How To Enhance African Cichlid Colors: 5 Simple Methods - Tank of colorful African cichlids

How To Enhance African Cichlid Colors: 5 Simple Methods

Why would you even want to enhance African cichlid colors in the first place you may ask? Well, why not? A vibrant fish is a happy fish! And that’s exactly what we strive for: we want our fish to thrive! 

There are a few factors to consider regarding your African cichlids’ colors; which we’ll discuss later in this article. But for the sake of TLDR (too long, didn’t read), here’s the quick answer:

  • Lower aggression and stress levels in the tank 
  • Improve the water quality 
  • Improve their diet and add supplements 
  • Use the tank environment to complement their colors 
  • Keep a clean tank, inside and out 

If you’re like us and want to know the details, continue scrolling. We’ve got 5 simple methods that will enhance African cichlid colors. From diet to decor, we’ve got you covered with a complete guide. 

Factors to Consider About African Cichlid Colors

Before we dive into the methods on how you can enhance African cichlid colors, it’s crucial to know that there are factors that you just cannot change. This is where research plays a key role! 

Red Empress African Cichlid


In the world of the animal kingdom, males are generally more attractive and vibrant than females. This is also true for African cichlids. 

In most species of peacocks and haps, only the males have color, while the females are grey or brown. If you want to add female African cichlids to your tank, we recommend researching what a mature female will look like because certain species can be more colorful than others. 

Additionally, the presence of females in a tank, especially when they are ready to breed, can drive a few dominant males to become extremely aggressive and harass the other fish in the tank. 

Dominant males will be vibrant in color, while the other males in the tank will have their colors suppressed to avoid being seen as competition. Due to this high degree of aggressiveness, it is advisable not to have any females in a display tank. 

This ties into the other factor, hierarchy. 


As you should know, African cichlids operate in a hierarchy system. This hierarchy determines which fish is the “tank boss” and which fish are beneath him. 

The tank’s most dominant cichlids are usually the ones with the best colors. Less dominant fish can reduce the intensity of the color to avoid appearing as a threat to the more dominant fish.


Color is heavily influenced by the fish’s maturity. As an African cichlid becomes more mature, its colors become more vibrant. 

Juvenile fish can take a long time to show color, with peacocks and smaller haps showing color at around 2.5 inches and larger haps showing color at around 5 inches. 

The color will be quite faint and patchy at first, but will gradually become darker and more solid as the fish ages. 


Genetics also plays a key role in the fish’s color. While the genetics of the fish does not guarantee that the fish will color up at a juvenile stage, it does help to ensure that the effort put into getting the fish to a mature stage will be worthwhile.

In addition, the quality of the African cichlids you buy may also play a part. Ensure that you buy cichlids at a trusted shop or breeder as high-quality fish may portray brighter colors. 

5 Methods to Enhance African Cichlid Colors 

With those factors in mind, you can be rest assured to know that African cichlids can change their colors. Here are a few methods you can try to enhance African cichlid colors! 

OB Peacock African Cichlid

1) Aggression and Stress

As previously stated, the fish’s coloration is heavily influenced by the hierarchy. Try to keep the tank as calm as possible. If you’re struggling with African cichlid aggression, we have an article that provides 7 tips on how to keep your African cichlids from killing each other

African cichlids are complicated when it comes to compatibility. Certain mixes can be made where others really shouldn’t. Luckily, we have an article that covers the pure basics of African cichlids, including their tank mates

2) Water Quality 

A fish kept in poor water conditions, with an incorrect pH or temperature will not show its full-color potential. You don’t have to spend a fortune on tank water salts, minerals, and vitamins. Simply keep up with water changes and test your water quality on a regular basis. 

An unhealthy fish will not color up. Most fish illnesses are caused by poor water quality. Offer them an environment with their required parameters, if not, their bodies will react and show less color. 

3) Diet 

You are what you eat and that goes for fish as well. If you’re feeding them low-quality food and insufficient nutrients, they won’t color up. 

Most fish foods are missing essential vitamins and minerals. These important nutrients are lost in the production of commercial foods.

How to know if you have high-quality fish food? Check your food now and check if it’s made up of whole foods such as whole shrimp, whole salmon, etc. On the other side, if the ingredients sound more like: fish meal and wheat meal, it’s a sign that it may be low-quality food. 

Here’s a video of what we use to feed our African cichlids to enhance their colors: 

If you want to know what we use to enhance our fish’s colors and health through additional supplements, then read our article about our fish food supplements

4) Environment

Believe it or not, the environment (lighting, substrate, décor, plants, etc.) is also a method you can use to your advantage. Let’s break it down into smaller pieces: 

A) Lighting 

It may sound odd but your fish will react to the amount of light in your aquarium. Some African cichlids come from very deep places and these fish will show off their darker and richer colors in low light. 

On the other side of the spectrum, other African cichlids come from extremely shallow waters and are used to “sunbathing”. 

In addition, using an adjustable full-color spectrum LED is an excellent way to highlight the color of your fish. The hue and intensity of the lighting can be modified using the light settings.

Handy tip: Place the light fixture closer to the front of the tank to avoid dark patches and shadows on the fish. 

B) Background and Substrate 

The brightness of your background and substrate will affect the vibrance of your fish’s colors. You can’t go wrong with natural and neutral colors as they can make African cichlids’ colors pop! 

Depending on the fish’s color brightness, you can opt for a light or dark background and substrate. If you want to enhance their darker colors, balance the tank out with a dark background and/or substrate, and vice versa. 

Let your inner interior decorator shine and experiment with what works best for your specific tank of African cichlids and their colors. It really depends on what colors you want to highlight

C) Décor 

As mentioned earlier, African cichlids can get quite territorial which can affect the stress levels of the entire tank. Calm their nerves with places to hide such as caves as well as places to claim as their own, such as rocks and more caves. 

Mimicking their natural habitat, you also have the option to add plants (live or fake). The green from the plants will give your tank a more natural look and feel and enhance African cichlid colors. Your tank will become a rainbow of colors. 

See whether or live plants will survive or not in this video

5) Cleanliness

Keeping a clean tank, inside and out, will really go a long way. A clean tank creates a domino effect: cleanliness, fewer illnesses, less stress, healthier fish, easier maintenance, and colorful fish. 

The benefits are endless with crystal-clear water! Make sure to have a set schedule for water changes, cleaning filters, vacuuming substrate, changing filter media, etc. 

A simple and effective tip to enhance the vibrance of your fish… just wipe the tank’s glass! Any marks left on your tank’s glass can hinder the colors of your African cichlid – giving it a dull and dirty look. 


Throughout this article, you may have noticed a few themes: 1) research, and 2) reducing stress. Both proper research and reducing stress levels will already bring lots of color to your tank! 

Be patient, and learn to enjoy the process of watching your fish grow from dull-grey juveniles to exquisite specimens. 

To put the cherry on top, we would like to offer you a solution to the easiest, fastest, and cheapest way to achieve crystal clear water – our Crystal Clear Aquarium Water ebook

Crystal Clear Aquarium Water book
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