The Fish Keeping & Aquarium Guide.

How To Care For African Cichlids?

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African cichlids are one of the most popular fishes that fish keepers are vying. These fascinating creatures make a beautiful addition to your collection with their iridescent scheme of colors per type. It can even be a collection of its own in a separate aquarium. African cichlids are freshwater fishes with a more sizeable variety native in Asia, South America, and Africa.

Hailed from the Cichlidae family, cichlids are known for their vibrant color and an even wider variety of species thriving in their diversity. New species discovered every year, however, the rest of its kind is still yet to be found. Cichlids pride itself in over 2000 to 3000 species of its kind. Their colors and patterns make them enticing for the fish enthusiast, hobbyist, and wide-eyed spectator in aquariums.

Though upon taking care of African cichlids, you may wonder how come their colors are duller than what you see in the pictures? Well, African cichlids don’t usually have a more tinted or vibrant color until they are at least a year old. Their color is affected by how you care for them.

African cichlids have a huge variety, especially in the wild, though only a few species found as pets. Like the Malawi cichlids originating from East Africa in lakes such as Lake Malawi, some in Lake Victoria, and Lake Tanganyika has a whopping 700 species alone. If you manage to see a particular fish, it can be more or less not available in the market or fetches a pricier tag. You may also notice that many fish keepers and even store owners have Malawi species of African cichlids.

Of course, along with their popularity and beauty, these fetch prettier penny than their counterparts, and the more vibrant their color, their price increases.

Description (Lifespan, Types, Appearance and Size)

Most species of African cichlid found in the wild and some are readily available in the market as pets. Each kind of African cichlid has a tweak in their personality (e.g., aggressiveness) and the tank’s requirement to suit their needs. African cichlids, right of the bat, are quite aggressive and territorial, so knowing their kind will ensure that you will be able to take better care of them and even making your hobby worth it.

Most cichlids last for up to 8 years, and along with their age, should monitor their size since you will have to buy a bigger tank. Most hobbyists suggest having a minimum of 55-gallon tank for beginner fish keepers. Because of the diversity and sometimes finicky nature of each kind, it is better to research each type of African cichlid.

Here is a list of African cichlids that are readily available in the market and their differences. Most of the fishes here in this list are Mbunas or Malawi cichlids, which are sourced from Lake Malawi and known to be herbivores. Mbuna is a term meaning ‘rock-dwelling’ which refers to most fish in this list.

1) Maingano

It is a type of Mbuna that also come from Lake Malawi. Showcasing their striking blue stripes, even described as neon or electric, that run along the length of their body. They also have a rounded snout and continuous dorsal fin. Females are distinct for having their bellies in a lighter color than the males’ and shorter pelvic fins. For hobbyists and fishkeepers, Maingano cichlids are relatively easy to take care of, and their size can reach up to 4 inches. They prefer warmer waters and a slightly higher degree of dissolved oxygen. They thrive in small groups, and they are known for their aggressive and territorial behavior.

2) Zebra Mbuna aka Zebra Cichlids

Its pattern is very similar to the animal got its name. It has the prominent alternating light blue or gray, and black or darker blue hue stripes for the male and females are known to be polymorphic, which means they morph from one color to another, from grey and blue to darker hues. These are known for their active and, of course, aggressive nature.

3) Orange Zebra

There is also a separate variety from the zebra Mbuna called red zebra. Identifying the difference between the size of males and females is that males grow to about 5 inches while females only grow up to 4 inches in length.

This type appears with an orange body with black stripes or spots. In comparison to the zebra Mbuna, this particular type is an aggressive cichlids, so extra caution on placing it with their tankmates.

4) Compressiceps

The Malawi eyebiter, known for its aggressive nature and, yes, bites off the eyes of other fishes. They display a flamboyant shimmering silver color, making their blue color and orange fin highlights even more eye-catching. These can get big from 9 inches, so tank space is essential, as well as keeping it well-fed, which would secure the tendency of blinding its tank mates.

5) Electric Yellow

It appears in a bold yellow color and can grow from 3 to 4 inches in the tank with a lifespan of 6- 10 years maximum with proper care. Also known as Lemon drop or Yellow lab, males have a deeper and more vibrant color. For beginners, this is a recommended fish since they are less aggressive than other African cichlids.

6) Peacock Cichlids

One of the most recommendable cichlids in the family is the electric yellow since they are less aggressive and can better adjust with its tankmates. It is also one of the most flamboyant and popular among enthusiasts with its color going from pretty much every color you can imagine a fish can have–dark tan, shades of blue, red, yellow, and silver. One type of this cichlid is sunshine peacock for its sunshiney yellow color accented with blue marks.

These prefer to stay at the bottom of your tank. These are quite resilient creatures and can tolerate changes in water temperature and conditions. They can live up to about eight years and known for many names in markets, including Red shoulder, midnight, and fairy.

7) Haplochromis or, simply, Hap

Haps appears quite common in the Cichlidae family and are larger than their Mbuna counterparts. Though they are more peaceful, ranging in the middle of the aggressive scale, they can get along better with their relatives and other fish. Haps like to roam around rocks or in open water, so a lot of movement and active traveling from this fish.

8) Electric Blue Hap

Also known as the Hap Ahli, are distinct among haps having an electric blue color. Though they are known to be less aggressive than most of their cousins, you wouldn’t want them to be in the same tank as peacock cichlids since both are equally territorial and usually results in the fighting.

9) Kribensis or Kribs

These cichlid group only grows up to 7.5cm or 3 inches and are probably the smallest among the Cichlidae which gained it the term of dwarf cichlid. Its name is Latin for ‘beautiful belly’ since its females, during the spawning season, showcases its cherry-red colored belly. They can only live for about five years.

10) Blue Dolphin Moorii

Flaunting its glimmering blue scales and protruding forehead, these grow up to 10 inches or more. From its namesake, its snout resembles that of a dolphin’s. This type is suitable to take care of by experienced fish keeping enthusiasts though keeping them is quite challenging due to their high level of maintenance and, due to its size, it requires a large tank.

11) African Butterfly

African butterflies are prominent for their wing-like fins. It’s five black stripes that run along the length of their body and their green or tan color form. These can grow up to 5 inches and have a more peaceful temperament than most. Though a word of caution in taking care of this fish, it tends to swallow anything it can fit into its mouth and your need to secure the top of your tank since it can glide over short distances.

12) Buffalo Head

Also known as humphead, lionhead, and blockhead is native in the congo river basin. Besides their prominent head, they also adopted a somewhat jerky swimming style due to its former habitat. They sport a dark greyish color and only grow up to 5 inches maximum. Despite its looks, it’s quite peaceful compared to other African cichlids and gets along with most of them.

13) Giraffe

These also originate from lake Malawi and are quite intelligent species aside from their attractive color and form.

Also called Venustus, they can grow up to 10 inches, known for their elongated body that is usually yellow patterned with dark blotches similar to that of the giraffe. These are predatory fish and clever ones at that, famously for baiting unsuspecting fish with dead bait. It burrows itself in the sand near its ‘bait’, and once a fish shows interest in the bait, the giraffe fish grabs it sideways with its mouth.

Giraffe fish are easy to take care of as long as experienced fishkeepers know its trait and characteristics, as well as the probable tank mates suitable for it.

Food And Diet

Not all African cichlids have the same diet. They could be herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores. Upon setting up your tank for cichlids, be sure to know their diet, especially with their nature. The best option for these, of course, is to separate tanks of herbivores from carnivores and to mix a variety with their staple food. Though most enjoy pellets and wafers as these simply can be dropped in your tank, you should take notice of their diet, and mixing their food will help take better care of their health with Zen tubifex worms, bloodworms or brine shrimp.

Carnivores include African butterflies and giraffe cichlid since they hunt for small fish. There are also insectivores, a type of carnivore, but with insects as their staple food (e.g., peacock cichlids).

Vegetarians are Tropheus and Goby cichlids and vie for spirulina flakes, tablets, pellets, and even dried seaweed paper or nori. Electric yellow cichlids are omnivores.
Research goes a long way toward taking care of African cichlids. For herbivores, even you may drop from fruit and vegetable matter from your kitchen, which they will surely enjoy.

You’ll only need to feed your fish twice a day. Be careful not to overfeed them, and you can test their limits by dropping food that they can finish in just three minutes.


Based on the list above, all of the African cichlids display aggressive behavior than most types of tropical fish. Many fish keepers who have African cichlids advise on the cleanliness you need to maintain since they can be messy, so constant water filtration is required. Their maintenance and care are much more specific than most such as temperature, tank size, filtration, oxygen levels, tank mates, cleanliness, and design.
African cichlids prefer warmer temperatures and are suited to hardy environments.

Before purchasing that fish that beautifully swims around the tank, think carefully: Are you sure you can manage that fish? Will you be committed to taking care of it?
African cichlids are one of the most challenging to take care of them. Commitment and investing in excellent fish keeping equipment is one of the foundations you need to establish to make your fish comfortable.

Cichlids don’t need state-of-the-art equipment for fish keeping but simply monitor the cleanliness of your tank by changing the water every other week. It will help lower down and maintain the nitrate level that is right for the cichlids. Some have special abilities like the African butterfly, so having a heavy tank lid will keep your fish from jumping over your tank.

Their aggressiveness varies per type of cichlid, so monitoring the ‘hierarchy’ within the tank is crucial since they are territorial. We wouldn’t want the new fish to get bullied, so better to put three to five of a sort, depending on their size, in the tank to balance the conflict. You can pretty much have fun with your design, but keep in mind the type of African cichlid you have, like Mbunas, these prefer to go around rocks or flit around the sand or simply, hiding from their tankmates. These small features will make your fish happier and calmer in their new habitat. But be sure to secure your substrate since some tend to dig up the sand for food.
Once the fish keeper gets its hang, African cichlids are a sight to behold and fun to have.

One of the biggest concerns in fish keeping is potential diseases. Be sure to observe your fish and, if you notice something odd, know the signs that you need to look for to detect a sick fish. African cichlids are especially susceptible to the following:

1) Cotton wool disease
The fungus grows in poor water quality indicative of white growth forming on your fish.

2) Gill flukes
It is a flatworm parasite that obstructs the gills with slime

3) Hexamita
Parasites and poor water quality is the main course of this disease. Watch out for scale lesions and lowered appetite in your fish.

4) Malawi bloat
Observe swelling of the abdomen among your fish, which, in turn, affects their kidney and liver.

5) Swim bladder disease
It affects the ability of the fish to stay submerged underwater due to physical injury or poor diet.

6) Tuberculosis
Tuberculosis is highly contagious. It can be detected when you see white blotches and lack of appetite in your fish.

7) White spot (ich)
A parasite causes white spots on your fish.

Beware! do not mix African with south American cichlids since this has a higher chance of contaminating other fish since the other type has developed immunity against it.


African Cichlids are one of the most fascinating and beautiful creatures you can have in your tank. Some are suited for beginners, and some need extra care and can be handled well with experience and commitment. Knowing your aquarium fish is one of the vital keys to understanding their behaviors and needs.

Most of the fish here thrive in freshwater, so the burden of finding saltwater or equalizing the salinity is nulled. Be sure to take extra care of the water conditions, food, and compatibility with their other tank mates, especially if it’s their cousins. With all of these meticulously taken care of, you can pretty much admire them without much hassle, and they will grow happily in your home.

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