10 Types Of Cichlid & The Care They Need

Cichlids come in an incredible variety of species, each one unique in colour, pattern and size. Many of these hundreds of species are active parts of hobby aquariums all around the globe. Bred to display a range of colour variations.

Cichlids enchant fish keepers with their brilliant colours and larger than life personalities. They are often feisty members of any tank, aggressively territorial and highly social.

While different species of cichlid share many common qualities, each is different and thrive in different environments.

It can be overwhelming sorting through information to know what species is best for your aquarium or how to set up a tank for a particular species.

This article will give you a few options to consider by highlighting 10 of the popular hobby cichlid species and delving deeper into what is required to care for each so you can ensure you provide the perfect environment and care for your species.

We will also cover some of the most commonly asked questions surrounding cichlids.

A Quick List Of The Different Cichlids

  • Angelfish
  • Jewel Cichlid
  • Convict Cichlid
  • Bolivian Ram
  • African Cichlid
  • Discus
  • Oscar
  • Keyholes
  • Yellow Labs
  • Blue Acaras

What Are The Different Types Of Cichlids?

Angelfish

Angelfish are the most recognizable and icon species of cichlid, with their diamond shape and long dorsal and ventral fins they came in a wide array of colours from a long history of captivity breeding.

These fish are often labelled as aggressive but most of this behaviour is normal “sparring” behaviour between males or females protecting their eggs. But Angelfish can be aggressive towards the smaller tank mates so they shouldn’t be kept with other small fish as they run the risk of eating them!

They are social fish and should be kept in groups so they can maintain normal social behaviours.

These cichlids aren’t fussy when it comes to the diet they will eat almost anything whether it sinks or floats so any cichlid food is suitable. If looking to breed then bloodworms are really helpful to get them into great condition.

It’s best to rotate their feeds daily to ensure they get all they need to thrive. Only put in what they can eat in a few minutes.

Angelfish are adaptable and can live happily in a variety of different tank setups. Native to South American rivers these fish prefer shaded slow-moving areas like bank edges and overhanging plants. Creating some hides similar to their natural habitat will benefit aquarium Angelfish.

  • Care Level: Medium
  • pH: 6.8-7.8 
  • Hardness: 54-145 ppm 
  • Temperature: 78°-84° F 
  • Size: up to 6 inches
  • Tank Size: 30 gallons

Jewel Cichlid

This stunning species of cichlid is available in 11 different species so can come in an array of colours and patterns to suit every tank. Feed them a varied diet to keep their colours vibrant – they will eat almost everything!

Jewel Cichlids are known to be very territorial even with those of their own species. They can live happily with other fish both the same species or different as long as the tank has plenty of hides and visual barriers so they cannot always see another fish.

Due to their tenacity to be aggressive they are best to be kept away from fish with long flowing fins. These fins make an easy targeting to biting and nipping for an aggravated Jewel Cichlid.

Jewel Cichlids are pretty cool in their breeding habitats. They are somewhat monogamous and will actually form bonds over the breeding season, maintaining territory together and staying together even after the eggs have hatched.

  • Care Level: Easy
  • pH: 6.5-7.5 
  • Hardness: 50 -120 ppm 
  • Temperature: 74-80F 
  • Size: up to 6 inches
  • Tank Size: 30 gallons

Convict Cichlid

Convict cichlids have a suspicious name but don’t be fooled these guys are among some of the easiest cichlids to care for. The namesake comes from their colouration and patterns of black and white stripes, resembling a convict.

These fish are one of the very few species of cichlids where the female is brighter in colouration than the males. But the males will get larger than the females.

Easy and adaptable they hold the reputation for being the easiest cichlid species to breed in aquariums, easily having offspring in any condition.

They also have a reputation of being destructive, enjoying pulling out aquarium plants and rearranging the furniture.

Convict cichlids will eat pretty much everything and should be fed a variety of pellets or flakes as well as live food such as brine shrimp or bloodworms. These gluttons will continue to eat if food is available

  • Care Level: Easy
  • pH: 6.5 – 8.0 
  • Hardness: 63 to 77 ppm 
  • Temperature: 68-77 F 
  • Size: 4-5 inches
  • Tank Size: 50 gallons for a pair

Bolivian Ram

The Bolivia Ram naturally are found in the Amazon River between Brazil and Bolivia. Preferring to hang out near the river’s edge under overhanging vegetation. Providing lots of hiding spots in their tanks will be important when keeping this species.

This species is up there as one of the easiest cichlids to care for as well as the least aggressive, making them a great addition to any aquarium tank. To make them thrive and produce the most beautiful and vibrant colors replicating their natural environment is key. Lots of places to hide make a confident cichlid.

While like most cichlids the Bolivian Ram will eat almost anything, it’s best to feed them pellets. This is because pellets will fall to the bottom of the tank more than flakes. Since they are bottom feeders these shy fish will get more food this way, rather than try to brave going to the top of the tank to compete with tank mates.

  • Care Level: Easy
  • pH: 6.5-7.5 
  • Hardness: 50-180 ppm
  • Temperature: 77° to 82°F 
  • Size: 3-4 inches
  • Tank Size: 15 gallons

African Cichlids

African Cichlids make up 1300 of the 1650 species of cichlid and these are found in just a few regions in Africa. The most popular species hail from Lake Malawai as they tend to be the most colourful.

These species come in a range of colors and are all active, social and entertaining members of a tank. They are always busy, constantly looking for tidbits to eat and digging in the substrate.

An African Cichlids colours don’t start to show until they start to reach adulthood. Colors will be brighter and more vibrant in times of breeding to show their dominance and physical fitness. Colours also depend on how healthy a cichlid is, so the better you care for them the better they will be on display.

Avid diggers, they should be provided with a fine substrate that won’t cause damage to their scales as they throw it around. You should also avoid filters that need to be positioned under the substrate as digging cichlids can expose them.

  • Care Level: Easy
  • pH: 7.8-8.5 
  • Hardness: 160-320 ppm 
  • Temperature: 78-82°F   
  • Size: 3-8 inches
  • Tank Size: minimum 30 gallons

Discus

Discus cichlid are one of the most sought after and revered aquarium fish. They are hard to source, hard to care for and extremely unique. Named after their shape this species has a disc-like shape.

These cichlids are a challenge for even experienced keepers as they are highly sensitive to changes in the water parameters and very easily stressed. Stress can cause them to get related diseases and deteriorate quickly. A lot of care is needed to keep a tank stable for this fickle fish.

While not as aggressive as some other cichlid species they still show aggression around breeding times, as is expected. They can still be housed with other fish as long as they meet the same specific water parameters of the discus.

You must ensure your tank has a great filtration system that runs consistently. Discus are prone to being highly affected by fluctuating levels of nitrogen so stability is key. Plants do a great job at contributing to tank filtration as well as providing natural hides.

Care Level: Hard
pH: 6-7
Hardness: 18-70 ppm
Temperature: 82°-86°F 
Size: 6-10 inches
Tank Size: 50 gallon

Oscar

These colossal cichlids are up there in the range of largest hobby fish with some reaching record sizes of 18 inches. These big guys can grow at outstanding rates of up to an inch per month so will need some serious feeding!

Oscars will need a wide range of food to fuel themselves and will eat almost anything (including small fish so be aware!). Another problem with being too large is a large amount of waste. The bigger the fish, the bigger the bioload so keeping Oscars involves a pretty good filtration system to handle the waste output.

Oscars love digging just like every other cichlid but since they are quite large, the mess they make is quite large. Ensure your filter is tucked well out of the way to stop any flying debris does not get inside as well as opt for secure plants and furnishings.

Due to their aggression, you should not house Oscars with any smaller fish as they won’t fare well with the Oscars nature. Other large fish may be okay as long as they are passive and let the Oscars be the dominant fish in the tank.

Care Level: Hard
pH: 6-7.5
Hardness: 100-200 ppm
Temperature: 74-81°F   
Size: 11-16 inches
Tank Size: 75 gallons for one adult

Keyhole Cichlids

Keyhole cichlids differ from the majority of their cichlid family members as they tend to be quite shy, quiet and reserved. This species reflects this nature in their muted coloration. They aren’t as brightly coloured as many cichlids and are a muted orange with a single black stripe and a black dot (which resembles a keyhole).

This lowkey colouration is to help Keyholes to camouflage in their natural environment particularly when scared by a predator. This species much prefers to live in schools of up to 8 as they feel a lot safer and confident. They also make relaxed tankmates to other species with little risk of harming another.

This omnivorous species is not picky and feed on vegetation and insects so a mix of dried and live food is best when kept in an aquarium.

Unlike other species of cichlid, this species is not as destructive and do not tend to dig in the substrate. To lay their eggs they need a flat stone or surface to which their eggs will stick too. They won’t pose a risk to your perfectly manicured tank plants!

Care Level: Easy
pH: 6-8
Hardness: 100-150 ppm
Temperature: 75-81°F  
Size: 5 inches
Tank Size: 55 gallons

Yellow Labs

These little pocket rockets are just as feisty as many of the famous ferocious cichlids but because of their unoffensive size, they don’t tend to bother as many other species of fish in the tank. It’s best to not keep them with anything small than them.

Other than that, this species is easy to care for and well suited for beginners. They are adaptable and not sensitive to change. They happily exist in many tank setups as long as there is sufficient hides and plants to explore and a fine-grained substrate to dig in.

Their electric yellow colouring is a welcome addition to many tanks and their high energy personalities are entertaining additions to an aquarium. 

Care Level: Easy
pH: 7.7-8.5
Hardness: 250-300 ppm
Temperature: 75-82°F 
Size: 3 inches
Tank Size: 30 gallons

Blue Acaras

Blue Acaras are a stunning cichlid species. A gleaming jewel blue these fish are sure to be a standout. Acaras are easy to care for as well as quite passive. They fit easily into many aquariums without much hassle.

Lots of protein will keep Blue Acaras colour vibrant but they are omnivores so also feed on vegetation. Rotate your feeding schedule to keep these fish healthy and stimulated. 

While they themselves are not aggressive it’s important that other tankmates also are passive so your Blue Acaras are not dominated and kept away from food sources.

Care Level: Easy
pH: 6.5-8
Hardness: 100-250 ppm
Temperature: 72-86°F   
Size: 5-6 inches
Tank Size: 30 gallons

Cichlid FAQ’s

How Many Types Of Cichlids Are There?

Cichlids are an enormous family of fishes with the currently discovered count of cichlid species reaching about 1650! Most of these species are found in lakes in Africa, with 500 species found in just 3 common lakes. This massive amount of species makes the cichlid family one of the largest families of vertebrates.

The amount of species of this one family is truly an amazing feat. These species have diverged from each other by adapting to super-specific niches in the wild. Competition of so many cichlids forced evolution for survival. This translate to their care in aquariums as every cichlid is different and requires different care.

They also have one of the largest amounts of endangered species in a vertebrate family. Cichlids are threatened mostly due to decreasing water quality in their habitats and overfishing. Both of these issues stem from overpopulation and increasing demand for resources.

Which Cichlids Are Least Aggressive?

Cichlids are a notoriously aggressive family of fish. This mostly stems from their, breeding strategies of mate selection, their territorial behaviours and their furious parental care of young. They need to be somewhat aggressive in nature to be successful. Not all species are aggressive and many are good in community tanks. Here is a handful of the least aggressive:

  • Bolivian ram
  • Yellow labs
  • Keyholes
  • Blue acaras

Cichlids that are less aggressive need to be housed with tankmates that are also passive as not to be harassed by other aggressive species. They also need lots of hides to find comfort in to increase their confidence in the tank.

What Are The Best Cichlids For Beginners?

The best cichlids for beginners are those that are adaptable and hardy. Beginners in the aquarium world still need to learn about adjusting to managing delicate ecosystems within tanks and balancing tank conditions can take some practice. Here are a few of the easiest cichlids to care for:

  • Convict
  • Bolivian ram
  • Angelfish
  • African cichlids

These cichlid species will be resilient to random change and inconsistent parameters so beginners can care for them with ease without a worry of harming them.

What Is The Most Colorful Cichlid?

Most cichlids are pretty colourful by nature! Each species also comes in many colour variations with those that have been in aquarium for longer having more variations due to captive breeding. The bright colors adapt over time to attract mates and deter predators. Some of the most colourful cichlids include the Dicus, German Ram and Electric Blue Hap.

Recap

Cichlids make extremely satisfying and fun additions to any tank for a hobby aquarist. But with so many different species of cichlids available is important to do your research to find the best fit for your tank.

How a cichlid will settle into your home will depend on the water parameters it thrives in, the other species of fish it will share its space with and the set-up of the tank.

Most cichlid species need sufficient hides so a dynamic and stimulating tank is vital for a happy cichlid. These active little fish are always keeping busy so your exciting environment should cater for non-stop fish. 

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