African Cichlid Care Guide (5 Things You Must Know) - An African cichlid group that is colorful with various patterns and a rocky background

A Simple African Cichlid Care Guide (5 Things You Must Know)

African cichlids may not be everyone’s favorite due to their aggression, but they make up for it with their beautiful colors and patterns. Chances are that once you buy a few African cichlids, you’ll add more to your collection. 

But, before you buy any new fish, do your homework (this goes for both beginners and the experienced)! As they are part of the Cichlidae family, African cichlids are both beautiful and challenging to keep. 

And that’s why we’ve created this African cichlid care guide for you. After reading this blog, you’ll know more about the proper care of these beautiful “beasts.” 

African Cichlid Care Guide: Overview image of a tank of African cichlids

African Cichlid Care Guide: Overview

Scientific NamePseudotropheus
SpeciesMbunas, Haplochromis (Haps), and Peacocks are the three genus groups with thousands of species under them
Common NamesAfrican cichlid, African Lake cichlid
LocationGreat Rift Valley, East Africa 
Size2 – 12 inches (5.08 – 30.48 centimeters)
Life Expectancy6 – 10 years average (in captivity)
AppearanceWide range of body shapes, but generally, they have are ovate in shape, and slightly laterally compressed
ColorVarious colors, from blue, yellow, pink, green, red, and purple, with spots or stripes
DietHerbivorous, omnivorous, carnivorous, insectivores – depending on the species  
BehaviorSemi-aggressive or aggressive – depending on the species
Tank Size55 gallons (208.1 liters) or larger 
Temperature78 – 84 °F (25.5 – 28.8 °C)
pH7.8 – 8.5
Water TypeFreshwater
HardnessHard, 12–30 dGH
Care LevelModerate

Natural Habitat

The various African cichlid species can be found in the three East African lakes: Lake Malawi, Lake Tanganyika, and Lake Victoria. 

Their natural habitats have warm, clear waters with sandy substrates and lots of vegetation. Most African cichlids live in the shallows of their habitats, scavenging for food. 

When building a cichlid tank, it is critical to understand each species’ natural habitat in order to replicate it.


It’s no secret that African cichlids are a diverse fish group that comes in a variety of sizes, colors, patterns, and fin styles. In general, most are ovate in shape, and their bodies are slightly laterally compressed – giving them a torpedo shape. 

Here are just some of the most common types of African cichlids, and their appearances, listed below: 

  • Peacock cichlids: Bright yellow, red, blue, gold, or purple bodies. 
  • Zebra cichlids: Black and white striped bodies with several color variations such as blue, orange, red, and yellow. 
  • Electric blue cichlids: Vibrant blue, iridescent bodies with paler heads than bodies. 
  • Electric yellow cichlids: Bright yellow coloration with whitish-yellow bellies. 
  • Mbuna cichlids: Blue, yellow, or orange bodies with horizontal black stripes on the head and vertical black stripes on the body. 

It’s worth noting that male African cichlids are more vibrant than females, especially during the breeding season. When water conditions are poor, their colors become duller. So yes, African cichlids can change colors


African cichlids are infamously known for their aggressive and territorial behavior. These fish follow a hierarchy; meaning that one fish will be the “tank boss.” – he’s the guy that does the chasing and nipping (showing his dominance). 

If they show too much aggression, we have a few tips for you to keep your African cichlids from killing each other

They’re very active fish, to say the least. So they need ample swimming space as well as lots of hiding places to claim as their territories. 

Being diurnal fish, African cichlids are more active during the day than at night. 

African Cichlid Care Guide: Tank Requirements image of a tank of African cichlids with a rocky background

Tank Requirements 

Please ensure that before adding any new fish to a tank, it’s properly cycled. That’s where a quarantine tank can be very valuable. 

Tank Size55 gallons (208.1 liters) or larger 
Temperature78 – 84 °F (25.5 – 28.8 °C)
pH7.8 – 8.5
Water TypeFreshwater
HardnessHard, 12–30 dGH
SubstrateSand, pebbles, rocks (they are foragers)
FilterYes, a filter is required as African cichlids produce a large amount of waste and stir up the substrate. They don’t do well in tanks where nitrogen levels are spiking or unstable.
PlantsOptional, live plants can supply oxygen, reduce Nitrates, and complement African cichlids’ colors. 

Tank Size 

Bigger is always better. It’s best to start off with a tank size of 55 gallons (chances are that you’ll add more fish to your collection). 

Tanks with wider footprints are better than tall, narrow tanks because they offer more bottom area for fish to occupy. A general rule of thumb is 5 gallons per 1 fish. 


The ideal temperature for African cichlids is between 78 – 84 °F. In the wild, they live in the warm tropical water of lakes in Africa. Take note that warmer water’s ability to hold oxygen is lower – make sure that your tank is well aerated

Keep in mind that most aquarium plants don’t do well with higher temperatures. Hardy plants such as bucephalandra, anubias, and java fern can be used. 

pH and Hardness 

African cichlids prefer hard, alkaline water. The pH levels can range from 7.8 – 8.5 and the GH can range from 12–30 dGH. The exact value would be subject to the species you want to keep. 

Test the water parameters frequently to ensure you maintain a healthy and thriving environment for your fish. We have an article explaining exactly what aquarium pH, GH, and KH are. 

African Cichlid Care Guide: Diet - A group of African cichlids eating


In the wild, African cichlids eat a largely carnivorous diet, but they are opportunistic eaters – eating whatever they come across such as plants, insects, and small fish. It’s worth noting that some species can be carnivores, herbivores, omnivores, or insectivores. 

Captive African cichlids can eat foods such as flakes, insects, blood worms, frozen foods, cichlid pellets, algae waters, brine shrimps, vegetables, and even fruits. 

Food that sinks to the bottom is ideal for these scavengers as they enjoy sifting through the sandy substrate. 

In general, the amount of food should be enough for them to finish within 1 – 3 minutes,  feeding them 1 – 3 times a day. Give longer gaps between meals to give their digestive systems some time to clean (and to keep your tank clean). 

Tank Mates 

African cichlids are territorial and tend to be more aggressive. It’s recommended to have confident, fast-swimming tank mates that can live in the same environment. 

Best tank mates for African cichlidsWorst tank mates for African cichlids
Other, similarly-sized African cichlidsFish with shy, peaceful, and docile temperaments
African catfishFish that are smaller and naturally less aggressive, non-territorial (happy-go-lucky)
Red tail sharksDiscus fish
Rainbow sharksAmerican cichlids 
Zebra loachesDwarf Cichlids
Giant danios

Do note that it may be best to keep an all-male tank of African cichlids as the addition of females will increase aggression levels – especially when it’s breeding season. 

African Cichlid Care Guide: Breeding - A small group of African cichlid fry


Some African cichlids lay their eggs in caves and then guard the eggs until they hatch, whilst others are mouthbrooders, which means the females hold the fertilized eggs in their mouths until the eggs hatch.

When trying to breed African cichlids, you’ll need to have a male and female in the same tank by themselves. For optimal breeding odds, the layout, furniture, and size of the tank must not be changed during this process.

With a separate growing tank, you can expect more surviving fry that would grow beautifully and fill your next tanks. 

The incubation period can last between 21 – 31 days, depending on the water conditions. Once hatched, the free-swimming fry is released but the mother would collect them again once they’re threatened. Males would typically harass the female after spawning. 


We hope you found this article reassuring in your African cichlid ventures. The main takeaway from this fish care guide is to reduce aggression levels and maintain optimal water conditions. 

Many new African cichlid owners may fixate and worry too much about these beautiful “beasts” but stay calm and follow this care guide. We have numerous articles covering most aspects of caring for African cichlids

KaveMan Aquatics also offers an online video course, Keeping African Cichlids. If you feel that that’s not enough, we also offer 1-on-1 consulting services for that personal touch. 

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