Ed Schipul, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The African Cichlid is a group of beautiful, small fish species from the Cichlid family. It is one of the most beautiful families of fish species because most members of this genus are highly colorful and add colors to your aquarium. There are multiple species in this family with different sizes, shapes, and body colors but all of them are equally beautiful and popular all over the world and can be seen in most aquariums in North America.

These fish species are native to African rivers, ponds, lakes, potholes, and shallow water places. The average size of these fish species is comparatively larger than most of the other fish in the aquarium. Also, they are known for being aggressive towards most of the small fish species. So, if you are planning on keeping them in a community aquarium, make sure to have a large tank filled with multiple aggressive fish species of similar size.

Not all of these fish are found in Africa, some of them are native to Asia, and many are native to South America. They are known as African Cichlids because most of the identified species are native to Africa and the species that are native to other areas were discovered after they had been named. So, this name became one of their most common trade names.

The species that are known for being African are found in three of the most popular African lakes and surrounding rivers. These include Lake Malawi, Lake Victoria, and Lake Tanganyika, all of which are some of the biggest lakes in Africa. Most fish species that are common in aquariums are native to lake Malawi. The article below contains all information about these fish species that you might need to take care of these fish in an aquarium.

Basic Facts Table:

Lifespan10 to 15 years, depending on species.
Size5 to 6 inches in most species.
ColorsMultiple colors.
Freshwater or SaltwaterFreshwater
Care LevelIntermediate
CompatibilityDepends on the species of your choice. Some are peaceful but some are aggressive.

Tank Companions:

The African Cichlids are famous for three reasons, their colorful bodies, hyper activeness, and aggressive nature of these fish species. Most of the aquarium fish from this family are known for being aggressive towards the smaller fish species. Also, these fish can grow up to six inches, making them some of the largest aquarium fish species. A large body means a larger mouth that can easily kill and swallow a small fish species. That is why you mustn’t pair them with any of the small fish species otherwise they would become the food of these fish.

Also, African Cichlids are some of the territorial fish species meaning that they would attack anyone that enters their territory. So, if you want to put them in a community tank it is better to put them with fish species that do not invade other fish species’ territory. Also, you will have to build a large tank to successfully sustain a community of fish with African Cichlids. Here is a list of the potential tank companions for the fish from this family.

  • Other Cichlid Species.
  • African Catfish

Apart from this, there are no other potential tank mates. That is why most aquarium owners advise keeping them in a separate tank with other members of their fish species only.

Types and Appearance:

As mentioned earlier, it is not a single species, but a group of different species with a similar origin. So, each one of these has a separate appearance, colors, and body shape. Below are complete details about some of the most popular fish species of this group. These details will help you identify them.

Here is the list of the most popular African Cichlids

  • African Butterfly (Anomalochromis thomasi)
  • Yellow African Cichlid (Labidochromis caeruleus)
  • African Peacock Cichlid (Aulonocara nyassae)
  • Orange Zebra Cichlid (Maylandia estherae)
  • Malawi Eyebiter (Dimidiochromis compressiceps)

Details about these species are given below.

African Butterfly (Anomalochromis thomasi):

This is one of the most beautiful fish species for aquarium fish lovers. This fish has a multi-colored body. It is found in African lakes and rivers. This fish can grow up to 3+  inches long. It is known for being slightly aggressive to smaller fish species. It has bars of colorful stripes that move from up to down on the body of this fish. Some of these have a greenish color while some have a bluish and yellow appearance. Male and female look similar but the colors in the male body are more vibrant while colors in the female body are comparatively dull.

According to many fishkeepers, if you are first time putting a cichlid in your tank, it is the best fish species to start. Because it is easy to care for and can survive a few mistakes that you might make while learning. It is a durable fish species, meaning that it can survive the changes in water and the environment to some extent. Also, it is easy to breed species, meaning that you can increase their population inside your tank without much effort and learn about species breeding.

Yellow African Cichlid (Labidochromis caeruleus):

The Yellow African Cichlid fish which is also known as the Labidochromis caeruleus is also a member of the African cichlid family of fish. It is known for showing vibrant yellow colors and having a beautiful appearance. Fins of this fish species have blackish tips, and the body has a bright yellow-colored appearance which gives a contrast against these blackish tips of the fins, making them look even more brighter and beautiful.

The average size of this fish species is 3 inches but in healthy and favorable conditions, it can grow up to 4 and 5 inches. This is also an environment for hardy fish species and is best for first-time fishkeepers who want to learn the basics of fish keeping and breeding. This fish species is less aggressive as compared to other fish from its family. Meaning that you can keep them in community aquariums with other fish.

African Peacock Cichlid (Aulonocara nyassae):

The African Peacock Cichlid fish which is also known as the Aulonocara nyassae is a small and beautiful fish species from the African cichlids. It is known for displaying multiple colors in its fins, similar to that of a peacock. Their bodies are also brighter and covered with a range of colors. Male and females in this species look different and have different colors. The average size of this fish species is 5 inches, but most of the fish can be longer than five inches. It is one of the biggest fish species in this family.

It is also known for being the most aggressive fish species. You cannot put them in a community aquarium because they would attack and eat the smaller fish and would remain in constant conflict with other large fish in the tank. That is why it is advised to keep them in an isolated tank with other members of their species. As these are colorful fish species and males and females display different colors, they would make your tank look more colorful and beautiful.

Orange Zebra Cichlid (Maylandia estherae):

The Orange Zebra Cichlid fish is known for having lines that appear similar to that of a zebra. But instead of being black and white, these stripes are colorful. Orange is the most dominant color in their bodies but they also display a tint of less bright yellow. They have large round eyes on the sides of their mouth. Apart from this, the male and female also show two different tints of the orange color in the bodies. Male is longer but the females are thicker and this thickness increases during the time of mating.

It can grow up to 5 inches. It is very easy to breed and care for these fish. They do not require that much attention and can survive slight changes in their aquariums. So, if you are a new fishkeeper, this is one of the best fish species to start with. Also, the vibrant colors of this fish species would make your aquarium look brighter and more beautiful.

Giraffe Cichlid (Nimbochromis venustus):

This is also one of the most beautiful fish species. It is called Giraffe Cichlid because the appearance of a pattern on its body is similar to that of a Giraffe. Although colors are slightly different, the pattern is similar. It is a small fish species that can grow up to 5 inches or more. It is one of those fish species that should be kept in a separate tank. This is a highly aggressive fish species that attacks and eats the smaller fish species and stays in conflict all the time with other fish species.

It shows blue, yellow, and brown colors with a Giraffe pattern. The mouth of this fish species is large and it can easily eat a small fish species of one or two inches in length. It is found in Lake Malawi and that is why it is sometimes known as Malawi Cichlid.

Origin and Natural Habitat:

As mentioned earlier, this is not a single fish species, but a family of species. Most of the known fish species of this family are native to the three of the largest Lakes in Africa. Here the water is slow, slightly acidic, and warm. This allows these fish to swim, hunt, and live in the bottom and middle layers of these lakes. It hunts smaller fish species, shrimps, snails, and other invertebrates for food. Their natural habitat contains a lot of vegetation and plants but these plants usually do not reach the upper and middle layers.

These fish like to hide in the small stones at the bottom of these lakes where they find their food, and shelter against larger fish species. Its multicolored appearance helps it to navigate and find others inside the muddy bottom layer of these lakes. Temperature and other conditions inside their natural habitat keep changing quickly and that is why these fish have become super hardy to changes in the water conditions that they can live through a few mistakes made by the fish keeper in maintaining the tank.

African Cichlid Lifespan:

Most of the fish from this species can live up to 15 years. This is because these are large fish species that have developed several methods for their survival. Inside their natural habitat, they are a predator and hunt small fish but sometimes they are hunted by other fish. But as they are capable of breeding quickly and easily, they can replenish their numbers. Inside their natural habitat where the presence of predators and changes in water conditions are more common, these fish species can live for more than 5 to 7 years. They hardly reach their lifespan limit.

But inside an aquarium where the conditions are perfect and favorable for their growth, and there is no presence of any predator, these fish can live up to 15 years. The age of the individual species can differ greatly in this family. Most of the large fish from this family can live for 15 years and longer but the smaller fish species only live for 5 to 10 years. Also, most of the small species in their natural habitat do not reach their lifespan limit and are either killed by the changes in water or eaten by predators. So, if you want your fish to thrive and reach their lifespan limit, then you should take good care of them and keep them in the perfect conditions that favor their health.

Habitat and Tank Conditions:

To create a perfect habitat inside a tank for your African Cichlids, you will have to look at the species-specific criteria for care and create a habitat according to the needs of that species. But some of these conditions inside the tank are similar for most of the species. So, you can also follow a general guideline for building a tank and habitat for your fish. Here are some of the general guidelines for building a tank for any of the African Cichlid fish species.

As these are large fish species, you will have to pick up a large tank. You must decide the number of fish that you want to put inside the tank and after that select a tank of the appropriate size. After that, start from the bottom of the tank. These fish are known for being bottom dwellers meaning that they spend a lot of time in the bottom layer of the tank. The natural habitat of these fish species contains a lot of stones at the bottom. So, you should also put a lot of stones, and sand in the bottom to provide them with a comfortable bottom layer. They would hide among the stones and rocks and play.

Apart from that, you should also use a fine-grained substrate layer to protect the fish scales. Once you are done with that, put a filter inside your tank. This filter would create a slow-moving water current and will also clean the water and provide oxygen. It is also important to put a water heater inside the tank. You should use a water heater that has controlled settings to monitor the temperature and maintain it at the required level. You can also put some plants inside your tank to make it look more natural and beautiful.  Java fern, Anubias, and Amazon Swords are the recommended plant species to put inside the cichlids’ tank.

Water Conditions:

After you are done creating a perfect environment inside the tank for your African Cichlids, it is time to create perfect conditions inside the water. There are several parameters that you will have to follow to ensure that your fish get a stable and healthy environment. These parameters are based on their natural habitat and environment. Here is a list of these parameters that you should follow.

  • pH: 7.8-8.6
  • Hardness: 4-6 dH
  • Temperature: 75-85°F
  • Size: minimum 20, recommended 30 gallons.

These are the conditions that are similar to their natural habitat. Maintaining these parameters inside your tank will keep your fish healthy and would allow them to live longer and stay healthier.

Water Source:

You can use water from any source of your choice. For example, you can use the water from nearby lakes, rivers, ponds, and even tap water. All you have to do is to make sure that this water is clean and contains no bacteria, parasites, or harmful chemicals. Also, you will have to test the water to know the level of acidity, and hardness of the water. If the hardness and acidity are not according to the required parameters, or if the water contains any harmful chemicals or pathogens, then you will have to filter it and make it livable for these fish. After that, you can put that water inside the tank. The most common method for cleaning the water is known as the reverse osmosis process.

You can also buy the RO water from your local shops and aquarium centers. Using safer water would ensure the health and longer lifespan of your fish species. That is why testing and treating water is important. First-time fish keepers make the mistake of using normal water without testing and that can impact the life of the fish inside the tank. For example, it can cause health problems and your fish can die. So, it is important to prevent these instances by using tested and filtered water.

Ideal Size For The Tank:

There is no ideal size of the tank because this is not a single fish species. You will have to use a different size of tank for almost every species. These are large fish species, meaning that they need more space and water to swim and live. For that reason, it is important to pick a tank of the appropriate size. First, you should know about the number of fish that you want to put inside the tank. Second, you should consider the size of each fish. Once you are aware of these two factors, then you should buy a tank.

For example, if you want to add 6 fish of 5 inch your tank, you should get at least 30 to 40 gallons. But if you are putting 6 fish of 3 to 4 inches, you can keep them in a comparatively smaller 20 to 30 gallons tank. The same goes for the number of fish if the size of the fish is kept the same. As the number and size of the fish increase, so does the size of the tank for the aquarium. It is recommended to use a tank that is larger than 30 gallons for keeping most of the large African Cichlids.

Behavior and Temperament:

The temperament and behavior of African Cichlids depend on the species that you are choosing. Some fish species are peaceful, and less aggressive, while others are more aggressive and territorial. For that reason, they should be kept separately in a different tank where they only live with other members of their species. These fish species also show social behavior when kept inside a tank with other members of their family. Also, most of these fish are highly active, and when they move inside the tank, it creates a beautiful spark of colors that is fun to watch.

Breeding African Cichlid:

It is easy to breed most of the African Cichlid fish species. They do not need special conditions to breed. They just need the right temperature, and season. During their breeding season temperature remains slightly high. So, you should create a separate breeding tank and put males and females inside that tank.

After that, you should start feeding them highly nutritious food and increase the temperature of their tank. You will notice that males and females have started to swim close together. This is the time when spawning will happen and the female would create eggs. Male and female might fight, so you will have to look for that.

After the eggs have been fertilized, females would hide them inside a cave or would keep them inside the mouth. It is known as mouthbrooding behavior and is common in many fish species. It can take up to 21 days. After the eggs hatch, the female takes care of the babies for fourteen days. After that, it becomes ready for mating and breeding once again.

Eggs and Fry Care:

These eggs would turn into small fry after several hours depending on the species of fish. After that, you should remove the female from the tank if it is not mouthbrooding. But if it is still mouthbrooding, you should keep her inside the tank. Females in most of these species are known for protecting the young ones for up to 14 days.

In that period, you will have to feed them special food that is made for fry and young fish. You can introduce these small fish into their parents’ aquarium but the chances are other fish would attack them. So, you should create a separate tank for these young ones.

Diet of African Cichlid:

The African Cichlids eat everything including plants, insects, and meat and that is why they are known as omnivores. This diverse diet allows them to survive inside their natural habitats. You can feed them different types of food including veggie flakes, live insects, and frozen meat. This will provide them with a balanced diet and would allow them to stay healthy. Some species from this family also have slightly varied diets, for example, the peacock cichlids are insectivores, meaning that they mostly eat insects. So, you should research individual species’ diets and feed according to that.

Diseases of African Cichlid:

These fish are immune to a lot of common fish diseases, but still, there are a lot of diseases that attack these fish and can kill the entire population of your tank. Most of these diseases are linked to hygiene issues and conditions inside the tank. Here is the list of most common African cichlid diseases.

  • Cotton Wool Disease: It is a highly contagious fungal disease that causes white growths on the body of the fish. It happens because of the hygiene issues inside the tank and can quickly spread. It is treated using antibiotics. 
  • Bloating / Malawi Bloat: This is also a highly deadly and contagious disease caused by liver and kidney problems. In this disease, the body of the fish swells and bloats. It is a deadly disease but it is also curable. You will have to use prescribed medicines to treat your fish.
  • Hexamita Disease: It is a parasitic disease caused by the unhygienic conditions inside the tank. This disease causes loss of appetite and lesions on the body of the fish. It can be treated using medicines but you will have to clean the entire tank and disinfect it before putting your fish back.

As you may have noticed that most of these diseases are caused by unhealthy conditions and hygiene issues inside the tank. So, if you want your fish to remain healthy, you will have to work on keeping your tank clean.

Are African Cichlids a Saltwater or Freshwater Species?

Yes, African Cichlids are a family of freshwater species.

Are African Cichlids a schooling species or not?

It depends on the species. Some species like to school and some like to shoal. But all of these are highly social and interact with other members of the species. So, you will notice schooling and shoaling behavior in your tank.

Are African Cichlids Suitable For Your Aquarium?

It depends on your choice. If you want to have beautiful, colorful, hyperactive fish species in your aquarium then yes, you should have them and they are suitable for your aquarium. These fish are loved by millions of fishkeepers from all over the world. They do not require much attention and are easy to take care of. These traits make them a highly sought-after fish species.


The article above contains information and care guidelines for the African Cichlids. These are some of the most beautiful fish species, known for their beautiful colors, playful nature. If you are also a fish lover and want these colorful fish in your aquarium, you will have to learn about taking care of them before you buy them and put them inside the tank. These fish are easy to take care of and that is why they are recommended to many new fish keepers who are learning about fish keeping and breeding.


Question: How many African cichlids can be in a tank?

Answer: It depends on the size of the tank. If the tank is small, then you can keep 5 to 6 together. But if the size of the tank is large, you can keep more than 10 in a single tank.

Question: What is the size of African Cichlid fish species?

Answer: Most of these fish can grow up to 5 inches. Some species are smaller than 5 inches and some species are larger than 5 inches. The actual size depends on the species. 

Question: What African cichlids can be kept together?

Answer: Here is a list of the African Cichlids that can be kept together. Electric Blue Haps, African Orange Cichlids, African Butterfly, Dwarf Cichlids, Mbuna, and Peacock Cichlids.

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