African Cichlid Guide | 21 Types of African Cichlids


What is an African Cichlid?

African Cichlids are species of freshwater fish that belong to the Cichlid family, and they are native to rivers and lakes of Africa. This is a diverse group of fish that are comprised of fish with many different size and coloration. While many popular species are available at an affordable price, they can be territorial and aggressive fish. Therefore, they aren’t exactly suitable for every fish tank. If you are new to African Cichlids or fish keeping in general, it is important to research the characteristics and care requirements of each species.

While African Cichlids are available worldwide through the aquarium hobby, their natural habitat can be found in Lake Malawi, Lake Tanganyika, and Lake Victoria. In general, fish originating from these lakes prefer hard water.

African Cichlid Types by Origin

Even within Africa, there are many different species of Cichlids. Keep in mind that Africa is a large continent, and the lakes and other bodies of water can be very large as well. In fact, these large lakes with open water can almost resemble the ocean in some cases. It’s not surprising that Cichlids that originate from different lakes and regions within Africa can be so different.

African Great Lakes
African Great Lakes

What are Lake Malawi Cichlids?

There are around 350 different Cichlid species in Lake Malawi. Lake Malawi is located in East Africa and it was formed over 2 million years ago, and it is around 400 miles long and roughly 50 miles wide.

What are Mbuna Cichlids?

In the local language of the Tonga people of Malawi, Mbuna means Rockfish. As the name implies, these Cichlids can be found among the rocks and piles of rocks along the rocky shore. They are occasionally found in areas with open water as well. Mbuna Cichlids are among the most colorful of all the freshwater fish species that can be kept in the home aquarium. These Cichlids are aggressive and territorial, so it would be best to house these cichlids in an aquarium with lots of space for them to claim and plenty of places to hide. The dominant males will claim a territory and only let females into it when they are ready to spawn.

What are Lake Victoria Cichlids?

There are only around 200 species of Cichlids in Lake Victoria. This is really only a few species of Cichlid left in comparison to the other African Lakes where Cichlid species can be found. There are not many species of Cichlids left in lake Victoria due to the introduction of the Nile Perch. Lake Victorian Cichlids can be kept in an aquarium with species of African Cichlids from Lake Malawi as long as the water conditions are suitable and their needs are being met.

What are Lake Tanganyika Cichlids?

Lake Tanganyika is the longest rift lake in central Africa, and it is around 420 miles long. Species from Lake Tanganyika are not very friendly with others, and should not be chosen for a community setup for this reason.

What are Taiwan Reef Cichlids?

Taiwan Reef Cichlids are a species of African Cichlid that can be found around the Taiwan Reef of Lake Malawi of Africa near Chizumulu Island. These Cichlids are not found in all spots of the lake, but only in certain spots. Taiwan Reef Cichlids are a brilliantly colored species of Cichlid that are often chosen for the home aquarium for their beautiful coloration. This species of Cichlid has a slow growth rate, but they max out their size at around 7 inches.

To house a single Taiwan Reef Cichlid, you will want to get a tank that is at least 75 gallons. If they are kept in a cramped space, Taiwan Reef Cichlids will have problems with aggression. It is best to keep these fish in a tank that has enough space for them to swim freely.

African Cichlid Types by Species

There are many African Cichlid species that exist, and not all of them are kept as aquarium fish. Some haven’t been identified yet, and new species are being discovered regularly.

While it is not possible to describe every species in existence, here’s a list of some of the most popular African Cichlids in the aquarium hobby.

Kribensis Cichlid (Pelvicachromis Pulcher)

Striped Raphael Catfish (Platydoras Armatulus)
Striped Raphael Catfish (Platydoras Armatulus)

Kribensis Cichlids are beautiful dwarf cichlids that are easy to care for. Unlike other species of Cichlid, Kribensis Cichlids are a more peaceful species that will do well in a community setup. They are among the smallest of Cichlids that only reach up to 4 inches long at full maturity. If they are cared for properly, they can live up to 5 years. Their longevity is directly related to how well they are kept. The better the conditions they are kept in, the longer they will live.

Kribensis Cichlids have grayish white bodies, and red bellies. For females, the red of their bellies brightens when they are ready to spawn. In the wild, Kribensis Cichlids are duller in comparison to their domesticated counterparts. Captive Kribensis Cichlids will display brighter colorations.

Rusty Cichlid (Lodotropheus Sprengerae)

Rusty Cichlid
Rusty Cichlid (Iodotropheus sprengerae)

Rusty Cichlids are also known as Mbuna Lavender. This species, like the Kribensis Cichlid is also a very nonaggressive species. Rusty Cichlids have an interesting coloration. They can be reddish orange with bright bluish purple reflection on their bodies. Rusty Cichlids become aggressive during their spawning time, but they make up for it by being excellent parent fish. They are mouth brooding fish that keep both their eggs and newly hatched fry in their mouths until they are able to fend for themselves.

When setting up a tank for Rusty Cichlids, be sure to include lots of places for them to hide, de-stress, and explore.

Frontosa Cichlid (Cyphotilapia Frontosa)

Frontosa Cichlid
Frontosa Cichlid (Cyphotilapia Frontosa)

Frontosa Cichlids are sometimes called Humphead Cichlids. This refers to their nuchal hump on their forehead. Frontosa Cichlids can be found in Lake Tanganyika in Africa. Frontosa Cichlids grow rather large. They can reach up to 14 inches in length at full maturity. To house a single adult Frontosa Cichlid, you will need an aquarium that is at least 75 gallons. They need to have at least enough room that they can turn around.

Frontosa Cichlids are not necessarily aggressive. They are slightly territorial, but get more aggressive during spawning time. Frontosa Cichlids need to be fed a diet of chopped fish both alive and dead. They also enjoy chopped shellfish, mussels, worms, and shrimp. Dinners consisting of feeder fish from the pet store may be tempting to feed them, but make sure that you are quarantining your fish before you introduce them to your aquarium so that you do not accidentally introduce disease into your tank. The feeder fish at the pet store are typically not of good enough quality to provide adequate or complete nutrition.

Frontosa Cichlids can be bred in the home aquarium, and interestingly enough, they are mouth brooders. They gather their young in their mouths to keep them safe until they can care for themselves on their own.

Red Zebra Cichlid (Maylandia Estherae)

red zebra cichlid
Red Zebra Cichlid (Maylandia estherae)

Red Zebra Cichlids are a Malawi lake dwelling fish that can be found among the rocks. More specifically, they can be found along the eastern coast of the lake. Despite their name, Red Zebra Cichlids are not always found in red, or with stripes. They can actually display a wide variety of colorations from tanish, brown, blue, orange, yellow, and pink.

Even though Red Zebra Cichlids are not the most aggressive or territorial of species, they will still guard their chosen area. They will especially do this during spawning season. They require a minimum of a 55 gallon tank to house. Since they live among the rocks, you can use a gravelly substrate for their tank as well as lots of rock decor. The male Red Zebra Cichlid can be seen moving the substrate and decor around if he is able until he is happy with it.

If you are planning on keeping our Red Zebra Cichlid in a community setup, then you will be happy to know that it can be done under the right conditions. Giving them more room to claim their territory as well as many rocks and caves in which to hide will help calm down potential aggression. Be careful not to keep these fish in a crowded tank as this will make aggressive behavior worse.

Electric Blue Cichlid (Sciaenochromis Fryeri)

Electric Blue Cichlid
Electric Blue Cichlid (Sciaenochromis fryeri)

Electric Blue Cichlids are also sometimes known as Electric Blue Hap. They can be identified by their bright shade of electric blue with stripes of varying hues of bright blue. This species of Cichlid can be found in Lake Malawi in Africa. At full maturity they can grow up to 8 inches long, and they can live up to 10 years when cared for properly.

This species of Cichlid prefers to be kept in a small grouping of at least 4 to 6. This means that they need at least 55 gallons for their aquarium. They tend to do fine in either saltwater or freshwater, but they need their pH to not fall below a neutral level. They can be housed with other fish if given enough space. Like most other species of Cichlids, Electric Blue Cichlids are territorial of the areas that they claim, and this aggression does heighten during spawning time.

In the wild, Electric Blue Cichlids are referred to as an ambush species, this means that they will hide in wait among the rocks for their prey to happen by. In captivity, to keep their colors vibrant, they will need to be fed a varied diet of high quality dry food, frozen food, and live foods.

Red Empress Cichlid (Protomelas Taeniolatus)

Red Empress Cichlid (Protomelas Taeniolatus)

Red Empress Cichlids are both beautiful and non aggressive. Their coloration is amazing to look at and owners of this fish say that even after years of ownership they are still regularly stunned by their beauty. Red Empress Cichlids display an almost rainbow variety of colorations, and the color shift from different hues is flawless. They can grow up to 6 inches in length and can live up to 10 years if cared for properly. In the wild they tend to grow slightly larger than they do in captivity. They are typically a peaceful fish that will not cause issues in your community setup if they have enough room and spaces to hide. They require at least 75 gallons to house a single Red Empress Cichlid, but if you are planning on housing a grouping of them, you will need a tank that is at least 100 gallons.

Red Empress Cichlids are omnivorous fish that will readily accept flaked foods, but they also appreciate algae covered rocks to scavenge from. These fish will overeat if given the chance, and it is better for them to be fed several small meals per day rather than one large one.

Yellow Lab Cichlid (Labidochromis Caeruleus)

Yellow Lab Cichlid
Yellow Lab Cichlid (Labidochromis Caeruleus)

Yellow Lab Cichlids, also called Electric Yellow Cichlid, can be found in Lake Malawi. This is due to their bold, bright yellow coloration. They have yellow bodies, with other yellow hued stripes that run vertically up and down on their bodies. They have a distinctive black line that runs along the top of their dorsal fin. This species of Cichlid is quite calm, and can be added to a community setup without much issue as long as their tank mates are not the same color or shape as them. There are other color varieties of Yellow Lab Cichlids and their color depends on where they are located.

Yellow Lab Cichlids are carnivorous, but in the home aquarium it is best to feed them an omnivorous diet. They will readily accept flaked foods, and are not too picky when it comes to feeding time. Be careful to not feed them too much protein in one meal as they can contract a condition known as Malawi Bloat. Make sure to balance their vegetables and their proteins equally.

Duboisi Cichlid (Tropheus Duboisi)

Duboisi Cichlid (Tropheus duboisi)
Duboisi Cichlid (Tropheus duboisi)

Duboisi Cichlids are also commonly known as the White Spot Cichlid. This species of Cichlid is commonly found in Lake Tanganyika. More specifically, the northern region of the lake. When Duboisi Cichlids are juveniles, they have black bodies with small white spots all over them. As they age, Duboisi Cichlids gain a bluish coloration to their heads and a thick yellow line that runs along their body behind their pectoral fin.

Even though Duboisi Cichlids are classified as omnivores, they should not be fed much protein in their diet. In the wild, Duboisi Cichlids consist mostly of aufwuchs. Aufwuchs are a string like algae that consist of microorganisms. In captivity, they should be fed a variety of blanched and finely chopped vegetables. Spirulina flakes are also a great option. Take care to not overfeed your Duboisi Cichlids so that they do not contact bloat.

There are other types of Duboisi Cichlids that can be found around the lake in different areas.

Peacock Cichlid (Aulonocara)

Peacock Cichlid
Peacock Cichlid

Peacock Cichlids refers to fish in the genus Aulonocara, which consists of 22 recognized species of Cichlids. They can be found in Lake Malawi, which is one of the large rift lakes of Africa. Some species only grow to about 4 inches, while other can reach near 12 inches at maturity. If cared for properly, they can live up to 10 years.

In the wild, they feed on live fish and insects. In captivity, they will readily accept pellet or flake foods. They are not aggressive, but they can become aggressive to their own species as they mature and grow older. A single fish requires an aquarium of at least 75 gallons.

Bumblebee Cichlid (Pseudotropheus Crabro)

Bumblebee Cichlid
Bumblebee Cichlid (Pseudotropheus crabro)

Bumblebee Cichlids can be found in Lake Malawi in Africa. They get their name due to their markings making them look similar to a bumblebee. They have yellow bodies with black stripes, but they are also commonly called Chameleon Cichlids due to their ability to change color. They change their color not to avoid predators but to trick friendly fish into thinking they are not there so the hungry Bumblebee Cichlid can eat their eggs.

Bumblebee Cichlids can grow up to 6 inches in length, and they need to be housed in a minimum of 50 gallons for just one fish. Bumblebee Cichlids are omnivorous in the wild, but in captivity they prefer a more protein rich diet.

Livingstoni Cichlid (Nimbochromis Livingstonii)

Livingstoni Cichlid
Livingstoni Cichlid (Nimbochromis livingstonii)

Livingstoni Cichlids have large mouths, and flat shaped bodies. They can change their color based on their environment. They can grow up to 10 inches at full maturity, and require at minimum of a 125 gallon tank when they are fully grown adult fish. Make sure to choose a sandy substrate so that they do not injure themselves when they bury themselves.

In the wild, Livingstoni Cichlids can eat both plants and animal matter, but they survive mostly off of smaller fish. In the home aquarium they need a protein rich, varied diet.

Star Sapphire Cichlid (Phenochilus Tanzania)

Star Sapphire Cichlid
Placidochromis phenochilus (Star sapphire). mark6mauno, (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Star Sapphire Cichlids get their name from their bright, metallic blue coloration and their shimmery, white spots that speckle their bodies. They can grow up to 8 inches in length and can live up to 10 years. Even though these fish do not grow to be one of the largest Cichlids in the group, they still require at least 125 gallons to house. Star Sapphire Cichlids are carnivorous fish and they require a diet that is high in protein. If you are looking to buy Star Sapphire Cichlids for your home aquarium, you will be lucky to find them for sale in pet stores or online as they are rare and pricey.

Venustus Cichlid (Nimbochromis Venustus)

Venustus Cichlid
Venustus Cichlid (Nimbochromis venustus)

Venustus Cichlids are also commonly called Giraffe Cichlids due to their markings and coloration. They not only have yellow and orange-brown markings on their bodies, they have blue, metallic colored faces. They can be found in Lake Malawi in Africa. They are expert hunters who will bury themselves in the sand and lie in wait for their prey to come along. They survive mostly off of smaller fish. Venustus Cichlids are one of the larger species of African Cichlid, growing up to 12 inches at full maturity. In the home aquarium, Venustus Cichlids should be fed 3 to 4 times a day and only enough food that they can consume in roughly 30 seconds.

Saulosi Cichlid (Pseudotropheus Saulosi)

saulosi cichlid
Saulosi Cichlid (Pseudotropheus saulosi)

Saulosi Cichlids can be found in Lake Malawi in Africa in the Taiwan Reef area. They live in enormous schools and they feed on algae that grows on rocks. Yellow fish in the school are more commonly female, while the bright blue ones are usually male. These fish can become territorial with other males, so they should be limited in the school. They can live up to 8 years with proper care.

Auratus Cichlid (Melanochromis Auratus)

Auratus Cichlid
Auratus Cichlid (Melanochromis Auratus)

Auratus Cichlids can be found in Lake Malawi. They are one of the most aggressive African Cichlids. In the wild, they can be found in smaller groupings of around 8 fish who are known to terrorize fish that are double their size. If you are planning on keeping a small grouping of these fish, you will want to keep one male for up to 5 females in a tank that is at least 50 gallons.

In the wild, Auratus Cichlids are omnivorous fish that will not be too picky in the home aquarium. Too much protein in their diet will cause them to bloat. These fish can be overfed easily, so it is best to offer them 2 small meals per day, and only enough that they can completely consume in about 2 minutes.

Starry Night Cichlid (Paratilapia Polleni)

Starry Night Cichlid
Starry Night Cichlid (Paratilapia polleni)

Starry Night Cichlids are an endangered species of Cichlid that is thought to be extinct in their native environment due to habitat destruction. They are carnivorous fish that lie in wait for their prey so that they can eat them. They are dark in color and covered in lots of silvery speckles all over their bodies. They are a carnivorous fish that survives by eating other small fish. In captivity, they will hunt for their food just the same as in the wild if they are offered live food, but it is not advisable to feed them this way as it could introduce illness into your tank.

Starry Night Cichlids are large fish that have a quick growth rate. They grow up to 4 inches per year, and can reach up to 12 inches long at full maturity. They can live up to 13 years when cared for properly.

Emperor Cichlid (Boulengerochromis Microlepis)

Emperor Cichlid (Boulengerochromis Microlepis)
Emperor Cichlid (Boulengerochromis Microlepis)

Emperor Cichlids are also known as Giant Cichlids. They are often found in 200 feet deep waters of Lake Tanganyika. They begin life as omnivorous and as they mature they begin to prefer a more predatory diet. Emperor Cichlid males can grow to be up to 36 inches in length which makes them one of the largest species of Cichlid. They are not chosen for home aquariums for their tank size requirements, but it is not uncommon to find them in large public aquariums.

Multies (Neolamprologus Multifasciatus)

Multies (Neolamprologus Multifasciatus)
Multies (Neolamprologus Multifasciatus)

Multies Cichlids have a white colored body with blackish hued stripes. These are very small Cichlids that only reach up to 2 inches in length. This makes them one of the smallest Cichlid species in the world. In the wild, Multies Cichlids live and thrive in large colonies with numbers in the thousands. They live at the bottom of the water column, where they dig through the substrate for shells. They hide in, and breed in shells that they dig up. The males will mate with several females in their harem.

Jewel Cichlid (Hemichromis Bimaculatus)

Jewel Cichlid (Hemichromis Bimaculatus)
Jewel Cichlid (Hemichromis Bimaculatus)

Jewel Cichlids are a beautiful but aggressive species of Cichlid. Their aggression heightens during spawning time. Jewel Cichlids get their name from their coloration. They have bright orangish yellow bodies that are speckled with white spots. They have 2 distinctive dark spots on their sides, and darker reddish colored doral fin. Their color tends to fade when they are under stress, and if you see them for sale at a pet store, chances are that they will be a duller coloration than they would be in a home aquarium.

In the home aquarium, they are not picky eaters and will readily accept any foods that you introduce. By feeding them a varied, high quality diet, you will be rewarded with bright, beautiful colors. For juvenile specimen, brine shrimp can be a great addition to their diet.

Johanni Cichlid (Pseudotropheus Johanni)

Johanni Cichlid
Johanni Cichlid (Pseudotropheus johannii)

Johanni Cichlids are often commonly called Electric Blue Johanni Cichlids. They are so aggressive that it is not recommended that they be kept with any other fish except other Johanni Cichlids. They are territorial, and need a large enough tank that you can provide them with plenty of places to hide and claim territory. Johanni Cichlids reach up to 4 inches at full maturity, and can live up to 10 years if properly cared for. Johanni Cichlids, like most other Cichlids are mouth brooders. This means that the parent fish will keep the eggs and fry in their mouths until they are old enough to care for themselves.

Fish Laboratory

With decades of collective fishkeeping experience, we are happy to share the fish care tips that we've picked up along the way. Our goal at Fish Laboratory is to keep publishing accurate content to help fishkeepers keep their fish and aquarium healthy.

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