African Cichlid Size & Growth Chart

African cichlids no longer require an introduction at this point, but I will offer one just in case you’re not already familiarized with this group. African cichlids can only be found in 3 major lakes on the African continent, namely Malawi, Victoria, and Tanganyika.

Each group divides into hundreds or even thousands of species, with thousands more considered to be undiscovered. Since they evolved in different areas, African cichlids display some noticeable differences between them, including in behavior, color, size, and environmental preferences.

Lake Malawi cichlids like Mbunas prefer rocky habitats, since they spend most of their lives near the substrate and around rocky caves.

Tanganyika and Victoria cichlids, on the other hand, prefer more open spaces, since many species are shell dwellers or simply open swimmers, albeit rarely.

But, if you’ve decided to take in African cichlids, what should you expect in terms of size? After all, knowing the fish’s size and growth rate is essential, since it informs the tank size and overall setup. So, let’s get into it!

What is the Average Size of African Cichlids?

The question is actually ill-formed, so to speak, since the notion of African cichlids doesn’t refer to a species, but a group of multiple species. So, it pretty much depends on which species of African cichlids you’re getting. But, as a general rule, African cichlids as a whole revolve around 2 to 12 inches.

Here’s a table with several African cichlid species divided by size:

African Cichlid Average Size
Demasoni Cichlid 2.5-3 inches
Neolamprologus Multifasciatus 2 inches
Neolamprologus Brichardi 2.5-3.5 inches
Bumblebee Cichlid 4 inches
Red Zebra Cichlid 5 inches
Golden Cichlid 5 inches
Peacock Cichlid 4-6 inches
Electric Blue Hap 6 inches
Electric Yellow Lab 3.5 inches
Perlmutt Cichlid 4 inches

As you can see, the African cichlids’ size is all over the place, which is a good thing. This means you can find cichlid species of various shapes and sizes, depending on your tank’s setup and your overarching goals. Dwarf cichlids, for instance, won’t grow more than 4 inches at most, allowing you to keep more in the same habitat or even consider them for community tanks.

They you have monsters like the Boulengerochromis microlepis (giant cichlid) coming from Lake Tanganyika and spanning across 3 feet. Which comes with its own challenges, of course.

Naturally, when it comes to choose your preferred African cichlid species, size is but one metric to rely on. Other factors include aggressiveness, color, growth rate, compatibility with other cichlids or fish species, etc.

Smallest African Cichlids

If you plan on going small, there are a number of African cichlids capable of scratching that itch. Some dwarf cichlids are even smaller than guppies, although nowhere near as friendly and peaceful. Here are some interesting cichlid options to consider:

  • Neolamprologus similis – This tiny cichlid won’t grow more than 2 inches and comes in copper-red and yellow variations with white vertical stripes covering the entire body. This is a cute one, but don’t let those soul-melting eyes fool you. Similis is quite ferocious when it comes to defending its territory.
  • Neolamprologus brevis – This is another tiny cichlid with a light pink body and subtle silver stripes covering its sides. This Tanganyika resident only grows little over 2 inches, with females falling slightly under that. It is a great option for single species and community tanks, provided you don’t pair it with fish larger than 4 inches.
  • Lamprologus ocellatus – Ocellatus cichlids are some of the most popular and smallest African cichlids you can find. Part of that is due to their bulky eyes and lobe-based dorsal fins and part due to their charming personalities. Ocellatus cichlids rank as peaceful fish, which can cause them to become victims of bullying when paired with more aggressive species. However, these cichlids aren’t as peaceful when it comes to defending their territory. In typical cichlid fashion, they will quickly attack any fish foolishly swimming near their shells.

There are a variety of other cichlid species you could consider for your small tank, many of them even falling short of 2 inches. Smaller cichlids come with some interesting advantages over the larger ones, depending on your overall goals. These include:

  • No need for large tanks – You don’t need a large tank to accommodate small African cichlids. A 20 or even a 10-gallon tank will do the job just fine. A 20-gallon aquarium could easily fit 10 small cichlids, provided you ensure optimal environmental setup with snail shells, open spaces, plants, and other tank decorations.
  • Easier to form larger groups – You can’t really stack too many 6-12-inch cichlids in the same tank. But you can do that with 2-3-inch-long cichlids, since these species require less space overall. Keeping cichlids in larger groups allows you to form more stable communities, since larger communities keep cichlids calmer and safer, dropping their aggression levels in the long run.
  • Community tank options – African cichlids aren’t the best team players around, so they are not quite popular as community tank fish. But smaller species, including the ones I’ve already presented, can adapt to a community setup. So long as you pair them with peaceful tank mates, dwarf cichlids can thrive in community tanks.

But what if you’re not such a big fan of small fish, so you aim for larger cichlids?

Biggest African Cichlids

The largest African cichlids will grow up to 12 inches, with notable exceptions. There are a lot of options you can count on, such as:

  • Yellow Lab cichlid – The Yellow Lab will grow around 6 inches in size and displays a bright yellow body with almost no pattern variation. It’s one of the reasons for its alternate name: Lemon Cichlid. This is a Malawi-born species with a more peaceful demeanor and easy to care for in the long run. You can even consider the Yellow Lab for community tanks, given some preparation and thoughtful logistics work.
  • Frontosa cichlid – If you’ve been looking for a veritable African giant, I present you the Humphead cichlid. This is a Tanganyika resident capable of growing up to 14 inches with proper care and in optimal water conditions. It’s a gorgeous fish, ranking as medium-aggressive and displaying a bulky body with zebra-like patterns and a prominent head lump. Reports suggest that this cichlid can live up to 20-25 years with proper care, but 10-15 is a more reasonable lifespan to consider.
  • Giraffe cichlid – This cichlid is endemic to Lake Malawi and can reach sizes of up to 10-12 inches with optimal care. The Giraffe cichlid displays a spotted color pattern and a bulky and compact body for an unmistakable presence. You will require a 125-gallon tank to accommodate a harem of 3-5 fish.

As you can see, large African cichlids have a unique appeal, making them perfect for those who have large tanks and nothing to fill them with. The only problem with larger African cichlid species would be that they’re not fit for community tanks. African cichlids are notoriously aggressive and territorial, so pairing them with other fish species will often end in disaster.

You can find ways around that, like pairing rock-dwelling cichlids with top swimmers or Tanganyika cichlids with bottom-dwellers. But you need to choose the fish species wisely to prevent unfortunate accidents on either side. Giraffe cichlids, for instance, will easily devastate a danios or guppy population.

How Fast do African Cichlids Grow?

Generally speaking, African cichlids grow 5-7 inches over 1-2 years, depending on the species, diet, environmental conditions, temperature, and even genetic makeup. This is a slower growth rate compared to other cichlids living in different geographical areas. South and Central American cichlids, for instance, grow up to 8 inches within 1-1.5 years, which is noticeably faster.

North American species grow even faster than that. They will reach 5-6 inches within 1 year or even 6 months in some cases. Temperature is one of the most defining factors in this sense, as higher temperatures boost the cichlids’ metabolism and increase their growth rate. The same goes for their diet.

How to Speed Up African Cichlids Growth?

This question refers mostly to the cichlids’ newborn/juvenile phase, as people look to speed up their cichlids’ growth on the road to maturity. So, yes, there are ways to boost your African cichlids’ growth. These mostly boil down to 3 major strategies:

Tweak Their Diets

Newborn cichlids won’t eat anything for a couple of days, until their mouths develop properly. Until then, they will survive on the egg yolk that they have ingested prior to hatching. Once they are able to eat, the fry will require at least 2-3 meals per day, generally small amounts to prevent overfeeding and reduce food leftovers.

The diet’s setup is critical during this time. Your cichlid fry require 40-50% of their food to consist of animal protein, with another 10% being animal fat. The rest should include plant matter and vegetables for a well-rounded influx of essential minerals and vitamins.

This feeding setup should last around 8 weeks, after which you should decrease the amount of protein and fat and rely more on vegetables. Adult cichlids need way less animal protein, since their digestive systems aren’t as apt at breaking them down.

As a plus, always be careful not to overfeed the fry or the adults. Overfeeding comes with a variety of problems, including digestive problems and environmental hazards.

Proper Water Conditions

African cichlid fry require pristine water conditions to grow fast and remain healthy in the long run. The ideal water parameters include a pH level of 7.5, temperatures around 80 F, and 0 ammonia and nitrites. Adults will allow for a more extensive temperature range, between 72 and 85, depending on the species.

It’s imperative to keep your fry’s water parameters stable, since sudden or frequent fluctuations can cause health issues and even lead to death. In this sense, tank cleaning and water changes are necessary strategies to preserve your fry’s habitat in perfect conditions.

You may need to change 15-20% of your fry’s water every 3-4 days, depending on how many you have and how fast the water loses its quality.

Prevent and Address Illness and Stress

African cichlids are more predisposed to Malawi bloat, which is more of a digestive-related problem. Other health issues relate to poor water conditions and even fish stress caused by bullying, ammonia, temperature fluctuations, and so on. These problems will not only hinder your cichlids’ growth, but cause health issues that could lead to sudden death.

I suggest investing in proper tank equipment, like a filter and a heater, and monitor your cichlids’ water parameters constantly. You should quarantine and treat sick fish at the first sign of illness to increase the chances of recovery and protect the rest of the population.

Managing and preventing stress is another key point. African cichlids require a variety of hiding spots, including rocks and shells, depending on the species and their size. Stressed fish will experience weaker immune systems which leaves the vulnerable to parasites and diseases.

When do African Cichlids Reach Their Maximum Size?

Most African cichlids will take up to 2 years to reach their full size potential. This vastly depends on the species, the fish’s genetic makeup, and the level of care. Some may achieve their mature size within 1.5 years or even sooner than that.


African cichlids come in a variety of sizes, from tiny shell-dwellers to giants that could barely fit any tank. However, the bulk of the market consists of 2 to 12-inch-long cichlids, divided into numerous species.

Choose your favorite cichlid and provide it with personalized aquarium conditions based on its size, temperament, breeding behavior, and any other metric that’s relevant to the fish’s wellbeing. This is the optimal approach if your goal is to keep your cichlids healthy and happy for years to come.

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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