Von Eddie Waithaka @aquariawise
Cichlids are a diverse family of fish kept in freshwater aquariums and are primarily native to tropical waters in Africa and South and Central America.
Because cichlids are mostly aggressive, they are generally not community fish and only thrive best in species tanks. Keeping cichlids from the same region together is also recommended.
For example Mbuna andpeacock cichlidswill go well together as they both hail from Lake Malawi on the east coast of Africa.
like dwarf cichlidsGerman blue ramAndkribensisorApistosalso go well together despite coming from different geographic regions.
The only large cichlids that get along are those from South AmericaangelfishAndDiskus, those from Central America are too resolute and do best on their own.
Please read on to learn more about accompanying your cichlids.
Best cichlid type to keep together
As we have seen above it is best to keep cichlids from the same regions together although there are some species such as dwarf species that will do well in the same aquarium even though they are not native to one area.
So let's look at how to care for each of these cichlid groupings.
Keeping African cichlids together
If you are new to African cichlids, the first thing you probably need to know is that there are several species of African cichlids.
The most popular are the Lake Malawi cichlids, which includes at least 700 species, and Tanganyika cichlids, which are also quite famous and are considered along with the former to be the undisputed African Great Lakes cichlids.
There are also a few species from west and central Africa and Lake Victoria to the east, although they are not as widespread as those from Malawi and Tanganyika.
Overall, all African cichlids prefer aquarium water that is on the harder side and with an alkaline pH. As you might expect, they are the ultimate tropical fish and do best in water temperatures from the higher 70's to the low and mid 80's (Fahrenheit). .
They also like aquariums with lots of rocks and caves that resemble their natural environment.
And all of this shows that they can be held together in one way or another.
Most African cichlids are aggressive, so keep them in a large tank (longer than taller) but avoid closely related fish and those with similar body coloration. For example, do not keep different Aulonocara species together, but you can keep them with Mbuna cichlids.
Over and beyond,Don't keep two aggressive species like mbunas and haps together, instead foster one of the two with peaceful peacocks or utakas.
A fairly common trick to reducing aggression when keeping African cichlids is to maintain a heavily stocked tank. This makes it difficult for a dominant male to single out a specific fish as a target for his aggression.
But there is a downside.
Most African (Malawi) cichlids interbreed easily in a community tank, which can be a real incentive for breeders looking for new color morphs, but it can be bad for overall newborn health.
This also makes it difficult for aquarists to obtain true species, as most cichlids on the market have at least two ancestors.
Aside from that, you can also reduce aggression by keeping more female African cichlids in your tanks than males, even though they have better coloring.
If you're considering the most popular African cichlid pairing, which includes mbunas, peacocks, and haps, here are a few things you need to know.
Mixture of Mbuna, Peacock and Hap cichlids
Mbunas are probably the first cichlids from Lake Malawi to be kept in aquariums. They grew in popularity in the 70's and 80's and are still popular today, but they get a bad rap.
Overall they are smaller than haps and peacocks, but what they lack in size they make up for in aggression.
So if you decide to care for them with either of the other two species, just know that you have some work ahead of you.
Yes, they run the risk of being eaten by randoms, but their aggression will mean the randoms don't do well, especially if you want to breed them.
The haps can also show no colors and become unhealthy and thin.
But that doesn't mean you can't hold mbunas with haps. If you manage to control their aggression, they will live happily ever after and are a pairing to try.
From my experience Yellow Labs and Acei are the best Mbunas to keep with other African Cichlids including Peacocks and Haps.
For other Mbuna species, I would strongly recommend keeping them with peacocks and haps, which are large and a bit more aggressive than them.
Considering mbunas and peacocks, I guess they make a good pairing. But please note that both species are notorious for their peer aggression, which means they will choose fish that look similar to them.
For this reason, only keep them together if your fish have unique colors that differ from each other.
If you don't want your peacocks and mbunas to breed, opt for a mbuna/hap mix instead as they have different body shapes and sizes and therefore have a lower rate of hybridization.
Mixing Malawi and Tanganyika cichlids
I wouldn't recommend mixing Malawi and Tanganyika cichlids, but I wouldn't go so far as to judge it because if you've experienced Africa cichlids before, you might find some success, albeit with a few more species than with others.
However, keep in mind that the water requirements of Tanganyika cichlids are different (much higher pH) and the fish are significantly more sensitive to water conditions than their Malawi cousins.
Keep dwarf cichlids together
Dwarf cichlids are the next group of cichlids you can keep together.
While not all from the same region, they are still tropical fish and prefer almost similar water conditions.
These include South American species such as German Blue Ram, Bolivian Ram and Apistos, and species from Africa such as Rainbow Nativity.
What makes dwarf cichlids ideal companions is their smaller body sizes and less aggressive behavior compared to their larger relatives, particularly those from Africa.
Dwarf cichlids also prefer softer, more acidic water and can live in smaller tanks that are not "unnecessarily" long.
However, be aware that even non-aggressive cichlids can be quite lively, especially when breeding, so you'll want to keep a limited number of different species.
Also, try not to add too many males to your tank, instead add more females; an ideal ratio would be 1:3.
Add lots of decorations like driftwood and rocks to your tanks to mimic their native wild environment.
If you have more species from South America, it's okay to leave your water a little dark with tannins as they are used to the low light conditions in the Amazon.
African cichlids love rocks and caves. So if you have more of the same (e.g. rainbow nativity scenes) a good rocky landscape will go a long way.
Some fish keepers choose to keep these dwarf cichlids with other fish species, which is perfectly fine. Just make sure the fish are enjoying similar water conditions and are peaceful.
South American river cichlids
The last group of cichlids that are hardly aggressive and can live together are large river cichlids from South America, especially angelfish and discus.
These two species can live not only with each other, but also with a number of other tropical fish that are popular in aquaristics. They get along particularly well with fish likeSalmlerAndCorydoras, which are native to the Amazon region.
Large South American cichlids prefer rather soft water with a pH between 6 and 7.5.
Despite this, discus tend to be more sensitive to water conditions but, interestingly, are more tolerant of high water temperatures, sometimes even more so than angelfish can handle.
Keep these cichlids in deep tanks to record their body shapes and also remember not to keep them in a pincer community because of their prominent and somewhat showy fins.
What kind of fish can you keep with cichlids?
As I mentioned earlier, all cichlids have some elements of aggression and for that reason do not make good community fish, but some are easier to keep with aquarium mates than others.
By far the most difficult cichlids to accompany are African cichlids such as haps, peacocks and mbunas, and Central American species such as Jack Dempsey,convicts, wolves and firemouth cichlids.
The only fish you could keep with these cichlids are extremely docile bottom-dwelling species like Plecos, and even these could have a pretty tough time.
On the other hand, if you're planning on keeping dwarf or large South American cichlids with tank mates, you're bound to have better success.
Below are some good tankmates for cichlids. We'll look at the ideal ground-dwelling cichlid companions a little later; in the last part.
Best cichlid tankmates
This list is about fish you can keep with non-bottom dwelling cichlids.
You may notice that the fish on this list are a little geared toward companions for African cichlids, but that's because they're more difficult to companion. Other cichlids we've discussed are fairly easy to get tankmates for them.
- Murray River Rainbow Fish
- Salmon rainbow fish
- Rotäugiger Tetra
- Huge danios
Murray River Rainbow Fish
There are a variety of rainbowfish that can live with cichlids, but only a few in the family, like the Australian rainbow, can live with aggressive species like African cichlids.
Most others are best kept with non-aggressive cichlids such as Kribensis and Apistos.
Murray River Rainbowfish (also called Australian Rainbow) is a purple-spotted species native to Australia. The fish are quite colorful and therefore complement the equally beautiful cichlid colors.
In terms of water parameters, the fish can live in hard alkaline water similar to African cichlids and longer aquariums due to their active nature.
Salmon rainbow fish
Closely related to the Australian rainbow, the red rainbowfish makes an ideal alternative companion for your cichlids.
The two fish are closely related and belong to the same rainbow family, but the salmon pink fish are native to Indonesia and not Australia.
Tank size aside, however, they have similar aquarium requirements, meaning they will coexist with cichlids just like the Murray River rainbow.
Of the several tetras that can live with cichlids, the roach species is probably the only one in the family that can even co-exist with the somewhat aggressive cichlid species.
This fish creates as impressive a display as any cichlid in the aquarium and has a tolerance for a wide range of water conditions.
Their large size makes them less susceptible to intimidation by aggressive cichlids and also an ideal choice for large aquariums.
The giant danios, with its stunning silvery to golden spots and cobalt blue upper surface, makes a beautiful display in home aquariums and is probably the only danios that can be kept with cichlids.
Kept together, the somewhat aggressive danios is used as a tremor fish to keep cichlids comfortable and to emphasize their natural behavior.
Likewise, they live with both peaceful and aggressive cichlids, including the notorious Central American and African species.
Giant rasbora do well in almost any aquarium environment and are active enough to dish out aggression immediately when working as a pack, which is quite important for any fish kept with cichlids.
Which bottom feeders can live with cichlids?
A few bottom feeding species are probably the only fish suitable for cichlid tanks because they occupy different water areas and are too large to devour once fully grown.
They also make good aquarium mates because they serve a variety of functions, such as: B. cleaning the aquarium and keeping algae free.
These bottom feeders include various plecos, catfish and loaches.
However, please note that keeping cichlids, particularly those of African origin, with other fish is a godsend at best.
So plenty of hiding spots are recommended and a backup tank in case the aggressiveness in the tank gets too high and you need to move one of your fish.
Below is a list of four (4) species to consider.
- Synodontis multis (Kuckucksquietschenwels)
- Synodontis petricola (Zwergleopardenwels)
- Breast welsh
Synodontis multipunctatus, also known as cuckoo squeaker catfish, is a popular addition to cichlid tanks because not only do they hail from the same region as African cichlids, but you'll see them more often than other catfish that hide all day.
Native to Lake Tanganyika, they are somewhat famous in the wild for their parasitic breeding behavior. However, they are not known to exhibit this behavior in home aquariums.
Being native to the Rift Lakes region, they can be successfully cared for with cichlids from Malawi, Tanganyika and even Lake Victoria.
The catfish can handle aggression from cichlids, although for the most part they choose to ignore one another. However, remember to keep your catfish in at least a trio and avoid other catfish as the cuckoo can be a bully.
dwarf leopard catfish
This catfish is closely related to the cuckoo squeaker. Both are Synodontis cuckoo species and are both native to Lake Tanganyika, with the Petricola being the smaller of the two.
As expected, Petricolas get along with cichlids as well as multi catfish. They are relatively smaller compared to other members of their family, measuring at most five inches, making them a better option for smaller cichlid tanks.
Clown loaches will live with cichlids, but this pairing will really push you to the limit. The loaches will survive but not thrive.
For this reason, I only recommend adding clown loaches to your cichlids if you want them to serve a fairly specific purpose, such as cookingeat pest snails, which will kill your cichlids anyway.
If you decide to do this pairing anyway, make sure you balance your water parameters so that the tank is comfortable for the cichlids and loaches.
As you may already know, loaches prefer soft, acidic water, while cichlids tend to prefer harder, alkaline waters, particularly those from Africa. Therefore, keep the pH of your aquarium between 6.5 and 7.5.
Better yet, keep clown loaches only with South American cichlids, which dislike hard-alkaline water and are therefore more likely to thrive in loach-preferred parameters.
Bristle catfish will live with dwarf cichlids and South American cichlids such as angelfish and discus, but African and Central American cichlids are far too aggressive for these bottom dwellers.
They will not thrive when kept with the more aggressive species, although they might survive if they make it past the juvenile stage.
Since they are native to South America, they are most likely to do well in aquariums with water parameters that cichlids from the same region prefer.
The best settings are soft to medium with a pH between 6 and 7.
Also, provide your tank with adequate oxygen and add a calm current if possible. Plenty of hiding spots will be appreciated by your scrub plecos, with caves and rock formations ideal even for cichlids.
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Can you mix cichlid species? ›
If you plan on mixing cichlid species, it's also important to choose cichlids that have similar temperaments and won't fight each other, regardless if they come from the same region. For example, Ram cichlids (Mikrogeophagus spp.)Can you put cichlids with other fish? ›
They stay small, and they get along with most fish. This includes South American cichlids like the ram and checkerboard dwarf cichlid, and certain African river cichlids like the krib. These fish will generally get along with any fish that doesn't pick on or bully them. They get along well with most species of tetra.Can you keep Tanganyika and Malawi cichlids together? ›
In our experience it's not worth the risk. Apart from the differences in water conditions, behaviour and diets when you mix wild caught cichlids from Tanganyika and Malawi they are then exposed to each others parasites.Can you mix South American cichlids with African cichlids? ›
So there you have it guys, technically you're not supposed to mix African Cichlids with American Cichlids, but you can twist the rules sometimes and make some exceptions. My tank is not the first tank to do it either, I've seen plenty out there with some crazy mixes that technically shouldn't work but somehow they do.How many cichlids should be kept together? ›
African cichlids do better when crowded with other African cichlids, but they should be monitored for aggressive behavior and removed if needed. A 55 gallon tank can house up to 15 African cichlids depending on species, maximum size and temperament.Can you mix cichlids with angelfish? ›
Even small cichlids like rams, Krib's cichlids and keyholes can cohabitate peacefully with angelfish. There are two things to watch out for when selecting tank mates for your angelfish. The first thing you need to be aware of is species that are known for being aggressive or semi-aggressive.What is the rarest cichlid? ›
Once quite common in the aquarium trade, the cichlid “Cichlasoma” beani is now one of the rarest, most desirable, and hardest-to-obtain cichlids on the casual cichlidophile's wish list. It is known as the Sonoran cichlid and the green guapote, and by the Spanish forms mojarra de Sinaloa and mojarra verde.