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African Cichlid Tank Mates That Get Along

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!

Check more Tank Mates For Popular Tropical Freshwater Fish

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:

african cichlids

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

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

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.

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8 Best African Cichlid Tank Mates

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.

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. 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:

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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.

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.

Awesome African Cichlid Tankmates

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Learn More About Cichlids