African and American Cichlids – Can You Keep Them Together?  

Although there is nothing that holds you back from keeping African and American cichlids together, you definitely shouldn’t.

There are a lot of reasons why they are not compatible with each other. You basically can’t set up an aquarium that is ideal for both of them.

Out in the wild, they live in different environments and water conditions. They are not accustomed to the same water acidity and temperature.

Not to mention that there are differences in their temperament too. For African cichlids, the best tank mates are other cichlids from the same area.

In this article, you are going to find out why it works this way. There are a few important reasons why they can’t share the same tank and we are going to discuss all of them here.

5 Reasons to Avoid Keeping them Together

It can be surprising to find out that you can’t keep African and American cichlids together. After all, both belong to the Cichlidae family, right? That is true but we are talking about a broad family with hundreds of different species in it.

And when it comes to African and American cichlids, they evolved in different ways which made them incompatible with each other.

We don’t just simply want to tell you to not keep them together. Next up, we are going to explain all the reasons why they shouldn’t be kept together so that you can decide for yourself.

– Behavior

African Cichlids are well-known to be territorial and aggressive. This applies to the overwhelming majority of them. Some of them can be especially dangerous if kept with species from other regions.

If you would keep them with American cichlids, they would bully them and many of them would eventually kill them as well.

The aggression would continue until very few fish are left in the tank. African cichlids are particularly aggressive during breeding.

They start to dig out nests and attack viciously if other fish enter their territory. And we didn’t even talk about the long-term stress that gets accumulated by their behavioral differences.

– Diet

Since African cichlids can be so aggressive at times, you would expect them to be mainly carnivorous. Surprisingly, that is not the case. Most of them rather prefer to live on a mainly herbivorous diet while getting little protein from meat-based foods.

Some of them are strictly herbivorous, although those species are less aggressive as well. Just take a look at their teeth and you immediately realize that those are for eating algae and plants. American cichlids, on the other hand, live on meat-based foods and many of them are predatory.

When you feed your fish, there is a high chance that they are going to eat each other’s foods during feeding. Since herbivorous and carnivorous fish have digestive tracts of different lengths, switching diets will only going to cause problems for them.

Health problems such as swelling, gas buildup and irritation going to arise eventually.

– Diseases

The waters African cichlids live in are much different from the rivers where American cichlids can be found. Different environments encouraged them to develop much different immune systems. Unfortunately, this makes them vulnerable to each other’s diseases.

Keeping them together would mean that there is a risk of them passing diseases to each other at every moment. Therefore, you should take a look at the common diseases for each species you want to add to your community aquarium.

For this reason, we would recommend you the safest option, which is keeping either African or American cichlids only instead of mixing them.

– Water Parameters

Out in the wild, African and American cichlids live in slightly different water conditions. In the rivers where American cichlids live, there are lots of tannins in the water.

It consists of soil and decomposed wood and leaves. This not only makes the water darker but also greatly increases its acidity.

The pH in those waters can be as low as 5.0 while the water is rather soft. African cichlids, on the other hand, come from Lake Tanganyika, Victoria and Malawi where the water is much clearer. The water there is basically incomparable with the abovementioned rivers.

It is much harder and the pH is 9.0 at times. Significantly less acidic than the pH 5.0 waters American cichlids live in. With some species, you can manage to keep them together in the same tank.

However, it is definitely not going to be great for them and they won’t breed at all if the water conditions are not ideal.

– Fish Size

On average, American cichlids are significantly bigger than African cichlids. While most African cichlids grow up to 5-6 inches, American cichlids like Oscars can reach 15 inches in size.

When looking for compatible tank mates, it is the rule of thumb to look for species of around the same size.

If your fish are of similar size, they are also more likely to tolerate each other in the tank. Not to mention that many American cichlids are predatory and they are going to eat fish much smaller than them without mercy.


As you can see, the fact that they are both cichlids don’t necessarily make them compatible with each other. Since their natural environment greatly differs, many of their basic needs are not the same either. They prefer a different water acidity, hardness and temperature as well.

American cichlids are mainly peaceful, while African cichlids are rather on the aggressive side. This fact alone would already make them less compatible with each other. This can be bad news for those who have imagined a colorful tank with the perfect mix of African and American cichlids.

However, there are still endless possibilities when it comes to setting up an exciting home aquarium. Hopefully, this article has answered all your questions regarding American and African cichlid compatibility.

It is much better to do the research on this subject than to jump right into it and figure out how much it doesn’t work in an unpleasant way.

avatar Noah
I’m Noah, chief editor at VIVO Pets and the proud owner of a playful, energetic husky (Max). I’ve been a volunteer at Rex Animal Rescue for over 2 years. I love learning and writing about different animals that can be kept as pets. read more...

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