7 Smallest African Cichlids

When you think of African Cichlids, the first thing that comes to mind is the medium to large-sized, brightly colored fish and the general rule of thumb is to think big if you want to keep them.

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The truth is, however, that the size of the tank you need will be greatly influenced by the size of the species you choose.

To start with, it is worth thinking about choosing the smaller, less aggressive specimens first, allowing yourself to get to know them better. So, to help you out, we have collected the 7 smallest African Cichlids species to consider for a beginner aquarium.

Let’s see which ones they are!

1. Neolamprologus multifasciatus

A small species of perch, with a very shiny base color. It is adorned with many small, thin, pale brown vertical stripes, with tiny bluish patterns on the fins.

The genders are difficult to distinguish.

It is considered one of the smallest African Cichlids in the world, measuring 2 inches.

An important characteristic is that they live in large family communities. Between 10-20-gallon tanks can hold 10 to 15 specimens. However, if only 4 – 5 are the first to be stocked, this is not a problem as they will reproduce quickly.

Proper aquarium equipment is essential for them, the most outstanding of which are snail shells. These include, for example, thoroughly disinfected empty snail shells, which you can safely put in several pieces. Their water should be heavily filtered to ensure that it is clean and free of decomposition products.

As a solitary species they quickly become bold and, although they tolerate crowding well, they are sensitive to external disturbances.

In larger tanks, they can be associated with cichlids of similar size and caliber, but this will stimulate their territorial instincts.

2. Neolamprologus similis

This very small fish grows to a maximum length of 2 inches. It is copper-red with vertical white stripes running down its body. Although females are slightly smaller than their male counterparts, they are very difficult to distinguish visually.

This species can be kept successfully in as little as a 10-gallon tank. However, this size is only enough to keep one pair. If you want a colony, however, you need to think bigger.

They are easy to keep on their own and with other individuals, but it is important not to mix them with species larger than 4 inches, and only with shell cages if their territories are well defined by rocks, boulders and plants.

3. Lamprologus signatus


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These are really showy dwarf cichlids from Lake Tanganyika.

While adult males can grow to 2.2 inches in length, females can grow to a maximum of 1.5 inches.

As with Neolamprologus similis, they can be kept successfully in a 10-gallon tank, but as males tend to be more aggressive, it is advisable to keep one male with several females.

They can be associated with other species, but only with similar calibers, while maintaining sufficient space.

4. Neolamprologus brevis


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Neolamprologus brevis is a shell dweller cichlid native to Lake Tanganyika.

When young, it is difficult to distinguish between the genders, but adult males can eventually grow to 2.2 inches, while their female counterparts are just under 1.5 inches.

They can be kept in a 10-gallon aquarium. Pairing more than one female with a male can reduce aggression between males.

5. Lamprologus ocellatus


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It is a very calm and intelligent species, which makes it very popular among aquarists.

Their maximum size is 2.3 inches, which allows them to be kept in a 5-gallon tank.

They are not an aggressive species, but they are very protective of their territory and the shells that live there. Because of this, they have been known to attack the aquarist’s hand.

Do not keep them with aggressive cichlids larger than themselves, as they are often the victims of harassment.

It is also worth choosing aquarium mates from their natural environment.

6. Neolamprologus Brichardi

Light brown body with clearly visible scales. There is also a dark spot behind the golden yellow patch on the back of the gill cover. The margin of the fins is bluish-white. The long basal dorsal and caudal fins are elongated, ending in a point on males, and less developed on females.

Their size ranges from 2.8 to 3.5, depending on gender, which results in requiring a 15–20-gallon tank to keep.

Either on their own or in association with other species, they are easy to keep.

7. Neolamprologus Leleupi

Its shape is similar to that of the Julidochromis fish species, also from Lake Julidochromis. Its fins are the same bright yellow as its body; the dorsal margin is a slightly darker shade. The dorsal fin base is long, the ventral and caudal fins are slightly elongated. The caudal fin is broad.

It is very difficult to distinguish the genders, as they do not show any particularly striking, distinct differences.

They grow to a maximum size of 3.9 inches, which is the largest body length on this list.

The purchase of a 55-gallon tank is the minimum to meet their space requirements.

Keeping them is easy, both as a single species and in association with other cichlids, as they are very good-natured and calm fish. However, it will protect its territory.


So, if you’re a beginner aquarist thinking of getting a smaller tank and keeping smaller fish for starters, we hope one of the fish mentioned above will interest you.

They’re easy to keep and require only a little attention, but the way they look makes up for it.

Be careful to keep the species together and don’t crowd too many specimens into one space, giving them room to grow.

However, before purchasing specimens, it is essential to be properly informed, not only about their association but also about the aquarium equipment needed to provide the right environment.

We hope we’ve whetted your preferences for the smallest African Cichlids. Although their size is very small, they can be a very attractive ornament to your home.

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