How to Care for African Cichlids?


African Cichlids Care

African Cichlids are by all means the most spectacular and colorful tank fish you can think of.

That is why you don’t have to look beyond these magnificent aquatic animals when looking to add some color and vibrancy to your aquarium.

African Cichlids are a diverse group of fish consisting of more than 100 species. Each species has its own unique appearance starting from patterns to coloration all the way to different adult sizes.

African Cichlids are generally harder to maintain in comparison to other tropical species. Most of them are larger in size and more aggressive than guppies, gouramis, and tetras among others.

This should tell that these fish are best suited to an experienced fish keeper and not a beginner.

These fish are native to the Great Lakes Region particularly Lake Tanganyika, Lake Victoria, and Lake Malawi. They are members of the Cichlidae family that comprises all other cichlids in the animal kingdom.

Most of them are found in Africa with a handful of them living in South America and some parts of Asia.

The reason these fish are becoming increasingly popular is that they are some of the colorful species of fish available today. This means you cannot fail to get that which suits your needs and your tank. Also, they are quite hardy.

That is why they always survive in almost any situation. In addition to that, these fish are social and including them in your aquarium could turn that environment a little bit lively.

The most important thing about African Cichlids is that they are available in many stores that sell tropical fish. But you may find yourself looking around for quite some time before stumbling on the larger and rarer species.

Even though they are available in stores, these fish are more expensive than the rest of tropical fish species. Their prices are determined by how large and colorful a particular species looks.

But you can find the cheapest ones at around $5 to $15 while the costly ones could go as high as $100. Obviously, healthy adults will fetch more money than juveniles.

Learn more about the African Cichlids in this care guide to have a better understanding about them including their perfect tank conditions, diet, breeding, potential tank mates, tank maintenance and their general behavior.

African Cichlids Fish Tank Conditions

When setting up the tank for your African Cichlids, make sure that it mimics or imitates their natural habitat in the wild. The tank should be decorated with several rocks and a few small caves.

These features play a very significant role in maintaining the natural environment where the fish will thrive the best. Additionally, the African Cichlids need small caves and rocks in their tank set up to provide them with the best locations for hiding and spawning.

Below are the correct tank conditions that you should always have at your fingertips when setting up your aquarium:

African Cichlids Water Parameters

Given that African Cichlids are aggressive and territorial, it is important to provide them with a larger tank. This tank should be able to provide enough space to swim around or hide just in of any aggression from the other fish.

Therefore, the ideal tank size should have a capacity of at least 30 gallons. But a 55 gallon can be even better considering that you will have to introduce a few tank mates to give your African Cichlids some company.

Water temperature in the tank is another important tank parameter that should not be overlooked. As you know water is the ultimate factor that ensures the survival of fish anywhere, even in the wild.

That being said, the recommended water temperature in the tank should range between 75 degrees to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (about 24 to 27 degrees Celsius). With the right temperature ranges, you can rest assured that your African Cichlid will thrive well in its tank environment.

Intense lighting in the tank is not so important in regard to keeping African Cichlids. Instead, you can pay attention to the other parameters such as the pH and water hardness. For the African Cichlids, the ideal pH should range from 8.0 to 9.0.

These figures show that your fish prefer alkaline water although they can still do well in neutral or acidic water. When it comes to the water hardness, make sure that it does not exceed 10 to 25 dKH or 180ppm-450 ppm.

The good news about tank water parameters is that African Cichlids can withstand a wide range of tank water parameters. This is attributed to the fact that these fish are commercially raised under various parameters.

Sometimes you may resort to using Kent Marine Cichlid buffers or Cichlid Chemistry in order to maintain the recommended water chemistry parameters. Most of the aquarium hobbyists turn to crushed coral gravel in a bid to maintain the right alkalinity and PH.

Tank Size for African Cichlids

As mentioned earlier, African Cichlids have the potential to grow larger in size. Also, the males have a tendency of becoming territorial especially during the mating season or feeding time.

For that reason, you should think of housing your fish in a tank that has a capacity of about 55 gallons utmost. In addition to that, your tank must have wider footprints as opposed to the tall and narrow ones because they provide more bottom space for your fish to occupy.

Now that you are aware that African Cichlids come in more than 100 species, each one of those has its own size when they are adults. The size of an individual species should dictate the number of fish you are placing in your tank.

For instance, the Dwarf African Cichlids from Lake Tanganyika can live in 30 to 50-gallon tanks as communities or in species aquaria of about 15 to 20 gallons.

Water Filtration for African Cichlids

Water filtration is necessary for every fish tank. This process ensures that the water in the tank is on the constant move besides creating a small current. But if your tank is housing African Cichlids with their origin from the rivers, a stronger air or water pump will be necessary to help create stronger water current.

The undergravel or external filter should be fitted on the tank to help with the filtration process. An external filter is a better choice because your African Cichlids are likely to destroy the under gravel filter owing to their habit of digging at the bottom of the tank.

Also, installing an under gravel filter will require a relatively larger grain size to be placed on top of the gravel and this is yet another extra expense.

A good tank filter should process all the water within the tank three or five times in one hour. Take this example; a filter placed in a 20-gallon aquarium will have to process not less than 60 gallons of tank water per hour.

For better results, take into account the manufacturers’ instructions when choosing and installing the filter. Otherwise, good filtration and a 10 percent water change after every two weeks are two important activities that you should take seriously if you really want to maintain water quality in the tank.

Substrate for African Cichlids Tank

Another important factor to consider when setting up a tank for your African Cichlids is their habitat. These fish occupy virtually all the niche associated with freshwater fish. That explains better why they are found in boulder fields, open water, weed beds, and sand flats.

Some species go as far as occupying or breeding in empty snail-shells, hence acquiring the name shell-dwellers. As such, it is prudent that you get to understand all natural habitats for different species of African Cichlids that you intend to introduce in your aquarium.

All these vital information should make you decide which substrate to include in your tank. First of all the bottom side of the aquarium must be well decorated using rocks or other objects that create small caves, overhangs, and grottos for the fish to hide.

Placing driftwood at the bottom of your tank is a good idea but you need to be cautious because some types tend to alter the alkalinity and the pH.

Sand and gravel are the most recommended forms of substrates for any given aquarium. However, most of the Cichlids have a habit of digging and moving sand and gravel around the tank to form some decorations.

This is not a bad idea because you can as well decorate the sand and gravel around the rocks on the bottom of your tank to entice your fish. In other instances, you may use aquarium silicone to glue small rocks together in a move aimed at preventing cave forming when your fish dig the gravel or sand.

Plants for the African Cichlids

It is not a sound idea to cultivate some species of plants in the tank. African Cichlids are known to eat a wide range of live plants when they come across them in the tank. This does not mean that you should avoid including some vegetation in your aquarium.

In fact, you can introduce a few plants that often get nibbed by these fish while in the tank. Some of the plants that are able to withstand your African Cichlids include anubias, Java fern, and Amazon Swords or any other plant with harder leaves.

African Cichlids Fish Feeding

African Cichlids consume different things in their natural habitats such as insects, plants, and meat. In this regard, a number of species will be glad to have both meats and plants included in their diet.

Different species eat different foods. For instance, there are insectivores, omnivores carnivores, and herbivores when they are in the wild. Always make an effort of researching specific species of African Cichlids to know their diet before buying them to keep in your tank.

Even though African Cichlids have different diets when they are in the wild, the truth of the matter is that they will be comfortable with eating flake food from the stores. But you can include some of their favorite meals alongside fish food.

For instance, you can provide them with granulated food, live or frozen food and homemade food to spice up their diet. Here are different types of food you that you can feed your African Cichlids on:

African Cichlids Commercial Flake and Granulates Food

You can also feed your African Cichlids on commercial and granulated food. This commercially prepared fish food has all the essential nutrients that your cichlids need to grow well.

Examples include:

  • NewLife Spectrum Cichlid Formula(250 grams)
  • Northfin Cichlid Formula-1 mm 250 grams
  • F.S Cichlid Supreme-Sinking Pellets (3.0 MM) Bulk-Aquarium Fish Food

Home Made Food for African Cichlids

Homemade food for the fish is suitable to those African Cichlids that are mostly herbivores. This type of food may include a few raw fruits and vegetable matter found around the house.

Best Live / Frozen Food for African Cichlids

Most of the African Cichlids are omnivores, hence the need to provide them with enough food. You can feed them on live foods such as small shrimp, insect larvae, small fish and bloodworms. You may as well as include frozen foods like brine shrimp and tubifex worms in their diet.

Some species of African Cichlids can feed on vegetable matter algae wafers, plants such as Anacharis and spirulina pellets and many more. Make sure that you provide your fish with enough food that they can consume in less than 3 minutes, two times a day.

African Cichlids Breeding

When subjected to the right conditions, most of the African Cichlids can reproduce in captivity. All cichlids are egg layers and a number of them are likely to lay their eggs (spawn) in safer places like in the small caves within the tank.

Once they have laid their eggs, they guard them closely until they hatch. These species are commonly referred to as substrate spawners.

On the other hand, there are species of African Cichlids that are mouthbrooders. These fish carry their fertilized eggs in the mouth until they are ready to hatch. It takes them 21 days or three weeks to hatch.

After hatching, the females look after their fry for a period of one week or even two. After that, they let their young to fend for themselves while they prepare for their next breeding season.

It is extremely difficult to tell when the young cichlids are fully matured. This is because different people have different experiences with these fish.

A few of the fry may take three months to be fully matured and be able to reproduce within a year while others will take different durations.

At some point when in captivity the African Cichlids lose their parental instincts and this means something else. They resort to eating each other’s fry or to some extent, eat their own.

But you can stop this behavior by simply separating the parents and their young ones immediately after hatching. A breeding tank will come in handy to facilitate this process.

During the mating season, African Cichlids have their own unique ways of attracting potential mates. They usually perform a number of courting rituals that involve specific movements or a display of color in a way that is impressive to watch.

You may encourage your African Cichlids to breed by making sure that their habitat remains the same. In other words, you should not carry out aquascaping, add new fish or change water parameters in the tank.

There is one interesting breeding behavior of Cichlids when in captivity. That is, they tend to crossbreed among themselves in what experts call hybrid speciation. It is a common trend in captivity, especially where more females are surrounded by a handful of males of the same species.

African Cichlids Tank Mates

Naturally, African Cichlids are aggressive and territorial. As such, any available open water swimmers will be attacked by these fish. This does not mean that you cannot introduce other fish in the tank where you are keeping your African Cichlids. If you have any intention of mixing

them with any other fish, ensure that they occupy a different region of the tank away from the African Cichlids’ territory.

In this case, your choice of ideal African Cichlids tank mates must be bottom dwellers. But these bottom-dwelling fish should be a perfect match to cichlids in terms of aggression and size.

Also, the tank mates must be fast-swimmers, large and somehow aggressive enough to protect themselves against your African Cichlids’ attacks. Good examples of fish that you can keep in the same tank with your cichlids include:

  • Clown Loaches
  • Plecos
  • Leopard Bushfish
  • Red Tail Shark
  • Giant Danios
  • African Red-Eyed Tetra
  • Rainbow Fish
  • Synodontis Catfish
  • Flying Fox Fish
  • Siamese Algae Eater

Don’t make any mistake of introducing small fish like the tetras to be tank mates with your African Cichlids because they will become part of their diet. Also, don’t mix South American Cichlids with African Cichlids.

The two species have evolved apart from and in different regions of the world because their immune system is different. This means that one species from a different region can affect the other species in one way or the other.

Keep in mind that only one species of cichlids should be kept in one tank to avoid conflicts. But if your tank is large enough, you may add more species although it may be somehow risky.

African Cichlids Tank Maintenance

The only way of keeping your African Cichlids happy is to ensure that their tank is in good working condition. And these conditions may include the quality of water (pH and hardness), the cleanliness of the tank and temperature among other important factors that influence the survival of your fish.

Water in the fish tank needs to be changed once every two weeks. At the end of the two weeks, ensure that you change between 10 percent and 20 percent of the water in the aquarium with fresh tap water that is free of chlorine.

During the maintenance, ensure that you get rid of any water remaining on the substrate in a bid to eliminate the algae or accumulated dirt. Do not allow any waste materials to decompose in the tank because they will create unfavorable conditions that may affect your fish negatively.

In fact, getting rid of all dirt and any waste materials will keep nitrate, nitrite and ammonia levels low and that is what is required as far as water parameters are concerned.

Everything in the tank, including filters or other accessories, should be cleaned to get rid of the gunk and slime in order to prevent the buildup of parasites. Good maintenance of your fish tank is the only way of keeping your African Cichlids safe and happy throughout.

African Cichlids Diseases & Treatments

When keeping fish, you have to deal with diseases. It does not matter what type of fish you keep, you will always have to treat some sort of illness. It is no different, when keeping African cichlids.

With so many different types of African cichlids, there are also a large number of diseases you need to know about. Below are the most common diseases and parasites that affect African cichlids:

  • White Spots (Ich / Ick): it is probably the most common disease in African cichlids, which is caused by an ectoparasite. These parasites attaches to the scales and fins of the fish forming white spots on their body.
  • Hexamitiasis: is caused by a protozoan parasite which thrives in poor water conditions. Infected fish loses its appetite and becomes pale. Holes are formed on their body and head.
  • Dropsy / Bloat: it usually a sign of organ failure due to genetics or bad water parameters. Dropsy can also be caused by bacterial infection, which is highly infectious. The belly of the fish becomes very bloated; their scales become elevated from their body forming a spine cone.
  • Swim Bladder Disorder: is the condition when the internal organ of the fish, which controls its buoyancy, fails. The fish will swim upside down or at an angle. This disease can be caused by stress or poor water conditions, especially ammonia.
  • Gill Flukes / Worms: is a small white worm, which gets into the gills of the fish and causes bleeding. This parasite usually gets into aquariums with new plants or fish. At early stage you can treat gill flukes with medication.
  • Fin and Tail Rot: is caused by a bacterial infection or fungus. Poor water conditions and presence of ammonia can cause this disease.
  • Tuberculosis: is caused by a bacteria called mycrobacterium. Infected fish loses appetite, its belly becomes hollow, gets discolored and develops ulcer. Sometimes their spine gets deformed. This disease is highly contagious and can’t be treated. Sick fish should be euthanized to stop spreading of the disease.

Please remember that the chances of diseases increase when you are mixing African cichlids with South American species, because each species have developed immunity to different diseases and parasites.

Just follow the water changes schedule to avoid diseases and parasites in your African cichlids tank. Also quarantine every new fish for at least 3 weeks, before introducing it to the main tank. Most diseases can be prevented with just simple quarantine and pre-medication.

Are African Cichlids Aggressive?

Yes. African Cichlids are very aggressive and territorial. As a result, they need plenty of space to swim around in addition to hiding places. They also become aggressive when feeding or during the breeding season.

What is the Average Lifespan of African Cichlids?

Under good tank conditions, African Cichlids can live up to the age of 15 years. But the maximum age will depend solely on each species. On average, most of the African Cichlids live up to 8 years in captivity.

Do African Cichlids Jump Out of the Tank?

Yes, African Cichlids are likely to jump out of their tank only if there are reasons to make them do so. The reasons that might cause your cichlid to jump out of the tank include poor water conditions, lack of oxygen, extreme temperature changes, conflict with other tank mates and overcrowding.

Are African Cichlids a Suitable Choice for Beginners?

Not really because these fish are hard to maintain when compared to other tropical species. Otherwise, they require an intermediate experience level of maintenance.

Do African Cichlids Eat their Fry?

African Cichlids eat their own fry but they have a tendency of eating each other’s fry most of the time. This habit is prevalent to those African Cichlids in captivity as opposed to those in the wild. It happens mostly after the parents lose their parental instincts immediately after hatching.


African Cichlids are very colorful fish and can brighten up your aquarium. These fish bring color, activity, and vibrancy in the tank. Unfortunately, they are not the best choice for a peaceful community fish tank because they are aggressive and territorial.

They should only be tank mates with other fish species that are aggressive and large in size. These fish are not meant for beginners even though they need intermediate experience level.

African Cichlids   Updated: September 16, 2021
avatar Hello, my name is Fabian, and I am the Chief Editor at Aquarium Nexus. I have over 20 years of experience in keeping and breeding fish. The aquarium hobby brings me immense joy, and I take great pleasure in sharing my experiences with others.

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