What are Cichlids?

What Are Cichlids?

Cichlids (family: Cichlidae) are a group of freshwater fish species, typically encountered in South America, Africa, India and Madagascar. The family so far consists of more than 2000 species with the list increasing as more species are discovered every year. They are typically encountered in lakes and rivers, however some species have been reported in saltwater, mainly in brackish waters and coastal areas.

Members of the group can be distinguished by a number of discrete characteristics: a single nostril on each side of the head instead of two, the absence of bony shelf below the eye and the separation of the lateral line in two sections. Another very important characteristic of cichlids is their “pharyngeal jaws”, a second pair of jaws which derive from a transformation of their gills. This tool complements the mouth structure, helping to crush and process food items such as invertebrates. It has also allowed some cichlids to specialize in specific preys, leading to a great diversity of species within the family.




Cichlids display strong sexual dimorphism, i.e. females and males can be easily distinguished by special characteristics. Female and male individuals differ in color and size: males are typically bigger and more colorful than females. It is due to this great diversity of colors that cichlids are considered some the most famous ornamental fish among aquarists.

Another interesting characteristic of cichlid species is their reproductive behavior. Males and females usually engage in a stunning reproductive process including mating, spawning, fertilizing and guarding the eggs. Moreover, in most species the female collects the eggs and keeps them in its mouth, a procedure that is known as oral incubation.


Cichlid species are known for their incredible diversity, which is due to their fascinating evolution. They are considered secondary freshwater species, because their ancestors were seawater species that made their way to the freshwater environment. As a result, cichlids are extremely tolerant to high salinities, which provided them a great advantage in waters rich in salts and minerals.

The first cichlid species probably appeared in Africa some million years ago, in waters that were saturated with salts. During that time most of the continents we know today were forming a single continent called “Pangea”. Later on the several continents drifted apart and so did the several cichlid species, resulting in the distribution that they have today.




It is due to their evolution that cichlids are usually classified in two groups: the new world species and the African cichlids. The first group includes South American cichlids, cichlids from India and Madagascar, thus cichlids from continents that drifted further apart from Africa, which is considered the “old world”. Although this hypothesis seemed to explain the distribution and evolution of cichlids, recent studies in the genetic biology of certain cichlid species presented evidence that it might not be the case.

Alternatively, they suggested that some species might have crossed entire oceans, a long migration that through the years allowed the evolution of such a rich diversity of cichlids in lakes and rivers of Africa, South America and Madagascar.


Breeding Cichlids – A Fascinating and Rewarding Experience

With more than 2000 species with different needs and habits, including various breeding behaviours, most of the species are divided into two main groups: mouthbrooders and substrate brooders.

In mouthbrooding species, females incubate the eggs into their mouth after spawning and after fertilization. In the beginning of the breeding season the male starts being aggressive and chases females around the tank, in an attempt to attract them to its territory, which depending on the species can be a pile of rocks or a pit into the sand. Once a female enters the male’s territory, the fish engage in a kind of “dance” consisting of circular movements, which creates a bond between the individuals. Subsequently, the female spawns a number of eggs and immediately picks them up with its mouth. During this procedure, the male will try to fertilize the eggs, either on the ground or within the female’s mouth, depending on the species. After this procedure, the female keeps the eggs into its mouth for about 3-4 weeks and during this period it is not able to eat. While eggs will hatch 4-6 days after fertilization, the female will maintain them into her mouth as a precaution against predators, an activity known as “holding”.




Substrate brooders lay their eggs on the ground, either on the sand or hidden between rocks and within cavities. While the first parts of the breeding procedure are similar between mouth-brooding and substrate-brooding species, in the latter parental care is given by both males and females which create an exclusive bond, lasting for at least one reproductive season. After fertilization, females engage mainly in “fanning” the eggs, making circular movements with their tail above the eggs in order to oxygenate them, while male individuals protect the territory from intruders. Parental cares continues after hatching and young fries become free-swimmers after a period of 4-6 weeks.




Breeding cichlid species is an easy to moderate task. In order to be successful, one should take try to achieve three basic tasks: allowing the formation of a pair, providing suitable conditions and managing male aggressiveness.

In order to facilitate the formation of a bond between male and female individuals, it is important to create an environment similar to their natural habitat. As males are territorial, it is important to study the species ecology and provide a suitable substrate that will match the species preferences: e.g. rock dwellers will need careful rockwork while sand dwellers will need fine gravel and most probably aquatic plants. Neglecting this important aspect of the fish natural environment will not allow the male individual to create the mating territory which the very first step for successful breeding for all cichlid species.



Similarly, keeping fish healthy is of great importance. A good filtering system, a small research about the best water conditions depending on the species and regular water changes will ensure that the individuals are strong and have energy deposits to invest into mating. Food quality is another important matter. Since females need to invest a huge amount of energy and proteins in order to produce eggs, they need to be strong and resistant. It is recommended to provide fish with the best quality food, according to their specific needs, while making sure that quantity is sufficient but not excessive. Failing to estimate the right amount of food can create health problems such as the Malawi bloat which will not allow them to get involved in breeding.


Lastly, keeping the male aggressiveness in low levels can be achieved by keeping the female to male ratio at high levels within the tank: adding at least two females per male individual will prevent the male from harassing a single female and thus will reduce female injuries and improve female health. Moreover, it is important to add rocks, pots and roots in order to provide hideouts for females which otherwise will have a hard time escaping from male aggressiveness. As males sometimes keep harassing females even after breeding, many aquarists prefer isolating the female and eggs after spawning and fertilization. While it is a delicate and sometimes tricky task, it has several benefits: it keeps female stress to low levels, and reduces the changes of the female spitting or eating the eggs. Moreover, for mouthbrooding species, keeping the female separate for a small period of time after the fries become free swimming will help it to recover before returning to the tank.

Salvini Cichlid Overview

The Salvini Cichlid – A Colorful Wizard


The Salvini cichlid (en: Cichlasoma salvini) is a colorful South America cichlid, known also as yellow belly cichlid or tricolor cichlid, due to its impressive colors. While juveniles have a less shiny grey color, adults are bright yellow with two lines of black and blue dots running through their body. They possess long turquoise fins and have red bellies, a coloration that gets more intense during the breeding period and is more pronounced in males. Moreover, females have a small black patch in the center of their dorsal fin and the cover of their gills and are generally smaller, making it fairly easy to distinguish between the sexes. Salvini cichlids reach a maximum size of 8 inches (20 cm) but they normally remain smaller in aquariums.

The species can live for about 13 years and can be encountered in rivers and lagoons of the northern South America, such as South Mexico, Guatemala and Belize. It usually prefers rivers with moderate to strong flow and commonly inhabits spots with dense tropical vegetation which provides shelter and plenty of hideouts, as the species intense coloration would make it difficult to escape from potential predators. As a result Salvini cichlids would live happily in 50 gallon tanks (150 L), filled with fine gravel or sand and decorated with a variety of rockwork, pots, roots and plants in order to provide hiding spots. Water should be kept at a temperature between 22-27 °C (72-81 °F), and water quality should include a pH between 7-8 and dh around 5-20.

Despite being a very shy fish, it is moderately aggressive and can be quite territorial especially during the breeding season. It can be kept in a community aquarium, as long as its neighbours are moderately aggressive species too. Examples of potential candidates are the red devil and the oscar. On the other hand, small species will quickly become a snack for the Salvini cichlid, as it is an omnivore, eating all possible kinds of food. It can be fed pellets and flakes, accompanied with a variety of frozen food such as earthworms or shrimp. Vegetables such as zucchini and peas would consist a good addition, since a wide variety of food sources will enhance the stunning coloration of this species.

Salvini cichlids are not mouth brooders, as is the case for the majority of cichlid species. The females usually spawn on a territory that is chosen by the male which is usually on a rocky spot or in a small cave, as the Salvini cichlid is sometimes a cave spawner in its natural habitat. After fertilization both individuals guard the eggs and males can get quite aggressive with any fish that will attempt to approach. Fries hatch in about five days and remain at the spawning site until they become free swimming, which happens a few days later. It is quite often for the female to dig pits in the sand and gravel in order to provide shelter to the young fries. Another common and entertaining behavior, known as “fanning”, includes a variety of movements with the tail in order to create mild currents above the eggs and provide them with oxygen.

The Salvini cichlids are among the most famous cichlids of South America, due to their stunning colouration and aggressive temperament, despite their small size. Although not recommended for the beginner, with proper care it can be a beautiful addition to a cichlid aquarium.


Salvini Cichlids



Jaguar Cichlid Overview

Jaguar Cichlid – Large and Territorial


The Jaguar Cichlid (scientific name: Parachromis managuensis) is a South American freshwater cichlid, and which has been introduced in the USA, Philippines and Singapore. It is a valuable species, traded not only for aquariums but also targeted in both recreational (game) and commercial fisheries and also produced in aquaculture.


As most cichlids, the species has an elongated body and can be distinguished by its large mouth, projecting lower jaw and distinct color pattern: a series of black spots on the side and two continuous and parallel black stripes from the eye to the opercle (i.e. gill bone). Its body color ranges from silver to golden-purple, its dorsal, anal and caudal fins have numerous black spots and its belly is usually white or yellowish. Males can reach an average length of 14 inches (35 cm) and females a length of 12 inches (30 cm) and can live up to 15 years.


This fish species can be found in a variety of habitats such as streams, lakes and ponds, including both hard and soft sediments, in depths that range between 3-10 m. It survives in both clear and turbid water, but seems to have a preference for muddy waters characterized by low oxygen levels. As its name suggests, it displays extremely aggressive behavior and is extremely territorial, especially during the reproductive period.


Keeping the Jaguar in an aquarium is an easy task. However, due to its territoriality, it is important to keep it separate from other species, or chose its tank-mates carefully. Especially during the reproductive season providing a separate tank to the breeding couple is crucial in order to maintain all the individuals intact.


The ideal tank to keep Jaguar Cichlids should have a minimum size of 180 gallons. Ideal conditions should also include a temperature range between 77-97 °F, pH between 7.0-8.7 and hardness between 6-18 °dH. The Jaguar Cichlid is a very capable predator feeding mainly on smaller fish and large invertebrates. As a result, it will appreciate live food but can also be trained to feed on pellets, which should be of high quality and suitable for large predators. It is also common to feed the Jaguar Cichlid fish meat, earthworms and krill.


Jaguar Cichlids reach sexual maturity at a size of 4 inches (10 cm). In order to enhance the likelihood of breeding, it is highly recommended to begin with several juveniles. Provided that there is at least a male and a female, by the time they become sexually mature a breeding couple will have been established. Breeding of this species is easy to achieve, however the aggressiveness of the male individuals might even target the females, thus during the breeding process it is crucial to provide a special structure that will allow the female to escape, e.g. a net or other material can be used to divide the tank into two parts, connected through an opening that is too small for the male to pass through.


The species breeding behaviour is quite similar to that of other cichlids, with the male preparing its territory and performing a series of movements to attract the female which subsequently releases a high number of oocytes (1000-2000) on the ground. The male fertilizes the oocytes and both parents guard the fertilized eggs until the juveniles are ready to feed on themselves, which takes roughly a week.


The parental care provided by the parents to the fries along with the astonishing colours, dominating behaviour and breeding procedure of the Jaguar Cichlids make this species a unique candidate for an aquarium, suitable for aquarium lovers of any level.

Jaguar Cichlid

Frontosa Cichlid Overview

Frontosa Cichlid – A Kind Giant


The Frontosa cichlid (scientific name: Cyphotilapia frontosa), also known as “humphead cichlid”, is an endemic species in Lake Tanganyika, widespread in the north part of the lake. It is a pelagic fish that is mainly encountered in the water column, in depths between 20-50 meters. The species can be distinguished from two main characteristics: a pronounced hump in the upper part of its head and a typical color pattern consisting of 5-7 black vertical lines crossing its body and blue, stunning fins. There are many varieties of the species with various spectacular colors which get more intense with age.


The species life span can reach 25 years and it can become fairly large, reaching 35 cm, classifying it among the largest fish among the Tanganyika cichlids. Cichlid species normally display high levels of sexual dimorphism*, however female and male individuals of the Frontosa do not display great differences, except for size, with males being usually larger. The Frontosas are slow-moving and usually live in groups. Despite being very slow, they are piscivores (i.e. eating other fish) and have an impressive feeding strategy: being nocturnal feeders, they migrate to shallower parts of the lake during the night, in order to feed on smaller fish which live at the bottom. The latter usually have slower rhythms during that time of the day, making it easy for the Frontosa to attack them and assure their meal. It is due to this feeding behavior that the species is sometimes considered a rock-dweller instead of a pelagic fish.


As the Frontosa cichlids are big, pelagic swimmers, they require a lot of space in a large tank, with a miminum size of 70 gallons (250 L). A sandy bottom would be preferable, however rocky structures and small hideouts such as small caves should be added in order to provide security to the fish which can get really aggressive when feeling in danger. Plants are not essential but since these cichlids do not usually uproot plants, they will not harm them if they are added to the tank for aesthetic reasons.


Moreover, the species commonly forms groups and thus it is much better to keep more than one individuals in the same tank. The tank size should be adjusted according to the number of fish, e.g. 5-6 individuals should be kept at a tank of at least 150 gallons (550 L). Being a gentle fish, the Frontosa cichlid can share the tank with other cichlids, however it is important not to keep it with species of very small size, as they will not hesitate to take a bite of potential tank neighbors.


The Frontosa cichlids are opportunistic feeders and thus can be fed a variety of food, including pellets and frozen food such as krill and earthworms. However, it is important to use food that sinks to the bottom, as this species never feeds on the surface; feeding on pellets and flakes that float will lead to a common problem known as “float”, caused by air swallowed by the fish. Concerning water quality, the water in Lake Tanganyika is warm and alkaline, thus temperature should be maintained at around 72-82 °F (22-27 °C) and pH between 7.8-9. Moreover, water at their natural habitat is very well oxygenated and thus oxygen flow should be kept on continuously.


Breeding of the Frontosa cichlid is a time consuming procedure that requires patience. The species reaches sexual maturity after 3-4 years, while females and males are hard to distinguish. Starting with a breeding couple seems to be the best strategy. Alternatively, one can start with 8-12 juveniles, removing the largest fish, which is most probably a male, every 6-10 months, a procedure that will leave only 5-6 females of the same size in the tank. Adding a mature male at that moment would create the best dynamics in the group to start the breeding process.


Creating a spawning territory with rocks is essential in order to facilitate spawning, especially after a female is seen with a swollen belly which is a sign of fertility. The female after establishing a bond with the male will deposit around 50-100 eggs on the sand between rocks. Subsequently the male will fertilize the eggs and guard the territory from potential predators waiting for the female to take the eggs into her mouth. The eggs will hatch in about 3-4 days and will be under the female’s care for 4-6 weeks. It is not unusual for the female to eat, or reject the eggs and this is why some aquarists prefer to remove the eggs and maintain them in a separate tank with similar conditions until they hatch. This unusual habit of female individuals is what makes breeding of the Frontosa cichlid a challenging but very rewarding task.


*Sexual dimorphism: The existence of morphological differences between males and females.


Things You Needs To Know About Frontosa Cichlid



Firemouth Cichlid Overview

The Firemouth Cichlid – A Colorful Jewel


The Firemouth cichlid (scientific: Thorichthiys meeki) was discovered in 1918 by Walter Lannoy. It is native in South America, usually encountered in rivers and lagoons in the peninsula of Yucatan in Mexico and also in Guatemala and Belize. It is a mid-sized cichlid, reaching a maximum length of 4.5-6 inches (13-15 cm). Its name originates from its beautiful colors: a metallic grey-black upper body, a shiny, red belly and lower jaw and turquoise fin tips. Males have usually brighter colours and are slightly bigger than female individuals.


The species usually prefers shallow streams with slow moving, turbid water, which in its natural habitat covers its excessive coloration and protects it from predators. It requires a tank with a minimum size of 30-40 gallons (100-150 L), covered with fine sand, plenty of rocks and hideouts. Aquatic plants are also essential, but as the species tends to burrow a lot, only resistant plants should be added in the aquarium, such as species of the genus Sagittaria. These cichlids can even uproot the most resistant plants, thus it is important to protect the plant roots by gluing them to a pot before burying them to the substrate.


This species of cichlid is extremely tolerant to wide range of environmental conditions, however water temperature should be kept around 70-75 °F (26 °C-28 °C) and the pH should be kept alkaline (6.8-7) while hardness can vary around 4-10. Regarding feeding, the Firemouth is an omnivore species that eats opportunistically in the wild, feeding on invertebrates, plant matter and very small fish. A complete diet with a variety of food types including flakes, pellets and frozen food would be ideal.


Firemouth cichlids are usually friendly to other tank-mates but can be extremely territorial, especially during the reproductive season. Moreover, they tend to harass smaller species, thus despite the fact that they are ideal for community tanks, they should be placed with species of the same size. When protecting their territory, they sometimes inflate an internal sack within their gills and reveal their red throat in order to scare the intruder, which constitutes an impressive display that can repel even the most aggressive cichlid species.


The colors of this amazing cichlid species get more vibrant when they are ready to breed. The breeding procedure commences when the male selects a territory, prepares it up by digging and cleaning the rocks, and starts a series of displaying movements in order to attract females. After bonding, the female lays around 300 eggs on the ground where they get fertilized by the male. Both parents protect aggressively the eggs and the couple stays together, forming a family bond which is most common for most substrate-spawners. Due to this strong bond, the best strategy to obtain robust partners is to begin with a group of very young fish and allow them to form pairs, separating them during the procedure. After fertilization, the eggs hatch within 3-4 days and fries become free swimming within 15-20 days. Despite being free swimming, the fries stay within the breeding territory, where parents provide food and shelter, making the Firemouth cichlid one of the few cichlid species that provide excessive parental care to young fries.


Being a robust and tough species, the Firemouth cichlid has been one of the most common and favourite cichlids among aquarists, being considered among the best options for aquarium beginners.


Firemouth cichlid







Rainbow Cichlid Overview

Rainbow Cichlid – A Colorful Dwarf


The Rainbow cichlid (scientific: Archocentrus multispinosus) is a South America cichlid, member of the cichlid group commonly known as dwarfs, due to their small size. The species reaches a maximum size of 6 inches (15 cm), however in aquariums its length is usually around 3-4 inches (7-10 cm). It is a beautiful fish species, with colors ranging from lemon yellow to gold and a distinct horizontal black line that crosses their body from the eyes to the caudal fin1. Its colors change according to its mood and get more intense during the breeding period while the tips of some of its fins turn into a light blue color. There is no great sexual dimorphism2 except for size, as males are usually slightly bigger.


This dwarf cichlid is commonly encountered in rivers with muddy and turbid waters and will live happy in tanks with a minimum size of 50 gallons (180 L). The bottom should be filled with fine gravel, while hideouts such as rocks and pots are essential as this species loves hiding in small places. Moreover, roots and plants are highly recommended in order to create similar environment to the cichlid’s natural habitat. The ph should be kept neutral (7), dH should be maintained around 5-10 dH and temperature around 79-81 °F (21-36°F).


Although the Rainbow cichlid is very peaceful, it is territorial and can get aggressive especially during the breeding season. Nonetheless, its low profile temperament makes it an ideal companion to medium sized cichlid species such as convict and parrot cichlids. Once again, in such communities providing shelter by adding rocks and empty pots is essential in order to keep the aggressiveness to a low level. In its natural environment the rainbow cichlid is a herbivore and it has actually developed a specialized mouth to scrape algae from the rocks. However in aquariums the species can live on a variety of food types, including pellets, flakes and frozen food such as earthworms, provided that food based in phytoplankton or vegetables is added on its diet as a supplement.


Breeding of the Rainbow cichlid is very interesting procedure, as in contrast to most cichlids, it does not form harems and is not a mouth brooder. Instead, male and female individuals form pairs that stay together at least for a reproductive season and males are actively involved in the various procedures of the parental care. Breeding starts with the male claiming a territory in a particular spot, usually among roots and rocks. After a bonding procedure, the female releases around 600-1000 eggs on the ground, where the male fertilizes them with its sperm. Almost immediately after fertilization, the pair engages in a behavior known as “fanning” which consists of gentle circulatory movements of the tail and fins above the eggs in order to provide them with oxygen.


Sometimes, the female excludes the male from this procedure, however the latter has the responsibility to guard the eggs and can get really aggressive with other fish if they approach its territory. When the territories of two rainbow cichlids are nearby, males exhibit a very interesting behavior: they stay in the borders of their territories and swim forward and backward, exchanging charges and retreats, never trespassing the boundaries.


Young fries will hatch within 2-4 days and will be transferred by the parents to a different place, most commonly to a vertical surface, within their territory. Both male and female will participate in the procedure, taking a small number of fries into their mouth and spitting them gently in their new spot. Fries will remain stationary, adhering to the surface by using mucus produced by special cells on the top of their heads. The “fanning” and guarding behavior continues for a few days until the fries become free swimming. Despite being able to swim, they will remain in a group guarded by the parents for a few weeks. This parental care lasts for a total of 4-5 weeks, offering spectacular behaviors for the aquarist to observe.


1 Caudal fin: the tail

2 Sexual dimorphism: The existence of morphological differences between males and females.

 Introduction of Rainbow Cichlid For Fish Lovers






Convict Cichlids Overview

Convict Cichlids – The Fearless Zebra Cichlid


The Convict cichlid (scientific: Amatitlania nigrofasciata), known also as zebra fish, is a cichlid species native to the coasts of Central America, encountered in both the eastern side of the continent from Guatemala to Costa Rica and the western part, from Honduras to Panama. It usually prefers streams with moderate current and finds shelter in rocky areas, especially in the various cracks created by this type of substrate, and can tolerate water of lower temperatures, allowing it to inhabit lakes in higher latitudes. The species has a grey-blue body with a characteristic pattern of 8-9 vertical stripes and a greenish finish at the end of its fins. Males are usually larger, with pointed fins while females have more intense colours, which is unusual for fish species. It is considered a small fish, as it can reach around 4 inches (10 cm) and it has a lifespan of around 10 years.

This species is one of the most famous and easier cichlids to keep in a successful aquarium. It requires a 20-30 gallon tank (75-120 L), filled with fine gravel or sand. A variety of rocks, pots and pieces of floating wood should be provided as the Convict cichlid is highly aggressive and will need plenty of hiding spots to avoid aggressiveness of fellow individuals. Moreover, it really enjoys burrowing, so aquatic plants should be avoided as they will eventually lose their roots.

Regarding water quality, the species requires an alkaline water, with a pH around 7-8 and water hardness between 10 and 15 dH. The convict is an omnivore that feeds on invertebrates, organic matter, plants and algae. Due to a modification of its jaw, which allows it to extend it, it can adapt to different kinds of food, making it very robust and tolerant to different environments.

Due to its extreme aggressiveness it is not recommended to add it to a community tank. While aquarists report that it can successfully be kept with species of the same size and aggressiveness, as it can stand up for itself and protect its territory against mighty cichlid species, it is recommended to keep it separately, especially during breeding seasons. Convicts can be so aggressive that they will not hesitate to even bite your fingers, thus special care should be given especially when cleaning the tank.

It reaches sexual maturity after only 4-6 months and has high levels of libido, making it one of the easiest species to breed. In their natural environment Convict cichlids are cave brooders, laying their eggs on vertical surfaces. In the aquarium, the male will chose a territory and try to seduce the female, with which it will establish an exclusive bond. After spawning and fertilizing, both parents guard the territory and fan the eggs, using their fins and tails in order to provide them with more oxygen. The eggs hatch within approximately 2-3 days and remain within the territory, enjoying the parental care for 4-6 weeks. During this period, parents help them to feed by moving plants and digging in the ground in order to find potential prey, while the procedure of fanning continues, especially during the night. Sometimes Convict cichlids might display extended parental care, and even adopt fries from other couples.

Due to the great diversity of colors and morphological characteristics among individuals, scientists had a great adventure trying to determine the taxonomy of the species, moving it from family to family during many years. However, its high tolerance and easy breeding have made it not only one of the most famous species for aquariums but also the most used freshwater fish species in research.


Convict Cichlid










Electric Blue Cichlid Overview

The Electric Blue Cichlid – Bluest Cichlid Alive


The Electric Blue Cichlid (scientific name: Sciaenochromis fryeri) is a freshwater species endemic to the lake of Malawi, Africa. It is mostly known among aquarists because of its stunning blue colour, however this characteristic is limited to males, while female individuals usually have a silver colour. Both sexes display dark vertical bars on their body which is elongated, as in most cichlids. Individuals possess a pair of short pectoral and pelvic fins, a dorsal fin with 15-16 spines, and a yellow, red or white anal fin with 3 hard spines and several soft ones. The species size ranges from 12-14 cm in nature but can generally reach higher sizes when kept in aquariums (maximum: 20cm). Females usually reach lower sizes, which is a common phenomenon among all cichlid species.


It is a rare species which however has a broad distribution along the coasts of Lake Malawi and can be found in a depth range between 10-40 m. The Electric Blue usually inhabits rocky substrates, which provide essential cracks and holes used as hideouts during prey capture. It feeds on smaller fish and fish fries and is a moderately territorial fish, which however can be aggressive during the reproductive season, especially against males of the same species.


Keeping the Electric Blue Cichlid in an aquarium is an easy to moderate task. The species requires sandy substrate and the formation of rock piles which will provide the essential refugee for the individuals. As the species is a capable swimmer, it needs an adequate amount of space, thus big 70 gallon tanks with a minimum length of 4-6 inches are suggested. Aquatic plants can be added, however robust and strong plant species are essential, as the blue cichlid males tend to uproot them while digging in the substrate in order to prepare their reproductive territory. In their natural habitat the water is alkaline but stable regarding pH and temperature, thus it is essential that water conditions are monitored and kept in a temperature of 72 – 82 °F, a pH range of 7.8-8.5 and a hardness level around 10 – 15 °dH. The fish should be fed small portions regularly throughout the day. Adequate food sources include quality cichlid pellets supplemented with frozen earthworms, brine shrimp, frozen krill and live dietary supplements.


The optimal case for male Electric Blues are when they are the dominant fish within the aquarium, accompanied by a minimum of four females, a ratio which allows the maintenance of a balance between male aggression and female breeding stress. It is not advisable to place more than one electric blue cichlid male within an aquarium, unless the latter is spacious with several smaller habitats, as this will cause extreme aggression to all male individuals. However, the Electric Blue Cichlid can share a tank with a range of other species, provided that they are not very aggressive or small sized: extremely aggressive species might bully the blue cichlid and very small ones are likely to become prey. Potential choices include other Cichlids of the Lake Malawi such as fish species of the genus Haplochromis, however species of the genus Aulonocara should be avoided as the electric blue cichlid is likely to kill the dominant male and hybridize with the females. Other possible options are species who belong to the genus Synodontis or the family Loricariidae.


The reproduction of the Electric Blue Cichlid is a fascinating procedure for the aquarist to observe. The male fish engage into a kind of display in order to attract females to their territory. This “dance” can last several minutes, until the female release up to 100 oocytes on the ground. The oocytes are caught by the male which usually use their anal fin to fertilize each oocyte individually, while the female take each fertilized oocyte into their mouth. A number of 30-70 eggs will be kept into the female’s mouth for roughly 3 weeks, and during this period the female will not eat. After spawning, the female do not provide any further parental care to the fries. Witnessing this wonderful activity is not hard, provided that the water and nutrition quality are kept at optimal level. For more information on breeding successfully electric blue cichlids in the aquarium, visit our post on tips for cichlid breeding.


Electric Blue Cichlid