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10 Most Popular African Cichlids for Freshwater Aquariums

Peacock Cichlid

African Cichlid Summary

African Cichlids are beautiful fish that range in size, beauty, and temperament. They compare very closely to saltwater fish in regards to color. These fish come in vibrant yellows, blues, reds, and much more! Keeping African Cichlids is a lot of fun and worthwhile If you can look passed their temperaments. This article will cover some of my favorite African Cichlids. This list is in no particular order and I understand that not everyone will agree with it. Hopefully, it interests you to potentially keep this wonderful fish.

1. Yellow Lab Cichlid

Yellow Lab Cichlids, sometimes called the Electric Yellow Cichlid is a vibrant and striking fish from Lake Malawi in Africa. This fish is part of a larger cichlid group called mbuna. Mbuna means rockfish and as the name suggests, the Electric Yellow Cichlid lives near rock formations in Lake Malawi. In a fish tank, Texas Holey Rock is often used to mimic the Yellow Lab’s natural habitat.

Mbuna cichlids are often overstocked in aquariums to help alleviate aggression. You will need both a properly sized aquarium and adequate filtration to successfully keep an overstocked tank of yellow labs and mbuna cichlids. I would personally keep them in 75 gallon fish tank or larger but you should get by with 55 gallons.

The Yellow Lab, like many other cichlids is semi-aggressive. It is also an omnivore, so it will require a balanced herbaceous and meaty diet. Yellow Lab Cichlids grow to a max size of 6 inches. Like many other African Cichlids, Electric Yellow Cichlids have unique water parameters compared to many other freshwater fish. They need the following water parameters:

  • Temperature: 72°-78° F
  • KH 10-15
  • pH 7.8-8.5

As you can see, Yellow Lab Cichlids require high pH levels and high water hardness. This, along with aggression is why they do not mix well with other tropical fish. Many aquarists will create mbuna only aquariums because the fish are best kept together and others will not do well with these aggressive cichlids.

2. Kribensis Cichlid

Kribensis Cichlids is an African Cichlid that does incredibly well in planted aquariums. They do better with fish such as angelfish, rainbowfish, and larger tetras. Unlike mbunas, your Kribensis aquarium will likely have plants, driftwood, and rocks that will not cause pH levels to spike. There are plenty of different rocks that will not alter your water parameters.

Kribensis are often kept in pairs, usually one male and one female. You do not want to keep two males together because they will likely fight over territory. Also, Kribensis Cichlids will often breed in a fish tank, and they may get incredibly territorial during this time. You should provide plenty of hiding spaces and structures to break up the space in your fish tank. Kribensis will grow to a max size of about 4 inches. I would not keep them in anything smaller than 20 gallons but 30 gallons or higher is preferred.

This species of cichlid does not require very unique water parameters. They have a nice broad range of parameters they will do well in, which are:

  • Temperature: 72°-80° F
  • KH 3-10
  • pH 6.0-8.0

Just like the Yellow Lab Cichlid, Kribensis are omnivorous and will require a good balance of herbaceous and meaty foods. I would provide them with herbaceous foods in the form of pellets and flakes, and frozen foods such as bloodworms or Mysis shrimp for the protein requirements.

There are a few variants of this fish species, but you will commonly see Pelvicachromis pulcher and on rare occasions albino versions of the fish. Albino Kribensis care should be the same as a regular variant.

3. Shell Dweller Cichlid (Shellies)

Shell Dweller Cichlids are a species of Cichlid that come from Lake Tanganyika in Africa. As their name suggests, they spend most of their time in, out, and around Neothauma Snail Shells. They use shells for breeding and shelter so it’s important to provide a variety of clean shells for these fish to utilize. Shell Dwellers grow to be about 2.5 inches in length, so be sure to provide shells that match the size of the fish!

There are a few different species of shell dwellers. They all fall under the genus Neolamprologus. A Shell Dweller fish tank should be a minimum of 10 gallons but I would recommend starting at 20 gallons to provide more horizontal space for the fish. Shellies have a unique water parameter requirement, which is:

  • Temperature: 75°-80° F
  • KH 8-25
  • pH 7.5-9.0

Shellies should be kept in small colonies of at least 6 fish of the same species. If your aquarium is appropriately sized, you can add a few more species of fish from Lake Tanganyika that do not get incredibly large. Shell Dweller Cichlids love to eat meaty food, so I would recommend providing high quality pellet food such as New Life Spectrum Thera A, and feeding a variety of Mysis Shrimp, Brine Shrimp, and Bloodworms.

4. Peacock Cichlid

I am broad when speaking about Peacock Cichlids. There are many variations in colors and species, some commonly seen species are Strawberry Peacock Cichlids, Yellow Peacocks, and Blue Peacock. These fish are originally from Lake Malawi in Africa and they are the definition of vibrant colors! In an aquarium, the dominant Peacock will be the most colorful and eye-catching in the group. The lower the fish are in the hierarchy, the duller in color they often become.

Deciding on tank mates for Peacocks is fairly simple. These fish can often be kept with other Peacocks and also Haplochromis (Haps), but I would not keep them with Mbunas because of their temperaments. Keep in mind that Peacock Cichlids can grow between 5 and 8 inches. Your fish tank should be large enough to house these large and aggressive fish. I would not keep these fish in anything smaller than 75 gallon fish tanks and that is on the small end.

These cichlids have your typical water parameter requirements which are:

  • Temperature: 76°-82° F
  • KH 10-15
  • pH 7.8-8.6

Peacock Cichlids are omnivorous and require a good balance of meaty and herbaceous food. I would recommend pellet food and/or algae sheets for them to graze on. I would also provide them with meaty food as a treat. Common meaty foods for cichlids are bloodworms, Mysis Shrimp and Brine Shrimp. Once they get larger, you can consider feeding them krill which may help their colors pop even more!

5. Frontosa Cichlid

The Frontosa Cichlid is an eye-catching Cichlid found in Lake Tanganyika. First, the colors on this fish are beautiful! It is a subtle blue, white and black color. On top of the color, once either the male or female reaches adulthood, they grow a large hump on their head that makes them stand out from the crowd. Frontosa Cichlids can grow to be over a foot long. They are not known to be as aggressive like many other African Cichlids, but their size can make them problematic. I would not consider keeping this fish in anything smaller than 125 gallons.

Being Haplochromis, Frontosas are very tolerant of high pH waters. They do best in the following water parameters:

  • Temperature: 72°-82° F
  • KH 10-20
  • pH 7.8-9.0

After doing some research, many aquarists have noticed that Frontosa Cichlids seem to be active at night. This can make them a little trickier to keep with other fish because they can harass other fish while they try to rest. Looking passed that, Frontosa Cichlids should do well with other large haps and are also often kept with Peacock Cichlids. Take their nocturnal habits as a caution! Also, Frontosa Cichlids are carnivorous, so it may limit you keep others with a Frontosa due to dietary restrictions.

6. Jewel Cichlid

Jewel Cichlids, also known as the African Jewelfish, are another species of Cichlid that is better suited for planted aquariums compared to what we normally expect with Mbunas, Peacocks, and Haps. Like most of the other fish on this list, the Jewel Cichlid’s coloration is simply remarkable. They are most commonly seen with a vibrant red body and speckled with white/blue dots. This is one of my favorite species of cichlids based on its color patterns.

Choosing tank mates can be challenging because this species can be aggressive. I would not keep tetras or rasboras with Jewel Cichlids because they will likely become food for this fish. An African Jewelfish usually grows to be about 6 inches in an aquarium, so most smaller fish will be out of the question. Good tank mates for this fish should be larger and able to hold their own against this aggressive fish. Based on their aggression and size, I would not keep Jewel Cichlids in anything smaller than 40 gallons. Also, you should consider keeping fish with matching water parameters to the Jewel Cichlid’s, which are:

  • Temperature: 75°-80° F
  • KH 5-12
  • pH 6.5-7.5

African Jewelfish should be kept singularly or in pairs (one male, one female). If they are kept in pairs, the two may become incredibly aggressive when they are breeding because they are very protective parents. Also, they are omnivores and their diet should reflect that. I would recommend feeding your Jewel Cichlids a high-quality pellet food, like the New Life Spectrum Cichlid Formula, and providing it with an occasional treat of bloodworms or Mysis Shrimp.

7. Demasoni Cichlid

Demasoni Cichlids are jaw dropping! I love their black and light blue combination of colors. Although they are gorgeous, this fish species can be very aggressive. I have seen small Demasoni Cichlids chase away Mbunas twice their size. I guess the temperament is necessary coming from Lake Malawi and being surrounded by other aggressive fish. Growing to be about 4 inches as adults, these fish are smaller than most other Mbunas but they can hold their own.

The Demasoni Cichlid has very similar water parameter requirements compared to other fish in Lake Malawi which are:

  • Temperature: 76°-82° F
  • KH 10-15
  • pH 7.8-8.6

Demasoni Cichlids are herbivorous. You should strive to provide high quality algae pellets, algae wafers, and algae sheets to graze on. I would do my best to avoid feeding them meaty foods because that can negatively affect them. Due to their dietary restrictions, some aquarium keepers keep Demasoni Cichlids in a species-only tank, but I have seen them in a Mbuna community as well.

8. Venustus Cichlid

Venustus Cichlids are another species of African Cichlid that calls Lake Malawi its home. This fish species is gorgeous, with white and brown/green patterns all over its body. a Venustus Cichlid male will have vibrant blue faces on top of the already colorful patterns. These species of freshwater fish do best with Mbuna cichlids such as the Electric Lab, Auratus Cichlid, and many more. They will have similar aquarium requirements and I would recommend using Texas Holey Rock and Substrate, such as Carib Sea African Sahara Sand which is designed to help increase the pH and water hardness in the aquarium.

A full grown Venustus Cichlid will be about 10 inches in length. I would not recommend keeping this species of fish in anything smaller than 75 gallons of water. These fish are incredibly messy and will require great filtration to help remove food and waste from their enclosure. Consider setting up an aquarium with a sump system or use a strong canister filter, like the Fluval FX6 Canister Filter to help keep your water parameters in check! Frequent water changes will likely be a must when keeping African Cichlids. Besides keeping an eye on nitrate and phosphate levels, keep track of your temperature, KH levels and pH levels. Venustus Cichlids do best in the following:

  • Temperature: 72°-80° F
  • KH 10-15
  • pH 7.8-8.5

Just like other Mbunas, the Venustus Cichlid does best when the aquarium is overstocked. Surprisingly an overstocked aquarium of Mbuna Cichlids helps prevent aggression. Full grown Venustus Cichlids will likely be some of the bossiest fish in the aquarium because of their size and aggression levels.

This species of Cichlid is omnivorous and will require a good balance of meaty and herbaceous food. I recommend using high-quality pellet foods, such as New Life Spectrum AlgaeMax and/or Algae Seaweed sheets, like the Far Edge Aquatics Green Seaweed for Fish. For meaty foods, I would recommend providing this fish with a combination of brine shrimp, Mysis shrimp, and perhaps krill once it grows larger.

9. OB Red Zebra Cichlid

Another gorgeous Mbuna is the OB Red Zebra Cichlid. If you’re looking for a flash of red/orange color for your Mbuna fish tank, this is your fish. This fish will be a vibrant orange with splotches of dark coloring all over its body. This fish will do best with other Mbunas, such as the Demasoni Cichlid, Yellow Lab Cichlid, and Auratus Cichlid. I would recommend providing OB Red Cichlids with plenty of Texas Holey Rock to hide in.

Full grown OB Red Cichlids will grow to be about 5 inches in length. They will do great in Mbuna aquariums that are 55 gallons or larger. Like most other African Cichlids, OB Zebras are messy and require a good filtration system and frequent water changes to keep nitrates and phosphates down. They will also do best in the following water parameters:

  • Temperature: 72°-80° F
  • KH 10-15
  • pH 7.5-8.5

OB Red Cichlids predominantly eat herbaceous foods such as AlgaeMax pellets or Algae Seaweed Sheets. Meaty food can be provided as a treat but it should not be the main part of its diet.

10. Auratus Cichlid

Auratus Cichlids may be one of the more aggressive African Cichlids. I included them in this list because of their unique color patterns. This fish species has black, yellow, and white stripes running horizontally across its body. Auratus Cichlid tank mates should be Mbunas they originate from Lake Malawi.

A full grown Auratus Cichlid will grow to around 5 inches in length. Do not let their size fool you, these fish can be mean! Regardless, they can be kept in aquariums that are 55 gallons or larger, but more space is highly recommended. Like others, good filtration and frequent water changes will be a must for this fish. Auratus Cichlids have similar water parameter requirements to other Mbunas, they are:

  • Temperature: 72°-80° F
  • KH 10-15
  • pH 7.5-8.5

This fish has an omnivorous diet. I would recommend providing algae sheets or pellet food with large amounts of fiber. Occasionally provide frozen meaty foods such as Mysis Shrimp and Brine Shrimp to help give Auratus Cichlids a well-rounded meal.

Final Notes

There are many different African Cichlids that can be kept in a home aquarium. They all have their quirks and there hopefully one from this list interests you. If you have kept African Cichlids, do not hesitate to contact me and share your experiences with them!

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