Cichlids are easily one of the most popular aquarium fish on the market. However, with so many different cichlid types out there, it can be hard to know which ones are best for your tank set-up.
Never fear! In this article, we’ll break down all the types, their advantages and disadvantages, and help you to understand which may be the ideal match for you.
Let’s dive in.
What Are Cichlids?
Cichlids are quite the active, durable fish species, and they’ve been a particular favorite of freshwater aquarium enthusiasts over the years.
Over 3,000 subspecies of cichlid fish are known to exist worldwide, with more and more subspecies being discovered every year – making them the largest family of fish in existence. Because of this, cichlids can come in a wide variety of body shapes, sizes, colorations, and patterns.
Some freshwater cichlids, particularly the tilapia, are eaten as food, while many other subspecies are beloved by fish hobbyists. The most notable of this latter category include the angelfish, oscars, and discus cichlids.
They can also be quite territorial, especially when they pair off and begin to spawn. Certain subspecies may be able to tolerate tank mates, while others need to be kept in separate or very aggression-friendly tanks.
Despite their meaner tendencies, cichlids have proven themselves to be quite personable as well. They readily greet their keepers and beg them for food when it’s time to eat.
You can buy many varieties of African cichlids at LiveAquaria, a site that delivers quality aquatic life right to your doorstep. You can also purchase a few of the more popular cichlid subspecies at your local Petco, Petsmart, or fish store.
Let’s take a look at nine of the best cichlids, so you can better decide which cichlid species is right for you!
The 9 Popular Cichlid Types
Kribensis are one of the most colorful cichlid subspecies. Their bodies are made up of a lovely myriad of colors that can give your tank set-up extra flare.
They’re a very hardy subspecies, capable of adapting to most aquarium conditions without difficulty. These fish thrive in freshwater rivers, so it’s best to set up your aquarium to reflect this.
You should also ask the pet store, private seller, or online vendor where you bought the fish to describe the conditions your kribensis were previously kept in. This will ensure they are living in an environment that is both comfortable and familiar to them.
Many aquarium enthusiasts have debated whether or not kribensis can have tank mates. While it’s true this subspecies can be aggressive during spawning and they tend to peck at the fins of slower fish, there are aquarists who argue that they have successfully kept a kribensis in a community tank as well.
It’s ultimately up to you whether you want to give your kribensis cichlids tank mates. Just keep in mind that they are bottom dwellers, so if you do want to give them friends, make sure they are fish who inhabit the upper parts of the tank.
The mbuna cichlids are among the more brightly-colored cichlid subspecies out there. They originated in Lake Malawi, an African great lake that is considered the ninth largest lake in the world.
Since this lake rests over active tectonic plates, the water has high pH, GH (general hardness), mineral, and KH (carbonate hardness) levels.
As such, they thrive in tanks with very hard water and rocky decor that is lime-based or calcareous. These decorations can keep mineral levels high, as well as provide nice places for them to hide.
They should be kept in large groups of up to 20 fish per tank, with at least two females to every male. However, if you don’t want to breed these fish, it’s wise to keep this tank exclusively female.
Male mbunas are notoriously territorial and will defend that territory from anything they see as a threat – especially other males.
It’s best to introduce all your mbuna cichlids at the same time, as older members of the tank will likely gang up on new mbunas you introduce later.
As their name implies, parrot cichlids have beaked heads that make them look like parrots, with their mouths constantly open.
This strange trait is mostly due to their teeth sitting deep in their throat, which can make it difficult for them to eat whole meals.
They have rounded, diamond-shaped bodies and large eyes that make them seem more emotive than other types of fish.
The typical coloration of these cichlids is blood red, though they can also be gray or yellow. If you spot a parrot cichlid that is an unusual color, such as purple or green, you may want to consult with the breeder. It’s possible that your fish has been dyed.
Many aquarists have often toyed with the breeding of this already hybrid species, for many different reasons – most of which are cosmetic in nature. Whether or not it’s ethical to breed this subspecies into existence is a point of contention among aquarists – and has been for many years.
Because of this endless experimentation, these cichlids are uniquely sensitive to their environments. There is no natural habitat from which they originated, so it can be difficult to know the right parameters for them to live in.
It’s recommended to look into how the breeder raised them and then copy their methods. If that’s not possible, you can always place them in a large freshwater tank; most will adapt without excessive trouble.
The average parrot cichlid requires 30 gallons of space, with an additional 10 gallons for every extra fish you add to that tank.
They are quite shy, both around new owners and other fish, so provide them with ample space to swim and various hiding places. These can include logs, caves, and decorative dens, so they can ease into their new surroundings gradually.
This video explains more about cichild types.
The Pterophyllum scalare subspecies, in particular, were bred extensively to develop many wonderful colors and patterns.
Contrary to many sources (and even some aquarium stores), these are not small cichlids, and they need to be kept in groups of five or six fish.
You will need a rather large tank to accommodate your angelfish’s complex social structures, as well any accompanying tank mates you want to share that same space.
The best tank mates for your angelfish should be those which don’t nip or fight, as they are slow swimmers. Likewise, tank mates shouldn’t be extremely active or too small.
Discus are well known for their gorgeous patterns of green, red, brown, or blue, which stretch along their entire bodies. Any brighter variations you may see are usually the result of selective breeding by aquarists; these do not exist in the wild.
Discus will thrive in an Amazon biotope set-up, with very warm water that is also soft and acidic. Not all plants will appreciate these parameters, however, so choose aquarium plants with caution.
The same can be said for choosing suitable tank mates as well.
Hatchetfish from the genus Carnegiella make excellent tank mates for discus. They are quite calm and will not reside in the same water layer as your cichlids.
Oscar cichlids are larger than the average cichlid, and have larger-than-life personalities and appearances to match. This subspecies may also be referred to as the tiger oscar, velvet cichlid, or marble cichlid.
In the wild, oscars are typically dark-colored with yellow-ringed spots or ocelli on the caudal peduncle and the dorsal fin.
These ocelli are suggested to limit fin-nipping by piranhas, a species that is often found alongside these fish in the wild.
They can actually change their coloration at will to intimidate other fish. Usually, this only happens if a foreign fish has accidentally crossed into their territory or if they’re in combat.
Juvenile oscars will often have different colorations from their older counterparts, typically preferring to have white and orange wavy stripes and spotted heads.
Unfortunately, there are several misconceptions about oscar care, which are often passed around and can seriously harm this species. We hope to clarify that here.
Many people believe that set-ups as small as 30 gallons are adequate for these cichlids. While it may be adequate for younger oscars, they will soon outgrow this tank when they reach their full size of 13.5 inches.
As such, your tank should be at least 120 gallons, especially if you plan to keep a pair of them to breed. You need to install a strong filtration system as well, as these busy creatures will produce ample waste.
Oscars are quite the active subspecies. They will try their best to uproot any plants you put in their tank, as well as move around driftwood and rocks. Keep this in mind when you decorate your tank.
The convict cichlid, also known as the zebra cichlid, is quite aptly named. These fish have vertical black and white stripes on their bodies, similar to that of convict uniforms (or zebras).
These Central American cichlids are often advertised as being very community-friendly. However, in truth, they are just as aggressive as most other cichlid species.
They rarely, if ever, play well with other fish, even those from the same subspecies as them, so tankmates may be out of the question.
If you plan to keep a single pair of these, an aquarium of at least 30 gallons will work fine. If you intend on owning more, however, you’ll need a much larger tank full of ample decorations to hide in, so their territorial behavior is accommodated.
You can also have sturdy plants along the bottom, but try to find ones that don’t grow into the substrate. This will prevent accidental uprooting.
Peacock cichlids are another dazzling cichlid species from Lake Malawi.
Males will often be some mix of blue and orange, as well as possess subtle vertical barring. However, they can come in other spectacular colorations as well.
Much like the mbuna, peacock cichlids thrive in hard waters that have a high mineral content and pH level. With that in mind, suitable plants are only those which naturally grow in Lake Malawi, like Vallisneria. You should also provide them with a thick, sandy substrate that allows them to sift for their food.
The list of tank mates for this subspecies is admittedly quite limited, due to their aggressive temperament. Even still, larger Pleco varieties that can handle these same water parameters may prove to be a sound option.
As their name may suggest, jewel cichlids truly are the jewels of the aquarium world. With a beautiful red coloration, blue spots, and a yellowtail fin, there is no denying that this subspecies is a sight to behold.
However, they can be quite aggressive in nature, especially when breeding, which can make them unsuitable for most community tanks. It is best to set up a single-species aquarium with at least one confirmed pair if you wish to breed them.
Make sure you provide this subspecies with many hiding places and a sandy substrate that they can dig into. You can add plants to their set-up, but just know that your jewel cichlids will do their best to tear it up.
The best plants for a jewel cichlid set-up include sturdy species like Java fern, Anubias, or anything that can’t be uprooted too easily.
Here’s a video explaining more about owning cichlid species.
Cichlids are one of the most popular aquarium fish — and for good reason. They are an extremely colorful and hardy fish species, which can bring a unique personality to your tank.
With over 3,000 subspecies out there (and counting), you are sure to find at least one that will catch your eye and enhance your aquarium!
What are your favorite cichild types?