African Cichlids – Species Profile & Facts

Do you want to set up an aquarium with vibrant colors? Then you will definitely need to get a few African Cichlids since they are the most colorful of them all. There are lots of different varieties to choose from when it comes to this group of fish.

Endless patterns and color variations allow you to set up an exciting that you will be proud to show to anyone. The only reason why people might change their mind about them is that they usually have some special needs compared to other popular species.

You either need to be an experienced fish keeper or do some research in order to take proper care of these beauties. But you shouldn’t let this discourage you from keeping African Cichlids at home. The beauty and interesting personality of these fish are certainly worth the effort.

Investing into a bigger aquarium is mandatory. These species are usually bigger than the ones you can find in the guppy, gourami or tetra family. In this article, we are going to explain everything you need to know about African Cichlids in general.

By learning more about them and understanding their needs, you will be able to take proper care of them at home. We will go through the tank setup, their diet and the breeding process as well. First, let’s see how they can be further divided into smaller families depending on the different lakes they inhabit.

African Cichlids Classification

African Cichlids make up only a part of the Cichlidae family. We are talking about a huge number of different cichlids that fall into this group. An incredible amount of diversity that falls into a single category. Scientists say that there are about 1500 unique species in the lakes of Tanganyika, Malawi and Victoria.

These are the three lakes where almost all the African Cichlids can be found. The ones that became widely popular among fish keepers are typically from Lake Malawi. The reason behind this is obvious, those species flourish in some of the most amazing colors and patterns.

The rarer the fish is, the better. You might face some difficulties in this regard because not every pet shop is selling these rare species. However, it is certainly worth the effort to find a way to get one. Also, the more colorful the fish is, the more money it will cost you.

Healthy adults usually cost more than the younger ones. They are not only beautiful but have interesting personalities which makes it exciting to watch them as they interact with each other. Although most of them are hardy, there are always some specific requirements that need to be met when it comes to African Cichlids.

African Cichlids Habitat

African Cichlids spend all their time swimming between and around rocks out in the wild. This is why we call them rock-dwellers as being able to hide is essential for them. Obviously, in order to mirror their natural habitat at home, you will need plenty of rocks.

Stacking rocks on top of each other can be very decorative, although very dangerous as well. As the water flows and your cichlids bump into them, the heap of rock can collapse and hurt your fish. Fortunately, there are certain types of glue you can use that work just fine underwater.

Use this aquarium-safe glue to keep that heap of rock fixed and safe for your little pets. Now as we mentioned, they enjoy digging in the substrate in the hopes of finding food. The reason why they do this is partly because they are used to fine-grained substrate that can’t hurt them.

African Cichlid species that inhabit rivers prefer a stronger water flow in the aquarium, while those that live in the lakes prefer a weaker current. In order to replicate the first variation, you will need an air pump at home. The latter can be achieved with a good filter.

In Africa, in the waters they live in, the water acidity is somewhere around 7.8-8.6 pH while the temperature is between 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, which temperature can be provided only with a heater.

Since the water there is rather hard, the water in your aquarium shouldn’t be softer than 4 dH. These are the water conditions that will keep them healthy.

Other than this, you need to make sure that sunlight or any lighting doesn’t go directly through the tank. There should be plenty of shadowy places. Buy a filter that can run the water through itself about 4 times each hour. When it comes to plants for African cichlids, we recommend you to get some Amazon Swords, Anubias or Java Fern.

African Cichlids Appearance

Although the fry of African Cichlids is not as colorful, they will show their vivid colors within a year if you take good care of them. The time it takes for them to reach maturity might slightly differ from species to species. The reason why it is important to feed them nutritious high-quality foods is because that is when they show their brightest colors.

Male individuals are typically more colorful because that is how they attract mates during the breeding season. Expect them to be about 4 to 6 inches in length after reaching maturity. Every single species that falls into the African Cichlid category has teeth that can greatly differ. Omnivores, herbivores and carnivores all have different teeth.

African Cichlids Diet

African Cichlids are typically omnivores, meaning that you can feed them both meat-based and plant-based foods. In their natural habitat, they eat plants, insects and other fish as well. Very few of them are strictly herbivores, carnivores or insectivores.

Therefore, you need to be careful if you want to keep smaller fish in the same aquarium with them. Do your research and make sure that little fish is not going to be eaten, otherwise they need to be avoided. Whichever African Cichlid you are about to choose, you need to do your homework first and look for information about their diet.

Keeping them on a healthy diet is very important. It is what makes them truly shine in their vivid colors, not to mention that it keeps diseases at bay. Every single fish should be fed with a diverse diet of flakes, pellets, live foods, frozen foods or vegetables prepared at home.

Feeding them the same food every time is definitely not the way to go. When looking for flakes and pellets, look for the high-quality ones that are full of vitamins and protein. There are plenty of brands to choose from at the fish store and many of them are specifically made for cichlids.

In general, bottom dweller species prefer to eat pellets or wafers. They simply enjoy digging in the substrate where they will eventually find a few pieces of food. For those that are more on the herbivorous side, you can prepare some raw fruits or vegetables at home by cutting up and blanching them.

African Cichlids Behavior

Most African Cichlids are energetic while some of them are even hyperactive. They are quite curious too, as they follow your every move hoping that you are going to feed them. This can be deceiving, as you might think that you are not giving them enough food throughout the day.

They are just trying to trick you, as they tend to constantly look for food. Since they are so agile, they could easily jump out of the tank. This won’t happen if you take proper care of them and the water quality. And, of course, if you don’t overcrowd the tank.

During the breeding period, most of them have to be separated because they will become overly territorial. This means that they are going to injure or even kill the weaker fish in the tank without hesitation. The solution to their semi-aggressive behavior is to get a big enough tank and make sure there are plenty of places for hiding.

This way, every one of your fish can have its own territory without having much tension between each other. They tend to look for food quite frequently throughout the day. This includes digging into the substrate in hopes of finding something to eat.

Don’t be surprised if they dislocate some of the plants or decoration every now and then. Try to buy some plants that are either floating or strongly rooted in the substrate. It is a delight to watch the many different behaviors displayed by African Cichlids in a well-populated community tank.

With so many wonderful cichlids to choose from, you can literally cherry pick them according to your taste. The end result will be fascinating to say the least.

African Cichlids Breeding

You just need to set the right conditions and it is eventually going to happen no matter which African Cichlids you own. They tend to spawn in the substrate after picking a territory for themselves. Having a couple of caves or bigger rocks will provide shelter for them during the breeding process.

Some of these cichlids are mouthbrooders, meaning that the female carries the eggs in her mouth after spawning. The eggs also get fertilized there and the female cichlid will carry them around until they hatch. This takes approximately 20 days.

African Cichlids are good parents in general and they will look after their fry for a couple of weeks. After that, they are going to get themselves ready for the next breeding. We can’t tell you precisely how long it takes for the fry to mature because it varies greatly between the different species.

Most of them become fertile within a year, that’s for sure. You need to keep in mind that their aggression goes off the charts during the breeding period. As we mentioned, they are great parents but still, some of them can become so aggressive that they will eventually eat their fry.

You can prevent this by setting up a separate tank for breeding and removing the parents after a short while after the fry are hatched. All in all, it is going to be exciting to watch how this whole breeding process unfolds between African Cichlid pairs.

It will completely change their personality and they will even perform some specific movements to arouse the interest of potential mates. Getting these fish to mate is not difficult, as you only need to keep the water conditions consistent while not changing a single thing in the environment for a while.

African Cichlids Cost

You can find many African Cichlids that cost as low as $5 to $15. If you are a beginner, buying a few cheaper ones is a great start. Then, as you become a more experienced fish keeper, you can start to buy some of the more expensive ones.

We recommend you to only buy an expensive fish if you know exactly how to take care of it. There are species from Africa that can cost more than $100. If you want to buy more than one, then this can quickly become a quite expensive hobby.

There are always cheaper variations, as sellers set a lower price for juvenile fishes, while the matured and healthy ones cost more.


We can conclude that African Cichlids are not the most peaceful fishes for a home aquarium. If you are looking to set up a community tank with peaceful fish in it, then they are definitely not for you. They are usually very active, often territorial and each of them has a range of interesting behaviors.

You will need to do a bit of research before keeping these colorful fish at home. It is absolutely worth the effort, as you will be able to have one of the most beautiful community aquariums. Hopefully, this article helped you understand these cichlids a bit more.

If you are motivated to set up your own community tank with African Cichlids, just save this article and get back to our tips from time to time. By setting the water conditions correctly and feeding them with healthy food, your fish are going to be healthy and thriving for years.

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...

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *