Africa Cichlids: Complete Guide to Care, Breeding, Tank Size and Disease

There are over 100 species of African cichlids, which belong to the Cichlidae family. These freshwater fish are inhabitants of African lakes such as Lake Malawi, Lake Tanganyika, and Lake Victoria. African cichlids are the most colorful freshwater aquarium species and are easy to maintain and cultivate in freshwater aquariums.

Various types of fishes are available in this Cichlids species like peacock cichlids, zebra cichlids, blue cichlids, kribensis cichlids, and bumblebee cichlids.

Their body length ranges between 4 and 6 inches with a lifespan of 4 to 10 years. These fish tend to be aggressive, predatory, and territorial. In nature, they live in groups and their pigmentation determines the dominance between the species; in groups, the bright fish is the dominant and the pale one is submissive.

Africa Cichlids

Table of Contents

Overview Of African Cichlids Species

Cichlids are available on the planet with more than 1500 species; all are colored beautifully. These species are grown in freshwater and found in tropical America, Mainland Africa, Madagascar, and Southern Asia. This species belongs to the Cichlidae family.

The overview of the species is tabulated below.

Information ChartAfrican Cichlids
Scientific namePseudotropheus sp.
FamilyCichlidae Family
Species Common namesAfrican Cichlid
Mostly seen inEast Africa
Size2–12 inches
Life Span6–10 years
ColourAvailable in many colors like blue, yellow, pink, green, red, and purple, with spots or stripes
Tank Size30 gallons
Temperature75–85°F (24–29°C)
Hardness12–30 dGH
Care levelModerate
BreedingBased on the African Cichlids type. It may be an egg-layer or mouth brooder
Tank Mate CompatibilityCompatible with other fish (subject to species of cichlid)
Preferred Tank Set-UpShould be a freshwater set up with rocks and caves
LightingWell lit with fluorescent light for at least eight hours a day

African Cichlids Appearance

African Cichlids Appearance

This species appears gorgeous and adds beauty to any aquarium. Available in different sizes, colors, patterns on the body, and fin styles, these fishes come in albino variations with yellowish, pinkish-white bodies and red eyes.

Types Of African Cichlids

Zebra cichlids

Maingano Cichlids

This species exhibit stripy white and black colors and also orange, red, yellow, blue hues.

Maingano Cichlids

The body color of the species is blue with black horizontal stripes and black-colored fins.

Peacock Cichlids

Peacock Cichlids

Peacock Cichlids are mostly yellow, red, gold, blue, and purple colors.

Frontosa Cichlids

Frontosa Cichlids

This type of cichlids are available in white or grey, light blue bodies with black vertical stripes.

Electric Yellow Cichlids

Electric Yellow Cichlids

These species will be available in yellow color with whitish-yellow color bellies.

Electric Blue Cichlids

Electric Blue Cichlids

These species are available in vibrant blue color.

Bumblebee Cichlids

Bumblebee Cichlids

These species are available in yellow with black vertical stripes.

Demasoni Cichlids

Demasoni Cichlids

Demasoni Cichlids are available in black, blue bodies with light blue vertical stripes.

Yellow African (Labidochromis caeruleus)

This is a fish that stands out because of the contrasting colors it displays on its body. It sports a bright electric yellow that is contrasted by the black tips on its fins. It also has a dorsal fin that starts right behind the head and spans the full length of the body. A fully grown adult Yellow African Cichlid will grow to a little bit over 3 inches. This is another African Cichlid that is from the Malawi lake.

African Butterfly (Anomalochromis thomasi)

The African Butterfly Cichlid is a variety of African cichlids that originates from the rivers of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. It can be identified by the five vertical black bars that can be seen along the length of its body. These bars are accompanied by rows of horizontal spots that are usually blue or green.

Lifespan Of African Cichlids

The typical lifespan of an African Cichlid is about 8 years.

Just like any other fish, their lifespan varies greatly based on the conditions they live in. The lifespan also varies depending on the specific species being considered. There have also been observations of certain species of African Cichlids living up to 15 years. However, the lifespan will drop if they end up living in sub-optimal conditions with a poor diet and poor water quality.

Size Of African Cichlids

An African Cichlid can grow up to 3 inches on the lower end and 8 inches for a larger specimen.

Bigmouth haps are the largest cichlid species, which reaches the length of 12 inches and “multies” are the smallest species, which grows a maximum of 2 inches.

African Cichlids Natural Habitat and Origin

African Cichlids Origin

These species are most abundantly found in three African lakes: Lake Malawi, Victoria Lake, and Tanganyika Lake. The suitable conditions for these species’ growth are clear water, sandy substrates, and high quantities of vegetation. These species prefer to stay in the shallows of the habitat.

African Cichlids Aquarium Habitat

African Chichild - Natural Habitat and Origin

The aquarium should be decorated with rocks and caves to maintain the natural environment of the fish because they live and spawn under the rocks and caves.This species likes to dig in the gravel and organize it, thus, gravel should be decorated around the rock (or clay pot) on the bottom of the tank. Aquarium silicone may help to glue rocks together in order to prevent a cave forming due to cichlids digging. The fish can destroy the plants by digging and eat all of them, it is not recommended to cultivate a plant in the tank.

A thirty-gallon tank is the optimal size with a minimum size of 29-gallons.  A 55-gallon tank may be necessary depending on the tank density. An external filter or under-gravel filter is available for filtration. An external filter is more useful because fish can ruin the under-gravel filter due totheir digging activity. Water temperatures in the range of 24-270Celsius (75-80° Fahrenheit) is recommended. There is no intense lighting needed in the tank. Shallow rocks contain algae, insects, bacteria, and crustaceans, which these fish enjoy scraping and eating. Their optimal pH requirement is alkaline (pH=8.5), but they can survive in neutral and acidic water, though this will make the species prone to illness. Aquarium water shouldn’t contain ammonia, thus regular water changing (25-40%) is fundamental.

African Cichlids Care and Tank Set-Up

African Cichlids Tank Size & Specifications

In caring for African Cichlids Species, tanks play an important role. So, we need to know in detail about the size, shape, substrate to be placed in the tank to maintain the proper pH level.

African Cichlids Care and Tank Set-Up

Let’s know about all the details:

Optimum Tank Size of African Cichlids

The recommended tank size for African Cichlids is 55 gallons. 

Tank Shape for African Cichlids

The ideal tank shape of African Cichlids is rectangular because it comes in various sizes and different filtering options.

Filter Type

Most African Cichlid owners opt for Dual Canister filtration. If your tank is a larger one, a set–up that consists of an overflow, a sump, and a wet/dry set–up is used to handle the bioload and flow requirements of the tank. The rule of thumb is to have 8 to 10 times the gallon per hour flow filtered every hour.


Most people tend to use a one or two-inch deep standard aquarium sand or gravel as the substrate in their tank for African Cichlids. However, crushed coral, coral sand, or crushed oyster shells will help in maintaining the required pH and alkalinity to support the health of the cichlids. This will ensure the maximum lifespan for these fish while also giving them a better and brighter color.

How Many African Cichlids in A 55-Gallon Tank?

In a 55-gallon tank, we can keep a minimum of 10 to 15 species. The count varies based on the cichlids’ size, shape, and behavior.

Water Parameters for African Cichlids

Maintaining a good and healthy water condition is mandatory for setting up an African Cichlids aquarium. For the fish to live in a healthy, stable, and clean environment, you should take care in the early stages of the aquarium setup regarding handling the waste. It should be key to check the water quality with test kits like API frequently.

To maintain good quality water, you can use conditioners to evaporate the chemicals present in the tap water. But, unfortunately, all the chemicals in the water will not evaporate, so de-chlorination of water is required. Moreover, water conditioning is essential to maintain the fish’s healthy bacteria and remove chemicals like chloramine, ammonia, and fluoride.

Water Temperature

The ideal water temperature for African Cichlids is between 74 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit ( 23 and 28 degrees Centigrade ).

pH Level

The perfect water pH level for African Cichlids is between 7.4 to 9.3. 

The pH level is used to measure the hydrogen concentration level in the water. It is done to know the acidic or alkaline nature of water. The scale runs from 0 to 14 pH, where the pH value of 7 indicates the water is neutral. For Malawi African Cichlids, pH from 7.4 to 7.9 is ideal, and for Tanganyikan African Cichlids, the pH should be around 8.3 to 9.3.

Depending on the selected species, the pH of the water should be maintained.

Hardness Of Water

Removal of the trace elements like calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, sulfates, and chlorides are required. The general hardness should be between 160 ppm and 200 ppm.

African Cichlids Tank Landscape

While setting up an aquarium for freshwater species, you’ll need a big tank to make it stable. The minimum size of the tank should be 55 gallons. Longer tanks are good for the African Cichlids instead of taller tanks. After finalizing the tank size, you can add good plants and lighting to add the beauty of the aquarium and help in the fish’s growth.

African Cichlids Tank Landscape

Best Plants for African Cichlids Tanks

The plants that are good for African Cichlids are mentioned below

Worst Plants for African Cichlids Tanks

The plants that should not be added to the African Cichlids are mentioned below.

  • Angel’s trumpet 
  • Azalea
  • Black walnut
  • Bleeding heart 
  • Castor bean 
  • Chokecherry/Cherry 
  • Climbing nightshade 
  • Daphne 
  • Flowering tobacco 

Decorations For African Cichlids Tanks

Decorating the fish tank is fun, exciting, and makes your aquarium unique. Select the right substrate (rocks, sand, pebbles, crushed coral, sand), decorative plants, caves, and driftwood. 

The mentioned things add beauty to the aquarium, but they will also act as a suitable habitat for the fish. Some decorative accessories are expensive, so carefully select the required ones.


For the good growth of the fish, there should be enough light intensity in the tank for a minimum of 6 to 8 hours. Excess growth of algae would take place if we did not provide sufficient lightning

Nitrogen Requirements for African Cichlids

When fish waste is present, ammonia is formed. This is very toxic if it reaches levels that are higher than 0.25 particles per million. The safe level is 0 to 0.25 particles per million.

As Nitrosomas (nitrite forming bacteria) start to develop in the tank, they convert ammonia to nitrite. Nitrite is not a good element to have in the tank. It must not exceed 0 particles per million.

As Nitrobactors (nitrate forming bacteria) develop, they decrease the levels of nitrite but increase the level of nitrate. During this cycle of ammonia and nitrite being converted into nitrate, billions of small bacteria arise which help keep your aquarium clean and stable. However, nitrate build-up also takes place at times and this must also be limited to below 20 particles per million.

Phosphate is another element that must not be very prevalent in your tank. It can stress your fish and their immune systems while simultaneously causing algae to bloom. Keep your phosphate level below 0.5 particles per million.

Feeding African Cichlids

Best Diet for African Cichlids

African Cichlids are also called opportunistic eaters, as they consume algae, insect larvae, bloodworms, and brine shrimp. Live, frozen,pellet, flake food and algae are suitable food for this species, especially since they process food more slowly than other fish. Feeding can be done two to three times a day in a small amount and once a day in large quantity. Food should be consumedin 30 minutes ordecreased if leftover food is observed.

Africa Cichlids

Some African Cichlids are known as insectivores, as they eat mostly insects. Some species like mbuna cichlids are called herbivores. Foods which settle at the bottom of the tank are highly preferable because the fishes will settle on the surface of the substrate for food.

Hence, we recommend you carefully know the diet as per the selected species.

How Often Should You Feed African Cichlids?

African Cichlids should typically be fed 5 to 6 times a day.

African Cichlids Behaviour and Temperament

African Cichlids show varieties of behaviors when placed in a crowded tank. This species will actively participate in swimming, chasing, nipping, and chasing for food. These species will stay more active in the daytime.

Are African Cichlids Lone or Societal?

African Cichlids are societal, so they have to be placed with good tank mates.

If provided with the right living conditions, African Cichlids can survive alone. However, it is recommended that you keep at least a breeding pair or more together. This will allow them to thrive. While it is possible to keep them alone, it would be a cruel deed to deny them of any company and we strongly recommend keeping them together.

African Cichlids Tank Mates

African Cichlids attack other fishes in the tanks while swimming. It is not recommended to keep small fish with this species as they will eat.

African Cichlids Tank Mates

Ideal African Cichlids Tank Mates

To keep the aquarium safe, it is advisable to keep the solo species in the tank. 

Bad Tank Mates for African Cichlids

The fish with different water needs should not be included in the tank, like corys, clowns, loaches, and small fishes.

Since African Cichlids are generally aggressive fish, there are several fish that should be avoided as tank mates. Among these, the first one is fish that like to swim in open water. The territorial nature of the African Cichlid means that it will make the fish in open water a target and attack it. Another factor that should be kept in mind is that small fish must be avoided. This is because small fish immediately become a meal for the Cichlids. Yet another thing to keep in mind is to not mix African Cichlids with South American Cichlids. They both look similar, but they have different caring needs and routines. Moreover, they will almost certainly get into fights.

Breeding African Cichlids

African cichlids are very easy to breed. Eggs can be found on rocks, walls, or atop flowerpots, and in caves. Male cichlids fertilize the eggs and the female fish, “maternal mouth brooders,”  incubate the fertilized eggs in her mouth for 21 to 31 days until hatching time. During this period, she tumbles the egg in her buccal cavity. In time, the female releases free-swimming fry to the water. If the newborn fry is threatened by other fish, mother cichlid takes them back in to the buccal cavity. After the mating, the male will disturb the female. It is necessary to transfer the female to a separate tank that allows the fry to grow safely and the female to recover easily. 

Breeding Method of African Cichlids

  1. Establish a breeding tank by decorating with plenty of sandy substrate and caves. To encourage breeding, the temperature of the tank should be maintained at 85oF.
  2. Pick and place the healthy male and female fish in a breeding tank. Feed the fish with high-quality protein food to keep the fishes in perfect condition for breeding.
  3. While male fish start mating, it will give specific movement and various colors to attract the female fish. If the female fish shows interest, she will reach the male for pairing inside a cave.
  4. If the female doesn’t show any interest in a week, immediately return it to the home tank and add another female fish to the breeding tank. Once the breeding is completed, the female will start laying eggs. After laying the eggs, they will carry them in the mouth to protect them.
  5. The laid eggs will hatch in about 21 days. Most African cichlids will take care of their fry in the first two weeks. In some cases, parents may eat the fry. Carefully observe the tank; if you find any such case, immediately move the fish to the main tank.
  6. Start feeding the fry with brine shrimp in the first week, later for the next six months; feed the fish with pellet food. After fry reaches the adult stage, shift the fish to the main tank.
  7. The breeding time for African Cichlids is crucial to the other fish in the tank as at this stage, they tend to become even more aggressive. They may even lose their parental instincts at times and eat their fry. To prevent this from happening, you must separate the fry from the parents into a separate tank.

African Cichlids Breeding Level


African Cichlids Sexual Dimorphism?

To distinguish between male and female African Cichlids, observe the following.

  • Males are often slimmer but larger-bodied than females and are more vibrantly colored
  • The dorsal and anal fins of the male are more pointed, larger, and more flowing
  • The shape of the female species is round whereas shape of the male species is elongated
  • Normally Males are be more bright, vibrant, and colorful.

African Cichlids Common Diseases and their Treatment

Poor water quality and stress are the main reasons fish are vulnerable to diseases.  It is important to feed fish with the correct diet. If the fish is pale, slow-moving, and/or not eating it is recommended to transfer the fish to a quarantine tank. Malawi bloat, skinny disease, swim bladder disease, cotton wool disease, hole-in-the-head disease, and white spot are the most common African cichlid diseases.A poor diet can damage the internal organs of the fish. The fish’s diet shouldn’t contain protein-rich food.

Gill Flukes

Dactylogyrus (gill flukes) are found on the tips of the gills and occasionally on the skin of fish. The symptoms that are shown in this condition are rapid respiratory movements, fins held against the body, and flashing. It is usually caused by ulcers and secondary infections. It is usually treated by antibacterial or antifungal medication.

Malawi Bloat Disease

Poor water quality and diet can cause the Malawi boat disease. In this situation, a 50% water change is required. 

Skinny Disease

The skinny disease is contagious and lethal. The disease manifests with a hollow stomach. 

Swim Bladder Disease

In the case of swim bladder disease, the fish struggles to lose balance and cannot swim regularly. The fish will swim towards the lower part of the tank or float on the top of the water.

Cotton Wool Disease

It is a disease that is caused by the bacteria Flavobacterium columnare. It is not a fungus despite how it looks. This disease affects the gill and skin of the fish. Usually caused by poor water conditions. The first step to treating it is to isolate the infected fish. The veterinarian prescribes an antibiotic that is added to the tank. If the fish is severely sick, it may even require euthanasia.

Hole-In-The-Head Diseases

A parasitic invasion causes this disease. The fish should be transferred into a quarantine tank when suffering from parasitic, bacterial, and viral diseases.

White Spot (Ich)

Ich is caused by an external parasite that causes multiple white spots on your freshwater fishes’ skin and gills. The most common cause of Ich is failure to quarantine a new fish added to the aquarium. To treat your infected fish, a veterinarian will need to take a look first. They will prescribe a treatment for the fish. Meanwhile, maintaining your water conditions is key to eliminating Ich from your tank.

Facts About African Cichlids

The facts about the Species are as follows

  • Cichlids are an extremely diverse family of fishes, most of which are found in rift lakes in Africa
  • Stunning Appearance
  • Nearly 1000 varieties of species are found
  • There are more than 500 species in just three lakes: Victoria, Malawi, and Tanganyika
  • Most are specialized feeders, which allows many different types to live together without much competition.
  • Among the predatory species, tastes differ along with variations in jaw shape. Some mollusk eaters crush the shells of their prey and eat them whole, while others grab the extended foot of the prey and suction them out of the shell
  • These fishes are available in plenty of colors
  • Species grow in a minimum size of 4 cms and a maximum of 90 cms
  • Grows in Freshwater
  • Incubation will be done in mouth brooders or on the substrate 

Are African Cichlids Right for You?

These fishes are suitable for beginners, as they are available in various colors and grow in freshwater.

If what you are looking to add to your aquarium is a few peaceful fish, then African Cichlids are not for you. They are aggressive fish that need to be kept with other large and aggressive fish. However, they are a very colorful species that make for great entertainment to anyone watching them. They are a great addition to your aquarium if you are an experienced veteran aquarist.


Do Cichlids Kill Each Other?

Yes, there is a possibility of killing each other. Hence the proper place in the aquarium is required to hide in the tank.

Can I keep African and South American Cichlids in the same tank?

No, keeping African and South American Cichlids in the same tanks is not advisable. They each have different requirements and care routines. Also, they are almost certainly going to get into a fight.

Which Cichlids Are Called Least Aggressive Cichlids?

The least aggressive cichlids are Dwarf cichlids like Apistos, Multis, Discus, and Angelfish. They will eat the tiny fish available in the aquarium in very rare cases.

Can You Suggest the Best Cichlids for Newbies?

Species like Convict cichlids Electric Blue Acaras are good for Newbies

Can You Mention the Available Types of Cichlids?

This species is mostly found in African Lakes like Victoria. It is very difficult to specify the exact number of species available; nearly 2000 to 3000 species are expected.


In this article, the overviews of the African Cichlids are briefly explained. How to set up an aquarium tank, water in the tank, maintaining the temperature, balance pH, good and bad tank mates, breeding, feeding, Symptoms, and how to deal with the fish affected with the disease are instructed. Now, it’s your turn to get the right species from African Cichlids and add them to the aquarium. Proper recycling of the water will improve the life expectancy of the fish.

3 thoughts on “Africa Cichlids: Complete Guide to Care, Breeding, Tank Size and Disease”

  1. I have 3 cichlids in a 70 gallon tank can I add three more with out having trouble with the current fish in the tank


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