African Cichlids Care: Tank Setup, Water Quality, Diet, Breeding, and More!

If you’re looking for a unique and colorful addition to your aquarium, African cichlids might be just what you need. These fish come in a variety of species, each with their own distinct characteristics, making them a fascinating addition to any tank. In this article, I’ll cover everything you need to know about caring for African cichlids, from their origins and appearance to tank setup and maintenance.

African Cichlids require a tank of at least 55 gallons with a temperature range of 75-82°F, pH range of 7.8-8.6, and a varied diet of commercial flakes, pellets, and live or frozen foods. They are generally aggressive and territorial towards other fish, and may require a separate tank during breeding season. Proper filtration and regular water changes are essential to maintain water quality. Providing adequate hiding places and territories can help reduce aggression.

One of the most striking things about African cichlids is their appearance. These fish come in a range of colors and patterns, from bright blues and yellows to bold stripes and spots. They also vary in size, with some species growing up to a foot long. But don’t let their beauty fool you – African cichlids can be aggressive and territorial, so it’s important to choose tank mates carefully. In this article, I’ll cover which fish are compatible with African cichlids and which should be avoided.

Caring for African cichlids involves more than just providing a beautiful tank. You’ll need to pay close attention to water quality, diet, and breeding if you want your fish to thrive. In the following sections, I’ll cover everything you need to know about keeping your African cichlids healthy and happy, from water temperature and pH to feeding frequency and breeding setup. Whether you’re a seasoned aquarium owner or a beginner, this article will provide you with all the information you need to care for your African cichlids.

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Species Summary


African cichlids are freshwater fish that are native to various lakes and rivers in Africa, including Lake Malawi, Lake Tanganyika, and the Nile River.

These fish are known for their vibrant colors and unique patterns, making them a popular choice for aquarium enthusiasts.


The lifespan of African cichlids varies depending on the species, but on average, they can live for 5-10 years in captivity with proper care.


African cichlids come in a wide range of colors and patterns, from bright yellows and oranges to deep blues and greens. They also have a unique body shape, with a long, slender body and large, protruding lips.


The size of African cichlids varies depending on the species, but they can range from just a few inches to over a foot in length.

Growth Rate

The growth rate of African cichlids is influenced by several factors, including their diet, water quality, and tank size.

With proper care, these fish can grow quickly and reach their full size within a few years.

Behavior & Temperament

African cichlids are known for their active and sometimes aggressive behavior.

They are territorial fish and can become aggressive towards other fish in their tank if they feel threatened.

However, with proper tank setup and careful selection of tank mates, they can coexist peacefully with other fish.

Male vs Female

Distinguishing between male and female African cichlids can be difficult, as they often look similar.

However, males tend to have brighter colors and larger fins, while females are typically smaller and have a more subdued coloration.

Overall, African cichlids are fascinating fish that can make a great addition to any aquarium. With proper care and attention, they can thrive and provide endless hours of enjoyment for their owners.

Tank Setup

Tank Size

The size of your tank will depend on the number of African Cichlids you plan to keep. As a general rule, a 55-gallon tank can accommodate up to 10 small to medium-sized cichlids.

However, larger species will require a larger tank. It’s important to provide plenty of swimming space and hiding places for your fish.


Proper lighting is essential for the health of your African Cichlids. They require a minimum of 8-10 hours of light per day.

LED lights are a popular choice for aquariums because they are energy-efficient and provide a natural-looking light.

Avoid direct sunlight on the tank as it can cause algae growth and temperature fluctuations.

Filtration & Aeration

A good filtration system is crucial for maintaining a healthy environment for your fish.

A canister filter or a hang-on-back filter is recommended for African Cichlids. You should also consider adding an air stone or bubbler to increase oxygen levels in the tank.


African Cichlids require a stable water temperature between 75-82°F.

A submersible heater is recommended to maintain a consistent temperature in the tank.


Choose a substrate that is suitable for African Cichlids. Sand or crushed coral are popular choices as they mimic the natural environment of these fish.

The substrate should be at least 2-3 inches deep to allow for burrowing and sifting.


African Cichlids love to have hiding places in their tank. You can use rocks, caves, and driftwood to create a natural-looking environment for your fish.

Avoid using sharp or jagged decorations that can harm your fish.


While African Cichlids are not known for eating plants, they can uproot them while digging in the substrate.

If you choose to add plants to your tank, choose hardy species such as Anubias or Java Fern. You can also use plastic plants as an alternative.

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Overall, setting up a tank for African Cichlids requires careful consideration of their specific needs. By providing the right environment, you can ensure that your fish thrive and live a long, healthy life.

Personally, I have found that adding a few pieces of driftwood and some live plants to my African Cichlid tank has made a big difference in their behavior.

They seem to be more active and less aggressive towards each other. It’s amazing how much of an impact the right tank setup can have on these beautiful fish.

Water Quality

Water quality is crucial to the health and well-being of African Cichlids.

In their natural habitat, these fish live in the lakes and rivers of Africa, which have specific water conditions that must be replicated in an aquarium setting. Here are some key factors to consider when it comes to water quality:

Water Temperature

African Cichlids prefer water temperatures between 75-82°F (24-28°C).

It’s important to maintain a consistent temperature and avoid sudden fluctuations, as this can stress out the fish and make them more susceptible to disease.

Water pH

African Cichlids thrive in alkaline water with a pH between 7.8-8.6. It’s important to monitor the pH regularly and make adjustments as needed.

Adding crushed coral or limestone to the aquarium can help maintain a stable pH level.

Water Hardness

African Cichlids require hard water with a high mineral content. A general hardness (GH) level of 8-12 dGH and a carbonate hardness (KH) level of 12-20 dKH is recommended.

Again, adding crushed coral or limestone to the aquarium can help maintain the proper water hardness.

Water Changes

Regular water changes are essential to maintaining good water quality in an African Cichlid aquarium. Aim to change 20-25% of the water every two weeks.

Use a good quality water conditioner to remove any harmful chemicals or impurities from the tap water.

By paying close attention to water quality, you can ensure that your African Cichlids stay healthy and thrive in their aquarium environment.

Personally, I’ve found that maintaining proper water conditions has been the key to keeping my African Cichlids healthy and happy.

I make sure to test the water regularly and make adjustments as needed. It can be a bit time-consuming, but it’s well worth it to see these beautiful fish thriving in their aquarium.


Feeding African cichlids is an important aspect of their care. Providing them with a balanced and nutritious diet is crucial for their overall health and well-being.

In this section, we will discuss what to feed, frequency, and tips for feeding.

What To Feed

When it comes to feeding African cichlids, variety is key. Their diet should consist of a combination of dry and frozen foods, as well as live foods.

Dry foods such as pellets and flakes should make up the bulk of their diet. Look for high-quality foods that contain a variety of ingredients, including spirulina, krill, and shrimp.

Frozen foods such as brine shrimp and bloodworms can be given as a treat a few times a week. Live foods such as blackworms and daphnia can also be offered occasionally.


African cichlids should be fed twice a day, in small amounts.

Overfeeding can lead to health problems such as bloating and swim bladder issues. It’s important to monitor their feeding habits and adjust accordingly.

If you notice that your cichlids are not finishing their food within a few minutes, reduce the amount you are feeding them.


Here are a few tips to keep in mind when feeding your African cichlids:

  • Feed a variety of foods to ensure a balanced diet.
  • Soak dry foods in tank water before feeding to prevent them from expanding in the fish’s stomach.
  • Avoid overfeeding to prevent health issues.
  • Remove any uneaten food after a few minutes to prevent it from fouling the water.

By following these tips and providing your African cichlids with a well-balanced diet, you can help ensure they live a long and healthy life.

Tank Maintenance

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Maintaining a healthy tank is crucial for the well-being of your African Cichlids. Here are some tips to keep your tank in top condition.

First, regular water changes are essential. I recommend changing 20-30% of the water every two weeks. This will help keep the water clean and remove any excess nutrients or toxins that can harm your fish. Second, keep an eye on your filter.

It’s important to clean or replace your filter media regularly to ensure it’s working effectively. A dirty filter can lead to poor water quality and harm your fish.

Third, monitor the temperature and pH levels of your water. African Cichlids prefer a pH between 7.8-8.6 and a temperature between 76-82°F.

Use a reliable thermometer and pH testing kit to check the levels regularly. Fourth, keep your tank decorations and substrate clean.

Use a siphon to remove any debris or waste that accumulates on the bottom of the tank. This will help maintain good water quality and prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. Finally, be observant and proactive.

Watch your fish for any signs of illness or stress, and address any issues promptly. Regular maintenance and attention to detail will help ensure a healthy and thriving tank for your African Cichlids.

Overall, proper tank maintenance is key to keeping your African Cichlids happy and healthy. By following these tips and staying on top of regular maintenance, you can enjoy the beauty and personality of these fascinating fish for years to come.

Tank Mates

Compatible Fish Species

When it comes to keeping African cichlids in a community tank, it’s important to choose tank mates that are compatible with their behavior and temperament. Some good options include:

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  • Bottom-dwelling catfish such as plecos and synodontis
  • Non-aggressive species of cichlids such as Julidochromis and Neolamprologus
  • Small to medium-sized tetras such as neon tetras and cardinal tetras
  • African butterfly fish

I personally have had success keeping my African cichlids with a school of neon tetras. They add a nice pop of color to the tank and don’t bother the cichlids.

Incompatible Fish Species

On the other hand, there are some fish species that should not be kept with African cichlids. These include:

  • Aggressive cichlids such as Oscars and Jack Dempseys
  • Large, predatory fish such as Arowanas and Pike cichlids
  • Fast-swimming fish such as danios and barbs, as they may stress out the cichlids

It’s important to note that even within the same species of cichlids, there may be individual fish that are more aggressive than others.

It’s always a good idea to monitor your fish closely and be prepared to separate any that are causing issues with the others.

In conclusion, choosing the right tank mates for your African cichlids is crucial for their health and happiness.

By selecting compatible species and avoiding those that are known to be aggressive, you can create a thriving community tank that everyone can enjoy.

How Many African Cichlids Should Be Kept Together?

When it comes to keeping African cichlids, one of the most common questions is how many of them can be kept together in a single tank.

The answer to this question depends on a few factors, such as the size of the tank, the species of cichlids, and their behavior and temperament.

As a general rule, it is recommended to keep at least six African cichlids together in a single tank. This helps to reduce aggression and establish a natural hierarchy within the group.

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However, it is important to ensure that the tank is large enough to accommodate the number of cichlids, as overcrowding can lead to stress, disease, and even death.

The size of the tank is crucial when it comes to keeping African cichlids. A larger tank provides more space for the cichlids to swim and establish territories, which can help to reduce aggression and promote a more natural behavior.

As a general rule, a tank size of at least 55 gallons is recommended for most species of African cichlids.

It is also important to consider the behavior and temperament of the cichlids when deciding how many to keep together.

Some species are more aggressive than others, and may require more space and fewer tank mates to thrive.

It is important to research the specific species of cichlids you plan to keep, and to choose tank mates that are compatible with their behavior and temperament.

Finally, it is important to monitor the water quality in the tank when keeping African cichlids. These fish are sensitive to changes in water temperature, pH, and hardness, and require regular water changes and maintenance to stay healthy.

By keeping the tank clean and well-maintained, you can help to ensure that your African cichlids thrive and live a long and healthy life.

Overall, the number of African cichlids that can be kept together depends on a variety of factors, including the size of the tank, the species of cichlids, and their behavior and temperament.

By doing your research and providing a suitable environment for your cichlids, you can enjoy these beautiful and fascinating fish for years to come.

Personally, I have found that keeping a group of six or more African cichlids together in a large tank can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience. Watching their natural behavior and interactions with each other is truly fascinating, and I have learned a lot about these amazing fish over the years.

Common Diseases


As with any fish species, African Cichlids are prone to certain diseases. One common disease that affects African Cichlids is Ich.

Ich is a parasitic disease that causes white spots to appear on the fish’s body. Another disease that affects African Cichlids is Bloat. Bloat is caused by overfeeding and can be identified by the fish’s swollen belly.

I have personally dealt with Ich in my African Cichlid tank and it can be a frustrating experience. It is important to catch the disease early and treat it properly to prevent it from spreading to other fish in the tank.


Some symptoms of diseases that African Cichlids may exhibit include loss of appetite, lethargy, rapid breathing, and changes in color or behavior. It is important to monitor your fish closely and look for any signs of illness.


The treatment for diseases in African Cichlids varies depending on the specific disease. For Ich, raising the temperature of the tank and adding medication can help to eliminate the parasites.

For Bloat, it is important to reduce feeding and add Epsom salt to the tank to help the fish pass any blockages.


Preventing diseases in African Cichlids starts with maintaining good water quality and avoiding overfeeding.

It is also important to quarantine any new fish before adding them to the main tank to prevent the spread of diseases.

Regular water changes and keeping the tank clean can also help to prevent diseases from taking hold.

Signs of Sick African Cichlids

As a responsible fish keeper, it is your duty to keep an eye on your African Cichlids and ensure they are healthy. Here are some signs to look out for that may indicate your fish is sick:

  1. Loss of appetite or sudden decrease in feeding behavior
  2. Abnormal swimming behavior, such as swimming upside down or sideways
  3. Visible wounds or injuries on the body
  4. Unusual coloration or discoloration
  5. Erratic behavior, such as darting around the tank or hiding
  6. Gasping at the surface of the water or rapid gill movement

If you notice any of these symptoms, it is important to take action quickly to prevent the spread of disease in your tank.

The first step is to isolate the sick fish in a separate quarantine tank to prevent the spread of infection to other fish in the main tank.

Next, you should perform a thorough water test to ensure the water quality is optimal for your fish. Poor water quality can weaken the immune system of your fish, making them more susceptible to disease.

If the water quality is fine, you should consult a veterinarian or a knowledgeable fish keeper to diagnose the illness and prescribe the appropriate treatment.

Some common diseases that African Cichlids are prone to include Ich, Velvet, and Bloat.

Remember, prevention is always better than cure.

To prevent your fish from getting sick, make sure to maintain optimal water quality, feed them a nutritious and balanced diet, and avoid overcrowding in the tank.

Personally, I once had a beautiful African Cichlid that suddenly stopped eating and started hiding in the corner of the tank. I quickly realized that it was sick and took it to a veterinarian who diagnosed it with Ich. With proper treatment and care, my fish made a full recovery, and I learned the importance of regular health checks for my fish.

Signs of a Healthy African Cichlid

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As an African Cichlid owner, it is important to know what a healthy fish looks like. Here are some signs to look out for:

  1. Bright and vibrant coloration
  2. Active and alert behavior
  3. Clear and bright eyes
  4. Smooth and intact fins
  5. Healthy appetite
  6. Regular and consistent breathing

If your African Cichlid is exhibiting any signs of illness or abnormal behavior, it is important to take action quickly. Early detection and treatment can make all the difference in the health and well-being of your fish.

Personally, I have found that observing my fish regularly and closely has helped me to quickly identify any changes in their behavior or appearance. Don’t be afraid to get up close and personal with your fish – it can help you to catch any potential health issues before they become serious.


Breeding Setup

Before breeding African cichlids, you need to set up the breeding tank. The tank should be at least 30 gallons and have a pH of 7.8-8.6 and a temperature of 78-82°F.

The substrate should be fine sand or gravel, and you should provide plenty of hiding places, such as rocks and caves. It’s also important to have good filtration and aeration in the tank.

How To Breed

When breeding African cichlids, it’s important to have a ratio of one male to several females. The male will choose a spawning site and will court the females by displaying his colors and fins.

The female will lay her eggs on the spawning site, and the male will fertilize them. After spawning, the female will guard the eggs while the male guards the territory.

After about three days, the eggs will hatch, and the fry will become free-swimming after another five days. At this point, you can feed them newly hatched brine shrimp or crushed flakes.

How to Tell if African Cichlid is Pregnant

African cichlids don’t get pregnant like livebearing fish. Instead, the female will lay eggs and then guard them until they hatch. You can tell if a female is ready to lay eggs by the swelling of her abdomen and the brightening of her colors.


After the eggs hatch, it’s important to provide the fry with plenty of hiding places and food. You should also do frequent water changes to keep the water clean and healthy for the fry. As they grow, you can gradually introduce them to a larger tank with more fish.

It’s also important to note that some African cichlids can be aggressive towards their own offspring, so it’s best to separate the fry from the adults once they become free-swimming.

Overall, breeding African cichlids can be a rewarding experience, but it requires careful planning and attention to detail. With the right setup and care, you can raise healthy and vibrant cichlid fry.

Personally, I found breeding African cichlids to be a fascinating and fulfilling experience. Watching the male court the females and seeing the eggs hatch into tiny fry was truly amazing.

It’s a great way to learn more about these beautiful fish and to appreciate their unique behaviors and personalities.

Product recommendations for African Cichlids:

  1. Hikari Cichlid Gold – These pellets are specially formulated for cichlid fish like African Cichlids, and will provide them with the essential nutrients they need.
  2. Omega One Super Color Flakes – These flakes are a great option for feeding your African Cichlids, as they are high in protein and other important nutrients.
  3. API Stress Coat Water Conditioner – This water conditioner will help to reduce stress in your aquarium, which can be especially important for sensitive fish like African Cichlids.
  4. Seachem Cichlid Lake Salt – This salt is specifically designed to recreate the natural environment of African Cichlids, and can help to promote their health and well-being.
  5. Fluval FX6 High Performance Canister Filter: – This powerful filter is great for larger aquariums and can help to keep your water clean and clear, which is important for the health of your African Cichlids.
  6. Eheim Jager Aquarium Thermostat Heater – A heater is essential for maintaining a consistent water temperature in your aquarium, which is important for the health of your African Cichlids.
  7. API Master Test Kit – This test kit is a great way to monitor the levels of ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate in your aquarium, which can help you keep your African Cichlids healthy.
  8. CaribSea African Cichlid Mix: – This substrate is specifically designed for African Cichlids, and can help to recreate their natural environment in your aquarium.
  9. Hydor Koralia Nano Aquarium Circulation Pump – A circulation pump can help to keep the water in your aquarium moving, which can be important for the health of your African Cichlids.
  10. Penn Plax Cascade Canister Aquarium Filter – This high-quality canister filter is another great option for keeping your water clean and clear, which is important for the health of your African Cichlids.


After researching and caring for African cichlids, I can confidently say that they are a fascinating and rewarding species to keep in your aquarium. With their vibrant colors, unique behaviors, and variety of species, they are sure to add excitement to any tank.

It’s important to remember that African cichlids require specific care and attention to thrive. From tank setup to water quality to diet, every aspect of their care should be carefully considered to ensure their health and happiness.

One of the most important things to keep in mind when caring for African cichlids is their behavior and temperament. While they can be aggressive towards each other and other fish, with proper tank mates and a well-designed tank setup, they can live harmoniously and even form social bonds.

Overall, African cichlids are a fantastic addition to any aquarium, but they do require a bit more effort and attention than some other species. With the right care and attention, however, they can live long, healthy, and happy lives in your tank.

Personally, I have found caring for African cichlids to be a rewarding and enjoyable experience. Watching them interact with each other and explore their tank is a constant source of entertainment and fascination. If you’re willing to put in the effort, I highly recommend giving African cichlids a try.


As an African cichlid owner, you may have some questions about caring for your fish. Here are some frequently asked questions:

Q: How many African cichlids can I keep in my tank?

A: The number of cichlids you can keep in your tank depends on the size of your tank and the species of cichlid. As a general rule, you should have at least 10 gallons of water per cichlid. It’s also important to research the specific species you plan to keep, as some are more aggressive and territorial than others.

Q: What should I feed my African cichlids?

A: African cichlids are omnivores and should be fed a varied diet of both meaty and plant-based foods. Pellets and flakes specifically designed for cichlids are a good choice, but you can also supplement their diet with frozen or live foods like brine shrimp or bloodworms. It’s important to avoid overfeeding, as cichlids are prone to obesity.

Q: How often should I do water changes?

A: Water changes should be done on a regular basis to maintain good water quality. As a general rule, you should do a 20-30% water change every two weeks. However, the frequency and amount of water changes may vary depending on the size of your tank, the number of fish, and the filtration system you have in place.

Q: Can African cichlids be kept with other fish?

A: African cichlids can be kept with other fish, but it’s important to choose compatible species. Avoid keeping cichlids with fish that are smaller or less aggressive, as they may become targets for aggression. It’s also important to avoid mixing cichlid species from different regions, as they may have different water requirements and temperaments.

Q: How can I tell if my cichlid is sick?

A: Signs of illness in cichlids may include loss of appetite, lethargy, rapid breathing, or visible signs of disease like white spots or fin rot. If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s important to take action quickly to diagnose and treat the problem.

Q: Can African cichlids breed in captivity?

A: Yes, African cichlids can breed in captivity. However, breeding can be a complex process that requires specific conditions and careful monitoring. If you’re interested in breeding your cichlids, it’s important to do your research and be prepared to invest time and resources into the process.

Remember, owning African cichlids can be a rewarding experience, but it’s important to provide them with the proper care and environment to thrive. If you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to a knowledgeable aquarium professional or online community for guidance.

Reference: Wikipedia.


Hi there! My name is Jacob, and I'm the founder of this Pet people blog that talks all about aquarium and fishkeeping. I've been passionate about fish and aquatic life since I was a kid, and I've spent countless hours learning about different species, their habitats, and how to create the perfect environment for them to thrive in.

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