Geophagus Cichlid - Species Profile & Care Guide (2023)

The Geophagus cichlid has all the characteristics of a unique species of fish that most aquarists don't see coming.

This cichlid has 2 main characteristics that make it unique in its genre: thebottom feedingbehavior and his peaceful temperament.

Cichlids are generally territorial and aggressive, with some species taking these traits to extremes.

Some cichlids are extremely violent and will fight anything that swims near them, including members of their own kind. Or rather, mostly them.

The problem is that not all aquarists like the fierce temperament of cichlids, and that's where the Geophagus cichlid comes in.

This is probably the coolest cichlid you can find as it is non-territorial and you can pair it with any species of fish. Including smaller ones likeGuppys,Salmler, Corydoras and evenin the shoulders.

This would be sacrilege with regular cichlids as they have been known to kill and eat smaller fish when given the opportunity.

So if you've got the Geophagus cichlid in mind, let's take a look at how to craft the perfect tank setup for them.

Geophagus cichlid requirements

This cichlid has some specific living requirements that shouldn't be too difficult to fulfil.

The main ones include:

tank size

The Geophagus cichlid is a fairly large fish that can grow to 12 inches in the right conditions. The Geophagus needs at least 55 gallons of space to remain safe, comfortable, and healthy as a full grown adult.

This cichlid patrols its surroundings quite thoroughly in search of food, so it needs its space for that.

The extra space is also useful when moldingcommunity tanks, which are entirely possible with the Geophagus. This cichlid does not mind the presence of other fish, even those that share the same habitat.

This means that plecos are not excluded, although they show the same bottom feeding and substrate lurking behavior as the cichlid.

Neither of these fish are territorial, so they should get along just fine.

Just make sure everyone has adequate space as overcrowding and cramped tanks will stress your fish and affect their health in the long run.

water parameters

As a tropical fish, the Geophagus cichlid prefers water temperatures around 76 to 84 F. In the wild, they are comfortable in even higher temperatures, up to 88 F.

This temperature range is ideal for the cichlid as it increases the effectiveness of its digestive and immune systems.

(Video) Geophagus Sveni | Care Guide & Species Profile

The pH should be between 6.0 and 8.0 with a water hardness between 5 and 19.

When it comes to water quality for cichlids, the higher the better. All cichlids require crystal clear water conditions and the Geophagus is no exception.

Ammonia and nitrite build-up can affect the fish's health and kill them fairly quickly. Even small amounts of ammonia can cause serious health problems and stop fish from functioning properly.

Luckily, the cichlid itself helps keep the tank cleaner through its feeding behavior, but that's the only thing you should count on.

The cichlid requires stable water parameters, which requires regular maintenance, water changes and occasional vacuuming of the substrate.


Thesubstrateis more important for the Geophagus cichlid than other fish. After all, it is a bottom fish that likes to constantly bury itself in the substrate.

To get this out of the way from the start, avoid bare bottom tanks. It's pretty obvious why, but I had to mention it anyway.

Then comes the really difficult decision – sand or gravel? River stones and rocky bottoms are out of the question as they are incompatible with the behavior of the cichlid.

Most aquarists use either fine sand or gravel, which is made up of smaller particles. Preferably small enough for the cichlid to get a gulp of, which is quite a bit.

Because this is what the typical eating behavior of cichlids looks like. The Geophagus cichlid will often take morsels of substrate, retain what is edible, and spit out the excess.

This behavior is incompatible with a large-grain substrate made up of stones and particles too large for the cichlid to ingest in its mouth. So I would recommend sand above all.

I think finer gravel is good too, but I'd say avoid if you can. The cichlid can choke on the slightly larger particles or ingest them and experience compaction as a result. It doesn't happen very often, but it's a risk worth noting.

You don't have this problem with sand, especially as it mimics the cichlid's natural substrate layout.

Sand is also easier to clean up since all the food scraps and fish waste stay on the surface.

Well, there is another interesting aspect about sand that we should discuss here. This is the concept of anaerobic pockets. Anaerobic pockets tend to form under sandy substrates and consist of bacterial cultures developing in literal pocket-like holes.

These microorganisms consume nitrate and eliminate nitrogen gas that would normally dissolve in the water. However, since the bacteria are trapped, the nitrogen is also trapped in the bag.

If you disturb the bag, all of the accumulated gas in the tank will be released, which can kill your fish almost instantly.

In theory, anaerobic pockets are not a problem in a Geophagus aquarium, as the cichlid is constantly disturbing the substrate and preventing pockets from forming in the first place.

(Video) Geophagus Tapajos | Care Guide & Species Profile

However, a larger tank may result in the cichlid being unable to cover the entire surface, so pockets of gas can still form.

I recommend stirring up the substrate occasionally with a stick or similar to prevent pocketing.


Avoid rooted plants for obvious reasons. The Geophagus cichlid will do everything in their power to dig them up and they will succeed no matter how strong the plant is.

Instead, opt for plant variations incorporated into rocks, driftwood, and other tank decorations. These are not influenced by the burial behavior of your cichlid.

Floating plants are also a good option, as Geophagus cichlids almost never leave the substrate. They can occasionally swim in the middle of the tank, but not enough to pose a risk to your plants.

They are also quite gentle in their movement, so you don't have to worry about them accidentally destroying the plants.

Finally, despite being omnivores, Geophagus cichlids do not eat live plants. They would rather stick to searching the substrate in hopes of finding scraps of food to enjoy.


AFilteris absolutely necessary, after all the Geophagus is a cichlid. As such, it tends to be chaotic due to its highly active immune system and feeding habits.

The filter will come in handy this time as it keeps the water cleaner and provides better oxygenation. It's also useful for preventing dangerous build-up of ammonia, which can be a problemCommunity-Setupswhich also contain cichlids.

The heater is probably even more useful since the Geophagus needs warmer water than most aquarium fish. Although this species is very hardy, you should not expose it to temperature fluctuations.

Such an environment will cause the fish to suffer health problems as its immune system will be compromised by the temperature fluctuations.

Make sure the filter system is not too strong. The cichlid will not appreciate the stronger water current.

Geophagus Cichlid Feeding and Diet

As an omnivorous cichlid, this one can consume a wide varietyGroceriesand is generally unpretentious in his food choices.

It will eat anything it finds in its habitat, which is typical behavior for any ground-dwelling scavenger. Of course, you shouldn't rely on the cichlid's scavenging skills to sate its appetite.

It's important to supplement his diet with sinking pellets and flakes that ensure optimal nutrient absorption. Live food and vegetables are also welcome, so consider feeding options such as bloodworms,Artemia, water fleas, pumpkin, spirulina and zucchini, among others.

These will boost the cichlid's growth, improve its quality of life and significantly lighten its coloration.

Feeding the geophagus in a community tank is even easier, as the cichlid is constantly grazing the substrate and picking up any leftover food that other fish escape. This means it doesn't need to be fed as often.

Still, provide your cichlid with some sinking pellets twice a day to ensure the fish is full and satisfied.

(Video) Gynmogeophagus Balzanii - Care Guide & Species Profile

Make sure you don't overfeed them as cichlids are notorious for having a rather slow and faulty digestive system.

They will quickly develop digestive problems if overfed, misfed, or due to colder water.

Geophagus cichlid tankmates

Fortunately, Geophagus cichlids are very friendly to most aquarium fish. They won't bother other species, mainly because they tend not to share the same space.

Aside from that, these cichlids occasionally have their angry moments. When choosing your most compatible tankmates, consider the following:

  • food competition– Geophagus cichlids will inhabit the lower areas of the tank near the substrate. That means anything you throw in their direction will most likely be plucked by other fish along the way. This could result in your cichlid(s) starving and becoming vitamin or mineral deficient as a result. To prevent this, feed the rest of the population first, and then throw in the cichlids' food. Since they are already full, the other fish don't mind.
  • Some territorial behavior– Geophagus cichlids don’t mind sharing their habitat with other fish. That being said, they can show some territorial behavior if they don't have enough space. So invest in a larger tank that will give all the fish the space they need to avoid each other.
  • breed aggression– Geophagus cichlids tend to be more aggressive during the mating phase. Keep this in mind if you want to house a pair of cichlids with other fish.
  • Avoid aggressive species– Geophagus cichlids are peaceful by nature, so they don't get along well against moreaggressive fish. The latter can bully or even hurt your cichlids, stressing them out and possibly injuring them. Consider also peaceful and docile fish, preferably smaller than the cichlids.
  • tank layout– I advise considering a rocky pool with different decorations to offer multiple hiding spots. These benefit both the cichlid and all other fish that occasionally need a safe place. You will also keep your Geophagus cichlid happy and mentally active as this is a smart and inquisitive fish by nature.

You should also avoid mating the Geophagus with dwarf shrimp or other small crustaceans, as the cichlid quickly converts them into food. Other than that, it's all fair game, as long as you take note of the points I mentioned earlier.

Diseases and Treatment of Geophagus Cichlids

The Geophagus cichlid is mostly prone to digestive issues due to poor water conditions, insufficient temperature, and swallowing things it shouldn't.

Your cichlid will alert you to the problem through visible changes in behavior. The fish may refuse food, experience low energy levels, and swim less.

It can also become bloated due to compaction, which is a potentially fatal condition.

Otherwise, watch out for parasites or problems like swim bladder disease and bacterial infections that can sometimes affect your cichlid.

The most common routes of infection are related to poor water conditions, unstable temperatures, or contaminated tank equipment or decorations.

These weaken the cichlid's immune system and make it susceptible to all the bacteria and parasites that are already lurking in the aquarium water.

When your cichlid is showingsigns of illness, hold:

  • Quarantine the fish to give you time to diagnose the condition and protect the other fish
  • Add salt to boost the cichlid's natural healing powers and promote healthy mucus production
  • Maintain optimal water conditions byCleaning the tankand performing daily partial water changes
  • Keep the fish in a stress-free environment
  • Use medication according to the condition of the fish and a veterinarian's recommendations

Your cichlid should show visible improvements within the first 3-4 days of treatment, depending on how severe the condition is and how effective the treatment is.

However, I recommend keeping the cichlid in quarantine for at least 2 weeks to ensure the fish is not in danger.

If your cichlid shows no improvement by this time, you may need to consider euthanasia. This is a much more viable option than bringing the sick fish back into the tank and risking an epidemic.

How do Geophagus cichlids breed?

The Geophagus cichlid is considered a mouthbrooder, with both the male and female caring for the eggs and resulting juveniles after hatching.

The breeding process is pretty simple. The male will court the female to announce his intentions and then dig shallow holes in the substrate.

This signals to the female that the nest is ready and invites her to lay the eggs. The male fertilizes them, after which either the male or female puts the eggs in their mouths.

(Video) Geophagus Cichlid | Geophagus Cichlid Care Guide | South American Cichlid | How to Keep Geophegus

It takes about 3 days for the eggs to hatch, which the cichlid holding them will not eat inside.

The resulting juvenile fish will still use their parents' mouths as a safe space, come out to eat and explore their surroundings, and then go back in.

Soon they will be too big for it, then they will become independent.

When breeding the Geophagus cichlid, keep the following in mind:

  • Increased aggression– The cichlid becomes much more aggressive during the mating phase. This aggression can increase by a few notes during the several days it takes for the eggs to hatch. So you should check the dynamics of your fish as the Geophagus can be quite snappy at this time. His behavior should return to normal once the mating phase is complete. That being said, the cichlid holding the eggs and fry can remain overly protective for a while.
  • breeding difficulties– The Geophagus cichlid can breed in captivity, but don’t expect too much from it. Many breeding attempts fail either because the fertilization fails or because the cichlids do not initiate the ritual at all. These fish aren't exactly thrilled about breeding in captivity, but it can work.
  • Protect the roast– One of the cichlid parents keeps the young in its mouth until they are big enough to become independent. However, this does not guarantee their safety in all circumstances. Other fish may eat the fry when they see them, especially as they are tiny to begin with. To prevent this, consider moving the female cichlid and fry to a foster tank until the fry grow enough to fend for themselves.

How big do Geophagus cichlids get?

The Geophagus cichlid can grow up to 12 inches in the right conditions. This includes optimal water quality, stable parameters, higher temperatures, proper nutrition, peaceful aquarium companions and a natural-looking environment.

The goal is to provide your cichlid with the best living conditions so that it stays calm, healthy and happy in the long run.

This increases growth rate, maximum size, and natural coloring.

How Long Do Geophagus Cichlids Live?

The Geophagus cichlid lives on average about 5-6 years. Depending on environmental conditions and quality of care, it can sometimes live longer.

Are Geophagus Cichlids Aggressive?

No, Geophagus cichlids are not typically aggressive.

Nevertheless, the cichlid can become aggressive in the following cases:

  • In the event of a lack of food– Hunger can drive any fish into food-related aggression. Keep your cichlid fed and content, and they will remain peaceful and friendly.
  • When mating– The mating phase is a sensitive time in the life of the cichlid. It is not uncommon for the Geophagus to become extremely aggressive and defensive towards other fish. I advise you to monitor your cichlids' behavior during this time to ensure the violence does not get out of hand.
  • In case of overcrowdingoverstockYour fish will inevitably rub them wrong. Although cichlids are generally peaceful, they can react violently when overcrowded and lacking space. Make sure your geophagus cichlids have enough space to stay calm and peaceful and you will be able to dodge this bullet.

That being said, Geophagus cichlids make a great addition to most community tanks.

Are Geophagus cichlids good for beginners?

Geophagus cichlids rank as intermediate when it comes to maintenance difficulty. From a social point of view, Geophagus cichlids are every aquarist's wet dream.

They are easy to handle, friendly and will adapt to pretty much any fish community.

The difficulty lies in long-term maintenance. Being cichlids, they need pristine water conditions, stable parameters and a bottom-dweller-specific layout.

So have a thick substrate and do regular substrate cleaning to keep your cichlids up to date.


Geophagus cichlids make for exciting aquarium fish thanks to their neon-colored appearance, predatory disposition, and peaceful demeanor.

You now know the gist of the maintenance requirements, so get yourself a Geophagus cichlid and thank me later.


How many Geophagus should be kept together? ›

Unless a pair of Red Tapajos geophagus are breeding, they are a rather peaceful cichlid and will not predate on even very small fish. Red Tapajos geoghagus are social, preferring to be kept in groups of 5 to 8 individuals but even more are encouraged.

Are Geophagus hard to keep? ›

Geophagus Surinamensis Care Guide. The Redstripe Eartheater is quite easy to care for, but its potential to reach 12 inches creates the need for a large aquarium to house them. A single pair can be kept in a minimum size horizontal aquarium of 55 gallons. Use this size as a factor for every pair of fish you add.

What tank mates with Geophagus? ›

Red Head Tapajos get along well with most Cichlids that have their origins in South America, including larger tetras and catfish. They love living in large groups, including community tanks. However, they are commonly bred in biotope or species-specific aquariums. They can also be kept with other Cichlids.

Can Geophagus live with gravel? ›

Remarks: Red Hump Geos (Geophagus steindachneri) require a sandy substrate is necessary due to their earth-eating habits. They sift mouthfuls of sand through their gills, pulling out bits of food to eat. Gravel presents a very high probability of choking or refusing to eat.

What size tank do Geophagus need? ›

Minimum tank size: 90+ gallons for a group of 5-8 specimens, although a larger tank is more optimal for this active species.

Do cichlids prefer rocks or plants? ›

Aquarium rocks are ideal for Cichlid tanks. Most types will use rocks to mark out their territory, as shelter and as a handy place to lay their eggs. It's vital to get your rocks from a safe source. Sure, free rocks can be tempting, but understand that you risk losing fish.

What is the best food for Geophagus? ›

Like all eartheaters, they prefer fine-particle foods which sink. Try to keep it varied with good quality flakes, granules, sinking pellets, and a mixture of frozen foods such as Daphnia, white mosquito larvae, bloodworm, vitamin/Spirulina-enriched brineshrimp, Mysis, and chopped krill/prawns.

What temperature water do Geophagus need? ›

They live in water with a temperature of 26° to 30°C (79° to 86°F), soft or moderate hardness, and pH of 6 to 7. They grow to a maximum of 25 cm (10 inches).

What temperature do Geophagus like? ›

They live in water with a temperature of 26° to 30°C (79° to 86°F), soft or moderate hardness, and pH of 6 to 7. They grow to a maximum of 25 cm (10 inches).

Do aquarium plants need fish poop? ›

While it may sound a bit yucky, just like manure, this waste is full of biological activity and well-balanced, essential plant nutrients and many other micronutrients. This means feeding plants with fish waste gives them the nutrients they need, plus adds plenty of beneficial biological life into the soil.

Can you put plants straight into fish tank? ›

Plants from Aquarium Gardens are safe for use with all fish, shrimp and snails and can be added straight into your aquarium. There has not been any pesticides used in the production or holding of our plants, so there is no need to wash them under tap water nor is there a need to soak them in a bucket of water.


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