Yellow and Blue African Cichlids Kissing

Are Your African Cichlids Kissing? The Good and The Bad (+7 Behaviors)

So you saw your African Cichlids kissing each other. What does this strange behavior mean? Is it a sign of aggression or is it a courtship ritual? If you’re a new African Cichlid owner who’s overwhelmed by it all, you’ve come to the right place. 

This article will discuss African Cichlids “kissing” and help you determine whether it is aggression or courtship.

Yellow African Cichlids

African Cichlids Kissing: Aggression 

African Cichlids are notorious for their aggression. If your fish are locking lips, it’s likely that they’re fighting. Male Cichlids frequently engage in this behavior to establish dominance and territory. 

If you have females in your tank, the likelihood of these lip-locking disputes will increase. Male Cichlids will fight each other to mate with females. And, yes, males and females can fight each other also.

Unless you intend to breed African Cichlids, we recommend starting with an all-male tank. If you’re not sure how to tell the difference between male and female Cichlids, watch this video

Other related aggressive behaviors

Here’s a list of other aggressive behaviors to help you determine whether your African Cichlids’ kissing is aggression:  

  • Tail-beating: Each competitor images themselves side-by-side, with one’s head close to the tail of the other, or one’s head by the other’s head. They begin to undulate their bodies, sending pressure waves of water toward each other. This is done to demonstrate strength and persuade the opponent to give up the fight.
  • Jaw-locking (lip-locking): If neither of the competitors withdraws, they face each other, open their mouths, and engage in jaw-locking. This is what has been referred to as the African Cichlids kissing. Things can get nasty from here. The contenders will twist and push each other by the jaws. The competitors’ jaws will twist and push against each other. This can harm the fish’s jaw and have serious consequences for its ability to defend itself and gather food in the future.
  • Carouseling: If neither competitor withdraws at this point, they will proceed to carousel. They’ll chase each other’s tails, swimming in tight circles and attempting to bite each other’s caudal peduncle or fins.

If you notice your African Cichlids kissing and any of these behaviors, it might be time to keep them apart. Check out our article for tips on how to keep your African Cichlids from killing each other. 

Blue African Cichlids

African Cichlids Kissing: Courtship

Some African Cichlids press their lips together during courtship. This behavior is uncommon in comparison to the aggressive lip-locking of two males. Of course, if you have both males and females in your tank, the lip-locking will most likely be a passionate kiss rather than an aggressive lip-locking.  

Other related courtship behaviors 

To help you determine whether your African Cichlids’ kissing is courtship or mating, here’s a list of other courtship and mating behaviors: 

  • Female belly: The female will develop wider earth around her belly region. The female’s belly will be wider than the male’s as she begins developing eggs. 
  • Brooding area: In preparation for mating, the male will excavate a brooding area for both fish. 
  • Kissing: This is where the male and female African Cichlids press their lips together to share a passionate “kiss”. This will not include any twisting or pushing each other by the jaws. 
  • Dancing: The male will attract the female with its bright colors and romantic dancing moves. These movements include shaking, shivering, and full flaring of his fins. 

If you’re curious, you can watch me help my fish give birth… from the mouth

Knowledge is power

It’s crucial that you know and understand your African Cichlids, as a species and as individuals. Solid knowledge of your fish can mean the difference between life and death in the tank… literally. 

If you don’t know where to start, we have an online course that will cover everything you need to know about keeping African Cichlids.


So you’ve learned some of the key differences between aggression and courtship in your African Cichlids kissing. Understanding African Cichlid behavior and their personalities are crucial. However, if you still feel like you need some help, we offer 1-on-1 live coaching.

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