16 GREAT African Cichlid Tank Mates (& 9 To Avoid)

When keeping a tropical freshwater tank, deciding what kind of aquatic life to house with African Cichlids can be an overwhelming task. Because of their famous aggression, African Cichlid tank mates are few and far between. Use this in-depth guide to help make things a little easier.

List of Tank Mates for Quick Reading

  • African Butterfly Cichlid
  • African Red-Eyed Tetra
  • Clown Loaches
  • Flying Fox Fish
  • Giant Danios
  • Leopard Bushfish
  • Murray River Rainbowfish
  • Plecos
  • Pictus Catfish
  • Red-Spotted Scat Fish
  • Red Tail Shark
  • Salmon Red Rainbowfish
  • Siamese Algae Eater
  • Spotted Raphael Catfish
  • Synodontis Catfish
  • West African Dwarf Cichlids

How to Setup a Tank for African Cichlids with Tank Mates

When setting up a tank for your African Cichlids in a community environment, your first consideration will be space. You must have a tank large enough to house everyone. They should have ample places of their own to claim as territory and room to swim.

The second consideration will be mimicking the water parameters and environment for all the fish. Depending on what you choose to house with an African Cichlid, you have to maintain good filtration and proper temperature. Plus, decorations, plants and substrates must also be part of your aquascape.

You should get a good water testing kit to make sure hardness and pH balance stays within appropriate ranges and to monitor any dramatic changes. It is imperative to take care of anything that goes awry immediately.

Tank Size

African Cichlids are very aggressive and active, so they need space to swim and claim their territory. When adding other fish, consider that larger Cichlids need at least a 30 gallon tank and smaller ones require a minimum of 20 gallons.

For every other fish you want to put in, add three extra gallons on average. Of course, if they’re larger than the Cichlid, you may want to add five extra gallons instead. Also account for how the fishes will grow and will need adequate room to thrive.

Water Parameters

Maintaining water parameters will become a top priority, especially if keeping other fish with African Cichlids. The four main factors to monitor are the tank’s pH balance (for alkalinity or acidity), water hardness (dissolved solids for maximum health), water flow and temperature.

The trick is going to be maintaining an appropriate balance that will make all creatures in the aquarium happy. At the same time, you have to recreate their native environments to ensure they remain calm and comfortable. The following is the average parameters for African Cichlids:

  • pH: 6.5 to 8.5
  • Hardness: 160 to 230 ppm
  • Temperature: 75°F to 85°F
  • Water Flow: a strong current like a river; use a filter, air and/or water pump

Aquarium Décor ; Equipment

African Cichlids love open water or rocky spaces. Since most tank mates for Cichlids are bottom feeders, they like soft substrates. So, you will have to find a way to accommodate them all. For instance, most Catfish will injure themselves on rough rocks and need something softer.

Also, there has to be plenty of caves, driftwood and other kinds of hiding places. This is because African Cichlids are very territorial and these things help other fish avoid conflict and aggressive behavior. Things like plants, furniture, and treasure chests are ideal.

You will want to get a heater and a lamp to maintain the tank’s temperature requirements, especially during the winter. But, if you’re getting tank mates with nocturnal habits, you may want to invest in a “Moon Light” so you can see their beauty when they come out.

Will Cichlids Attack Their Tank Mates?

Because Cichlids are very aggressive and territorial, they will attack their tank mates, even when well-suited to live together. This is why it’s important to have spaces and crevices available all fish to hide, rest, repose and claim.

You must remove any fishes which exude consistent aggressive behavior from the tank at once. The bullying won’t stop until the fish feels they have successfully dominated the tank. This will result in injured and dead tank members.

However, African Cichlids encompass an entire genus of fish rather than one specific variety. Therefore, there are some Cichlids who display less aggressive behavior than others. Study the various temperaments of the different varieties to create the best environment.

Popular African Cichlids for Home Aquariums

The following is a list of the most common types in home aquariums along with their general temperaments:

  • Blue Dolphin Moorii: Their shiny, blue scales make this semi-aggressive fish a much desired addition to home tanks. But, they are difficult to care for because they can be as big as 10 inches.
  • Buffalo Head: These Cichlids have prominent heads and are more peaceful than most others.
  • Butterfly: As their name suggests, these Cichlids have markings similar to butterflies. Butterfly Cichlids are very docile and a recommended tank mate for almost any type of African Cichlid.
  • Compressiceps: These long, thin and silvery fish are very aggressive.
  • Electric Blue Hap: A solid and vibrant cobalt color, the aggression level of an Electric Blue Hap can range between semi to medium. They do not get along with Peacock Cichlids.
  • Electric Yellow: The bright, vibrant yellow that pops off of these Cichlids with dark fin tips tend to be less aggressive than most others.
  • Giraffe: These semi-aggressive, blue-faced fish have dark spots like a Giraffe. These are difficult to care for and are sensitive to the minutest change in water parameters.
  • Haplochromis: Haps are more common for people to keep. They’re not too aggressive, but they don’t back down either.
  • Kribensis: These are the smallest and least aggressive of all African Cichlids.
  • Maingano: They’re beautiful and semi-aggressive fish with blue horizontal stripes.
  • Mbuna: Found in Lake Malawi, Mbunas are quite aggressive. They are brightly colored herbivores and seek out rocky areas.
  • Orange Zebra: These have black stripes or spots on an orange body and are very aggressive.
  • Peacock Cichlids: Peacock Cichlids are slightly aggressive bottom feeders but colorful; ranging from dark tan to silvery-blue.
  • Sunshine Peacock: These moderately-aggressive fish come in a host of yellow and blue colors. They are resilient and very good fish for newbie aquarists.
  • Zebra Cichlids: As indicated by the name, these very aggressive fish have black and white stripes down their bodies.

What Are the Best Tank Mates for African Cichlids?

It’s always best to keep African Cichlids alone. But, there are a few other non-Cichlid buddies they can handle being around. Many bottom feeders are fine to have but make sure they can tolerate or be resistant to a Cichlid. Also, not all bottom feeders can handle the same water requirements as African Cichlids.

Newer hobbyists should go for tank mates that are easy and hardy until they get used to keeping a tropical freshwater aquarium. More experienced aquarists will find some tank mates challenging in tandem with African Cichlids. This is either because of water parameters, temperament or general environmental necessities.

African Butterfly Cichlid

Any type of African Cichlid can live well beside African Butterfly Cichlids because they both come from the same continent. Even though many African Cichlids hail from Lake Malawi and African Butterfly Cichlids come from places like Sierra Leone, their water parameters will be almost identical.

African Butterfly Cichlids are beautiful and colorful with a black stripe. These are very docile compared to others. They need plenty of flat rocks for spawning along with driftwood, clay pot caves, and other areas for hiding.

Butterflies are actually great for planted tanks because they don’t disturb plants or dig up substrates. Plus, beginners will find them favorable to start with as they can handle a wide range of temperatures and pH balance.

  • Care Level: Easy
  • pH: 5.5 to 7.5
  • Hardness: 18 to 262 pp
  • Temperature: 73°F to 81°F
  • Size: around 3½ inches
  • Tank Size: 36 inches and bigger

African Red-Eyed Tetra

African Cichlids are okay with African Red-Eyed Tetra, but they tend to be larger than Cichlids, so they do need a big enough tank for swimming. Their water parameters are about the same, and this alone makes them good tank mates.

They aren’t picky eaters and you can feed both Cichlids and Tetras the same kind of food. Frozen food, algae, and flakes are all acceptable for them to eat. Plus, African Red-Eyed Tetras are aesthetically pleasing to look at with their large, iridescent scales ranging a host of shades and hues with little red eyes.

They like plants, roots, driftwood, branches, and smooth stones. To simulate their natural habitat, place the filter over peat moss to give the water some tannin.

  • Care Level: Easy to Intermediate
  • pH: 6 to 8
  • Hardness: 18 to 268 ppm
  • Temperature: 73°F to 82°F
  • Size: about 4 inches
  • Tank Size: 50 gallons or more

Clown Loaches

Although Clown Loaches tend to be aggressive, they can make a perfect tank mate for African Cichlids. If they’re protecting their turf, they don’t resort to aggression. They’re bottom feeders, often spending their time foraging for food on the floor.

They’re tan and black with four barbels protruding from their mouths. They like to hide, so plenty of caves, driftwood and rocks will be necessary. Clown Loaches eat things like pellets, flakes, brine shrimp and bloodworms.

The difficulty in caring for Clown Loaches is that they are easy to contract diseases and will be the first to show signs of illness if something is wrong within the tank. Also, Clown Loaches require a pH balance lower than African Cichlids, so monitoring must be frequent and meticulous for both species to thrive.

  • Care Level: Easy to Intermediate
  • pH: 6 to 7.5
  • Hardness: 8 to 12 KH
  • Temperature: 72° F to 86° F
  • Size: 4½ inches to 12 inches
  • Tank Size: 75 to 100 gallons

Flying Fox Fish

These are very friendly fish that don’t often get into scuffles with African Cichlids. Flying Foxes have flaps around their mouths with a golden band running down their bodies. They require lots of good cover with things like driftwood, caves, rocks and plants.

Flying Fox Fish love eating frozen food, live food, flakes, pellets and wafers. Since they’re bottom feeders, they dine on algae and eat other debris. But, they are quite intolerant to waste and must have well-oxygenated water with a strong current.

Partial water changes of around 25% will be a weekly occurrence and the tank must have sufficient filtration. The good thing about this is the clean water requirement matches what African Cichlids need as well.

  • Care Level: Easy
  • pH: 6 to 7.
  • Hardness: 5 to 12 GH
  • Temperature: 76°F to 81°F
  • Size: up to 8 inches
  • Tank Size: 100 gallon

Giant Danios

The Giant Danio is a very pretty fish with fresh colors and intense glances. They’re a stunning silvery hue with golden patches and a cobalt blue top. They aren’t particularly picky, so they are suitable to house with African Cichlids but they must be in a school of at least six to thrive.

If you’re going to keep Giant Dianos with African Cichlids, you will also have to have some Rainbowfish. This will ensure the aquarium’s peace because Giant Danios can be aggressive, especially in packs. Also, the Giant Danio must match the size of the African Cichlid or the Cichlid will eat it.

These fish lounge at the bottom or middle of the tank and love vegetation. So, along with rocks and driftwood, you should also place some aquatic plants to keep them happy and busy. If you can provide all this, then a Giant Danio will be a fantastic tank mate.

  • Care Level: Easy
  • pH: 6.5 to 7
  • Hardness: 50 to 140 ppm
  • Temperature: 64°F to 74°F
  • Size: 4 inches
  • Tank Size: 30 gallons at minimum

(Find out about 7 more great danios.)

Leopard Bushfish

What makes Leopard Bushfish great for aquariums are their habits and appearance, hence the moniker. They have beautiful patches and splotches that look similar to a Leopard and make an awe-inspiring feature in any tropical freshwater aquarium.

A Leopard Bushfish’s aggression matches that of African Cichlids and, therefore, make good tank mates. One of the more curious traits about Leopard Bushfish is that they camouflage themselves as limp leaves to trick other fish in the vicinity.

They are picky eaters and require their own meals. They ideally like smaller foods along with live or frozen fish. They will eat flakes, but they don’t prefer them and often go for meatier options.

  • Care Level: Intermediate
  • pH: 6 to 7.5
  • Hardness: up to 15 dGH
  • Temperature: 73°F to 82°F
  • Size: up to 7 inches
  • Tank Size: 50 gallons and up

Murray River Rainbowfish

These colorful fish from Australia make suitable tank mates for African Cichlids. Murray River Rainbowfishes are hardy and tough survivors. They are not easily prone to contracting diseases too. These Rainbowfish can hold their own in an aquarium with African Cichlids.

Avid omnivores, they like to eat plants and algae but also flakes, pellets and brine shrimp. Murray River Rainbowfishes have to have plenty of room to swim but, they’re famous jumpers. So you have to put a canopy over the top of the aquarium.

They should have a tank with plants and a sandy substrate that mimics the Murray River. A good filter with rapid water movement is necessary for the males to develop their beautiful, bright colors.

  • Care Level: Easy
  • pH: 6.5 to 8.5
  • Hardness: 8 to 25 dG
  • Temperature: 70°F to 82°F
  • Size: 2¾ inches to over 4 inches
  • Tank Size: 30 gallons

Pictus Catfish

The Pictus Catfish is a bottom feeder and come recommended as a tank mate for African Cichlids. But, their water parameters, although not too different, do have some variations. They have to have plenty of hiding places with things like rocks, plants, small caves and driftwood.

They look exotic and stick out in any aquarium with their whitish silvery bodies and dark, blackish spots. They’re very peaceful and get along well with most other fish without too many issues. In fact, they are often shy and why it’s important to give them lots of cover.

Pictus catfish do have a predatory attitude toward fish that are smaller than themselves. They will eat juveniles of other species, including the young of African Cichlids. But, many experienced aquarists report having great success keeping these two together in a tank.

  • Care Level: Easy
  • pH: 6 to 8
  • Hardness: 5 to 18 dH
  • Temperature: 71°F to 77°F
  • Size: up to 5 inches
  • Tank Size: 55 to 100 gallons

Plecos

Plecos are an optimal choice to house with African Cichlids. Since they’re bottom feeders and feast on algae with gusto, the tank will not only stay clean but peaceful. This will give the African Cichlids plenty of room to swim around with little chance of territorial battles.

Because they spend all their time at the bottom of the tank, you must replicate their natural habitat as best as possible. Use things like sand to prevent injury and have plenty of plants along with caves and driftwood.

But, when getting one of these interesting looking fish, make sure you have the right species on your hands. Many fish shops mislabel these on top of hoards of online misinformation. So, do thorough research.

  • Care Level: Very Easy
  • pH: 6.5 to 7.5
  • Hardness: 2 to 20 dGH
  • Temperature: 72°F to 78°F
  • Size: up to 24 inches
  • Tank Size: 75 to 150 gallons

Red-Spotted Scat Fish

The Red-Spotted Scat Fish can make a good companion for African Cichlids, but this comes with a huge caveat. These are saltwater fish that will venture into freshwater rivers and streams to feed. They require brackish marine conditions and, because of that, are difficult to keep with African Cichlids.

But, it’s not unheard of and some hobbyists have success keeping them together in freshwater conditions. So, if you choose to invest in a Red-Spotted Scat Fish as a tank mate, make sure the variety you get spends a considerable amount of time in freshwater environments. Otherwise, it could get sick, suffer and die.

Only very experienced and seasoned aquarists should attempt this kind of pairing.

  • Care Level: Difficult
  • pH: 7.5 to 8.5
  • Hardness: 10 to 20 dGH
  • Temperature: 72°F to 82°F
  • Size: up to 12 inches
  • Tank Size: 40 gallons or more

Red Tail Shark

Deriving its name from its sleek and beautiful black body, accented by its red tail, Red Tail Sharks aren’t actually sharks. They only have an intense look and a temperament like one. But, they are fairly good for African Cichlids. This is because these two share similar attitudes.

Red Tail Sharks are territorial and will create boundaries. So, keep only one Red Tail Shark per tank. Experienced aquarists who want something a little more aggressive should attempt to pair these with African Cichlids

The tank must be large enough so everyone has their turf without bothering each other or getting in the way. The environment of a Red Tail Shark should also contain plenty of rocks and vegetation with rapid water flow so they feel comfortable.

  • Care Level: Intermediate
  • pH: 6.5 to 7.5
  • Hardness: 10 to 15 dH
  • Temperature: 72°F to 79°F
  • Size: around 4 inches
  • Tank Size: 50 gallons or larger

Salmon Red Rainbowfish

The Salmon Red Rainbowfish is an excellent choice to house with African Cichlids. They have beautiful bright red coloring that’s more visible in males than females. They often hang out between the mid to upper regions of the tank and only go to the lower level when scavenging for food.

They’re very peaceful and don’t tend to bother other fish. Salmon Red Rainbowfish rarely, if ever, get in the way orf Cichlids or their territory. They need a dense amount of vegetation to hide in and feel safe. Also, they prefer others of their kind, so it’s better to have four or more of them.

Plus, they have to be the same size as the African Cichlid or they will become a meal for the Cichlid. But they really do add an aesthetic quality to a freshwater tank.

  • Care Level: Easy
  • pH: 6.5 to 8.5
  • Hardness: 8 to 25 dGH
  • Temperature: 70°F to 79°F
  • Size: up to 6 inches
  • Tank Size: 30 gallon

Siamese Algae Eater

Siamese Algae Eaters have many different varieties that pair differently with different kinds of African Cichlids. Plus, they are often taken from their habitat as juveniles and sometimes what fish stores sell as Siamese Algae Eaters tend to be misleading. They should be silvery in color with dark markings.

Anything in a bright color isn’t the same and may not survive with an African Cichlid. In general, though, these make good tank mates. You will have to do some research on the types and which ones will be best together.

They’re bottom feeders who love algae, so they shouldn’t be too much trouble. But, to ensure the Cichlid doesn’t bully a Siamese Algae Eater, they should be in a school of at least five.

  • Care Level: Easy
  • pH: 6.5 to 8
  • Hardness: 5 to 20 KH
  • Temperature: 75°F to 79°F
  • Size: 5 to 6 inches
  • Tank Size: 20 gallons or more

Spotted Raphael Catfish

The interesting and beautiful Spotted Raphael Catfish produces sounds you can hear outside of the tank, like clicks and croaks. Hence their other name, Talking Catfish. Like all Catfish, they’re bottom feeders, so they will make good tank mates for African Cichlids.

They’re very peaceful and shy with an arrow-shaped, cylinder-like body. Their mouths have three delicate barbels with tough, thick scales that range from brown to black and even a deep blue.

Spotted Raphael Catfish thrive best in a tank with some plants, driftwood, and a soft substrate. Anything like soil, sand or fine gravel will be perfect.

  • Care Level: Easy
  • pH: 5.8 to 7.5
  • Hardness: 2 to 20 dGH
  • Temperature: 68°F to 79°F
  • Size: up to 6 inches
  • Tank Size: 35 gallons or more

Synodontis Catfish

Synodontis Catfish come from Lake Tanganyika in Africa, which is very close to Lake Malawi and the home of many African Cichlids. So, putting these two together in an aquarium is one of the safest bets. This particular Catfish won’t invade Cichlid territory and often keep to themselves.

They have shark-like bodies with powerful fins and stark markings, giving them a unique and distinctive look. Synodontis Catfish have gradiating colors from dark brown on top to light taupe on their bellies and large, dark spots.

These Catfish should be part of a school with three or more fish and happiest in a tank with plenty of algae to feed on. What’s great about housing them with African Cichlids is that they have near-identical water parameters, decorations and substrates.

  • Care Level: Easy
  • pH: 6 to 7.5
  • Hardness: 4 to15 dH
  • Temperature: 72°F to 82°F
  • Size: 8 to 12 inches
  • Tank Size: 20 gallons or larger

West African Dwarf Cichlid

Dwarf Cichlids from West Africa are okay tank mates for most African Cichlids. They’re very delicate and should only be in the care of experienced aquarists. But, they make beautiful additions if you can meet all their requirements.

They can be very aggressive even though they’re some of the smallest African Cichlids. So, it may be best to house them with other fish that either match their temperament or are not so aggressive. It’s also advisable to not have more than one male if you intend to keep a smaller tank.

  • Care Level: Intermediate to Difficult
  • pH: 4 to 7
  • Hardness: 8 to 15 dGH
  • Temperature: 75°F to 80°F
  • Size: 1⅓ inches
  • Tank Size: at least 25 gallons

What Tank Mates Should You Avoid?

Because there are only a handful of species you can house with African Cichlids, there are many that should not live in the same aquarium. The following types and species of fish should not be tank mates:

  • Fish with shy, peaceful and docile temperaments
  • Fish that are happy-go-lucky, bubbling around without respect to territory
  • Naturally less aggressive and easily spooked fish
  • Fish that look similar in size and color to the particular type of African Cichlid in question
  • Angelfish
  • Black Moor Goldfish
  • Corydoras
  • Discus
  • Glassfish
  • Guppy Fish
  • Silver Dollar Fish
  • Small Tetras
  • Tiny Danios

Other Cichlids

Many species of Cichlids can’t live together, specifically ones that come from different continents. This is because each variety has a specific chemical and biological makeup that does not mesh well together. For instance, many Cichlids from South America will not fare well with ones from Africa. It will make for a biologically toxic environment.

There are African Cichlids that are more peaceable than others, but it’s not wise to have cichlids that look similar. This is because the males will try to dominate each other for territory and also why you should only have one male per tank.

(Check out the best tank mates for a variety of cichlids.)

Recap

The choices of tank mates for African Cichlids do have some variety but there are many limits. It’s first going to depend on the type of African Cichlid you have and their degree of aggression. But, even with more peaceable Cichlids, some can’t live together like Electric Blue Haps and Peacocks. They won’t get along well.

For a more peaceful and happier tank, an African Butterfly Cichlid will get along with just about any other Cichlid. It might be a good idea to have a Butterfly and a Peacock along with a Synodontis Catfish. If you’re looking for a little more aggression, then be wise so as not to create a horror scene you may later on regret.

So, it’s in your best interest to study each type of African Cichlid to see which one will be best for you and what you want in a tropical freshwater tank. Then, apply a similar amount of research into their possible tank mates. Sit down and do a compare-and-contrast between the types of African Cichlids you have or want and the various fish that can tolerate living with it.

Leave a Comment