What is the Best Temperature for Breeding African Cichlids?

Keeping and breeding African cichlids isn’t quite a walk in the park. This species comes with special water requirements as African cichlids hate fluctuating temperatures and despise ammonia and nitrites. All species of African cichlids require similar temperatures, somewhere in the vicinity of 78 to 82 °F.

They will allow for some variation but can’t cope with sudden, massive, or frequent temperature fluctuations too well. Environmental temperature plays a massive role in your African cichlids’ wellbeing, promoting better digestion, stabilizing their behavior, and even aiding in the breeding process.

Today, we will discuss the latter, looking to highlight the importance of temperature and temperature stability during mating and breeding.

Optimal Temperature for Breeding African Cichlids

To set some things straight, although the ideal temperature for cichlids generally rests between 78 and 82 °F, they allow for quite a lot of wiggling room. In the wild, the water temperature will vary quite a bit between day and night. It has been observed that the cichlids’ environmental temperature may sometimes drop as low as 55 °F. Cichlids won’t mind so long as it doesn’t remain at that value for too long.

When it comes to breeding your African cichlids, higher temperatures are preferable. I recommend stable environmental temperatures around 80 F for pretty much all African cichlids, no matter the species. The temperature may vary by 1-2 degrees in either direction, based on the species.

When it comes to successfully breeding African cichlids, temperature is but one of the factors to be considered. There are many others aspects to consider, as we will see in the following section.

African Cichlids Breeding Tips

No matter the cichlid species you’re planning to breed, a breeding tank is necessary. The main tank is too much of a danger for the upcoming fry due to the high density of adults posing a threat to their lives.

In this sense, the breeding tank needs to provide cichlids with optimal water parameters, similar to those in the main tank. This means you need a heater, a reliable filtering system, rocks, plants, and a thick substrate in case cichlids decide to dig in.

But can you breed cichlids in the main tank as well? Yes, you can, provided you resort to several strategies meant to provide adult and fry cichlids with a stable and healthy environment. In this sense, you should:

– Choose the Right Tank Size

Cichlids are extremely territorial, with some species displaying extreme aggression at times. Males, especially, showcase a no-nonsense attitude, often fighting other male cichlids to the death during territorial skirmishes. African cichlids require a lot of space, around 20 gallons for one cichlid, to remain relatively stable in their setting.

When it comes to African cichlids, knowing how to set up their tank is essential for ensuring the population’s stability. Since African cichlids are mostly rock dwellers, Malawi-bred ones, in particular, they have no use for vertical space. African cichlids live in mostly shallow waters compared to other species because they are more interested in horizontal space.

This means African cichlids will rarely come to the water’s surface to feed, and males set their territories horizontally. You should set up the tank accordingly and provide your African cichlids with proper space to mitigate their aggressive behavior. The tank’s size depends on the species of cichlids you have, how large the fish are, and how many.

As a general rule, smaller cichlids (below 5 inches in size) need at least 20 gallons of water for the first fish. You can then add 5 more gallons for each additional cichlid. A 6-inch cichlid requires 30 gallons of water, plus 5 or so gallons of water for each additional cichlid.

You should also consider some necessary space for various pieces of tank equipment or decorative elements like rocks and plants. African cichlids require plenty of hiding spots designed to mitigate their aggressive behavior and keep them safe from stress.

– Mix Males and Females

This is a rather sensitive topic, since African cichlid aggression manifests in a variety of contexts. Male cichlids won’t necessarily attack other males-only, but females as well, especially during the breeding phase. African male cichlids may attack unfertile females, along with other males competing over females and territory.

Here are some key tips regarding male-female rations and how to mitigate the male’s aggression during the breeding process:

  • One male per tank – Male African cichlids will fight each other constantly but will become even more aggressive when the breeding phase begins. It’s quite common for male cichlids to kill each other during this time. To prevent that, I suggest having 1 male per 4-6 females per tank. Don’t add more than 1 male cichlid per tank since any extra male will be considered a threat. In such situations, male-on-male violence is almost always bound to become deadly.
  • Pair multi-colored cichlids – Cichlids tend to become more aggressive towards fish that look like them. This is due to an underlying genetic trigger telling them that the similar-looking fish represents competition. Whether you have Mbunas, Haps, or any other African cichlids, make sure all fish differ in color. This should minimize their aggressive tendencies significantly long-term. Although, don’t expect your cichlids to become tame and friendly overnight because that will never happen.
  • Don’t mix different cichlid species – Theoretically, you can make it work. Cichlids will tolerate other cichlid species, but you can never be sure of anything. Mbunas and Haps, for instance, will never get along even if they’re of different colors and patterns. If you’ve already decided to focus on Mbunas, don’t mix them with any other species.

These measures should keep your cichlid population relatively peaceful and maintain a safer environment for the coming fry.

– Regular Water Changes

Water changes are a must for African cichlids, especially if you have a larger population. And especially during the breeding season, when the fry are about to pop. Adult cichlids will typically require 1-2 water changes per week to remain healthy and stable. You shouldn’t change more than 15% to prevent diluting water minerals too much and maintain the stability of the tank’s biofilm.

The problem is that the cichlid fry are more sensitive to environmental changes and require pretty much pristine water conditions. You should probably perform 10-15% water changes every 2-3 days, after the initial 4-5 days following the hatching.

As an important note here, the fry won’t eat during the first several days upon hatching. They will get most of their vital nourishment from the egg yolk, which is an essential evolutionary advantage since cichlid fry are mostly born without mouths. They will take several days for their mouths to fully form, allowing them to feed.

All this information relates to egg-laying cichlids. Mouthbrooders won’t need anywhere near as much assistance. The female will keep the eggs in its mouth pouch until they hatch, which means you can keep it in the main tank. The resulting fry will also rely on their mothers’ mouth pouch over the following 1-2 weeks until they are large enough to care for themselves.

– Stable Water Parameters

Any water parameter fluctuations will create an unstable environment that will go against your cichlids basic functioning. The temperature needs to remain within the safe values, and the same goes for pH, ammonia, and nitrites. For the latter 2, the acceptable values are 0.

In this sense, I recommend investing in a reliable filter, providing chemical, biological, and mechanical filtration. The addition of the filter is necessary to keep the water parameters stable, but it’s not enough in the big picture. You also need to perform tank maintenance, filter cleaning, water changes, and monitor water values constantly.

Ammonia and nitrites are of particular concern, especially for a larger cichlid population. African cichlids are notorious for their ability to poop a lot, risking an increase in ammonia which can prove fatal in certain conditions.

Keeping the water parameters stable is much more important for the fry. Cichlid fry are more sensitive to environmental changes. As general rules, keep the tank’s temperature around 80 F for the fry and maintain ammonia and nitrite levels to 0. This means you’ll need to perform regular tank cleaning, including substrate vacuuming, to eliminate excess food leftovers, algae deposits, and fish waste.

If that’s not possible for the main tank, I suggest investing in a nursing tank for your cichlid fry.

– Feeding High-Quality Food

African cichlids are omnivorous and will require a diverse diet to remain healthy long-term. You should feed your adult cichlids 2 times per day, unless they could use some extra food, as is the case with pregnant females. The fry will also require more frequent feeding, as their metabolism operates at higher rates.

You should feed the fry around 3 times per day, always in small portions and providing higher protein content. The feeding frequency will drop over the coming weeks as your fry grow.


If you love cichlids but haven’t had a thriving community so far, consider the fact that African cichlids rank as moderate-to-difficult in terms of care. They require stable water parameters, with even the smallest fluctuations creating cichlids visible distress. The situation is even more volatile when discussing cichlid fry.

If you are looking to breed your cichlids, I suggest focusing on mouthbrooders. In their case, the mother will take on the task of caring for the young, minimizing the need for a breeding or nursing tank.

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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