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

African Cichlids are a large species of fish from various lakes in Africa. The three main lakes are Tanganyika, Malawi, and Victoria. The African Cichlids are a family that has over a hundred different species. They are some of the most colorful species that we see in freshwater aquariums. The care level that they require varies from type to type of cichlid. Many of these fish have specialized diets and will require plant matter and algae. The tank size, water parameters, and diet all vary a bit from type to type of African Cichlid.

There are plenty of colors and patterns that you can find among the various types of cichlids. This makes them a perfect addition to your fish tank as they provide a wide range of colors to your aquarium. They are also an extremely active family of fish that make them entertaining to watch in an aquarium.

Information Chart:African Cichlid
Scientific NamePseudotropheus is the genus of the African Cichlids which belongs to the family Cichlidae
FamilyCichlidae Family
Care LevelIntermediate to advanced depending on the type
TemperamentSemi Aggressive to aggressive and very territorial
ColourA wide variety of colors depending on the type of Cichlid
LifespanUp to 15 years depending on the species
SizeBetween 3 to 8 inches depending on the species
DietVaries based on the species
Minimum Tank SizeAt least 30 gallons
TemperatureBetween 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit (24 to 27 degrees Centigrade)
Water conditionspH level should optimally be 8.5 (Alkaline) but they can survive in neutral and acidic water (not advised)
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

About African Cichlids

African Cichlids Appearance :

African Cichlids Appearance

As we mentioned earlier, there are lots of different types of African Cichlids that we can find, all with their own colors and patterns. There are too many to describe the appearance of each one. If we did, this article would go on for significantly longer. Generally, these fish take time to develop color. As fry, they seem to be unassuming fish, but give them a year and their true color shall come about. The colors are brighter when they are kept healthy. They are even more colorful when aggravated or during times of mating. Another factor that is seen to vary between different types of cichlids is the teeth. Different Cichlids have different types of teeth that are formed based on their diet. Some of them have smaller rows of teeth that are used in scraping algae off rocks while others have long, fang-like teeth to catch other smaller fish. Here is the description of a few of the common cichlids we find in aquariums.

Types / Varieties of African Cichlids :

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.

Maingano (Pseudotropheus cyaneorhabdos):

This variety of the African Cichlids is instantly recognizable by the bold horizontal stripes in a variety of blues. The fish carries an elongated body with a rounded snout at the front and a continuous dorsal fin that runs along the entire body from behind the head.

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.

Zebra Mbuna aka Zebra Cichlids (Maylandia estherae):

Zebra Cichlids

These fish have been named very aptly as they sport alternating stripes of different colors across the length of their body. These colors can be blue, yellow, black, white, and even orange at times. They are another species of African Cichlids that have their origin in Lake Malawi. The Zebra Cichlid can reach a length of about four and a half to five inches as an adult. Sometimes, just like the Yellow African Cichlid, the Zebra Cichlid will also show black-tipped fins.

African Peacock Cichlid (Aulonocara nyassae): There have been many Peacock Cichlids that have been seen in Lake Malawi. All of these fish display bright and vibrant colors like a peacock. This is where their name comes from. The brighter and more vibrant fish are typically the males. These fish usually grow to a size that lies between 4 and 6 inches.

The 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.

African Cichlid Size :

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

As mentioned Earlier, the African Cichlid has a lot of different varieties of species. Some of them are smaller than others. The smaller ones might grow to a maximum size of 3 inches while the larger species may even touch 8 inches.

Natural Habitat and Origin :

Image by Zeljko Mihic from Pixabay

As mentioned earlier, the African Cichlid is a family of multiple fish that are endemic to various lakes in Africa. Lake Malawi, Lake Victoria, and Lake Tanganyika are the three major lakes to which the origin of African Cichlids can be traced. Their wild habitat in these lakes has made them rock dwellers as they would be surrounded by multiple gaps created in between rocks. They also are accustomed to water that is slightly warmer than a lot of other fish as the temperatures in Africa tend to be slightly higher. African Cichlids are surrounded by lots of plants as well in the lakes. Their natural habitats are usually a little more crowded as compared to other fish.   

African Cichlids care and Tank Set-Up

African Cichlid Tank Size and Specifications :

Optimum Tank Size for African Cichlids :

The optimum tank size for African Cichlids is 48 inches long, 13inches wide, and 21 inches tall.

Assuming that you are not going to be keeping more than 15 African Cichlids in a single tank, the ideal tank size would be 55 gallons. In some cases, a 30-gallon tank would also suffice, but we still recommend the ideal 55-gallon tank.

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.  

Substrate

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 can be placed in a 55 Gallon Tank?

A maximum of 15 African Cichlids can be placed in a 55-gallon tank depending on the species of cichlid you place in the tank.  

Water Parameters for African Cichlids

Water Temperature :

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

African Cichlids tend to need the temperature of water to be a little higher as compared to other fish. This is because the temperature that they are accustomed to in their natural habitat is warmer and the cichlids have adapted to this temperature over generations.

pH Level

The perfect pH level of the water for African Cichlids is between 7.8 and 8.6

 African Cichlids prefer to have the pH of the water they dwell in to be a little high (alkaline). They can survive in neutral water but that is not ideal for the well-being of the fish.

Water Hardness

Most cichlids thrive in water that has a pH of 7.8 to 8.6 and a general hardness that lies between 160 to 320 parts per million. The carbonate hardness should be around 180 parts per million and must not exceed 240.

African Cichlid Tank Landscape :

Most of the African Cichlids that are kept in home aquariums are rock dwellers. In their natural habitat, many rocks create caves under the water, giving them hiding places. This is crucial and something that should be replicated in the tank as African Cichlids are very territorial fish and can be aggressive at times. Having access to hiding places helps avoid conflict. These fish also like being surrounded by plants and different types of furniture.   

Best Plants for African Cichlid Tanks

The Best plants to be kept in tanks as company for African Cichlids include Anubias, Java Ferns, Hornwort, Green Cabomba, Java Moss, and Anacharis. The fish do not like the taste of these plants and therefore do not end up eating them.

Worst Plants for African Cichlid Tanks

Apart from the plants mentioned above, we do not recommend any plants to be kept in the tank as they will be eaten by the Cichlid.

Decorations for African Cichlid Tanks

Most African Cichlids prefer to have either rocky hiding places or open spaces where they can freely swim. The caves formed by rocks are necessary additions to the tank as they live and spawn under them. African cichlids also tend to dig into the substrate. This could potentially dislodge the rocks and caves. A simple solution is to glue the rocks together using aquarium silicone. Make sure that the substrate is not too coarse. A fine-grain substrate will ensure that the fish do not get injured while hunting for food at the bottom of the tank.  

Lighting for African Cichlid Tanks

In their natural habitat, the African Cichlids are exposed to about 8 hours of sunlight every day. This is harsh, unfiltered, high-intensity light. Try to replicate this lighting by exposing them to your indoor light and set a timer for every 6 to 8 hours where it is turned off. If there is excessive exposure to light, beyond 8 hours, there may be extra unwanted growth of algae.

Nitrogen / Other Nutrient Requirements for African Cichlids tank

 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

In the wild, African Cichlids eat a wide range of foods including plants, insects, smaller fish. Like most other species, they too are omnivores. Except for peacock cichlids who are insectivores (diet is comprised mainly of insects) and some species of the Tilapia genus that are herbivores (mainly eat only plants and algae), the rest will eat fish or a mixture of the three diets. Always research the species of fish you want to keep. This will make sure you provide them with the right diet for their nutrition.

No matter the diet these fish follow in their natural habitat, they will all consume the flake or pellet food that is bought at stores. This can be supplemented with frozen or live food like fish or insects or even algae depending on the preferences of the fish. The species that are generally bottom dwellers will enjoy wafer or pellet food. The occasional treat of a bloodworm can be added to their diet as a way to mix things up. For the herbivorous species, add raw fruit or vegetable matter.   

How often should you feed African Cichlids?

Adult Cichlids need to be fed around 3 to 4 times a day. Meanwhile, the fry need to be fed around 5 to 7 times a day. This manner of feeding them helps to curb their aggression. Also, do not be shocked by the rate at which these fish consume food. They are very fast eaters and can consume large amounts of food in a single sitting as well.

African Cichlids Behaviour and Temperament :

Are African Cichlids lone or Societal in Nature?

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 :

Ideal African Cichlid Tank Mates

Bottom-dwelling fish make good tank mates for African Cichlids as long as they can stand up to and match their aggression and size. Examples include the African Catfish. They are large, can swim fast, and are aggressive enough to defend themselves. The perfect tank mates for African Cichlids would be more of the same species.

Bad Tank Mates for African Cichlids 

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

All Cichlids lay eggs. Most of them lay their eggs on rocks or in caves while guarding them until they hatch. The species that do not lay their eggs in rocks or caves are usually mouthbrooders. These are species that hold the fertilized eggs in their mouth until they are ready to hatch. This entire process takes about 21 days. After the eggs hatch, the females look after the fry for a maximum of maybe two weeks after which they are on their own.

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.

To attract a mate, the African Cichlid usually performs a type of courting ritual that involves a display of colors along with a series of movements that is entertaining to watch. Encouraging your Cichlids to breed involves making sure that there is no change in their environment, including no aqua scaping, no change to water parameters, and no addition of new fish. Cichlids are also able to crossbreed, meaning two different species of African Cichlids may breed.

African Cichlid Breeding Level: Easy

African Cichlid Sexual Dimorphism

 Telling male Cichlids apart from females is not an easy task. However, some signs can help identify the gender of the fish. 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 than in the female. The males will also normally be more bright, vibrant, and colorful than the females.

African Cichlids Common Diseases and their Treatment :

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.

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.

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

  • Cichlids are an extremely diverse family of fishes, most of which are found in rift lakes in Africa
  • 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

Are African Cichlids right for you?

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.

FAQ :

How many different species of African Cichlids have been discovered?

The actual number of species of African Cichlids is unknown but is believed to be somewhere between two and three thousand.

Are there any non – aggressive cichlids?

Yes, there are quite a few non – aggressive cichlids. Among them are the Keyhole Cichlid and Bolivian Ram Cichlids.

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.

Conclusion :

Owning African Cichlids can be very interesting. Taking care of them poses a challenge and is rewarding. Moreover, they are a very bright, colorful, and vibrant addition to any aquarium. You have all the information about them in the article you just read. Now, it is your decision.

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