Cichlid is the name given to a wide variety of types of colourful tropical fish from Africa, the Americas and Asian regions. It is not clear how many varieties there are but it is most likely from 2000-3000. Cichlids are mostly freshwater fish and can make a lovely colourful addition to your home aquarium.

The features that are common to all cichlids relate to anatomy of the jaw, nostril, eye, otolith (part of the inner ear) and the small intestine. Apart from that Cichlids vary in size, colour, dietary needs, temperament, and water temperature/pH requirements. While some varieties may be aggressive and territorial this is not true of all species. Some types may live in a colony with other fish whilst others should be kept separate because of their particular needs. When purchasing your cichlids always check the requirements of the species you are bringing home.

Housing your fish

When setting up a home aquarium the following considerations apply:
– Many varieties like hiding spots and some are territorial so it’s a good idea to arrange rocks and substrate material in such a way so as to create hideaway areas. In addition always wash substrate before adding it to the tank.
– Always make sure the aquarium is set on a level surface.
– The pH and temperature of the water will depend upon the particular species you intend keeping.
– Consider adding a ‘background’ to the fish tank. These can really beautify the appearance of the aquarium.

African Cichlids

There are about 1,000 African Cichlids originating from Lake Malawi, Lake Tanginika and Lake Victoria. They are very hardy and easy to look after which makes them popular fish in pet shops and aquariums. The African varieties are mostly ‘maternal mouth brooders’ meaning they hold the eggs and young in their mouths. Even after they are released the mother may take them back into her mouth if she feels there is a threat. African Cichlids are generally more aggressive and territorial than other types, and bright colour seems to go with dominance.

The Electric Yellow Cichlid is an East African variety. This is a bright yellow fish with a black stripe, which grows up to 150mm, requiring a water pH level of 7.7-8.6 and temperature of 21-30deg C. This is a non-territorial fish that should be housed on its own due to specific requirements.

Some common names of other African Cichlids include:

– Bearded Cory
– Black Neon Tetra
– Cockatoo Dwarf
– Electric Blue Hap
– Indian Glassfish
– Oscar Fish
– Penguin Tetra
– Rainbow Snakehead
– Jelly Bean Tetra
– Plumed Lyre Tail
– Spotted Silver Dollar
– Turquoise Cichlid
– Wolf Fish
– Zebra Loach.

Asian Cichlids
These varieties generally reside in brackish water in Sri Lanka and India. A popular variety is the Orange Chromide Cichlid which only grows 6-8cm in size. It is bright yellow to orange with small reddish spots in rows along its body, and has a light orange belly and transparent fins. It is a peaceful variety that can live easily with other smaller fish. It is easy to care for but is prone to protozoan diseases which can be treated with salt.

South American Cichlids
There are over 450 varieties of South American Cichlid. Two of the most commonly known are the Angelfish and the Pike Cichlid.

The Red Spotted Cichlid is another type from Mexico and Guatemala which grows up to 280-300mm and is an easy-care variety, although territorial. These fish require a pH of 7.2-7.6 and a temperature of 22-27 deg C, and are generally vegetarian but will eat feeder fish and shrimp if you feed it to them.

North American Cichlids
These are generally smaller than the South American varieties and live in more alkaline waters. One of the more commonly known varieties is the Convict or Zebra Cichlid, so called because of its black stripes. Other North American Cichlids include the Red Terror, the Firemouth and the Gold Mixteco.

Cichlid Diseases
A disease called Malawi Bloat is common in African varieties, possibly caused by a protozoan parasite. Symptoms include loss of appetite, abdominal swelling and increased respiratory rate. The main causes are stress, common table salt added to the water and an inappropriate diet for the species. There are two main treatments for this problem after removing the fish, which are Metronidazole and Clout. If you suspect this disease in your fish speak to an expert at your local aquarium or pet shop about treatment.

Other Cichlid diseases include Fish Tuberculosis, Cotton Wool and Swim Bladder Diseases. These can mostly be prevented by good diet and a healthy environment appropriate for your particular varieties of fish.


Cichlids can make colourful and beautiful pets for your home, but to help keep your fish healthy it is very important to provide the right environment, temperature and environment for them to thrive in.