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


Common Name(s)Red Zebra Cichlid, Red Zebra mbuna, Esther Grant’s Zebra
Scientific NameMaylandia Estherae
OriginLake Malawi, 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 Cichlids (Maylandia Estherae) are beautiful rock dwelling African Cichlid species. They are endemic to Lake Malawi, and they can be found along the eastern coast of the lake.

Despite their name, Red Zebra Cichlid they aren’t always red. They don’t always display the stripes either. As a polymorphic species, they display a range of different colors. These colors can include beige, brown, blue, orange, yellow, and pink. Since their name doesn’t always match their appearance, they are often broadly labeled at local fish stores as “African Cichlid” or “Assorted African Cichlids.” Ideally, the exact species of the fish should be identified, since there are various species of African Cichlids with different care requirements.

Male or Female Red Zebra Cichlids

Distinguishing the difference between a male and female Red Zebra Cichlids can be a challenge. This is because both males and females can come in a variety of colors.

In general, male Red Zebra Cichlids tend to have a stronger orange coloration. In contrast, female Red Zebra Cichlids generally tend to have a stronger blue coloration. As a polymorphic species, this sexual dimorphism is not always observed. There are many blue colored males and orange colored females.

Another way of distinguishing the difference between a male and female Red Zebra Cichlids is by counting the number of egg spots on their anal fins. Once the fish have reached maturity, males will have 4-7 egg spots. In contrast, females will have 0-3 egg spots.

Red Zebra Cichlid Care

Red Zebra Cichlids are hardy fish, that is relatively easy to care for. However, there are basic requirements that must be met while keeping this fish.

First, a minimum tank size of 55 gallons is required. These fish aren’t the most aggressive cichlid species, but they are territorial. Therefore, having a tank size of adequate size will help these territorial fish coexist in the same tank.

In regards to the water parameters for the Red Zebra Cichlids, there are a few things to consider as well. The water temperature should be 72-82°F (22-28°C). The pH level should be within 7.5 to 8.5. Water hardness of 150–200 mg/l is ideal.

Regarding the tank setup, plenty of hardscape should be used. Red Zebra Cichlids are rock dwellers, and they like to hide in rock caves. Be sure to create a similar habitat in the aquarium as well. As for the substrate, fine gravel or sand can be used. Keep in mind that when the males are trying to define their territory, they may try to move the hardscape around.

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.

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