African Cichlid Care: A Care Guide For Beginner Aquarists

 African cichlids are a larger species of freshwater fish native to Africa, Asia, and South America. These fish tend to be a popular pet among aquarists, due to the wide range of colors you can keep, even if you don't have a saltwater tank. Each different species also has slightly different temperaments and is hardy in captivity.

African Cichlid Care: A Care Guide For Beginner Aquarists
African Cichlid Care: A Care Guide For Beginner Aquarists

 African cichlids are a species of fish that are very active, making them a favorite to watch in aquariums. Although they require special care, many different types can be good for novice aquarium owners due to their toughness. There are many colors and patterns of this species to choose from, although it can take up to a year for them to develop full color. Coloring can be affected by the quality of care they receive (we'll talk about that a little later).

 Each type of African cichlid aggressiveness level should be considered when placing in an aquarium. They are generally more aggressive than other common tropical fish. Although there are a ton of different African cichlid species confirmed in the wild, far fewer are available as pets. Almost all of the species you will find in home aquariums come from Lake Malawi in East Africa. Others come from Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika in small numbers.

This is an informative article. Nodisk One is not permitted to make a diagnosis or recommend any form of veterinary care. If your pet is in pain or ill, we recommend that you take him to the vet.

Natural Habitat And Origin Of African Cichlids

Origin Of African Cichlids

 These species are found most abundantly in three African lakes: Lake Malawi, Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika. The conditions conducive to the growth of these species are clear water, sandy substrates and abundant vegetation. These particular species favor staying in the habitat's shallows.

African Cichlid Aquarium Habitat

 The aquarium should be decorated with rocks and caves to maintain the natural environment for the fish as they live and breed under the rocks and caves. This species likes to dig into the gravel and organize it, so the gravel should be decorated around the rock (or clay pot) at the bottom of the tank. Aquarium silicone can help glue the rocks together to prevent a cave from forming due to cichlid digging. Fish can destroy plants by digging them up and eating them all, it is not recommended to grow a plant in the tank. A thirty gallon tank is the optimum size with a minimum size of 29 gallons. A 55 gallon tank may be required depending on tank density. There are two options for filtration: an external filter and an under-gravel filter.

 An external filter is more useful as fish can damage the under gravel filter due to their digging activity. Water temperatures between 24 and 270 degrees Celsius (75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit) are recommended. There is no strong lighting needed in the tank. Shallow rocks contain algae, insects, bacteria and crustaceans, which these fish like to scratch and eat. Their optimum pH requirement is alkaline (pH=8.5), but they can survive in neutral and acidic water, although this makes the species prone to disease. Aquarium water should not contain ammonia, so a regular water change (25-40%) is essential.

African Cichlid Lifespan

 Like any other fish, their lifespan varies greatly depending on the conditions in which they live. The lifespan also varies depending on the specific species considered. There have also been sightings of some species of African cichlids living up to 15 years old. However, the lifespan will decrease if they end up living in sub-optimal conditions with poor diet and poor water quality.

The typical lifespan of an African cichlid is around 8 years.

Common Types Of African Cichlids

 It's very important to understand a bit about the types of African cichlids you can choose from (beyond just color preference). Although these fish are aggressive in general, there may be slight behavioral differences between them. It doesn't matter if you are someone planning to have your very first aquarium or a seasoned professional. We highly recommend that you take the time to learn about each variation.

- Maingano: The species has a blue body color with black fins and horizontal black stripes.

- Zebra Mbuna Aka Zebra Cichlids: As the name suggests, these fish have black and white stripes on their body.

- Orange Zebra: These fish display black stripes or spots on their orange bodies. They grow to about five inches in length and are very aggressive.

- Compressiceps: Also known by the surprising name "Malawi Eyebiter", these fish are long, slender and have a shiny silver color to their bodies. They can be very aggressive.

- Electric Yellow: The electric yellow cichlid tends to be less aggressive than its relatives, which can make it a good fish for the inexperienced tank owner. These fish are smaller, only reaching a length of three inches. They have a long dorsal fin that runs down their back and are yellow with dark fin tips.

- Peacock Cichlids: Slightly aggressive, peacock cichlids (also called Aulonocara nyassae) are one of the most colorful types of cichlids, ranging from dark tan to silvery blue. They are also bottom feeders.

- Sunshine Peacock: These moderately aggressive fish are hardy, making them another good choice for new hobbyists. They sport a brilliant mix of yellows and blues.

- Hap (short for "Haplochromis"): One of the most common types of cichlids, these fish prefer to swim in open water, have a medium level of aggression and feed on smaller fish. Compared to men, women typically have duller colors.

- Electric Blue Hap: Also known as Hap Ahli, these fish are easy to care for and come in a solid, vibrant blue color. Interestingly enough, blues don't get along well with peacock cichlids, so you might not want to house them together.

- Kribensis (“kribs,” for short): The smallest of the cichlids, these fish measure three to four inches in length. They are suitable for beginners and less aggressive.

- Blue Dolphin Moorii: This fish is popular due to its shiny blue scales. They grow tall, up to nine or ten inches. For this reason, they tend to be a bit more difficult to maintain, requiring a larger tank.

- Papillon: These cichlids sport vertical black stripes. They can be quite docile, allowing them to live with other fish.

- Buffalo Head: Their prominent foreheads have earned them other names like "Humphead," "Lionhead," and "Blockhead." They tend to be more peaceful than the others and are about 4.5 inches in length).

- Mbuna (sometimes called Malawi Cichlids): Like the other most common type of cichlid found in Lake Malawi, Mbunas are quite aggressive. They are herbivores and both sexes are equally brightly colored. These fish prefer to live in rocky areas.

- Giraffe: Also names the Venustus, these fish tend to have blue faces with dark spots resembling giraffes. They are larger, measuring up to ten inches. Giraffe cichlids require more experienced handlers, as they can be extremely sensitive to nitrate levels in their water.

Behavior And Temperament Of African Cichlids

 When kept in a crowded tank, African cichlids show a variety of behaviors. This species will actively participate in swimming, hunting, nipping, and hunting for food. These species will remain more active during the day.

Are African Cichlids Solitary Or Societal?

 African cichlids are societal, so they should be placed with good tank mates. If provided with good living conditions, African cichlids can survive on their own. However, keeping at least one or more breeding pairs together is recommended. This will allow them to flourish. While it is possible to keep them alone, it would be a cruel act to deprive them of all company and we strongly recommend that you keep them together.

African Cichlid Care And Tank Installation

 In the care of African cichlid species, tanks play an important role. So we must know in detail the size, shape, substrate to be placed in the tank to maintain the correct pH level. Let's know all the details:

Optimal Tank Size For African Cichlids

55 gallons are the suggested tank size for African cichlids.

Tank Shape For African Cichlids

 The ideal tank shape for African cichlids is rectangular as it comes in different sizes and different filter options.

Filter Type

 Most African cichlid owners opt for dual cartridge filtration. If your tank is larger, a configuration consisting of an overflow, sump, and wet/dry configuration is used to handle the bioload and flow rate requirements of the tank. As a general rule, 8 to 10 times the gallon per hour flow should be filtered each hour.


 Most people tend to use standard aquarium sand or gravel one or two inches deep as the substrate in their aquarium for African cichlids. However, crushed coral, coral sand, or crushed oyster shells will help maintain the pH and alkalinity required to support cichlid health. This will ensure maximum life for these fish while giving them better and brighter color.

How Many Of African Cichlids Can You Fit In A 55 Gallon Tank?

 In a 55 gallon tank we can keep a minimum of 10-15 species. The number varies depending on the size, shape and behavior of the cichlids.

Water Parameters For African Cichlids

 Maintaining a good healthy water condition is mandatory for setting up an African cichlid aquarium. In order for the fish to live in a healthy, stable and clean environment, you must be careful from the first stages of the installation of the aquarium with regard to the handling of waste. It should be essential to check the water quality frequently with test kits like the API.

 To maintain good water quality, you can use conditioners to evaporate the chemicals found in tap water. But, unfortunately, not all chemicals in water evaporate, so water dechlorination is necessary. Additionally, water conditioning is essential to maintain healthy fish bacteria and remove chemicals like chloramine, ammonia and fluoride.

Water Temperature

 African cichlids prefer water that is between 74 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit (23 and 28 degrees Centigrade).

pH Level

 The perfect water pH level for African cichlids is between 7.4 and 9.3. The pH level is used to measure the level of hydrogen concentration in water. It is made to know the acid or alkaline nature of water. The scale goes from 0 to 14 pH, where the pH value of 7 indicates that the water is neutral. For African cichlids from Malawi, a pH of 7.4 to 7.9 is ideal, and for African cichlids from Tanganyika, the pH should be around 8.3 to 9.3.

Depending on the species chosen, the pH of the water must be maintained.

Water Hardness

 The elimination of trace elements like calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, sulfates and chlorides is necessary. Between 160 ppm and 200 ppm should be the general hardness range.

African Cichlid Tank Landscape

 When setting up an aquarium for freshwater species, you will need a large tank to make it stable. Minimum tank size should be 55 gallons. Longer tanks are good for African cichlids instead of taller tanks. After finalizing the tank size, you can add good plants and lighting to add beauty to the aquarium and help the fish grow.

Best Plants For African Cichlid Tanks

Below are some plants that are beneficial for African cichlids:

  • Anacharis
  • hornwort
  • Java fern
  • Java moss
  • Anubias
  • Jungle Vallisneria Spiralis
  • Green Cabomba

The Worst Plants For African Cichlid Tanks

Plants that should not be added to African cichlids are mentioned below.

  • Azalea
  • Angel’s trumpet
  • Black walnut.
  • Bleeding heart.
  • Castor bean.
  • Chokecherry/Cherry.
  • Climbing nightshade.
  • Daphne.
  • Flowering tobacco.

 Decorating the aquarium is fun, exciting and makes your aquarium unique. Choose the appropriate substrate, including rocks, sand, pebbles, crushed coral, and sand, as well as accent plants, caves, and driftwood. The mentioned elements add beauty to the aquarium, but they will also serve as a suitable habitat for fish. Some decorative accessories are expensive, so select the necessary ones carefully.


For the good growth of the fish, there must be enough light intensity in the tank for a minimum of 6 to 8 hours. Excessive algae growth would take place if we did not provide enough lighting.

Nitrogen Requirements For African Cichlids

 When fish waste is present, ammonia is formed. This is very toxic if it reaches levels above 0.25 particles per million. The security level is 0 to 0.25 particles per million. As Nitrosomas (nitrite-forming bacteria) begin to grow in the tank, they convert ammonia to nitrite. It's not a good idea to have nitrite in the tank. It should not exceed 0 particles per million. As Nitrobactors (nitrate forming bacteria) grow, they decrease nitrite levels but increase nitrate levels. 

 During this cycle of converting ammonia and nitrite to nitrate, billions of tiny bacteria appear that help keep your aquarium clean and stable. However, nitrate buildup also occurs at times and this should also be limited to less than 20 particles per million. Phosphate is another element that should not be very present in your tank. This can stress your fish and their immune system while simultaneously causing algae blooms. Maintain a phosphate level of less than 0.5 parts per million.

African Cichlids Best Tank Mates And Worst Tank Mates 

 African cichlids attack other fish in tanks by swimming. Small fish should not be kept with this species because they will eat them.

Best African Cichlid Tank Mates

African cichlids should be kept with the following fish:

  • Similar African Cichlids species.
  • Catfish.
  • Redtail sharks.
  • Giant danios.
  • Zebra loaches.
  • Plecos.

To keep the aquarium safe, it is advisable to keep solo species in the tank.

Worst Tank Mates For African Cichlids

 Fish with different water requirements should not be included in the tank, such as corys, clownfish, loaches and small fish. Since African cichlids are generally aggressive fish, several fish should be avoided as tank mates. Among these, the first is the fish that likes to swim in open water. The territorial nature of the African cichlid means that it will make open water fish a target and attack it.

 Another factor to keep in mind is that small fish should be avoided. Indeed, small fish immediately become a meal for cichlids. Another thing to keep in mind is not to mix African cichlids with South American cichlids. They both look alike, but they have different care needs and routines. Plus, they'll almost certainly fight.

Food And Diet Options

 Variation in the diet of African cichlids is essential. Depending on the type you have, it may be primarily insectivorous, herbivorous, or omnivorous. It's good to include a bit of everything, including a solid base of fish food.

 The varieties of food you can give them include small fish meat, tubifex worms, insects, cichlid pellets, frozen foods, wafers or brine shrimp, and household fruits and vegetables. They'll require two daily feedings. To avoid overfeeding, fish should not be given more than they can eat in three minutes. This will not only reduce waste, but also keep the tank cleaner.

African Cichlid Breeding

 African cichlids are very easy to breed. Eggs can be found on rocks, walls or on top of flowerpots and in caves. The male cichlids fertilize the eggs and the female fish, the "maternal mouth brooders", incubate the fertilized eggs in her mouth for 21-31 days until hatching time. During this period, she tumbles the egg into her oral cavity. 

 Over time, the female releases free-swimming fry in the water. If the newborn fry are threatened by other fish, the cichlid mother brings them back to the mouth cavity. After mating, the male will disturb the female. It is necessary to transfer the female to a separate tank, which allows the fry to grow safely, and the female to recover easily.

African Cichlid Breeding Method

  1. Create a breeding tank by furnishing it with plenty of sand and caves. To encourage breeding, the tank temperature should be maintained at 85oF.
  2. Choose and place healthy male and female fish in a breeding tank. Feed the fish high quality protein foods to keep the fish in prime condition for breeding.
  3. As male fish begin to mate, it will give specific movement and different colors to attract female fish. If the female shows interest, she will join the male to mate inside a cave.
  4. If the female shows no interest after a week, immediately return her to the original tank and add another female to the breeding tank. Once breeding is complete, the female will begin to lay eggs. They will carry the eggs in their mouths after laying them to protect them.
  5. The laid eggs hatch in about 21 days. Most African cichlids will take care of their fry within the first two weeks. In some cases, the parents may eat the fry. Watch the tank carefully; if you find such a case, immediately move the fish to the main tank.
  6. Start feeding the fry with brine shrimp in the first week, later for the next six months; feed the fish with pellets. Once the fry have reached the adult stage, transfer the fish to the main tank.
  7. African cichlid breeding time is crucial for other fish in the aquarium because at this stage they tend to become even more aggressive. They may even sometimes lose their parental instincts and eat their fry. To prevent this from happening, you need to separate the fry from the parents in a separate tank.

Sexual Dimorphism Of African Cichlids?

Observe the following characteristics to tell male from female African cichlids apart:

  • Males typically have brighter colors and are larger but slimmer than females.
  • The male has larger, more fluid, and more pointed dorsal and anal fins.
  • The shape of the female species is round while the shape of the male species is elongated.
  • Normally the males are more bright, vibrant and colorful.

Common African Cichlid Diseases And Their Treatment

 Poor water quality and stress are the main reasons why fish are vulnerable to disease. It is important to feed the fish the correct diet. If the fish is pale, slow moving and/or not eating, it is recommended to transfer it to a quarantine tank. Malawi bloat, lean disease, swim bladder disease, cotton ball disease, hole in the head disease, and white spot are the most common diseases of African cichlids. The internal organs of the fish can be harmed by a poor diet. The diet of fish should not contain foods rich in protein.

Towards Gills

 Gill flukes (Dactylogyrus) are found on the tips of the gills and occasionally on the skin of fish. Symptoms that occur in this condition are rapid breathing movements, fins held against the body, and blinking. Ulcers and secondary infections are the usual culprits. It is usually treated with antibacterial or antifungal drugs.

Malawi Bloat Disease

 Poor water quality and poor nutrition can cause Malawi boat sickness. In this situation, a 50% water change is required.

Lean Disease

Lean disease is contagious and deadly. The disease is manifested by a hollow stomach.

Swim Bladder Disease

 In the case of swim bladder disease, the fish has difficulty losing balance and cannot swim regularly. The fish will swim to the bottom of the tank or float above the water.

Cotton Wool Disease

 It is a disease caused by the bacterium Flavobacterium columnare. It is not a fungus despite its appearance. This disease affects the gills and skin of fish. Usually caused by poor water conditions. The first step in treatment is to isolate the infected fish. The vet prescribes an antibiotic which is added to the tank. If the fish is seriously ill, it may even require euthanasia.

Diseases Of The Hole In The Head

 A parasitic invasion causes this disease. Fish should be transferred to a quarantine tank when they suffer from parasitic, bacterial and viral diseases.

White Spot (Ich)

 Ich is caused by an external parasite that causes multiple white spots on the skin and gills of your freshwater fish. Failure to quarantine a new fish introduced to the aquarium is the most frequent cause of Ich. To treat your infected fish, a veterinarian will first need to take a look. They will recommend a course of treatment for the fish. During this time, maintaining your water conditions is key to eliminating Ich from your tank.

Facts About African Cichlids

Here are some relevant case facts:

- Cichlids are an extremely diverse family of fish, most of which are found in the rift lakes of Africa.

- Superb appearance.

- There are almost 1000 different species.

- There are over 500 species in just three lakes: Victoria, Malawi and Tanganyika.

- Most are specialized feeders, allowing many different types to coexist without too much competition.

- Among predatory species, tastes differ as well as variations in jaw shape. Some mollusc eaters crush the shells of their prey and eat them whole, while others grab the prey's extended foot and suck them out of the shell.

- These fish are available in many colors.

- The species grow in a minimum size of 4 cm and a maximum of 90 cm.

- Grows in fresh water.

- Incubation will take place in mouthbrooders or on the substrate.


Do Cichlids Kill Each Other?

 They could kill each other, that much is true. Therefore, the right place in the aquarium is needed to hide in the tank.

Can I Keep Cichlids From Both Africa And South America In The Same Aquarium?

 No, it is not advisable to keep African and South American cichlids in the same tanks. They each have different care requirements and routines. Plus, they'll almost certainly fight.

Which Cichlids Are Called Least Aggressive Cichlids?

 Dwarf cichlids like Apistos, Multis, Discus, and Angelfish are the least aggressive cichlids. They will eat the small fish available in the aquarium in very rare cases.

Can You Suggest The Best Cichlids For Beginners?

Species like Convict Electric Blue Acaras cichlids are good for beginners.

Can You Mention The Types Of Cichlids Available?

 This species is mainly found in African lakes like Victoria. It is very challenging to pinpoint the precise number of species; approximately 2000 to 3000 species are expected.

Conclusion: Time To Decide If They're Right For You

 It's time to take a seat and consider your options now that you have all the information you require. Owning African cichlids can be a ton of fun and extremely rewarding. They are stunning, vibrant, and extremely exciting fish! 

 However, their aggressiveness can sometimes be something aquarists don't want to deal with. In this case, there is no wrong or right choice. The right choice is what will be best for you and the aquatic life you choose to care for. We hope you got the most out of this interview guide.

Only credible sources, such as peer-reviewed studies, are used by Nodisk One to substantiate the information in our articles.