Cichlid Fish: Characteristics, types, care and more

Cichlid Fish belong to the family Cichlidae in the order Cichliformes. Cichlids were traditionally classified in a suborder, Labroidei, along with the wrasses (Labridae), in the order Perciformes but molecular studies have contradicted this grouping.

The closest living relatives of the cichlids are probably the fring heads and both families are classified in the 5th edition of Fish of the world as the two families in the Cichliformes, part of the Ovalentaria subseries.

This family is big and diverse. At least 1,650 species have been scientifically described, making it one of the largest vertebrate families.

New species are discovered annually, and many species remain undescribed. Therefore, the actual number of species is unknown, with estimates varying between 2,000 and 3,000.

Cichlid fish are mostly Exotic Freshwater Fish, which are much appreciated and yearned for by many aquarists worldwide, so far more than 1600 species of cyclic fish have been described, but the real numbers are more important (2000 to 3000 species).

Taxonomy of Cyclid fish 🐠

The taxonomy of cyclid fish is quite simple, because like every creature, it belongs to a kingdom, in this case, it’s, in the Latin word Animalia which in Spanish is translated as Animal.Cichlid Fish: Taxonomic categories

As a second point in the classification is the phylum to which this species of fish is inscribed: Chordata.

As for the subphylum, it’s said that the cyclids have a bone system, therefore, they are part of the Vertebrates.

The fourth taxonomic point of the cyclic fish is related to the class to which they correspond, in this case, it’s called, Actinopterygii.

Just as there is a class, there are three traits that have intrinsic relationship: the superorder, order and suborder. To indicate clearly the names of each of the taxonomic characters will be indicated according to how they were said: Acanthopterygii; Perciform; and Labroidei.

General Characteristics of Cichlid Fish… 🐠

Ciclid fish have different anatomical characteristics that are quite different. However, we will talk about the most prominent features that usually occur in these colorful fish.

It’s important to point out that Recurring aspects will always be found between one species and another; from these aspects we will begin to list generalities about cyclid fish.

Cichlids, (particularly tilapia), are important in the food trade, while others, such as angels and Oscars fish , are highly valued in the aquarium hobby trade.

This family is also the family with more vertebrate endangered species, many of which are in the Haplochromis group. Moreover, apart from being very important for trade and the economy, are also important for the study of the evolution of species in science, since a large number of closely related species have evolved very quickly, but with very diverse morphological characteristics.

Cichlids can be recognized externally for having a long dorsal fin. The lateral line is usually divided into an upper anterior portion below the end of the base of the dorsal fin, and a lower portion along the middle of the caudal peduncle

Among the features that characterize cyclid fish are:

✅  They have a single nostril on each side of the head, instead of two. Generally, other fish have 2 nostrils, which becomes an important distinguishing feature of this family.

✅ Inversion of the digestive system. In most species, both the stomach and the intestine are connected by the right part of the body, but the opposite happens in cyclid fish: such organs are linked by the left side.

✅ Ciclid fish aren’t usually very pronounced, since their texture is not exaggerated being rather narrow.

✅ There is a really striking feature in this type of fish, because they have two jaws: one called the pharyngeal jaw and the other oral jaw.

The first one is inside the mouth of the fish and represents a great benefit for the species since it allows them to crush all food with greater agility and, in turn, reinforces the action of the oral jaws avoiding their wear and / or the execution of a greater effort. Moreover, both jaws, together, make it possible to swallow more nutrients.

✅ There is no standard size in cyclid fish. The variability of this species is so great that there are specimens of only 25 millimeters in length, while others that reach up to 1 meter.

✅ While cyclid fish are elongated and very compressed in terms of body shape (such as the wild Amazonian discus fish), there are also species with a somewhat different anatomy.

✅ Taking into account such complexion we will find species that can have flat cylindrical shapes. It should be noted that their size, texture, and anatomy tend to be influenced by the habitat, this being the main factor that influences their physiological development.

✅ Ciclid fish have a distinctive characteristic in the ocular part.: They lack a bone structure in the lower part of the head that supports the eyes.

✅   Each of the species that make up the family of cyclid fish has a particular vestibular system, since the otolith  has unique features depending on the species.

This small particle fulfills a key function for the balance of the fish.It’s also worth noting that the otolith is used by experts in marine biology to diagnose the age of the fish, since over time this small particle calcareous layers that indicate the extension of life.

✅ In terms of gender distinctions the male tends to have a more prominent size than the female. As well as much longer fins.

✅   The vast majority of cyclid fish have bands or stripes along the body, there are also species that have mottled colors, that is, a base color with small spots

Let’s meet some of the most popular ciclid fish

Where do Cichild fish Inhabit?  🐠

Cichlids are found from black, acidic and soft waters (such as the Negro River), to hard and alkaline waters (such as Lake Tanganyika), or even in the brackish waters of the rivers’ mouths.

The vast majority inhabit in freshwater of tropical areas, although there are also saltwater and brackish species. It’s worth pointing out  that many of the freshwater species tolerate brackish water for long periods.


These really striking fish are often kept in aquariums due to their colorful and resistant bodies. Many species of freshwater Cichlids fish are classified as endangered due to uncontrolled hunting, and water pollution.

It should be noted that some species have the ability to adapt perfectly to various types of water, that is, they can remain in aquatic masses to which they are not usually accustomed.

So, without any problem, there are species that spend certain periods in brackish waters regardless of whether they originate from freshwater or river.

Although there are also others who remain at sea, that is, anatomically they are able to live in this environment.  In the same way, they tend to be quite resistant fish so that they can swim deeply.

Ciclhid Fish: Distribution  🐠

Cichlid fish are distributed in three areas that have features of tropical ecosystems. When talking about the tropics, it should not only be taken as a reference to America, but also to the entire equatorial area of ​​the planet, especially that of the African continent.

Not in vain one of the main species that of the cyclids are the African ones.. A clear example of this great family is those who live in the Malawi and Tanganiyka lakes in Africa. In addition, other locations with a really considerable presence are Cichlids

Countries 🐠

However, around 1600 species are estimated in the African continent. The African lakes have such diversity that this figure is a mere approximation. We invite you to read our article White spotted cichlids to learn about this species of African Cichlids

It should be noted that this continent is not the only one that wins the game in variety, since in North America, specifically among the state of Texas with Madagascar there are cyclids with unique and incomparable traits compared to any native species.

In the case of Central America, up to 120 types of cyclid fish are added to the Panamanian coastal area. We invite you to read our article ram cichlids or (Papiliochromis Ramirezi or Microgeophagus ramirezi) to learn from a species of Cichlids characteristic of South America

The Caribbean islands: these have also contributed their own cyclids, an example of this is Cuba, where there are 3 native species.

As for the distribution of Cichlids fish in Asia, it’s very scarce, since there are only 3 types along the Jordan Valley and in India.

In addition, so far only one species is known in Iran. It should be noted that in the rest of North America, in Europe and the polar zone there is no type of specimen that comes from these regions.

Get ready to learn all about this fishes

What do Cichlid Fish Feed On?🐠

The feeding of cyclid fish is closely related to the type of habitat in which they live, because their eating habits vary according to the place of origin. There are omnivorous species that is, they eat any type of vegetable and animal protein source.

On the other hand, there are also cyclid fish that have a strictly vegetarian diet, which are considered as herbivores.

Some of the foods that cyclid fish usually eat are: marine algae, crustaceans and very small fish so that they can be captured accurately.

In the case of farm feeding, attention should be paid to the quality of products on the market.

In addition to the receptivity that fish have, sometimes it happens that the food is not to their liking and they stop eating automatically, or it also happens that the food causes digestive discomfort.

How Cychlid Fish Reproduce?🐠

What you will learn in these paragraphs is very important to you as a lover of cyclids and is how to reproduce them. One of the reproduction characteristics of these fish is that males often dance in front of females to start mating.

How are cychlid fish born?🐠

Some females keep fertilized eggs in their mouths until they hatch, while others lay egg ropes on logs or rocks underwater.

Cyclid fish can put 200 to 20,000 and when they are in aquariums they are very careful parents. Both males and females take care of the eggs during the incubation period. The male protects the nest against predators, while the female moves the tail to mix the water and keep the eggs well aerated.

Immature cichlid fish remain under the protection of their parents until the age of a few weeks, when they are ready to swim and fend for themselves.

The cichlid fish can survive from 5 to 60 years in the wild, depending on the species while in aquariums they from 5 to 8 years in average.

How to breed cyclid fish? 🐠

If you intend to breed cyclid fish, you should only obtain one species of a particular genus. Sometimes, Mbuna fish of the same genus but different species are crossed and the offspring are ugly, sterile or both.

Therefore it’s advisable to pay attention to which fish are being bred and only save the fry of pairs of the same species. 

To be sure that you have at least one male and one female, it’s highly recommended to obtain four or five fish of each species and then, if you accidentally get two males, sell the one you like least in the pet store as soon as possible .

One male and three or four females is recommended. The male will direct the females, but will not hurt them. Two mature males will be destroyed until one dies.

Mating 🐠

The mating of the cyclid fish begins at the moment the fish proceed to clean the selected area to lay the eggs. From this the procession begins which allows the fish to create links to initiate the mating. Once the eggs are placed in the nest, both fish will remain protecting their young, so much so that they will not depart and are capable of dealing with any type of threat with sufficient character and vigor regardless of their size.

However, there are some species in which the couple automatically separates after mating; all this will depend on the type of cyclic fish.

Not all of them act in the same way, but there is a specific species in which the male has several females in the same place; this species is known as Apistrogramma.

However, the mating process of the cyclids goes beyond the dance technique between both fish. The male is characterized by being placed in front of the female, which is an ideal position so that the anal fin is close to the mouth of the fish.

The female will proceed to maintain the sperm that the male cyclide has given off in the oral cavity. It should also be added that some of the anal fins of these fish have small egg-shaped spots, which is a mechanism to get the attention of the female and take the sperm with her mouth.

There are fish that keep the embryos in their mouth until they have matured a little, and then they are placed in their nests. Embryonic incubation has an estimated period of 20 days.

Ciclids breeding behavior

What fish are compatible with Cyclhids?🐠

If you want to have cyclid fish with ornamental fish, you have to be very careful, since if they are very small they will end up being your cyclone’s dinner, therefore they have to be large fish and of the same temperament as the cyclids.

Cyclids Fish can get along with each other, since they are generally aggressive and super-territorial fish.  Keep in mind that any fish placed in a cichlid fish aquarium must be very fast, and be able to defend against the aggression of the cyclid fish.

Most of these fish are compatible with those of the same species, as long as they are the same size,  excepting the breeding season.

Cichlids are open water swimmers and defend different territories. Good aquarium companions for cichlids are the fish that prefer the bottom or sides of the aquarium, out of their way, So, what fish species can live with cyclids:

✔️ Catfish

✔️  South American Plecostomus

Let us learn

Care of Cichlid Fish in Aquariums 🐠

Do you want to have an aquarium with cichlid fish? Do you want to know how to take care of fish cyclids? Here is a light summary of how to keep them

✔️: check the water quality at least once a week.

✔️: change 10-25% of the total water volume every 2-4 weeks, or as needed.

✔️ Introduce new inhabitants to the aquarium gradually, but first you have to put them in a  quarantine aquarium for a couple of weeks.

✔️ Daily: check the filter, water temperature and other equipment.

 ✔️ Cyclid fish need oxygen.

 ✔️ Cichlid  fish need large aquariums

Beginners usually start with a 10 gallon aquarium but for most cichlid aquarium fish, this is a mistake! While 10 gallons is fine to house a modest number of non-territorial fish, it’s inappropriate for everyone, except for smaller cichlids.

What do we recommend?

The largest aquarium you can afford to fit your available space which is an aquarium that allows the establishment of multiple territories. Use a large aquarium for these fish.!

If you can afford it and you have the room, you would consider a “player” aquarium 40 to 50 gallons (36 inches long by 18 inches wide) or 60 to 80 gallons (48 inches long by 18 inches) wide).

Of course, if your budget and space permit, larger aquariums (125, 135, 150 gallons or more) will allow you to maintain larger communities of cichlids.

However, if you don’t have the room or the budget, dwarf cichlid fish will be an ideal option for you since they can be kept in smaller aquariums.

While we talk about aquariums, there is another aspect of breeding cichlid fish that is worth mentioning: where to place the aquarium. Cichlids easily «get scared» with ease and need a stable and safe environment. The first place to start creating that is to locate the aquarium properly.
Let’s enjoy them

Food for cyclid fish 🐠

The food for fish cyclids are:

✔️  Bloodworms

 ✔️  Woodworms

✔️ Brine Shrimp

✔️ Beef heart

✔️ Small fish

✔️  chopped shrimp

✔️ Porridge for cyclid fish

✔️ Green peas

✔️ Spirulina

✔️  Pellet

The food  mentioned above is food for both African and American cyclid fish. keep in mind that it isn’t recommended to feed your cyclid fish with fleshy food if you are not very careful, since these foods may contain bacteria or diseases that can harm your pets.

The best food for cyclic fish may be fleshy food, but you need to keep in mind that many cyclic fish are omnivorous, but most are carnivorous, so many of them , depending on the type will need plant food and fleshy food

Be careful and follow all the advice you have found here and finally you will have your fish tanks with cyclid fish.

Let’s watch and learn

Suitable water temperature and parameters for Cichlid Fish 🐠

You have to be very careful with these factors, since you have to take into account what kind of cyclid fish you are staying in, whether it is African or is an American cyclic.

Aquarium parameters for African cichlid fish should include:

☑️  pH 7.8-8.5

☑️ 10-15

☑️ Temperature 72 ° -82 ° F

☑️  Aquarium parameters for American cichlid fish should include:

☑️   Temperature: 22 to 28 ° C

☑️ pH: 6.0 to 8.0

☑️ Ammonia: 0mg / l 0.02mg

☑️   Hardness: Soft to hard (0 to 20 ° dH



American Cichlids  🐠

Let’s meet some of the most popuplar american cichlids

Blue Ram or Butterfly Cichlid (Microphagus ramirezi

This species has quite inferior swimming skills compared to other fish. They are quite territorial, but they aren’t violent.Regarding their appearance ram cichlids are fairly stylized fish with an intense color which have a lot of characters among members of the same species.

They are extremely sensitive to chemical variations in water (such as pollution). This fact makes their maintenance somewhat tedious, since a very careful and frequent monitoring of the water quality in which they live, will be always necessary. Their life expectancy is quite short: 2 to 3 years.

These fish are native to the central Orinoco between Colombia and Venezuela. In these rivers there is usually enough vegetation and shady areas with the singularity that they are in places where there is space to swim.

If we want to have them in an aquarium, we must condition it with logs and stones that allow it to mark a territory to which they are accustomed in the wild.

Remember that this species is quite sensitive to changes in temperature and chemical composition of water, So if the aquarium temperatures change or begin to become contaminated by filter failures or external agents, these fish will begin to suffer damage. We invite you

Discus fish  🐠

The discus fish or discus (Symphysodon) is a tropical cichlid, located in the Amazon River basin. We can find 3 subspecies which are the green Discus, the blue Discus and the brown Discus which are quite similar the only variation being  their color and geographical location. Although there is much disagreement with the scientific name of each one many agree that those who were raised in captivity come from these 3 subspecies. It was Doctor Heckel who first described it in 1840.

The discus fish is medium in size, rounded and flat, with vast and long fins. Its round body has 9 vertically positioned straps that help them camouflage. They have a tiny mouth accompanied by tiny red eyes.


The discus fish is a very friendly creature and generally they are always in large shoals in their natural habitats, unlike many other cichlid species. This means that they show a highly developed behavior.

Discus fish are not aggressive fish except when they protect their territory, partner or children. They can develop hierarchies, as has often been observed in fish tanks, where groups with different social «status» are formed and in which those at a lower rank are continuously intimidated by those above.

Let’s meet them


Other Species 🐠

☑️ Green terror (Aequidens rivulatus)

☑️ Rainbow Cichlid (Herotilapia multispinosa)

☑️  Cichlid (Apistogramma cacatuoides)

☑️   Blue Acara (Aequidens pulcher)

☑️   Severum (Heros severus)

African Cichlids

Neolamprologus ocellatu (Shell dwelling cichlid)

Brief description: Neolamprologus ocellatus, also called Lamprologus ocellatus, is a small-sized cichlid (up to 6 cm in males).

Its main characteristic is a black ocellus on the operculum. Its coloration ranges from gray to golden yellow, it can have gray, blue or even pink iridescent areas.

The fins are large, although they can be folded. . Each fish is constantly close to its shell, which they enter to rest and at the minimum warning signal. They are small and generally little temperamental cichlids, although they do not live in colonies like their cousins ​​Lamprologus multifasciatus.


Males up to 6 cm. Females up to 3.5 cm

Sexual dimorphism:

Poorly marked. The main difference is the size, since males are larger than females. The only small difference, in addition to size, is found in the fins.

The dorsal and anal fins of males have a gold rim, while those of females have white trim. However, it is not a simple difference to appreciate.

Intraspecific temperament: Little aggressive although they mark their territories. The males are more aggressive


Mostly carnivorous.


They reproduce by putting the eggs in a shell. They take care of the shell and later of the fry.

Let’s enjoy them

Altolamprologus compressiceps: (Compressed Cichlid) 🐠

Compressed cichlids live in Africa (Tanganika Lake) between the rocks and near the bottom. They can be found from 5 to 30 meters.

They  have a flattened and tall body with a hump that goes from the end of the head to the dorsal fin.

The dorsal fin is large, spiny, rounded and pointed at the end, especially in males.

The color depends on the variety. Its head is pointed, with bluish lips and jaw facing up. On the face they have two dark stripes that join the eyes with the jaw


Males up to 15 cm. Females up to 10 cm

Sexual dimorphism:

Poorly marked. The main difference is the size, since males are larger than females. Other small differences are found in the fins. The dorsal and anal fins in the males end up at the tip while in the females it is more rounded. Pectoral fins in males are more elongated than in females.

Intraspecific temperament:

Among males the aggressiveness is high. Each male will take a territory and don’t accept incursions from other males. Among females there is more tolerance.

Interspecific temperament:

Average aggression in general, although high in the case of a male defending his shell or cave. They don’t usually present many problems with other species. In the case of other species of the same genus, there may be more conflict.


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