How to Care for a Jewel Cichlid in Your Home Aquarium

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If you’ve been researching different species of cichlids, the jewel cichlid may, quite understandably, have caught your eye. Now, despite its undeniable beauty, the jewel cichlid gets a bad rap due to its semi-aggressive temperament.

For many aquarists who wish to maintain a peaceful community tank, adding a jewel cichlid might not be worth it. However, keeping jewel cichlids is not only fun and rewarding, it’s also a great way to liven up your aquarium. Although their temperament might pose a problem to novice aquarists, the jewel cichlid is a worthwhile pet.

Wondering whether a jewel cichlid is worth putting in your home aquarium? Let our jewel cichlid care guide help you decide.

A Brief Overview of the Jewel Cichlid

Scientific NameHemichromis bimaculatus
Common NamesJewel cichlid, jewel fish, African jewelfish
FamilyCichlidae
OriginAfrica
DietOmnivore
Care LevelModerate
ActivityModerately active to active
Lifespan5 – 7 years
TemperamentSemi-aggressive (Aggressive when breeding)
Tank LevelMid to top level
Minimum Tank Size30 gallons
Temperature Range70°F to 74°F
KHNeutral to soft; below 12 dKH
pH Range7.0 to 7.5
Filtration/Water FlowModerate
Water TypeFreshwater
BreedingMouth Brooders
Difficulty to BreedEasy to breed; forms breeding pairs easily
CompatibilitySpecies only or aggressive tank
OK, for Planted Tanks?With Caution

Origins and Habitat of the Jewel Cichlid Hemichromis bimaculatus

The jewel cichlid Hemichromis bimaculatus originates in West Africa. This is where the fish inhabit richly vegetated freshwater bodies like streams, rivers, and lakes. Jewel cichlids have also been documented in some parts of North Africa.

Because these water bodies are teeming with other cichlids and don’t offer a wide variety of sustenance, they are very competitive habitats. This explains why these jewel fish are naturally aggressive and territorial.

What Does the Jewel Cichlid Look Like?

How Does A Jewel Cichlid Look Like

The coloration of the jewel cichlid species varies widely. You’ll find them mostly in a bright orange-tinted red with vibrant white spots (this is the blood red jewel cichlid), but many are also colored purple with contrasting greenish spots (green jewel fish).

This color will be intensified during the breeding season. During this time, you’ll also notice a longer ventral, anal, and dorsal fin. Some say that male cichlids have a brighter coloration than their female counterparts. 

How Big Are Jewel Cichlids?

Jewel cichlids may vary greatly in size, from as little as 3 inches to as large as 6 inches. In an aquarium, the size of this fish will be smaller than in the wild. 

How Long Do Hemichromis bimaculatus Live?

On average, a cichlid of this kind can be expected to live up to 5 years. If you’re able to provide superior tank conditions and provide a perfectly balanced diet, your jewelfish might even live up to 7 years. This is rare, however. 

Temperament and Activity Level

The hemichromis bimaculatus is recognizable by its aggressive behavior. Particularly when it is stressed or underfed, a jewelfish is more likely to lash out and attack his/her tank mates. Breeding season is when the fish reaches the height of its aggression.

This might all sound very scary, but for the committed aquarist, it’s actually not that difficult to ensure a stress-free environment for this freshwater fish — as long as tank requirements are strictly maintained. The best thing to curb aggression is space and lots of shelter. If you have a small tank, with lots of fish, and no shelter, your Jewel Cichlids will be more aggressive as they fight to claim limited territory.

Generally, your jewel cichlid fish will be seen flitting back and forth across the water. They are also very active fish who like to dig at their substrate, looking for food.

Jewel cichlids are also monogamous, which means they form a breeding pair for life. If your jewel fish are in a pair, don’t be surprised to see them together most of the time! 

What are Good Tankmates for Jewel Cichlids?

It might seem like a bad idea to include any tank mates for your jewelfish, fin nippers as they are. Well, you should listen to your instincts. Don’t put them in a community tank. These freshwater fish are best off in a species only or cichlid tank.  

Good Tank Mates

Despite their bad reputation, some jewelfish can, in fact, cohabit peacefully with certain other semi-aggressive species. Accordingly, here are some fish that might make acceptable mates for your jewelfish.

  • Clown loaches
  • Plecos
  • Electric blue acaras
  • Redtail shark
  • Syndontis catfish
  • Scavenger catfish
  • Leopard bullfish

All the fish above are at your own risk. Your safest bet is other jewel cichlid in a species only tank. A pleco may work in such a setup. They are extremely territorial once they get in breeding mode.

Fish Species to Avoid

When selecting home aquarium tank mates for your jewel cichlid, it’s best to avoid all fish species if you can, except a few semi-aggressive fish mentioned above.

In particular, peaceful aquarium fish species (for example, any goldfish species) should be avoided at all costs, as your jewelfish will harm them and might even eat or kill them. MBunas and Rift Lake Cichlids should be avoided as they are likely to be attacked and killed. 

What Do Jewelfish Eat?

Feeding jewel cichlids is fairly easy. As omnivorous freshwater fish, jewel fish will readily eat pellets, flake food, and live food as well.

You should aim to provide as balanced a diet as possible. This means mixing and matching different food types. You can also consider giving them vegetables such as lettuce leaves and spirulina. Frozen foods are alright once a week. If feeding pellets or flakes, consider one that contains probiotics like the Cobalt Aquatics line.

Best Flake Formula
Cobalt Aquatics Cichlid Flakes

With probiotics and specially formulated for Cichlids, this is bar none the best flake formula available for your Africans

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What about Live Foods?

Bloodworms, white worms, tubifex, and frozen baby brine shrimp are great live foods for jewel cichlids. Limit providing live foods to once a week.

How Much and How Often to Feed

You should aim to feed your jewel cichlids at least twice a day. Be careful not to overfeed them, however, and don’t confuse their voracious eating for constant hunger.

Feeding your jewel fish properly is crucial if you want them to retain their vivid coloration.

How to Set Up Your Fish Tank for Jewel Cichlid

Recreating the Africa habitat or breeding conditions of the jewelfish is not too difficult. Here’s all you need to know about how to set up the tank of your jewelfish.

 Jewel Cichlid Tank Size

Jewel Cichlid Pair

For one pair of jewel cichlids, a tank size of at least 30 gallons is required. For each new pair, add 20 gallons. If you put them in a community aquarium (not recommended), provide a tank divider. When your Jewel Cichlids are in breeding mode, consider removing other tank mates if your tank is on the small side. They are known for taking over 30 and 40 gallon tanks!

Substrate

A sandy substrate is best for these fish as they love to dig. Anything sharper might injure them.

Decor

Decorations are a necessity when rearing jewel fish, who are territorial and love to claim their own space. Provide rocks and aim to create cave-like conditions. Rocks with holes or caves are ideal to provide shelter.

Plants

These fish are curious and active fish who love to dig. So, they might get in the way of your aquarium plants thriving unless the plants are protected by rocks and such. Floating plants and column feeders like Anubias Nana and Java Fern would be good examples of plants that could work.

Water Quality

Here are the water conditions you need to ensure for your jewel cichlids

Filtration

Provide adequate filtration for your jewel cichlids to ensure that they can enjoy a water flow mimicking the currents of the streams and rivers they’re used to. They are particularly hardy. They do well with your standard power filter

Water Parameters

Maintain these water conditions in your home tank to ensure a healthy environment for your jewelfish.

  • Water Temperature: 70°F to 74°F
  • pH Range: 7 to 7.5
  • Hardness Range: Not above 12 dGH
  • Water Movement: Moderate to strong

Aquarium Maintenance

Besides ensuring the proper parameters for your cichlid aquarium, conduct regular water changes of 25% – 40%. Remember, the goal is to reduce your jewelfish’s aggression. Otherwise, their lifespan will be shortened.

How to Breed Jewel Cichlid?

Breeding this species in tanks is relatively easy once you can determine their sex. As they are monogamous, cichlids form pairs quickly and easily during mating season, and once they are parents, they will stick together.

Breeding Tank

You can isolate your cichlid pair in a breeding aquarium, but it’s not necessary if you have just one pair. Gradually raise the water temperature from their regular temperature by a few degrees every day until you reach 80° to 82° F (or 26.7° – 27.8° C).

Breeding Behavior

When the male is ready, his color will become very vibrant, and he will become very aggressive. Like other cichlid species, the male will chase the female about the tank for a little bit until she lays eggs.

Once she’s ready, the female will search for the right place to lay her eggs. She will likely settle on a flat surface, typically a flat-faced rock. She might produce up to 500 eggs.

After Breeding

Once the eggs are fertilized, they will hatch within 2 to 4 days. After hatching, the jewelfish parents will help each other move their kids to a different part of the aquarium. During this time, the parents will be excessively aggressive in order to defend their young fish. 

Feeding Jewel Cichlid Fry

Let the fry absorb the remainder of the egg yolk in the first few days. Afterward, feed them crushed flakes and mashed pellets. Don’t be distressed if the new parents eat some of their offspring. 

Health and Disease

Your jewel cichlid is, unfortunately, prone to the illnesses most freshwater cichlids are prone to. Here’s how to tell whether your jewelfish is healthy or needs care. 

Signs of Healthy Jewel Cichlid

A healthy jewelfish is a happy one. A happy jewelfish is playful and active (might be interpreted as aggression), burrowing in the substrate or flitting about their aquarium. Most significantly, healthy jewelfish retains its vibrant coloration. 

Signs of Ill Health in Jewel Cichlid

Here’s a list of several common issues you may come across

  •  When a jewelfish is highly stressed, ill, or underfed, it will very likely lose its color. This is one of the most easily seen warning signs of this fish.
  • Swelling, loss of appetite, rapid breathing, and differently colored feces are all symptoms of Malawi bloat, a condition that mostly affects African cichlids.
  • Notice an indentation in the head of your jewel cichlid? He/she is suffering from hexamita, also known as “hole in the head” disease.
  • Look out for ich, which manifests in symptoms like lethargy, loss of appetite, and restless behavior, but most importantly, white spots on the body of the fish.
  • Labored breathing and a loss of color might indicate gill flukes.

All of these conditions are covered in our freshwater fish diseases post.

Common Jewel Cichlid Health Issues and Treatment

One of the easiest ways to ensure that your jewel fish is healthy is to provide the required tank parameters with care. Feed them regularly, don’t overfeed, and provide a varied diet. This will keep most illnesses at bay.

Here’s how to deal with other diseases that might come up:

  • If you think your jewelfish is suffering from Malawi bloat, act quickly. Change the tank’s water and introduce a dose of Metronidazole. However, know that Malawi bloat is a condition that quickly turns fatal, so don’t blame yourself if something goes wrong.
  • Administer the same treatments for ich as you would for other cichlids: increased tank temperature, salt baths, potassium permanganate, acriflavine, and malachite green.
  • If you suspect your fish is suffering from gill flukes, use Praziquantel.

Where to Buy Jewel Fish?

Compared to other cichlid breeds, the jewelfish might be a little harder to buy in brick-and-mortar pet shops. They might also be a little more expensive. If you cannot find them locally, try using an online fish store. Often times, their guarantee will be superior to what you can find locally.

Frequently Asked Questions

Female Jewel Cichlid

Are jewel cichlids aggressive?

Semi-aggressive, yes. Especially when they’re in pairs and ready to breed, their aggression is strongest. Once the fry are born, jewel cichlids will defend their offspring to the best of their ability.

If you must put your jewel cichlids in with other fish, get a tank divider. Even better if you can get a separate tank entirely. And try to ensure large tanks.

What fish can go with jewel cichlids?

Put bluntly, it’s best not to put your jewel cichlids in with other fish. If you must, we would recommend other cichlids as tank mates, as well as certain bottom-dwelling semi-aggressive species.

Can jewel cichlids live with oscars?

It’s not impossible, but it’s difficult to achieve harmony between oscars and jewel cichlids. This is not only because oscars are famously aggressive fish; they are also significantly larger than jewel fish. So unless you can provide a large tank (at least 100 gallons), it’s not recommended.

Can angelfish live with jewel cichlids?

Once again, it’s not recommended. Although the jewelfish and angelfish are both cichlids, the latter is somewhat more docile and therefore more prone to being harmed by your jewel fish.

Are jewel cichlids hard to keep?

If you want a varied and healthy community tank, jewel cichlids might be more trouble than they are worth. Besides this, these fish are pretty easy to keep, with the right tank size and setup.

Closing Thoughts

Even our dearest loved ones are sometimes obnoxious, we don’t stop loving them. Try to adopt the same approach to your jewel cichlids. Maintaining their behavior might be difficult, but maintaining their diet and water parameters is easy — and the end result is definitely rewarding. Good luck!

by Mark

Mark is the founder of Aquarium Store Depot. He started in the aquarium hobby at the age of 11 and along the way worked at local fish stores. He has kept freshwater tanks, ponds, and reef tanks for over 25 years. His site was created to share his knowledge and unique teaching style on a larger scale. He has worked on making aquarium and pond keeping approachable. Mark has been featured in two books about aquarium keeping - both best sellers on Amazon. Each year, he continues to help his readers and clients with knowledge, professional builds, and troubleshooting.

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