19 Beautiful Types of Cichlids For Your Aquarium

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Did you know there are over 1600 types of cichlids? If you’re looking for fish with beautiful colors, fascinating behavior, and plenty of personality, look no further than the cichlids. This diverse group of freshwater fish has been popular with aquarists for decades, and it comes as no surprise.

Cichlids can be an intimidating group for beginner aquarists though, so in this article, we’ll cover all the basics of cichlid care to get you started in the right way. I’ll also go through a great list of 19 beautiful Cichlids that you could add to your fish tank. There is a cichlid for everyone! Let’s dive in.

Cichlid Species Breakup

There are over 1600 officially named species of Cichlids, and many more that haven’t been named! In our hobby, Cichlid species can be generally broken down into two main types which are:

  • African Cichlids
  • New World (South American Cichlids)

African Cichlids

African Cichlids in a Rock Aquarium

African cichlids come in a huge variety of shapes, colors, and sizes. This cichlid group is found more or less throughout the African continent, in lakes, rivers, and swamps.

There is an incredible diversity of cichlid species that are endemic (found nowhere else) to the large rift lakes of East Africa like Lake Victoria, Lake Tanganyika, and Lake Malawi.

These are huge and beautiful lakes with all sorts of different biotopes/microhabitats that the different fish species occupy specifically. Male African cichlids tend to be very territorial, with their territories often focused around a feature on the lake bed.

This habit is one of the most important things that the aquarist needs to come to grips with. In many cases, it is best to keep these fish in African cichlid only tanks, to avoid problems with aggression.

This is also a safer bet since many African cichlids require water with a higher pH than most other tropical freshwater fish. African cichlids are not restricted to the alkaline waters of the rift valley lakes, however, and some West African species actually prefer more acidic conditions.

African cichlid behaviors, tank requirements, water parameters, and care varies from species to species so unfortunately there is no one-size-fits-all approach to their care. Instead, the fish keeper should always do their research into the specific needs of any fish species.

New World Cichlids (South American Cichlids)

Apistos Cichlid

As with the African cichlids, the South American group is incredibly diverse, with a great variety of amazing fish that vary in care from beginner-friendly to pretty advanced.

As you would expect with such a diverse group, habitat varies hugely between the species so doing your research and getting some solid advice is very important when setting up a New World cichlid tank.

This group of fish generally prefers slightly acidic to slightly alkaline water in contrast to the African species. They are often highly territorial and it is best not to combine them with African cichlids since they often don’t see eye to eye.

In community tanks, tankmates should have the same parameter requirements and be strong swimmers of a similar size. Omnivorous and carnivorous cichlids have large mouths!

New World cichlids include some extremely popular fish. The well-known oscar is a great example of South American cichlids. There are also some great dwarf cichlids available for aquarists with less space, like the always popular Blue Rams and Apistos.

The New World cichlids have some very interesting and unique body shapes and one only has to look at fish like Flowerhorns, Blood Parrots, Discus, Angelfish to understand the hype around these fish.

19 Beautiful Cichlid Species For Your Aquarium

Breaking down all the Cichlids into two types is pretty broad. You are likely wondering what are some pretty looking ones. After all, going through 1,600 Cichlids would require a ton of research. I’ll start with a list of the 19 most beautiful and popular Cichlid species in the trade. For each one, I’ll provide the following:

  • Scientific Name
  • Difficulty
  • Temperament
  • Tank Size
  • Diet
  • Origin
  • Type
  • Short description

I’ll create care guides for all these fish over time and include a link below. Let’s take a list on how makes our list!

1. Angelfish

Freshwater Angelfish
  • Scientific Name: Pterophyllum scalare
  • Difficulty Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Semi-Aggressive
  • Tank Size: 30+ gallons
  • Diet: Omnivorous, feed pellets or flakes, live and frozen food
  • Origin: South America
  • Type: New World

Angelfish are very popular New World cichlids that are relatively peaceful and can do well in community tanks. These fish grow to a length of about 6 inches and there are many beautiful varieties, showing different shades and markings.

2. Discus Fish

Discus In An Aquarium
  • Scientific Name: Symphysodon aequifasciata
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate to Advanced
  • Temperament: Semi-Aggressive
  • Tank Size: 70+ gallons
  • Diet: Mostly carnivorous, feed flakes or pellets
  • Origin: South America
  • Type: New World

These popular New World cichlids require a relatively high water temperature, up to about 86°F. These fish can grow to about 8 inches long, and just as tall. Unlike many cichlids, the Discus is a fish that can be kept in planted tanks.

3. Blue Ram

Blue Ram Cichlid in Planted Tank
  • Scientific Name: Mikrogeophagus ramirezi
  • Difficulty Level: Advanced
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Tank Size: 15+ gallons
  • Diet: Omnivorous, feed pellets or flakes, live and frozen food
  • Origin: South America
  • Type: New World

Blue Rams are very popular New World cichlids that are peaceful and grow to just 2.5 inches or so. This makes them a wonderful dwarf cichlid for a warm water community tank with other peaceful non-competitive species. This colorful dwarf cichlid should be kept over a sand substrate and provided with hiding places.

4. Yellow Lab Cichlid

Yellow Lab Cichlid in Aquarium
  • Scientific Name: Labidochromis caeruleus
  • Difficulty Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Semi-Aggressive
  • Tank Size: 40+ gallons
  • Diet: Mostly herbivorous, feed low-protein flake food
  • Origin: Lake Malawi
  • Type: African

These beautiful, brightly colored electric yellow cichlid are about the easiest of the African mbuna cichlids to keep. Both sexes of these relatively peaceful cichlids show great color. They grow up to about 6 inches in length.

5. Frontosa Cichlid

Frontosa Cichlid in Aquarium
  • Scientific Name: Cyphotilapia frontosa
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate, requires a large aquarium
  • Temperament: Semi-Aggressive
  • Tank Size: 180+ gallons for a group
  • Diet: Mostly carnivorous, feed pellets or flakes, live and frozen food
  • Origin: Lake Tanganyika
  • Type: African

Frontosa cichlids are large fish, up to 12 inches or so, that have very distinctive vertical stripes and prominent humps on their heads. These fish should only be kept in large aquariums because of their large size, as well as their preference for being kept in groups and swimming in open water.

6. Oscar Cichlid

Oscar Cichlids in Aquarium
  • Scientific Name: Astronotus ocellatus
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Tank Size: 75+ gallons
  • Diet: Mostly carnivorous but will eat some plant matter. Feed pellets or flakes, live and frozen food
  • Origin: South American
  • Type: New World

These very popular and long-lived South American cichlids show great personality and make a wonderful pet for a species tank or in a community tank with the right tankmates. These are large fish that can grow to over 12 inches, and they are available in a few different colors and patterns.

7. Flowerhorn Cichlid

Flowerhorn Cichlid At Local Fish Store
  • Scientific Name: Uncertain, hybrid
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Temperament: Semi-Aggressive to Aggressive
  • Tank Size: 75+ gallons
  • Diet: Omnivorous, feed pellets or flakes, live and frozen food
  • Origin: Hybrid of several South American species
  • Type: New World

These large and distinctive-looking fish reach 16 inches. They are easily identified by the large hump on their heads. They are hybrids that were first bred in Asia in the 1990s, although they are a mix of South American cichlid species

8. Convict Cichlid

Convict Cichlid Swimming
  • Scientific Name:Amatitlania nigrofasciata
  • Difficulty Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Tank Size: 30+ gallons
  • Diet: Omnivorous, feed pellets or flakes, live and frozen food
  • Origin: Central America
  • Type: New World

Convicts are great first cichlids for beginners because they are very hardy and easy to care for. Growing up to 6 inches or so these Central American cichlids don’t need a very large tank but they must be stocked correctly to avoid conflict with other fish.

9. Firemouth Cichlid

Firemouth Cichlid Aquarium
  • Scientific Name: Thorichthys meeki
  • Difficulty Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Tank Size: 40+ gallons
  • Diet: Omnivorous, feed pellets or flakes, live and frozen food
  • Origin: Central America
  • Type: New World

The Firemouth cichlid is a fiery fish that is known as the best pound for pound fighter in an aquarium. They are highly aggressive. However, the personalities of these fish are highly varied. Some aquarists have reported they have owned passive They only grow to 6 inches and are a relatively easy Central American cichlids to keep. Just beware their personalities are highly varied!

10. Red Devil Cichlid

Red Devil Cichlid Amphilophus labiatus
  • Scientific Name: Amphilophus labiatus
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Tank Size: 55+ gallons
  • Diet: Omnivorous, feed pellets or flakes, live and frozen food
  • Origin: Central America
  • Type: New World

Red Devils are really interactive Central American cichlids that reach about 14 inches in length. They are not difficult fish to keep, provided you don’t try to keep any other smaller fish species with them as tankmates due to their highly aggressive nature. These fish like nothing more than to rearrange their furniture so avoid adding them to carefully aquascaped aquariums.

11. Electric Blue Acara

Electric Blue Acara in Planted Tank
  • Scientific Name: Andinoacara sp.
  • Difficulty Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Semi-Aggressive
  • Tank Size: 30+ Gallons for a pair
  • Diet: Mainly carnivorous, feed pellets or flakes, live and frozen food
  • Origin: South America
  • Type: New World

Electric Blue Acaras are excellent cichlids for beginners. This relatively peaceful fish grows to about 5 inches in length and can be kept with other similarly sized peaceful South American cichlids.

12. Jewel Cichlid

How Does A Jewel Cichlid Look Like
  • Scientific Name: Hemichromis bimaculatus
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Temperament: Semi-Aggressive
  • Tank Size: 30+ gallons for a pair
  • Diet: Omnivorous, feed pellets or flakes, live and frozen food
  • Origin: West Africa
  • Type: African

Jewel Cichlids are 4-6 inch long, beautifully colored, West African cichlids that turn bright red in the breeding season. They can be kept in lower pHs than rift valley cichlids from East Africa.

13. Jaguar Cichlid

Jaguar Cichlid
  • Scientific Name: Parachromis managuensis
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate, requires a large aquarium
  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Tank Size: 100+ gallons
  • Diet: Carnivorous, feed pellets or flakes, live and frozen food
  • Origin: Central America
  • Type: New World

Jaguar Cichlids are very large aquarium fish that can reach 24 inches and are very aggressive towards other fish. These fantastically patterned cichlids are not difficult to care for, as long as you have a large enough tank. Avoid keeping these carnivorous cichlids with smaller fish because they are likely to be eaten.

14. Green Terror Cichlid

Green Terror Cichlid in Aquarium
  • Scientific Name: Andinoacara rivulatus
  • Difficulty Level:
  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Tank Size: 50+ gallons for a single fish, 75+ gallon tank for a pair
  • Diet: Omnivorous, feed pellets or flakes, live and frozen food
  • Origin: South America
  • Type: New World

Green Terrors are large, beautiful South American cichlids that can be rather aggressive. They can grow to about 12 inches in length. It is best to keep these fish alone or as a pair without any other smaller fish unless you have a very large tank.

15. Rainbow Cichlid

  • Scientific Name: Herotilapia multispinosus
  • Difficulty Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Semi-Aggressive
  • Tank Size: 30+ gallons
  • Diet: Omnivorous, feed pellets or flakes, live and frozen food
  • Origin: Central America
  • Type: New World (video source)

Rainbow cichlids are a relatively peaceful South American species. Their easy-going nature and length of up to 5 inches makes them a good choice for less experienced cichlid keepers.

16. Red Empress Cichlid

  • Scientific Name: Protomelas taeniolatus
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Tank Size: 50+ gallons
  • Diet: Mostly herbivorous, feed flakes or pellets
  • Origin: Lake Malawi
  • Type: African (video source)

The Red Empress is an algae-eating species that grows to 7 inches. These beautiful Malawi cichlids are fairly peaceful but only a single male should be kept in anything but a very large aquarium.

17. Kenyi Cichlid

Kenyi Cichlid Females
  • Scientific Name: Pseudotropheus lombardoi
  • Difficulty Level: Advanced
  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Tank Size: 50+ gallons
  • Diet: Mostly herbivorous, feed low-protein flake food
  • Origin: Lake Malawi
  • Type: African

Kenyis are attractive and highly aggressive Mbuna cichlids that reach about 6 inches long. In this species, the females are blue and the males are yellow. Keeping only one male with several females works well, and other tankmates should be chosen very carefully to avoid fighting.

18. Demasoni Cichlid

  • Scientific Name: Chindongo demasoni
  • Difficulty Level: Advanced
  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Tank Size: 55+ gallons
  • Diet: Mostly herbivorous, feed low-protein flake food
  • Origin: Lake Malawi
  • Type: African (Video Source)

Demasoni cichlids are highly aggressive but wonderfully marked dwarf cichlids that reach just 3-4 inches. Both males and females have the same markings.

19. Kribensis Cichlid

Kribensis Cichlid Male and Female
  • Scientific Name: Pelvicachromis pulcher
  • Difficulty Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Semi-Aggressive
  • Tank Size: 20+ gallons
  • Diet: Omnivorous, feed flakes or pellets
  • Origin: West African
  • Type: African

Kribensis are very popular West African cichlids that grow to about 5 inches long. Both sexes of this fascinating species have great markings. Kribensis cichlids are easy to breed and are a great first African cichlid for the beginner fish keeper.

Cichlid Tank Setup

Cichlids are a huge and varied group of fish that have different requirements. It is important to note that there is no one ideal setup that will work for all types of cichlids so it’s vital to research a species needs before ordering or picking up a new fish.

Tank Size

Tank size varies tremendously by species, with many cichlids requiring fairly large aquariums. Many of the most popular cichlids in the hobby, like Oscars for example, are bought as small fish and grow rapidly, requiring large tanks.

Fortunately, there are dwarf cichlids available like Multis (Neolamprologus multifasciatus), some Rams (Mikrogeophagus spp.), and the cockatoo cichlid (Apistogramma cacatuoides) that can be kept in tanks as small as a 15-gallon aquarium. For the majority of cichlids, look to start with an aquarium with 2 or 3 times that volume, however.

Cichlid Tank Filtration

Cichlids are generally hard on your aquarium bioload. They stir substrate, eat a lot, and breed. Even in a well cared for aquarium, your bioload will get pushed to its limits as these fish grow and grow there fry. For larger Cichlids like Oscar, Their large size demands filteration that can handle their bioload.

Filtration is the #1 investment you can make for your aquarium. When it comes to cichlid tanks, I highly recommend working only with Canister Filters. For Cichlids, the buy way to setup a canister is to deck them out with high quality compete biomedia like biohome ultimate. This media is able to keep nitrates in check. If you are planning to keep a planted tank for say cichlids, I would recommend using Seachem Matrix instead.

Water Parameters

As a large and diverse group of fish with different water parameter preferences at a species level, there is no one set of parameters that will suit all cichlids. As a rule, the rift lake cichlids from lake victoria, Lake Malawi, and Lake Tanganyika require alkaline water with pHs in the range of 7.5-8.5.

These Rift valley lake species should be kept in temperatures between 74 and 80°F and prefer a carbonate hardness of 10-25° dKH. Given their higher temperature requirements, investing in a quality aquarium heater should be considered. If you are working with large and aggressive cichlids like Wolf Cichlids, consider a Titanium heater as they can take the beating of a large fish.

Finnex Titanium Heaters

A budget version of the Deluxe Finnex heater. This is a titanium heater for the masses!

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The new world cichlids, from parts of South America, as well as the West African cichlids, tend to prefer lower pH, neutral to slightly acidic conditions. The Central American species tend to prefer more alkaline water.

Temperature preferences vary from the 60s right up to the mid-80s. These are general guidelines, however, so always research each species carefully.

Substrates

The substrate is an important and sometimes overlooked side of cichlid care. The entertaining and fascinating territorial and breeding behaviors these fish display often have a lot to do with the substrate and hardscape elements in the tank so some planning is a good idea.

As part of their breeding behavior, many cichlids will prepare spawning and nesting areas and will prefer a sandy substrate that they can shift. Many species, like peacock cichlids, for example, will also sift through the sand to search for food. These fish will definitely prefer a substrate with fine grain size.

Their digging will often disturb plants and small ornaments so be prepared for some re-arrangement. For this reason, be careful not to stack rocks or ornaments that could collapse and injure your fish or damage your aquarium.

Many cichlids do enjoy good structure in the aquarium, and hardscape features like aquarium rocks and caves are often defended as territories and used for breeding. Some cichlid species occupy very rocky areas and prefer that this habitat is recreated in the aquarium with flat stones and plenty of hiding places.

Crushed coral and Aragamax are popular choices of substrate for African cichlid species because it helps maintain the high pH that these fish require. Driftwood should be used sparingly or avoided in East African cichlid tanks because it can contribute to lowering the pH.

Great For African Cichlids
Carib Sea Aragamax Sand

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Live Plants and Cichlids

Cichlid in Planted Tank

Given the digging and aggressive nature of Cichlids, aquarium plants are typically not suited for a cichlid tank. However, there are a few that could work. These would be good options:

  • Java Fern
  • Anubias
  • Anacharis – It will get eaten, but cheap to replace

Plants that anchor to substrates, driftwood, and rocks are key. Plants in the the substrate will likely get dug up and ripped apart.

Common Health Issues

Some of the most common health issues seen in cichlids are physical injuries resulting from territorial behaviors. In these cases, the best plan of action is to physically separate the offenders, either by putting the injured fish into a hospital tank or moving it to another aquarium.

Using an aquarium divider is another short-term solution. Of course, prevention is better than cure so always do your research and ask an expert about appropriate stocking and tankmates.

Cichlids can also be affected by a number of fish diseases and infections such as:

Malawi Bloat

This condition is very prevalent in African cichlids, especially the more vegetarian species. Malawi bloat is a serious illness that often presents as a swollen abdomen, loss of appetite, and depressed behavior.

Unfortunately, fish showing these symptoms usually do not survive so it’s important to catch this condition early. It is suspected that poor diet, high salt levels in the water, and stress, or a combination of these triggers may cause the disease.

Hexamita

This disease, which is also known as hole-in-the-head, is caused by a parasite known as a protozoan and it can be a serious problem with freshwater Angelfish, Discus, Oscars, and African cichlids. This problem affects fish that are already weakened and stressed the most but fortunately, it is often treatable using a product like Seachem Metroplex.

Ich

Ich is another common disease caused by a protozoan that commonly affects cichlids. This highly infectious disease usually presents as small white spots on the body fins and gills and is best treated by dosing the aquarium since all fish are likely to have been exposed to the parasite.

Swim Bladder Conditions

Swim bladder disease can be quite common in cichlids and can cause fish to either float or sink. Poor water quality is often to blame for this condition and is the first place to look when this condition presents.

Cichlid Breeding

Cichlids exhibit quite a wide variety of breeding strategies, making them truly fascinating animals to observe and study. One thing is for sure though, cichlids are good parents.

The two most important breeding strategies in the cichlid world are mouthbrooding, which is the most common behavior in African species, and pair-bonded egg-laying, which is the most common breeding behavior in New World cichlids.

Mouth Brooding

In this fascinating and common African cichlid breeding strategy, the female keeps the eggs, and hatched fry inside her mouth for a few weeks, until they are old enough to fend for themselves. Leading up to this, a female will select a male and the two will circle each other over a prepared area.

The female will release her eggs and immediately pick them up into her mouth. How the eggs are fertilized by the male is pretty fascinating. The males of mouth breeding cichlids have spots on their anal fins known as egg spots.

They resemble the eggs laid by the female, and as he displays these markings to her, she will attempt to collect them in her mouth, and in doing so take up the male’s sperm which then fertilizes the eggs.

Once the eggs are fertilized, the female will move off to care for the young on her own. Females carrying eggs in their mouth can be identified by a bulge under their mouth, and a constant chewing-like motion that she performs to keep water flowing over the eggs.

Egg-laying Pairs

In this strategy, the father plays a much more active role. A bonded pair will prepare a bed or use a cave where the eggs are laid and then fertilized by the male. This strategy is often used by New World species including large cichlids like Oscars, all the way down to dwarf cichlids like Blue Rams.

After the eggs are fertilized, the male remains in the area, actively defending the eggs against other fish and invertebrates that threaten his offspring. The female also defends the nest and will fan the eggs with her tail to keep them oxygenated during development.

After hatching, the fry will school together and the parents follow them, defending them against predators, and also warning them when danger approaches.

FAQS

How many types of cichlids are there?

There are currently over 1600 formally described species of cichlids, although there are many more in the family that have not yet been named and the true number is likely to between 2000 and 3000 species. Africa has the greatest diversity of species and in Lake Victoria alone there are more than 400 species!

What cichlids are compatible?

When it comes to cichlids, choosing tank mates for home aquariums is not something to be taken lightly. Some popular dwarf cichlids that make good tank mates include Apistogramma species, Blue Rams and Kribensis, which can all be kept together in an aquarium of the right size.

Larger cichlid varieties like Oscars can be kept with other large cichlids like Jack Dempsey cichlids and Green Terrors as long as they have enough space and are evenly sized.

When it comes to African Cichlids, fish species that exist in the same area, like the African Peacock cichlid and mbunas may make good tankmates.

When planning on combining different cichlids in the same aquarium, always research the species involved before taking them home, it will probably save you a lot of stress.

Will cichlids kill each other?

Cichlids certainly can kill each other, although death is more likely to occur from disease and complications from injuries sustained over time. This is usually the result of a poorly stocked aquarium without enough space.

Always research the territorial behavior of a cichlid before stocking it in your aquarium and provide plenty of hiding places and the right kind of layout for establishing territories.

What are the least aggressive cichlids?

Some of the least aggressive species available for the home aquarium are dwarf cichlids like Rams (Mikrogeophagus spp.), Apistos (Apistogramma spp.), and Multis (Neolamprologus multifasciatus). The ever-popular Discus and Angelfish are also pretty peaceful, although they will eat very small fish if they can.

What are the best cichlids for beginners?

Many species of cichlids make great fish for beginners if kept in species-only tanks. Electric Blue Acaras, Convict cichlids, and Kribensis are good examples of these beginner-friendly fish. Dwarf cichlids like the Electric Blue Ram and Cockatoo Cichlids are also suitable for beginners.

Closing Thoughts

Have you ever considered adding a Cichlid to your fish tank? If so, we hope that this article has been helpful in teaching you all about these fascinating freshwater fish. There are many types of cichlids with beautiful colors and personality for everyone! Leave us a comment below if any questions come to mind or if you want help picking out the perfect Cichlid for your new aquarium.

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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