Cichlids are the most interesting fish you can have.  They are colorful, curious and of course cranky a lot of time but there is never a dull moment with them.  Cichlids are among the smartest of fish and are some of evolutions greatest work. Here’s a comprehensive guide that covers the basics required for Keeping Cichlids


Cichlids are basically fish that are a part of the Cichlidae family. Discus, Angelfish, Oscar and Jack Dempsey are some of the most common cichlid species that people know about. Members of the Cichlidae family can be found in a lot of spots around the world and we can say that environments will be different too. Cichlid species ended up evolving in order to properly deal with environment surroundings so that they can survive. This is the main reason why one cichlid species will show size, temperament and water quality differences when compared with another. Cichlid fish can be found in America, Asia, and Africa.

Where are Cichlids found?

Three important cichlids species groups exist according to most specialists. They are South American, Central and North American and African. Great Rift Valley is the area where most African cichlids are found. African cichlids are based on 4 subcategories based on living location. We need to mention Lake Malawi cichlids, Lake Tanganyika cichlids, Lake Victoria cichlids and others. Although it is common to consider a dwarf cichlid to be an African cichlid some people will look at them as a separate species.

african cichlid lakes

African Cichlid Lakes

Some cichlids are really problematic if we want to raise them in any aquarium. This is because some of them are really big. The biggest cichlid species can even reach lengths of 1 meter. In most situations, a dwarf cichlid will not grow more than 3 cm. Aquarists consider dwarf cichlids really appealing as they will never need large aquariums. If you do want to raise them in aquariums there is an immediate need to take good care of them as they are highly sensitive.

Even if some species of cichlids might look similar when looking at anatomic characteristics, the same thing can not be said about temperament. Cichlids show their small intestines always leaving a body towards a left side while also showing single nostril. Also, cichlids will show many teeth in both jaws and also in throats.

Cichlid Species

A lot of people have problems when understanding what cichlid fish type they are in front. This is mainly as we are faced with a lot of possible cichlid species that offer different temperaments and appearance. There can even be different feeding patterns noticed. Also, a bunch of fish stores are offering information that is inaccurate and because of this, all is tough to understand properly. Although it can be really hard to sometimes identify cichlid types we can give you a number of useful tips that you can use. Let us now analyze what can be expected.

Cichlid Categories

Appearance should be a very important factor in categorizing cichlid fish. A scientific analysis is a bad approach and the correct one is thinking about this fish as a hobby fish. Categories mentioned below are created based mostly on the use of physical appearance traits and are used to properly identify cichlids species. You can always find additional information so that you know what fish you are in front of.

Four main cichlid fish types can be mentioned from this point of view:

  1. African
  2. Neotropical
  3. Madagascar
  4. Asian.
Even if 1500 species exist we can still easily see some of the common ones and identifying them properly is highly possible. Unfortunately, a number of species can only be identified once you do a good Internet or book research.

You will need to first place your cichlid in a group before making a more accurate identification.

Madagascar cichlids are really rare and you most likely never see them in any supermarket.

Asian cichlids are usually some oddball fish. Three main species currently exist in India and Sri Lanka and are a part of the Etroplus genus. Etroplus maculates is definitely the one that is really common and is popularly referred to as Orange chromide. You will see that it is just around 2 inches long and will be really easy to breed. We should also mention the Etroplus suratensis (commonly known as Green chromide) and the rarest one, Etroplus canarensis.

There are five main types of neotropical cichlids: Cichlasoma-like cichlids, Pike cichlids, Apistogramma-like cichlids and Eartheater cichlids.

The main African cichlid types are Lake Malawi cichlids, Lake Victoria cichlids, Lake Tanganyikan cichlids, West African dwarf cichlids and others.


Feeding African Cichlids

For most beginners, the simplicity of raising fish is something that is considered wrong in most cases. African cichlids will not develop properly if you use standard fish food for their diet and you need to understand that it is not really easy to raise them. One diet might not be suitable for a type of African cichlid. When looking at eating habits we can say that we are in front of 4 main African cichlid fish categories. This brings us to the different types of African cichlid fish: omnivorous, carnivorous, herbivorous and micro-predators.

Understanding Cichlid Diet

In most cases, the species that are meat eaters or plant eaters can also receive food from other good groups. The real problem is that you should never overdo this. Whenever raising omnivore African cichlids you can, for instance, use a diet that is more suitable for a carnivorous group and the fish is to survive for some time although it will eventually become sick. Even before the purchase of the fish, there is a need to properly understand everything linked to their diets.

Cichlid flake food stands out as really good in most situations but we do recommend that you take a close look at ingredients used. Foods that contain a lot of fish meal and are fat based have to be well analyzed. Warmblooded animal food should be always avoided under all circumstances. Frozen or live fish can be used as food for cichlids even if the African cichlid will not show this as a main diet. In the event that you are raising cichlids that are carnivorous, you should use flake food that includes vegetation together with a supplementation of krill and brine shrimp.

If the African cichlid fish is to show orange, reddish or yellow coloration you do need to add pigment rich food to its diet. One really easy way to check for enough pigmentation is to analyze the food. If there is not you will notice the fish losing coloring.

Quantity Matters

Besides all that was written above we do recommend that you are also careful about something else. A lot of new fish owners will overfeed them. Cichlids do not actually need so much food as some people think. Whenever overfeeding fish can easily die. Only use a quantity that the fish can eat in half a minute on every feeding session and just feed the fish 3 times daily tops. It is quite enough.

Cichlid Care

Caring for cichlid fish can be difficult. The cichlid fish secrets that need to be known at all times are almost always in a direct link with the fish’s aggression levels. Most of the species are aggressive and do cause problems. Aggression problems that appear in cichlid fish are common for most breeders. The reason for this is that this is one fish that is territorial and a big part of its life is aggression. Unfortunately, such a fact can cause cichlids to die. You have to properly learn how aggression can be controlled so that you will not be faced with serious problems.

When mating is done the male tends to drive the female away and this is something that you always need to take into account. Female cichlids need to be provided with places where they could hide. If the female will not find this she can end up killed by the male.

Dealing with Cichlid Aggression

A cichlid fish secret you might not have understood properly till now is that a cichlid’s behavior cannot be fully controlled. Fortunately, different things can be done. The first thing you must do is decrease water temperature. When the temperature is high the metabolism of a cichlid increases. Even if they are to grow faster and feed better the aggressiveness is also to be higher. A lot of possible problems can be avoided if you take into account this simple trick.

A lot of problems that can appear need to be properly considered when you breed cichlids. Even if aggression is a really common problem there are also others so information is definitely important every time. This immediately brings us to one secret in raising cichlid fish that you might not have been aware of. Much info is already available for free online for you. If enough time is spent on doing good research then all problems can be solved as you will find information about them. Always think about doing a good research even before you purchase the cichlids.

Cichlid Disease

Contrary to what some might think fish do get sick. The breeder is the only person responsible for maintaining optimum health at all times. Usually, cichild diseases are caused by fungi, bacteria and/or parasites.

Bacterial Infection

Cichlid Pop Eye

Cichlid Pop Eye

There are different symptoms that you must look for as they are common when any cichlid is showing bacterial infections. Really common ones are the color loss, fins inflammation, fin fraying, bloating, sluggishness, eye cloudiness, breathing problems and abscesses. Common bacterial infection examples are exophthalmia, ulcers, and Pop-eye.

Fungal Infection

If a cichlid is swimming around erratically you might be faced with a fungal infection. Also, you might end up seeing different growths that are cotton like around mouth, eyes and on the skin. Whenever a cichlid is suffering from parasites then it loses appetite together with developing worms, sluggishness, heavy breathing, mucus growths, visible spots, and scratching. Really common cichlid parasites examples can be given to anchor worms, leeches, and lice.


Hole-in-the-head stands out as the most common possible cichlid disease. Appetite loss and weight loss are really common in this case and the condition is also known simply as Hexamita. In the event that you notice head depressions, you are in front of a clear sign that the fish is dealing with this. It might also suffer from Ichthyophthirius, commonly referred to just as Ich. The fish is to show different salt like marks on the body with the first ones appearing on the head. Breathing turns out to be really rapid and scratching is common. The fish is to also show fins and eyes that are cloudy.


Another highly common cichlid disease you need to know about is Dropsy. Out of all the symptoms, the one that is easily noticeable is a swollen abdomen together with different red scales that appear around it. Bacteria, parasites or cancer are the 3 reasons that are really common and cause this. Dropsy can be cured in most situations with salt treatment.

Many other cichlid fish diseases exist. You really have to provide a good tank maintenance at all times and keep the diet well balanced if you want the fish to be healthy. You do need to constantly look at the fish and if you see an odd behavior you need to see whether or not there are problems. While most diseases can easily be cured there are also some that are fatal.

Guide to Cichlids Breeding

Cichlids breeding stands out as really easy with some species and highly difficult with others. If proper fish care is used then even tough cases are to become really easy. Optimum mating conditions must always be met and this basically means that the cichlids need to remain always healthy. Mating problems can be eliminated thanks to this.

Pre-requisites to Cichlid Breeding

One really important breeding fact for cichlids fish is maintaining them in proper shape. First, you will have to buy a good filter. This is highly needed as it eliminates water pollutants. Also, we highly recommend the purchase of a very good filter and making sure that water gets changed regularly. At every point in time, a cichlid diet has to remain properly balanced.

 Check out the best canister filters reviewed by our team.  

You do need to keep the fish at optimum health as that is the only time when they will mate. Most females simply do not eat anything while we see incubation period. Even a month can pass by. Only fish with good health will manage to go through such a long food absence period. We recommend that you get many females for one male. Such a fact is to lower aggressiveness levels. The speed of breeding is crucially impacted by the diet. Much protein has to be supplied while breeding season lasts.

Being Patient

In the event that you are looking to build a very good cichlids breeding environment, it is your responsibility to do a proper research. Different species of cichlids breed differently. What is really common though is that a cichlid will become territorial. A lot of breeders fail the first time a few are aware of what perfect mating conditions mean. You should never make a similar mistake.

African Jewel Cichlid Fry

African Jewel Cichlid Fry

There are many ways to raise and harvest cichlids. You should be careful and always make sure that the mothers are moved to separate tanks. Males might end up eating the fry so you need to be careful that this does not happen. Most fry can easily grow fast but only if the water conditions are proper and we have a well-balanced diet. We can say that cichlid breeding is difficult but you can master it if you are patient enough.

Final Thoughts

We have covered the basic information required for Cichlid keeping. Cichlid Aquarium setup requires patience and care but is also rewarding.  If you are looking for setting up a cichlid tank, check this post.
Happy Fish Keeping!