Are African Cichlids Livebearers?

African cichlids are not livebearers. They are mouthbrooders, which is a very interesting way of giving birth to cichlid fry. We are talking about a huge family of hundreds of species here. Wild, vivid colors and energetic, often aggressive behavior characterizes them.

For fish keepers who are looking for a bit of a challenge instead of just keeping peaceful fish together, it is a great choice to keep African cichlids. If you are interested in breeding in particular, then you are going to be surprised how easy it is.

Once you have figured out how to take proper care of these cichlids, breeding is really going to be a breeze. If you are interested in how it works, then keep on reading and we will explain it to you.

How do African Cichlids Breed?

Mouth breeding is a rather unique breeding practice out in nature. Most of the African cichlid species that breed this way can be found in Lake Malawi. In Lake Victoria and Tanganyika, they can also be found sparingly.

The thing that is so unusual about mouth breeding is that the female basically incubates the eggs in her mouth. These eggs also get fertilized in her mouth, thanks to the deceiving tactic of the male. Near his anal fin, he has an egg-like bulge that makes her think there are more eggs to collect.

Before she knows it, all the eggs in her mouth are fertilized. Meanwhile, the female won’t eat until the eggs are hatched.

At What Age do African Cichlids Start Breeding?

Although there are many African cichlid species, it takes an average of 9 months for them to become fertile. This is when they might start to look for a breeding pair. If the circumstances are ideal, they are going to start the breeding process.

Since they can become particularly territorial while breeding, fish keepers often breed them in a separate tank. Setting up another aquarium is the safest and easiest way to breed your African cichlids. This is especially true if you keep them with many different tank mates.

The more species there are in the aquarium, the more different interactions can happen between them. While breeding, they are very defensive and all they care about is the safety of their eggs. This is true for the male and the female as well.

How Often do African Cichlids Breed?

In an ideal home aquarium, you can expect your African cichlids to breed every 6 weeks. If you are doing it right, you can get plenty of little cichlids bi-monthly. Keeping proper care of them means that you are providing them ideal water conditions and a balanced diet.

Not to mention that they need enough space in order to feel comfortable and undisturbed in the tank. Experienced African cichlid breeders know that keeping the female strong and healthy is the most important factor.

The whole mouth breeding process is indeed a demanding one and they need to be ready for it.

How Many Fry do African Cichlids Have?

A female African cichlid can usually carry 10 to 30 eggs in her mouth depending on her age. Once she swallows the eggs, she carries them for up to two weeks. That is when the little cichlids are typically going to hatch.

The mother is still going to be protective, sucking the fry back whenever she feels threatened. Usually, a batch of 10 eggs is what you can expect from a new, young mother.

Those who are looking to sell African cichlids need to wait until the mother matures in order to be able to sell them in bigger amounts.

Do African Cichlids Eat Their Fry?

It can certainly happen that the African cichlid female eats her fry if she is stressed out. If they don’t feel safe while incubating the eggs in their mouth, they are going to eat those too. This is why it is so important to make them as safe and comfortable as possible.

For example, if your African cichlid mother has eggs in her mouth, it is not a good idea to take her out and check for the eggs. Many fish keepers do this only to eventually find out that she swallowed the eggs. She felt threatened by her owner who kept taking her out of the tank.

Also, the female is going to be very hungry after releasing the eggs since she has not eaten while incubating them.

Do African Cichlids Care for Their Fry?

It is the African cichlid mother who truly cares for her fry. The sole purpose of the male fish is to fertilize the eggs. Then, it won’t make a difference even if you remove him from the tank.

This is what fish keepers usually do, they remove the male right after breeding and let the female raise the fry.

The male is not going to care about the babies anyway, except if he is really hungry. Setting up a separate tank of 10-15 gallons is ideal for most African cichlid females. There, she can raise the babies without any other fish disturbing her.

If you want to make sure that the adults won’t eat the fry, then just put more hiding places into the tank and they are going to be fine.


As you can see, African cichlids are not livebearers at all. Their breeding process is a completely different one that includes the female incubating the eggs in her mouth.

Although these fish species might be aggressive and territorial, they are surprisingly easy to breed.

It takes some time to get used to their needs but once you figure it out, breeding them is going to be a breeze. The most important information that you need to know about this topic is all here in this article.

However, we recommend you to read more about the particular African cichlid species you want to keep. There are always some differences in temperament and basic needs that you need to be aware of.

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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