African Cichlid Tank Mates & Complete Care Guide (Types, Tanks, Care & More)

Below you’ll find our African cichlid tank mates along with a great cichlid care guide.

You’ll learn about all the different types of African cichlids, the best tank mates, their behavior, lifespan, breeding, and how to set up the perfect tank.

Let’s start with a few African Cichlid Tank Mates.


Great Stuff For Your African Cichlid

What Fish Can Live With Cichlids (8 Ideas)

Since African Cichlids are known to be territorial and aggressive, it’s best to keep them with fish of their own kind.

However, many bottom-dwelling fish can make great tank mates as long as they are large and aggressive enough to match the fast-paced aggression they will encounter from the African cichlids. Most other small and peaceful species of fish (guppies, tetras) won’t last long.

With that said you don’t want to have African Cichlids from closely related species together because they may produce undesirable hybrids. You can keep an Auloncara with Utaka and Mbuna cichlids from in the same aquarium.

However, It is not advised to keep cichlids from Lake Malawi and Lake Tanganyika together because they thrive best in different water environments.

There aren’t many types of cichlids that can live together in the same tank. But, if you still want to add fish to your African Cichlid tank, you can give these eight fish a try.

Further Reading: Tank Mates For Popular Tropical Freshwater Fish

1. Botia Loaches (Clown Loach)

Bótia Palhaço (Botia macracanthus ou Botia macracantha) - Clown loach - 04-07-2008 - IMG_8057

Care level: Moderate
Max Size of fish: 4 1/2 inches
Temperature range: 72-86 degrees Fahrenheit
pH range: 6-7.5

The Botia Loach is known to be a semi-aggressive fish so it should be able to hold its own with the African Cichlid. It’s typically tan and black and has four barbells that can be seen protruding from its mouth. This is how you know it’s a Botia Loach.

Like the African Cichlid, the Botia Loach likes to hide. So if you buy caves and rocks be sure there’s enough to go around for everyone in the tank! If not you’ll see the aggressive side of both fish come out!

Botia Loaches are typically bottom feeders so that’s the part of the tank they’ll generally stay on. For food, have bloodworms, brine shrimp, and plenty of flake or pellet food on hand for the Botia Loach.

2. Red-Tail Shark

Epalzeorhynchos bicolor – Red-Tailed Black Shark

Care level: Moderate
Max Size of fish: 4 inches
Temperature range: 72-79 degrees Fahrenheit
pH range: 6.5-7.5

The Red-Tail Shark is a beautiful fish with its sleek black body and red-tail that it’s named for. They also happen to be one of the most common freshwater aquarium sharks that you can keeps as pets.

But, don’t let their beauty fool you. These fish are semi-aggressive and are not just another pretty fish to look at.

That’s why these fish can only be tankmates with other fish that can hold their own, like the African Cichlid. Red-Tail Sharks are known to be territorial as well and may set up markings on the tank so there’s no mistaking what parts are theirs.

They also like rocks and vegetation. If you are adding these in with your African Cichlids be sure your tank is large enough. 

3. Red Rainbow Fish

Red Rainbow Fish-0003

Care level: Easy
Max Size of fish: 4 inches
Temperature range: 72-77 degrees Fahrenheit
pH range: 7.0-8.0

If you’re going to attempt to put Rainbow Fish in with African Cichlids you need to make sure they are large enough. If not, you can kiss your Rainbow Fish goodbye because they’ll be dinner for the African Cichlids.  

Red Rainbow Fish are omnivores and do best with prepared foods. Although these fish have big mouths they do best with small food.

4. Giant Danios


Care level: Easy
Max Size of fish: 4 inches
Temperature range: 64-74 degrees Fahrenheit
pH range: 6.5-7

As with the Rainbow Fish, you need to get large Danios to hold their own with the African Cichlids. If not you can consider these guys another meal. Danios typically like the middle and bottom of the tank so they should get along with the African Cichlids just fine in that regard.

They are known to like their highly vegetated areas so add a couple of plants in there to keep them happy, but not too happy because then you’ll get the African Cichlids mad!

5. African Red Eyed Tetra 

Care level: Moderate
Max Size of fish: 4 inches
Temperature range: 73-82 degrees Fahrenheit
pH range: 6.0-8.0

The African Red Eyed Tetra can get fairly large so you want to make sure it has enough room to swim around the tank, especially if it is with the African Cichlids. These guys thrive in the same water conditions, making them good tankmates for that reason.

They are also not picky at all when it comes to food, similar to the African Cichlid. You can give it algae, frozen foods, flakes…anything goes with the African Red Eyed Tetra just as long as you feed it.

6. Pleco

Common Pleco/Pléco Commun (Hypostomus plecostomus)

Care level: Easy
Max Size of fish: 24 inches
Temperature range: 72-78 degrees Fahrenheit
pH range: 6.5-7.5

If you want to spend less time cleaning the tank, get some Plecos. They’re bottom feeders so they love to eat algae meaning you don’t have to clean it up.

Since Plecos will mainly stick to the bottom of the tank, the African Cichlids will have plenty of room to roam and shouldn’t get angry. They are also less likely to get territorial with the Plecos because the Plecos won’t be fighting for the same spaces around the tank, just the bottom.

7. Scavenger (upsidedown) Catfish

Upsidedown catfish

Care level: Easy
Max Size of fish: 10 inches
Temperature range: 75-82 degrees Fahrenheit
pH range: 7.5-9

Scavenger Catfish like to hide just as the African Cichlids. Buy plenty of little rocks and caves if you’re inviting them over for a sleepover. They enjoy tanks with sandy bottoms and lots of plants.

If you walk by your tank and notice your Scavenger Catfish hanging upside down, don’t get scared. They’re known to do so and it’s perfectly normal. Although Scavenger Catfish like to eat fish flakes, you should also throw in some sinking catfish pellets from time to time. These will help keep them in optimal shape.

8. Leopard Bushfish

Leopard Bush fish; young; size: 2.5"

Care level: Moderate
Max Size of fish: 7 inches
Temperature range: 73-82 degrees Fahrenheit
pH range: 6.0-7.5

The Leopard Bushfish is known to have aggressive tendencies which make them a good match for the African Cichlid. They like to trick other fish into thinking they are pieces of leaves in the tank. But when prey swims by, they may attack. That’s why they’re best with fish that are larger, not smaller.

Leopard Bushfish can also be picky eaters. So you may need to cook separate meals when they’re with the African Cichlids. Small, live or frozen foods are best for this bunch. You may get them to eat some flakes, but don’t count on it. Leopard Bushfish are known carnivores so flakes aren’t going to cut it!

African Cichlid Tankmates to Avoid

Seeing that there aren’t too many fish that make good tankmates that must mean there are plenty to avoid. Any fish that is small, docile, and not aggressive should not be mixed in with the African Cichlids.

This list includes:

Remember to be cautious when adding tankmates to the African Cichlids. They’re not social butterflies so it may take them some time to warm up to their new roommates.

Here’s Our African Cichlid Care Guide

If you’re looking for a tank full of colorful fish look no further than the African Cichlid.

They are known for their exquisite coloring and somewhat aggressive nature. They get their name because they are widely found in several African lakes.

Since they are used to the rocky terrain that lakes offer, it may be a good idea to provide rocks in their tanks. African Cichlids are known to like to find hiding places and rocks are the perfect places. Even little caves make great additions to the African Cichlid tank.

Although they enjoy hiding out, African Cichlids are known to be active fish. Don’t be surprised if you see them swimming around a lot!

A Cichlids diet is varied; some like to eat algae while others prefer small insects and fish. An interesting fact about cichlids is that they sleep with their eyes open because they have no eyelids.

Are they awake when they’re looking at you or are they sleeping?

You’ll never know!

If African Cichlids are cared for properly they can live five to eight years in an aquarium. They can grow anywhere from one inch to three feet in size!

These are the ideal tank conditions:

Care Level: Moderate
Ideal tank size:  Depends on the number of cichlids in the tank and their size, cichlids that are six inches or less should have at least a 20-gallon tank
Temperature range:  72-82 degrees Fahrenheit
pH Range: 7.8-8.5

Most Common African Cichlid Types

The cichlid family is one of the most diverse fish families to exist. They come in various sizes, colors, shapes, and forms and their requirements too are just as varied. Some are easy to keep; others, not so much. In our African Cichlid care guide, we will get you acquainted with them all.

In fact, some cichlid types are not at all social and will kill those that dare invade their space, yet aquarists do keep them. We don’t blame them; Cichlids are incredibly attractive and come in multiple colors and patterns, which many fish enthusiasts enjoy.

Some of the most common cichlid types are actually some of the most visually attractive ones, for they are known to be aggressive. Why else would anyone want to keep a somewhat hard to care for fish if not for the visual appeal they offer.


The Maingano Cichlid has a deep blue colored body with light blue colored stripes. Their bellies are a lighter color, and their pelvic fins are shorter than other cichlid types. They grow up to be about 7.5 centimeters long and have incisor-like teeth, as it is an omnivore.

Zebra Mbuna aka Zebra Cichlids

The Zebra Mbuna has a bright blue body with around eight to 10 black vertical stripes on the body. It has a single dorsal fin which is blue in color, and the anal fin is blue-gray with orange/yellow spots. The male fish vary in color depending on their area of origin. Some have a black head while others have a blue-gray head.

Orange Zebra

The Orange Zebra is a bright orange-colored Cichlid. It is its tail and fins that depict beautiful patterns and capture the attention. It is lighter, almost transparent towards the edges with a light spattering of orange/yellow spots.


The Compressicep is also known as the Malawi Eye biter. It is a very thin or compressed-flat fish with a dynamic blue body. Its fins have orange edges, and the entire body has orange accents or highlights that make it even more visually appealing.

Electric Yellow

Out of all the cichlid types, the Electric Yellow cichlid is the most popular among aquarists. As the name suggests, it features an electric yellow colored body. Mature specimens develop black stripes on the fins and the body, which add more dimension.

Peacock Cichlids

The Peacock Cihclid is stunning, yes, but it may not be for everyone. The fish comes in varying color combinations, and while some of those look amazing, others, not so much. You can choose from shades of blue, orange, green, yellow, and red. They are sure to stand out from other fish in the aquarium.

Sunshine Peacock

The sunshine peacock features a yellow-blue colored body. The males in the species feature a bright yellow colored body with a blue mouth and slight blue colored accents on the body, whereas the females feature a blue body with yellow shading here and there.

Hap or “Haplochromis”

The haps are another popular aquarium fish as they are known to be some of the more peaceful cichlids that balance out the aggressiveness of others. They have long metallic blue bodies with black and gray horizontal stripes.

Electric Blue Hap: Kribensis or “kribs”

The electric blue hap has an electric blue colored body. The names of the cichlids give you a fairly clear idea of what the fish looks like. The electric blue has a few dark blue vertical stripes down the middle that add dimension to the body.

Blue Dolphin Moorii

Blue Dolphine moorii has an electric blue colored body and a snout like that of a dolphin; thus, the name. It has an elongated body featuring a few black marks here and there. It also has a large bump on the forehead that makes you look at it twice.

Buffalo Head

The Buffalo head cichlid comes in shades of blue, blacks, or gray. It also features a bump on the head though significantly smaller than that on the Blue Dolphin Moorii. It has a jerky swimming style that is interesting to watch.

Mbuna or Malawi cichlids

Mbuna is the name for a large number of cichlid fish, all of which originate from the Lake Malawi and are thus known as Malawi Cichlids. They are colorful fish, and different types have different patterns.

Giraffe Cichlids

Giraffe Cichlids feature a lime yellow colored body with blue-gray spots similar to that on a giraffe’s body. They also have a blue-colored head and bright blue highlight on the tail and at the ends of the fins, which counters the earthy dark gray spots on the fish’s boy.

Temperament and Behaviour: Are Cichlids Aggressive?

There are over 100 types of African Cichlids originating from over three different lakes in Africa. Almost all of them are known to be territorial, most of them are also quite aggressive, and a substantial amount of cichlids are predatory. In fact, they are more aggressive than tetras, guppies, or even gourami’s.

In their natural habitat, they move in groups. However, the group only has one male at a time, as the males are particularly territorial and aggressive. They are a darker color than females and tend to attack any other male that tries to step into their territory.

There really is no way you can tame the Cichlids, but you can reduce the aggression if you set up your aquarium right. You don’t want to have to buy more fish every other day because you paired the wrong teammates, which is a common mistake that beginners make.

The purpose of this article is to get you acquainted with the cichlids, their requirements and to give you tips on how to care for them. Read on if these interestingly aggressive, bright-colored fish attract you.

Cichlid Lifespan: How Long Do Cichlids Live?

In their natural habitat, Cichlids can survive for around 10 to 20 years. In a tank, the average lifespan of an African Cichlid is around 8 years. However, the exact lifespan depends upon the species. Some African Cichlids can also survive for up to 15 years in an aquarium.

African Cichlid Tank Set-Up

Moving on to the main part in your African Cichlid Care Guide, the tank set-up. African Cichlids originate in hard water lakes and thrive best in surroundings that capture the essence of their natural habitat. When setting up your tank, you will have to make sure you try to recreate the same atmosphere or surroundings.

Almost all of them like to hide behind large rocks and search for dark, gloomy places to take cover in. you will have to add a substantial amount of rocks in your aquarium to make sure all the cichlids have ample hiding spots.

Some cichlids are omnivores, so you will also have to add in live plants in your tank decoration to give them something to nibble on between mealtimes.

A water heater is another must-have item in your fish aquarium as African lakes rarely ever get cold. Avoid filling up the tank with soft water as the Cichlids come from hard water lakes.

They also thrive best in strong currents, so you will have to add in some filter or wavemaker to add some disturbance to the water if you don’t want your cichlids to become agitated.

Tank Size: How Big Should Their Tank Be?

Cichlids are active fish that like to swim. In fact, if you look at their movements and behavior it may look like they are in a constant game of hide and seek. They not only need ample hiding spots but also require a large space or area to move around in.

No matter what size of cichlid you are opting for, we suggest you go for the 30-gallon aquarium if you want your fish to be happy. Make sure you add in a water heater large enough to keep the water warm at all times.

How Big do Cichlids Get?

The size of the cichlid also depends upon the species. Some of the larger species can grow up to around 90 cm long. Needless to say, they aren’t fit for the aquarium. The biggest African Cichlids that are popular among aquarists only grow up to be around 15 cm long at max. The more popular ones that are perfect for aquariums remain at around 8 cm in length.

How Many African Cichlids Per Gallon

When stocking cichlids, we suggest you stick to the 1 inch per gallon rule. Make sure you actually calculate the exact amount of water in the tank after adding in the decorations before deciding on the number of fish to put in. As we mentioned earlier, cichlids are quite aggressive, so do not overcrowd your tank at any cost, or you may lose quite a few of your beloved pets.

Ideal Water Conditions

Because African Cichlids originate from hard water African lakes, you will have to pay extra attention

Water flow:

You will need to create smooth currents to recreate the motion of water from their natural settings. They don’t need a river water-like fast-flowing current, but they do need movement in the water, which a bubbler can help you recreate.


The ideal hardness level for most African cichlids is between 160 to 320 parts per million.

pH Levels:

The ideal pH levels for African Cichlids are 7.8 to 8.6.

Water temperature for African Cichlids

You will also have to ensure the water stays at a comfortable, warm temperature of around 23-28 degrees Celsius or 78 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit.

Food and Diet: What Do African Cichlids Eat?

The majority of African Cichlids are omnivore with some predatory carnivore exceptions, but those aren’t exactly suitable for aquariums or community tanks. Most aquarists stock omnivore African Cichlids that enjoy sinking pellets or fish flakes.

You can also feed them a variety of plants, such as spinach or other green foods. However, we suggest you provide them a healthy amount of protein obtained through flakes and pellets and include live plants in the tank set up to ensure they get the best of both worlds.

Occasionally you can also give them frozen shrimps as treats if you feel like pampering your cichlids a little.

Breeding African Cichlids

Breeding African Cichlids is easy. Some species are mouth breeders, while others breed normally. To encourage them to breed, you don’t have to do anything. Like literally. Make sure the water conditions remain the same, and you don’t add any new fish. The Cichlid won’t breed if it isn’t 100% comfortable in its surroundings.

They lay their eggs in dark places and guard them until they hatch. They care for the young ones for a few days, after which they fend for themselves. You will have to prepare a separate breeding tank to ensure the additional fish do not disrupt the water conditions.

If breeding is on your mind, then know that Cichlids become much more aggressive when they are breeding, so you may want to divide them into two different tanks to prevent bloodshed. You should also remove the fry from the tank and place them in another within a few days, or the Cichlid may eat their own child.

Cichlids are also able to crossbreed. You may even end up with some interesting colored new Cichlid types if you do manage to give them the ideal breeding conditions.

Are African Cichlids Suitable for You?

Are you one to shy away from a challenge? If yes, then no! Cichlids aren’t for you! They can be a handful to manage for sure, and there is a substantial amount of trial and error period involved before you get familiar with their requirements.

In our African Cichlid care guide, we have covered all basic points to get you acquainted with the species and understand their basic needs. As long as you don’t overstock the tank, don’t put the extremely aggressive cichlids together, and restrict the amount of males in a tank, you shouldn’t have trouble caring for them.

A Few More African Cichlid Fun Facts & Myths

As you learn about tankmates for African Cichlids it’s also important to know some interesting fun facts and myths.

Did you know?….

African Cichlids are great parents. Both the moms and dads take care of the eggs. The males protect the nest against predators while the females move their tales to mix water and make sure the eggs are intact.

African Cichlids have the fastest evolution of all vertebrates. Single species of cichlids evolved into 500 new species during a period of one million years. Compare that to the ape that only evolved into three different species over a matter of 10 million years.

African Cichlids are not “killer fish” like some people like to think. Yes, they are aggressive. But, they don’t kill everything in sight.

One of the most well-known edible Cichlids is Tilapia which has been imported and farmed worldwide.

You may see Cichlids swim to the top of the water in the tank and maybe even try to eat out of your hand!

Cichlids like to dig up plants. While a couple may be nice for decoration inside the tank, you don’t want to add too many.

Cichlids are strong fish and are rarely prone to disease.

You do not need to add salt minerals to the Cichlid tank. They can thrive in freshwater just as well.

African Cichlids can make great additions to your aquarium. Just give them enough space and some cool hiding places! Remember to keep the small fish out and the big fish that can hold their own in with the Cichlids.

African Cichlid FAQ

Can All African Cichlids Live Together?

Since African Cichlids are known to be territorial and aggressive, it’s best to keep them with fish of their kind. Keep in mind only cichlids from the same continent should be kept in the same tank.

With that said, you don’t want to have African Cichlids from closely related species together because they may produce undesirable hybrids. You can keep an Auloncara with Utaka and Mbuna cichlids from in the same aquarium.

Other species of fish can live with African Cichlids, which we will discuss next.

What other fish can live with African cichlids?

Although most Cichlids would be considered aggressive fish, most Cichlids can live with most loaches, catfish, shark species, plecos, and larger tetra species.

Below we will go into detail about all the other fish that can live with your African Cichlids as well as which ones you should avoid.

Can African Cichlids Live with South American Cichlids

No, in most cases, you shouldn’t mix the two different species for many reasons.

One reason is that African Cichlids and South American Cichlids require different water parameters. For example, fish from South America tend to require more acidic water and a lower pH, while some African Cichlids will want harder water set up with a more alkaline pH.

Aggression, spawning & diet are also excellent reasons not to mix cichlids from different continents.

However, some have noted success with mixing African cichlids with South American Cichlids noting that to succeed, you’ll need a big enough tank and lost of fish to ensure not one fish is getting bullied all the time.

Can African Cichlids Live with Clown Loaches

The answer here is a bit mixed, many have had success with Clown Loaches (CL’s) in an African Cichlid tank, and many that warn against it.

Most complaints or issues with keeping them in the same tank seem to be regarding the water parameters, not the behavior of the fish themselves. The problem seems to be that the PH will be too high for Clown Loach, and the fish might eventually die.

When looking at pH, the clown loach prefers a pH of 6 to 7.5. Most African Cichlids prefer 7.8 – 8.5, which is quite a difference, so I would tend to stick with the naysayers on this one.

On the flip side, some keepers have noted success and don’t seem to believe there is an issue.

Can African Cichlids Live with Discus

No, Discus fish are from South America and require very different water conditions. Most African Cichlids would be considered too aggressive for Discus. Discus should be kept with other South American species like Tetras that are smaller and peaceful.

Can African Cichlids Live with Driftwood

African Cichlids love plenty of hiding places to create their territory. Rocks, caves, and other ornaments and shells are best for this. In most cases, try to avoid using driftwood as some driftwood has naturally occurring tannins that can sometimes lower the pH of the water.

However, fake and ornamental driftwood would be more than acceptable.

Can African Cichlids Live with Jack Dempseys

No, it’s not a good idea. In most cases, the Jack Dempsey can grow up to 10″ in size and will become very territorial. Jack Dempsey’s are very aggressive and are very likely to kill off the smaller African Cichlids.

In some very rare cases, you can accomplish a balance between Africans and New World Cichlids; however, it’s best to try something other than the Jack Dempsey.

Can African Cichlids Live with Flowerhorn

This is another mixed answer. Some say yes, some say no.

Those that say no, claim the Flowerhorn is too aggressive and large and will ultimately kill the smaller African Cichlids.

However, those that disagree state quite the opposite and claim that the smaller size, aggressive nature, and lighting quick reflexes is what makes them compatible.

Those that keep them together state that African Cichlids can out-maneuver and hide before ever getting injured from the flower horn.

Can African Cichlids Live with Silver Dollars

No, in general, there is a difference in requirements for PH, GH, and KH when it comes to mixing Silver Dollars with African Cichlids.

However, Silver Dollars would make excellent tank mates for any mid-sized South American cichlids.

Can African Cichlids Live with Oscars

No, African Cichlids and Oscars should not be kept in the same tank. For many reasons but the obvious one being that they are from different parts of the world and require very different water parameters.

Also, depending on how aggressive your Oscar is and the Africans in the tank, they are likely to fight to the death.

Can African Cichlids Live with Angelfish

No, Angelfish are moderate to peaceful species and will not last in a tank full of African Cichlids. Angels will do best if kept with other fish from the same habitat.

If you want some small cichlids, try small ram cichlids and some Kribs.

Can African Cichlids Live with Bala Sharks

Bala sharks can get up to 10 inches in size and are more than fast enough to escape a few African Cichlids. As long as the Bala Sharks are bigger than 4″ in size, they would be fine in an African Cichlid tank.

Can African Cichlids Live with Tiger Barbs

Tiger Barbs are known to be pesky aggressive little fish. That said, they are nothing compared to the aggressive nature and force of African Cichlids.

Tiger Barbs are not compatible with African Cichlids and should not be kept together.

Can African Cichlids Live with Tetras

Almost all African Cichlids will grow much larger than most Tetras and likely feast on them. To be safe, you can not keep tetra with African Cichlids.

Some recommend that you can keep Silver Dollars (which are a Tetra Species) with African Cichlids; however, as mentioned above, this is not recommended due to the different water parameters.

Can African Cichlids Live with Crayfish

Maybe, some say yes, some say no. Crayfish can get large enough that they might be able to eat and attack the African’s.

However, when the crayfish molts, it’s will become irresistible to cichlids, and they will try to eat the crayfish.

What kind of fish can you put with Cichlids?

Although most Cichlids would be considered aggressive fish most Cichlids can live with most loaches, catfish, shark species, plecos, and larger tetra species.

Can Cichlids and Angelfish be in the same tank?

Angelfish are one of the more docile of all cichlid species and can live with other Cichlids from the same regions such as ram Cichlids. However, African Cichlids are not likely to get along with angelfish.

Can I put an Oscar with African Cichlids?

In this case, it’s not the Cichlids you need to worry about. Oscars should only be kept with other Oscars in very large and open aquariums.

Can Cichlids live in a community tank?

While most Cichlids are too aggressive for most community tanks there are a few more docile Cichlids that can be used in a community tank such as; Angelfish, Rams & Apistogramma.

Did you know you can keep some Cichlids in tanks as small as 10 gallons? Read our article about Cichlids for a 10-gallon tank.

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