Everything you need to know about cichlids before making up your mind


So are you thinking about getting some cichlids for your aquarium? This guide will help you to do so successfully.

Cichlids are a species of fish for tropical freshwater aquariums, of which there are more than 900 registered species, with a very wide geographical distribution.

Most of the Aquarium Cichlids come from Africa, although there are also species from Central and South America, and very few from Southeast Asia, which provides a great variety of aquarium fish of other species.

Although not all of them are suitable for living in aquariums, there is a sufficiently large representation, which brings a good variety and showiness to freshwater aquariums.

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Types of Cichlids species

There are more than 1300 species of these original fish, but not all of them are available for sale, nor do they all adapt well to life in the aquarium.
When it comes to Cichlids, aquarium enthusiasts usually make two well differentiated distributions, the African Cichlids and the American Cichlids, to which a third is added, which are the Dwarf Cichlids.
We are going to see the unique characteristics of each of these varieties of Cichlid fish.


African cichlids

The African cichlids come mostly from lakes:

  • Malawi
  • Tanganyika
  • Victoria
  • Edward

The most popular are the cichlids from lakes Malawi and Tanganyika hence the names Malawi cichlids and Tanganyika cichlids.

It is thought that there are still quite a few species to discover and although there are a combined about 900 known species (between African and American Cichlids), it could reach at least 1,600 species of African Cichlids.

African Cichlid Aquarium

African Cichlids prefer waters with a high pH and gH, with a scarcity of vegetation.

African Cichlids are prone to moving aquarium plants. The reason is very simple; the lakes from which they come do not usually have much vegetation, due to their special conditions.

This custom greatly complicates the development and maintenance of a planted aquarium. But if you still want to contemplate adding some vegetation, the plants that best support their behavior are the Vallisnerias and the Anubias.

Malawi Cichlid Aquarium

The ideal conditions for a Malawi aquarium are:

  • pH: 7.5 to 8.5
  • gH: 8º to 20º
  • Temperature: 25º C

Malawi Cichlids are especially curious as they are mouthbrooders. They are Cichlid fish characterized by a very striking color.

Lake Tanganyika Cichlid Aquarium

The water quality for this aquarium has to move within the following parameters:

  • pH: 7.5 to 9
  • gH: 10º
  • Temperature: 25ºC

The big difference between Lake Tanganyika Cichlids and Lake Malawi is in diversity. While those of Tnaganica are very diverse in forms and attitudes, those of Malawi are much more homogeneous.


American cichlids

The American Cichlids, contrary to what happens with the Africans, are more frequently found in rivers than in lakes, such as the Convict Cichlid, which lives in the rivers of Central America.

They also usually require other types of more acidic and soft waters, typical of the rivers in which they live, such as the Negro River or the Amazon.

They contribute a smaller number to the known and named species of Cichlids, only about 200.

American Cichlid Aquarium

American freshwater cichlids prefer planted aquariums. The reason is obvious; their habitats usually have a good amount of aquatic plants.

What both Cichlids agree on is the need for powerful filtration, in addition to having to propose extra oxygenation to the aquarium.

The quality of the water for the American Cichlids has to move in the following parameters:

  • pH: Between 4.5 and 6.5
  • gH: From 2º to 12º
  • Temperature: 25ºC to 30ºC

Dwarf cichlids

The dwarf cichlids can be classified within the group of Americans, since it is usual that when talking about these fish we are referring to the genera Apistograma, Microgeophagus and Nanacara, varieties that do not usually exceed 10 centimeters.

They are fish with a calm character, which can share space with a wide variety of fish.

We can apply the same water quality needs to them as for American Cichlids, taking into account that they are quite delicate, and that you have to show a lot of control over the aquarium.

Habits and customs

Most of the Cichlids reach a size of between 5 cm and 30 cm inside the aquarium.

To the attractiveness of its coloration and shapes, we must add its more than interesting reproduction habits, since these species are very attentive with their young, while other species eat them.

As we are talking about a very broad genus, the behavior between individuals of the same species, and with the rest of the inhabitants of the aquarium is quite uneven.

As a rule we can say that they are quite territorial, so it is necessary to have a good size aquarium if we introduce several specimens.

They usually swim in the lower part of the aquarium, where we must provide them with shelter where they feel safe.


What do cichlids eat?

They are omnivores; they will not have problems when it comes to being fed in the aquarium. Cichlids are usually fed live prey, freeze-dried foods and industrial foods designed for them: scales, granules … Care must be taken with their feeding in captivity, since they tend to suffer from overfeeding.

To avoid this point, they should be fed twice a day, with all they can eat, but for a short period of time.


Its reproduction in home aquariums is relatively simple, for those varieties adapted to home aquariums.

It is usually important that the couple be of a similar age, because if not, they tend to face each other and see each other as adversaries.

We must distinguish two main types of spawning, those made on the substrate of the aquarium, and the one that takes place in caves.

Some species carry out mouth incubation, in which the fertilization of the eggs occurs in the female’s mouth.

Maintenance of a cichlid aquarium

Aquariums for Cichlid should be spacious. The ideal aquarium should be long and wide, regardless of the height of the urn, since most of these fish require enough space to swim.

Inside the aquarium you have to strategically place stones and wooden logs, so that they can have their shelter and define their territory.

Although it is always a good idea to have plants in the aquarium, to help us improve the maintenance process, Africans tend to move them, making their maintenance very difficult.

In any case it is best that the plants are well anchored, to avoid having to be fixing the interior of the aquarium every day.

A very important point to have a good Cichlid aquarium is to take care of the filtration system.

Cichlids are fish that stain a lot, so we must have a good filter, and also think about providing a good amount of extra oxygen.

The lighting of the aquarium is not a point of conflict for cichlids. Normal lighting with fluorescent tubes is more than enough, unless we have plants that require higher luminescence environments.

Many hobbyists like to introduce led lamps, which highlight the natural color of the cichlid.

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