The first thing that comes to mind when asked, can African Cichlids live with Oscars, is aggression. To save you a lot of guess work, no, they can not. The needs of African Cichlids and Oscars are far too different to make them compatible in an aquarium.
Aggression is a major factor at play, though it may be surprising that in this scenario the African Cichlids are actually the troublemakers. While Oscars can get enormous and be quite aggressive themselves, the quick moving nature of African Cichlids mean that they are sometimes able to swoop in, attack an Oscar, and get away before the Oscar is able to retaliate.
With multiple African Cichlids in a tank they could even take turns attacking the Oscar! That’s no good!
We are going to talk about a few reasons why these fish can not live together in this article, but even more importantly we will discuss some fish that can comfortably share a living space.
Soft Water Fish And Hard Water Fish
Put simply, African Cichlids and Oscar fish just need different things. One of the primary factors that lead to this is the difference needed in water parameters between African Cichlids and Oscar fish.
African Cichlids prefer hard water, rich in calcium and generally higher in pH. This hard water can also shift pH frequently, meaning that fish accustomed to living in this type of water are much more resilient to pH changes compared to fish that prefer the much more stable soft water.
It is because of this that Oscars, being fish that need the relative stability of soft water, will not combine well with African Cichlids even in giant aquariums that would help alleviate the issue of aggression. It would be like keeping a Polar Bear accustomed to sub zero temperatures in an environment with a tiger that is accustomed to much higher temperatures.
With this information in mind, why don’t we take a look at some freshwater fish that can live comfortably with African Cichlids? Before getting directly into the specific species that are widely recognized as suitable tank mates in the aquarium hobby, we need to talk about a few different factors.
This is a huge factor when determining what to house with African Cichlids. Just because a fish is small when you bring it home from the store, does not mean that it will remain that way for long. Take the common Plecostomus Catfish for example. When these fish are juveniles they remain a very manageable size, usually under a few inches for the first years of life.
As these fish continue to grow they will quickly become too large to live comfortably in smaller home aquariums. The same can happen with certain species of Cichlids and Catfish. You also do not want to combine very small fish such as small Tetras, Guppies or other live-bearers with Cichlid fish as they will likely be eaten.
Some fish are simply more messy than others. If you stock an aquarium with Cichlids that devour live prey and leave bits of meat strewn about the tank, it is important to know that the rotting food source will spike deadly Ammonia levels in the tank. This is especially common with larger predatory fish.
Ensure that any species that you plan to keep with your African Cichlids will be able to comfortably live at the same water temperature.
It is generally not advisable to combine semi-aggressive or predatory fish with passive fish that share the same water column. Some notable exceptions exist, and we will discuss them below, but bear this thought in mind when looking for suitable tank mates for your Cichlids.
Suitable Tanks Mates For African Cichlids
Now that we have covered some basic information, let’s talk about some suitable tank mates for African Cichlids. (You may also enjoy Why African Cichlids Change Colors)
- Catfish: A major reason that these usually-passive catfish can be kept with African Cichlids is due to their appearance. Cichlids will not usually pick of fish that are greatly different visually, as they feel no threat to their social hierarchy from other species. Examples of these catfish include:
- The Upside Down Catfish – A very peculiar species that, as the name suggests, can frequently be seen swimming upside down!
- The Spotted Catfish – This species, commonly called the “Spotted Raphael catfish,” get to a suitable size to share an aquarium with African Cichlids.
- Plecostomus – These fish can work with African Cichlids, though it is better to allow the Pleco to reach a suitable size in a different tank before adding it to your Cichlid tank. Usually a few inches long is a good size. As a side note, these fish get huge, up to 24 inches long at maturity! Only include them if you are able to provide massive aquariums that can house these massive catfish,
- Clown Loaches: Who doesn’t love this quirky Loach species? The Clown Loach received it’s comical name due to it’s oddball nature of maneuvering about the aquarium. It often rests against plants or rocks and can sometimes hover vertically with it’s tail perfectly pointed at the surface of the water. These Loaches grow quite large and are a great addition to any African Cichlid tank.
- Rainbow Fish: Again, ensuring that the Rainbow fish is of an appropriate size before introducing it to your African Cichlids is crucial here. These fish can add a beautiful pop of color to any tank and will generally get along with African Cichlids.
- Siamese Algae Eaters: These are usually a little smaller than African Cichlids, but they generally ignore one another. Siamese Algae Eaters, much like most Catfish, are bottom dwellers in you aquarium. This means that they rarely come into contact with the Cichlids exploring the mid and top water columns overhead. These fish also have the added benefit of eating hard to access algae for you, saving you time and effort.
Suitable Tank Mates For Oscars
Now that we have covered tank mates for African Cichlids, let’s take a look at some awesome tank mates for Oscar Fish.
Ocsars are called “New World Cichlids” which refer to Central and South American Cichlid fish. Many of these species are compatible with one another, but remember that it is often a case by case basis depending on particular fish rather than the species as a whole. We will be considering the same factors as above that include size, bioload, temperature and temperament.
- Black Convict Cichlids: These are awesome looking Central American Cichlids, named for their black stripes that resemble a prisoners uniform. These fish are agile enough to hold their own again the much larger Oscar that they will be sharing a tank with. Keep at least 4+ of these fish in your tank.
- Silver Dollars: This is a great option if you are looking to add a schooling fish to your Oscar tank. It has been noted that this species actually seems to have a calming effect on an Oscar. Keep these fish in groups of 4+ since they are schooling fish.
- Firemouth Cichlid: This species of Cichlid is closely related to Convict Cichlids, so they also make great tank mates. Much like the other fish above, they should be kept in groups of 4+ to cut down on their aggressive nature.
- Sevrum Cichlid: Sevrums are a beautiful species of New World Cichlid, and this particular species is a great option for a community of Cichlids. These are often kept with some of the other fish above, such as Silver Dollars and Pleco Catfish.
- Green Terror Cichlid: A Green Terror is a great example of a cichlid that can go toe-to-toe with an Oscar in terms of aggressiveness. With that said, these make a wonderful tank mate for the Oscar, with both fish getting large and holding their own ground.
- Jack Dempsey Cichlid: While these fish get around the same size of an Oscar, their temperament can vary wildly on a fish to fish basis. It is important to keep a close eye on your tank when initially introducing the two fish.
- Other Oscars: A species tank is a great way to get the full experience of keeping Oscars. It is important to note that you would generally keep either a pair of Oscars, or 5+. It can become problematic to keep 3, as two of the fish can gang up on the third and bully it relentlessly.
You must also consider the size of tank needed to keep more than one Oscar, as they can become very territorial in older age and will need independent areas to claim as their own. The recommended tank size for one adult Oscar is between 55 and 75 gallons. Following this logic, it is recommended to aim for 125+ gallons if you plan to keep 2 Oscars together in one tank.
With all of the information we discussed above, you should be able to clearly plan a tank around African Cichlids, or an Oscar fish, and find some awesome tankmates for either one. Keeping these fish is sometimes very challenging, but all the same a very rewarding experience in the aquarium hobby.