrate to be used as background plants. Although its leaves are not as hardy as those of anubias, its quick growth can compensate for predation.
– Do Cichlids Prefer Sand or Gravel?
When it comes to choosing the substrate for your cichlid tank, a wide array of substrates are available for use ━ sand, gravel, coral sand, crushed corals, etc.
For African Jewel cichlids, a sand substrate would be best since they spend most of their time on the bottom scavenging for food and making love nests. Rougher substrates, such as gravel and rocks, could damage their scales given their propensity for fighting.
The pinnacle of fine substrates is aragonite sand, which is the crystal form of calcium carbonate found in nature. With calcium and carbonate ions leaching out of the crystallized sand, it helps increase the hardness and pH of the water.
Lastly, use fluorescent or LED lighting as your aquarium’s viewing light for a better scenographic effect.
– Equipment: What is Needed for a Cichlid Tank?
African Jewel cichlids have ravenous appetites. When their hunger is not satiated, these beautiful gems turn into little killing machines. Since they tend to eat a lot, they also produce waste just as much, more so than other fish of similar size.
Therefore, a robust filtration system is imperative to ensure good water quality. A 55-gallon tank would need a filter that can cycle at least 550 gallons of water per hour.
African Jewelfish Behavior and Temperament
Cichlids are notorious for being a grumpy bunch as far as aquarium fish go and the African Jewel cichlid is no exception. But what exactly triggers these cichlid fish to behave the way they do? In this section, let us get to know and understand the real reason behind the species’ behavior and temperament.
– Jeweled Cichlids Are High on the Aggressive Scale
Territoriality is the chief reason that makes the African Jewel cichlid aggressive than most fish of similar size. Aggression manifests when a fish tries to enter their domain.
Once these bullies are provoked, you will either see them nipping at other fish or worse, engaging in a full-blown fight that could lead to injury or death to the other fish. Aggression also rears its ugly head when these cichlid fish are starving.
– What Do You Do With an Aggressive African Cichlid?
While their hostile and violent behavior seems disheartening, there are ways you can control and manage their aggression to avoid certain unpleasant situations.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to provide these cichlid fish enough room in the tank. With ample space, your fish can look around and choose where to stake their claim, instead of fighting for limited space. This helps reduce confrontations with other species.
Another excellent strategy is to avoid stocking your aquarium with bottom-dwelling species. Although these cichlid fish are quite active and will roam all over the tank, they tend to guard their chosen spot.
– African Jewel Cichlids Love Digging Through the Substrate
Excessive digging is another behavior Jewel cichlids are known for, so why do they do it?
Jeweled cichlids dig or sift through the substrate for five reasons:
- to create a place to hide
- to mark their territory
- to indicate that they are ready to spawn
- to make a nest for future offspring
- to uncover food
As you can see, it is impossible to stop these cichlid fish from digging. So let this information serve as a warning when you add live plants to your aquarium.
– Jewel Cichlids Protect Their Babies
I would like to end this discussion about their behavior and temperament by putting these cichlid fish in a good light. If there is one thing I love about this species, it is the fact that they exhibit exemplary parental care.
The African Jewel cichlid are remarkable parents in the animal kingdom, just like most cichlids. These fish will fight tooth and nail to protect their offspring, unlike other species of aquarium fish that eat their eggs and fry. Be aware of a pregnant Jewel cichlid!
Jewel Cichlid Tank Mates
Can Jewel Cichlids go in a community tank? This question has been raised countless times, but there is no definite answer to this question, and aquarists all over the world make contradictory statements.
While I have heard horror stories out there, some hobbyists claim to have had fantastic luck merging Jeweled cichlids with other species. According to these success stories, you can pair the African Jewel cichlid with barbs, tetras, and other cichlids. Don’t stock your aquarium with smaller species of fish as they would be eyed as food.
The best way to maintain peace in a community aquarium is to provide a tank large enough for each species to live in its own space. Equally important, you will need to supply adequate food and keep tabs on the water parameters to ensure there is no reason for aggression.
While this is a possible setup for several aquarists, it is quite challenging for beginners. For the record, the risk of these fish killing their tank mates is sky-high. Beginning hobbyists should never gamble with the faint possibility of peace. At the end of the day, it is more prudent to keep Jeweled cichlids in a single-species or an exclusive cichlid community tank.
Jewel Cichlid Breeding
African Jewel cichlids make lifelong bonds, which is a rare and interesting behavior observed in fish. These cichlids are hostile to anyone who is not their chosen mate.
To increase your odds of success, we recommend:
- Raising the water temperature to 82 °F
- Perform a 50 percent water change to simulate the rainy season where these fish are native to
- Keep three females and one male in a 100-gallon tank
If you find signs of breeding, you may use a tank divider inside the community aquarium instead of transferring the bonded pair to a smaller tank. Jewel cichlids can become quite agitated and aggressive throughout the spawning period, thereby it helps to have some sort of shield to avoid confrontations.
– How Do Jewel Cichlids Rear Their Young?
Despite their bellicose nature, Jewel cichlids are attentive parents. The male will defend the spawning site while the female takes care of the eggs.
The fertilized Jewel cichlid eggs will hatch in about three to four days. From then on, both parents will watch over their brood for about a month. The male will protect the fry by creating a barrier which no other fish will be allowed to cross. At this time, it is possible to feed the fry with infusoria.
The parents will leave the juveniles as soon as they are about a centimeter long.
– Can You Breed Jewel Cichlids with Other Cichlids?
Yes, it is possible but it is a cruel experiment. Hybridization can compromise the health of future-generation fish due to mixed genes. There is no telling what kind of problems could arise.
The African Jewel cichlid is an amazing choice if you are looking for a beautiful, entertaining pet fish. Should you wish to keep these cichlid fish in a monospecies tank, here are points to keep in mind:
- It is nearly impossible for you to stock this species in a community aquarium as they tend to be extremely territorial and aggressive, even more so when a bonded pair is taking care of their fry.
- This species will stop at nothing when it comes to protecting their young.
- Jeweled cichlids require a big tank to keep the aggression at bay. A 55-gallon tank should be spacious enough to allow them to move with ease and form territories.
- The water quality, diet, and overall tank environment will influence your fish’s lifespan.
So long as their needs are met, Jeweled cichlids will stay happy in its home. You can tell if they are happy when their beautiful colors get even more pronounced. Will you go ahead and set a tank for them?
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