Best South American Cichlids for Beginners

Cichlids are some of the most beautiful and fascinating fish to keep in an aquarium. They are very active and some even say they can recognize their owner’s steps. Cichlids are curious fish always willing to explore every inch of their tank and every object and decoration at hand.

They can be difficult to manage because they are very territorial, but placing many cichlids into the aquarium can solve this. This way, they will not be able to set up their own territory to attack other trespassing fish.

Additionally, many aquarists recommend putting different cichlids together to avoid gangs forming to harass the singles, plus, you will have a very colorful tank, as no two fish have the same shape, patterns, or colors.

Unlike other tropical fish, cichlids do not form schools to swim together in the same direction, but would rather do some exploring on their own.

They are very interactive and attracted by new things placed in the aquarium. It is best to provide cichlids with lots of rocks and caves for hiding, but be careful to place them on the aquarium bottom in order to prevent the cichlid from moving them or removing sand from under the rock.

Also, cichlids are pretty large fish so 20-gallon tanks can be used for a breeding pair, but community tanks should never be smaller than 50-gallons or even 240-gallons for the largest cichlids.

South American cichlids can reach from 1 inch up to 24 inches and come in many shapes and sizes. The most well known are the angelfish, but due to their sensitivity, they are not recommended for beginner aquarists.

Another cichlid group that’s very popular is the Oscar, often very admired for their beautiful colors and dog-like personality, even eating from their owner’s hands and allowing the owner to pet them.

The following species are the easiest to keep, as they will not grow too large and have easy to achieve water parameters. They are also the least aggressive among all cichlids.

Best South American Cichlids for Beginners

Dwarf South American Cichlids

Cockatoo (apistograma cacatuides)

The Cockatoo cichlid is very territorial and a micro-predator and feeding on live feeder fish or shrimp as well as crisps or flakes designed for cichlids. Due to their territorial trait the Cockatoos should be the only Apistogramas kept in their tank usually, a male-female pair is best.

Males grow up to 3 inches, while females only reach up to 2 inches long. The best tank for them would be at least a 20-gallon; they require dim lighting and a pH around 5.0 to 7.0.

Ram Cichlids

The Blue Ram (Mikrogeophagus ramirezi) and Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosus) can be a stunning addition to your aquarium because of their beautiful and vibrant color variations.

They reach about 2-3 inches, with males being thinner and having a sharper top fin than females. They come from a tropical climate, so water temperature needs to be around 78-82° Fahrenheit.

They should be placed together with peaceful fish like guppies, tetra, or Angelfish, avoiding territorial larger species such as larger cichlids, betta fish, or carnivorous fish.

Rainbow Cichlids (Hertilapia multispinosa)

Rainbow cichlids are peaceful and non-competitive fish and can be kept successfully within a community together with catfish, tetras, giant danios, or plecostomus, as well as other non-aggressive cichlids like Firemouth cichlids or Blood Parrot.

They can tolerate a wide pH range from 6.5 to 8.0 and water temperature between 72-77° Fahrenheit.

Large South American Cichlids

Blue Acaras (Aequidens pulcher)

This is another peaceful cichlid, but only when not raising its offspring. It is easily bred, so their price is pretty low making them very accessible to hobbyist aquarists. The largest Blue Acaras reach up to 6.3 inches and it’s best to keep them with larger fish or at least fish of their own size, as Acaras are known to bully or even eat smaller fish.

Provide multiple hiding spots for this kind of fish to provide extra privacy.  Their ideal water temperature should be between 72-85° Fahrenheit and pH between 6.5-8.0.

Severum (Heros serverus)

The Severum, also known as Eye-spot Cichlid, Hero Cichlid, or Banded Cichlid, is a very large South American cichlid and can grow up to over 10 inches long. It enjoys soft, slightly acidic water with pH between 6-7 and temperature between 73-84° Fahrenheit.

As it is an omnivore, it will also eat your live plants, so it’s best to place plastic fauna in the tank. Suitable tank mates are a matter of individual behavior; all Severums become territorial while breeding, but otherwise, some are known to be very peaceful and others attack any fish in their range.

Concluding Remarks

There is a cichlid for every aquarist, as there are so many different species to choose from. They have the most interesting behavior and are considered to be pretty clever, but some of them can be challenging to keep.

If you really want to start an aquarium with cichlids, any of the species above will be perfect starting fish.

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