10 Best Cichlid Fish for Your Aquarium Do Know It Aquarium Got some spare cash or fish shop vouchers? Going to buy some fish? Here are some cichlid species for medium to large tanks that are sure to ... 72 72

10 Best Cichlid Fish for Your Aquarium

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Got some spare cash or fish shop vouchers? Going to buy some fish? Here are some cichlid species for medium to large tanks that are sure to make your mouth water.

1. Baensch's Aulonocara, Aulonocara baenschi

Image of aulonocara baenschi
Cichlid fish: aulonocara baenschi

Why we recommend it

That bright yellow body colouration and blue face is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, and males continue to increase in colour and gain flowing fin extensions as they age. Malawi cichlids are very diverse, even
within a single species, and a popular variant to look out for is called A. baenschi ‘Benga'.

That combination of bright yellow and blue can be used very effectively to create the illusion of a marine fish tank, only in freshwater.

How you keep it

It's from Lake Malawi so will need hard, alkaline water, that is high in oxygen but low in nitrates. They grow to just short of 15cm/6" and can become aggressive and territorial towards males and females of their own kind, as well as towards males of other species, so we recommend a minimum 120cm/47" long tank but 150cm/59"-plus is better still. For décor, all you need is rock piles and soft sand, although some aquarists combine tough plant species like Crinum or Aponogeton.

Either select a single male (they are the colourful ones) and mix with other Aulonocara and peaceful Malawi ‘haps' or combine a male with at least two females. Breeding is straightforward, even easy, but you must ensure that females and have a safe retreat.

2. Paratilapia, Paratilapia spp.

Image of paratilapia
Cichlid fish: Paratilapia, Paratilapia spp

Why we recommend them

We remember when these Madagascan cichlids were rarer in the hobby than hen's teeth, and although still not widely available, they're definitely worth asking for with the specialists. They look very grouper-like and are very handsome, turning jet black with gold or turquoise spots all over the body. They used to be sold as two species, polleni and bleekeri, only species seem to be in a constant state of revision and have reverted back to pre-species names like ‘small spot', ‘large spot' and others.

Whichever ones you like, find and buy, just make sure you don't crossbreed the different types, as they are still endangered in the wild and it is important that we try to conserve pure, healthy specimens in captivity.

How you keep them

We have first hand experience of keeping them both in hard and soft water, but it was the soft water in which they bred. A 2m/5' tank decorated with sand, wood, rocks and tough plants should be perfect, and avoid small tank mates as they will be eaten. Paratilapia are peaceful and long-lived, and they get better with age. Avoid boisterous cichlid tank mates.

3. Sardine cichlid, Cyprichromis spp.

Image of sardine cichlid
Cichlid fish: Sardine cichlid, Cyprichromis spp

Why we recommend it

It's probably the least cichlid-looking cichlid, being slender and quite fragile looking, yet it is fascinating at the same time because it's an open water shoaling fish and a mouthbrooder. It's also highly collectable because
of the many naturally occurring species variants. It's a very worthwhile addition to the large Tanganyikan cichlid community.

How you keep it

In hard, alkaline, well oxygenated, pollutant-free water, like that of Lake Tanganyika, but ideally in a large, deep tank (10 x 5cm/4 x 2') where these fragile fish can keep out of the way of aggressive, territorial Tanganyikan cichlids beneath them. Males are the colourful ones, but you really need large groups of them, ideally with a ratio of at least two females to every male. It's best not to mix them with other Cyprichromis species because of the risk of hybridisation. They're meant to be a prey item of frontosa, so don't mix small Cyprichromis with large Frontosa.

4. Electric blue hap, Sciaenochromis fryeri

Image of sciaenochromis fryeri
Cichlid fish: Sciaenochromis fryeri

Why we recommend it

It's probably the bluest cichlid in the world, all things considered, so that makes it an instant candidate for recommendation. Furthermore, unlike some Malawi ‘haps', S. fryeri males become blue at about 8cm/3" in length and stay very vivid blue their whole lives, regardless of mood. They're still more widely known and often sold under the name Haplochromis ahli.

Many non-fishkeepers will mistake Sciaenochromis fryeri for marine fish because of that stunning colouration.

How you keep it

You'll need a 1.2m/4' tank minimum with hard, alkaline water. It can be mixed either with rock dwelling mbuna, Aulonocara or other haps and is generally very peaceful for a Malawi cichlid. In the lake they predate fry, so don't mix with any mouth-sized tank mates, and it will accept a variety of foods.

Either keep a single blue male per tank or include a minimum of two of the drab, silver females. Breeding is straightforward and as for other lake Malawi mouthbrooding cichlids.

5. Zebra obliquidens, Astatotilapia latifasciata

Image of Zebra obliquidens, Astatotilapia latifasciata
Cichlid fish: Zebra obliquidens, Astatotilapia latifasciata

Why we recommend it

We don't think there is another cichlid available with a colour pattern quite like it, meaning it will stand out in your tanks and become a conversation piece. It is also grouped into the Lake Victoria cichlid catch-all, when really it comes from Lake Kyoga, a large lake north of Lake Victoria in Uganda, Africa.

How to keep it

It's often thrown in with Malawi mbuna, although we think such specimens always look a bit dog-eared when kept this way and are actually better in a single species-specific tank, maybe with some Synodontis added if the owner wants some more variety. A 120cm/47" tank should be the minimum, decorated with some rock piles, sand, maybe some large wood pieces and some Crinum or Vallisneria. Add a large group of ideally a dozen or more individuals, with females outnumbering males by at least two to one, if not more. Keep the water hard and alkaline and the males will repay you with increased colouration, lots of displays and inevitable fry.

6. Thick Skin, Haplochromis sp. CH44

Image of Thick Skin, Haplochromis
Cichlid fish: Thick Skin, Haplochromis

Why we recommend them

A definite contender for the most colourful cichlid of all, this species, originally from Lake Victoria and still not properly described, can have red, blue, green, yellow and black colouration on a good day, and, what's more, the males know it! Like many other Lake Victoria cichlids, the ancestral species are very much endangered, although all the ones for sale now are from large captive breeding populations where many more exist in the hobby than ever did in the lake.

The drawback with this maternal mouthbrooding, non-pair forming fish, is hyper dominance, with pumped up males trying to beat up, mate with and then again beat up every fish in the tank.

How you keep them

Outnumber males by at least three females to one, and only include more than one male in large tanks (over four foot) with lots of décor to break lines of sight and lots of refuges. A group of 20 or more will help to spread and lessen aggression. A deep tank looks best, with large boulders, a sand bed, maybe some tall Vallisneria and the odd choice piece of bogwood for decoration. They will hybridise with other Victorians, so leave them out and just keep pH the alkaline side of neutral.

7. Ellioti, Thorichthys ellioti

Image of Ellioti, Thorichthys ellioti
Cichlid fish: Ellioti, Thorichthys ellioti

Why we recommend it

This is another Central American stunner that graces the hobby by virtue of not growing too large. Yes, it's more aggressive than its cousin the Firemouth, but look after these fish and they will repay you with beautiful colouration that just gets better and better as they age and mature.

How to keep it

The ideal would be a Central American biotope aquarium, replicating a river, complete with boulders, sand banks and sunken logs. Larger livebearers could also be added to set the Central American scene. Tank size should be 120cm/47" minimum. These fish are best added as a pair and either mixed with one or two pairs of other similarly-sized Central American cichlids or remain the only cichlid species in the tank.

8. Nicaragua cichlid, Hypsophrys nicaraguensis

Image of Nicaragua cichlid, Hypsophrys nicaraguensis
Cichlid fish: Nicaragua cichlid, Hypsophrys nicaraguensis

Why we recommend it

Three reasons: size, colour and temperament, as many Central Americans are colourful but attain over a foot in length and can be very aggressive.

Nicaraguensis can easily be kept in a community of medium to large fish, outside of breeding season, and is not overly territorial, large, predatory or brutish.

They're also a nice species for the fish nurturer, being available initially as small, quite plain specimens but with the potential to get more and more colourful, ornate and exotic looking as they mature. A breeding pair is an awesome sight.

How you keep it

Although usually smaller, males can reach 25cm/10" when fully grown so we would recommend an aquarium of 150cm/59" minimum.

They're hardy with regard to pH and temperature, so just keep it the alkaline side of neutral and at average tropical temperatures.

Tank décor can be sand, gravel, wood, rocks, caves and flowerpots, and either artificial plants or tough ferns.

9. Spotted severum, Heros notatus

Image of Spotted severum, Heros notatus
Cichlid fish: Spotted severum, Heros notatus

Why we recommend it

Severums are such easy to care for South Americans, being large enough to mix with Oscar and Pike cichlids, yet peaceful and non-predatory enough to be kept with medium sized tetras. If you get into your severums, they can be quite a collectable group too, with wild variants appearing as well as rarely seen species. With sp. ‘rotkeil' now being quite commonplace in the shops, we feel that a mature spotted severum has more novelty value and is a handsome fish.

How you keep it

All severums will need a large tank of 150cm/59" or more, and if you keep non-yellow, wild type fish, they will look and fare best in an Amazonian-styled aquarium with lots of wood, leaves, soft acidic water and sand on the base. Severums are known as plant eaters, so leave live plants out. Start with a group. Males develop squiggle patterning on the gill covers.

10. Red hump geophagus, Geophagus steindachneri

Image of Red hump geophagus, Geophagus steindachneri
Cichlid fish: Red hump geophagus, Geophagus steindachneri

Why we recommend it

It's one of the most likeable and appealing of the Geophagus and Satanoperca earth eaters from South America; it doesn't grow very large either but is colourful and gets better with age. Steindachneri are nearly always imported as G. pellegrini or G. hondae, although it's thought that those two species aren't imported. Steindachneri are busy, usually unaggressive fish, which will delight stores and wholesalers as they start to sift substrate and feed the minute they enter a tank from the wild. It's definitely a strong candidate for the South American community of medium to large sized fish.

How you keep it

In soft, acidic, warm water like that of the Amazon River, accompanied by the essential fine sand bed for sifting. Wood and leaves will add to the natural touch. Males develop the red, nuchal head hump and get more colourful than females. Outnumber males with females to keep aggression down. Feed regularly with a variety of sinking dry, frozen and live foods.

Author: Practical Fishkeeping Magazine
5 Aquarium: 10 Best Cichlid Fish for Your Aquarium Got some spare cash or fish shop vouchers? Going to buy some fish? Here are some cichlid species for medium to large tanks that are sure to ...

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