Red Zebra Cichlid: Care, Size, Tank Mates & Breeding


Common Name(s)Red Zebra Cichlid
Scientific NameMaylandia Estherae
OriginMozambique and Tanzania, Africa
Temperature72-82°F (22-28°C)
SizeUp to 5 inches
Minimum Tank Size55 gallons
Food & DietOmnivorous, but mostly herbivorous
Lifespan5-10 years
Water pH7.5-8.5
Tank MatesSome Pleco and Catfish species
BreedingMaternal mouth brooder
DiseaseMay be susceptible to Swim Bladder Disease and Malawi Bloat.
red zebra cichlid
Red Zebra Cichlid (Maylandia estherae)

Red Zebra Cichlid Facts

  • Despite the name, Red Zebra Cichlid, these flashy fish can be found in different colors. Also despite the name, they do not have stripes on their bodies.
  • Red Zebra Cichlids have color morphs, these are colors that are so different, they resemble a completely different species of fish.
  • You can tell the males from the females by counting the egg spots on their anal fins.
  • Red Zebra Cichlids are mouth brooders. In this case, it is the female that carries the eggs and fry until they are able to fend for themselves.

Red Zebra Cichlid Appearance

Red Zebra Cichlids (Maylandia Estherae) have a beautiful range of colors. They can be found in colors of bright yellow, flashy oranges, to vibrant reds. The males and females both can come in a variety of colors making them a little difficult to distinguish between the two. Unlike their name suggests, the Red Zebra Cichlid does not have stripes, and with so many varieties being sold in pet stores, they are often labelled under the broad title of African Cichlid. It is important with these fish to make sure of the species you have. Some of them have different requirements, and you will want to make sure that you are providing the appropriate care for them.

How To Distinguish Between Males and Females

In Red Zebra Cichlids color can be a way to tell the males from the females, but since the species has color morphs, color is not always the best indicator. Color Morphs are naturally occurring colors that are different from the normal coloration you would see in the species. This means that even though the males are a more orange coloration while the females are a more blue coloration, you could still have female Red Zebra Cichlids that grow up to be a more male coloration, and males that mature into the more bluish coloration that the females typically have. 

This can be confusing to tell which sex you have. Thankfully, there is another way to tell males from females. Once the fish have reached maturity, you will be able to tell by the amount of egg spots on their anal fins. The egg spots are actual egg shaped spots that are visible on the fin. The males will have 4 to 7 egg spots. The females will have 0 to 3.

Red Zebra Cichlid Care

If you are planning on keeping Red Zebra Cichlids, you will want to make sure that you have a tank that is a minimum of 55 gallons. Red Zebra Cichlids are not particularly aggressive fish, but they are territorial. They will do best in a larger tank opposed to a small one especially if you are planning on keeping more fish in the tank with them. They require a temperature of 72F to 82F. This means that they will need a good heater for their tank to keep the temperature consistent for them. Red Zebra Cichlids prefer a somewhat more hard water with a pH of 7.5 to 8.5.

When choosing decor for your Red Zebra Cichlid tank, you will want to choose lots of decor or hardscape that will create many rocky caves for them to hide in. In their natural habitat, the Red Zebra Cichlid dwells in caves. For substrate, use fine gravel or sand, and know that the males may move it around as they settle into their chosen territory.

Red Zebra Cichlid Breeding and Care

Food & Diet

In the wild, Red Zebra Cichlids are omnivorous, they survive off of tiny invertebrates and zooplankton. They are best described as an opportunistic feeder in the wild as they will eat what they can get. In captivity, they will eat a mostly herbivorous diet. Even though in the wild they do enjoy some proteins, they will eat mostly plant matter. Red Zebra Cichlids, like all Cichlids, will become overweight if fed too much or too often. It is best to feed them small amounts several times a day than it is to feed them a large amount once per day. When feeding, only give them an amount that they can completely consume in a few minutes. This cuts down on waste in your aquarium.

Red Zebra Cichlid Size & Lifespan

The Red Zebra Cichlid can grow up to 5 inches in length. They can live anywhere from 5 to 10 years if cared for properly.

Red Zebra Cichlid Tank Mates

The best tank mates for the Red Zebra Cichlid are fish that do not cross its territory. They are able to be housed fine with some plecos, and some species of catfish. It will be important for your fish that you are planning on housing with your Red Zebra Cichlid that they have plenty of places to hide. You will want to make sure that the aquarium you have is big enough to house more than just the Red Zebra Cichlid, or you will have problems with territorial aggression. It is also advised that you have more females than males in your tank to help with aggression.

Red Zebra Cichlid Aggression

Red Zebra Cichlids are not so much aggressive as they are territorial. It is for this reason that you will want to provide them with adequate decor in the form of cave structures so that they can pick a territory and claim it. If there is enough space in your aquarium, they will spread out and claim territories.

How Aggressive Are Red Zebra Cichlids Compared to Other Cichlids?

Red Zebra Cichlids are not so much aggressive as they are territorial. In fact, they are on the more peaceful side when it comes to other Cichlids. They are territorial, and if not given adequate space, they will bully and harass other fish in their aquarium sometimes to death. It is for this reason that the proper aquarium setup for your Red Zebra Cichlids would include several cave-like spaces for them to claim as their territory, and spaces for other fish to hide from them.

How to Stop an Aggressive Red Zebra Cichlid

The easiest way to stop a Red Zebra Cichlid being aggressive is to make sure that there is enough space in the aquarium for it and any other fish that you have in your tank. You will want to keep in mind that Red Zebra Cichlids are territorial fish, and they will find a space that they like, claim it, and guard it from other fish. They claim these spaces so that they can potentially attract a mate.

Red Zebra Cichlid Breeding

Red Zebra Cichlids are best bred with 1 male to every 3 females. This will give you better odds that they will spawn. The males will lure the females into their territory by using their vibrant bodies to flash at them. The female will then come into the male’s territory, and lay her eggs on a flat surface, usually a rock or a cave nest that the male has set up for the eggs. Once the female has laid her eggs, she will gather them up in her mouth. This is known as mouth brooding. Unlike other species of fish, it is the female instead of the male that gathers the eggs in her mouth. Once the male fertilizes the eggs, the female Red Zebra Cichlid will then carry them around in her mouth until they hatch. Once the fry hatch, they take time to absorb the egg yolk as it is rather large. It will take up to 3 weeks for the fry to absorb. Once the fry are free swimming, they can be fed small daphnia or baby brine shrimp.

Are Red Zebra Cichlids Mouth Brooders?

Red Zebra Cichlids are fish that are known as mouth brooders. Mouth brooding is when one of the parent fish keeps the eggs in its mouth until they are ready to fend for themselves. In the case of the Red Zebra Cichlid, it is the female fish that carries the eggs until they are ready. This can take up to 21 days for the fry to absorb the yolk sac of the egg. The female Red Zebra Cichlid can hold her fry for up to 2 weeks until they hatch, and then they will hold them in their mouths for up to 2 weeks longer, or until they become free swimming and can fend for themselves.

How Long Do Red Zebra Cichlids Hold Their Fry?

Red Zebra Cichlid females will hold their fry in their mouths until they hatch which can take up to 2 weeks after fertilization. Once they hatch, the female will hold them for an additional few weeks while letting them out only to feed them. She will do this until they are able to fend for themselves. Once your fry are able to care for themselves, you will want to feed them daphnia or baby brine shrimp.

Fish Laboratory

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

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