Cichlids have a bit of a bad reputation in the aquarium hobby. These colorful tropical fish are known for being aggressive, territorial, and unwilling to get along with others.
Although this is true for some Cichlids, it is not the case for each and every one. The Cichlidae family is home to over 1000 different types of Cichlids.
These fish come from lakes, rivers, and estuaries all over the world.
Each species has a different appearance, temperament, and ideal habitat.
Although some species are similar, no two are ever exactly alike!
Below we have compiled a list of the 100 best Cichlids for freshwater aquariums. We hope that this will help you get to know the Cichlidae family a little better.
Table of Contents
What Are The Different Types Of Cichlids?
Cichlid refers to any species in the Cichlidae family.
There are over 1000 different species in the Cichlidae family which makes it one of the most diverse families in the freshwater kingdom.
Africa is home to over 900 different Cichlids. There are over 300 species in Central and South America, and 3 more species in India and Sri Lanka.
Some of the most popular aquarium picks come from Brazil’s Amazon River basin and Africa’s Lake Malawi.
All members of the Cichlidae family have two sets of jaws: the true jaw (which contains the teeth) and the pharyngeal jaw. The pharyngeal jaw is a set of muscles just above the teeth which is used to chew and grind up food. Most Cichlids have very large and well defined mouths to compensate for this set of muscular jaws.
Another unique feature of these fish is their ability to care for their young. Unlike most other fish, Cichlids take an active role in protecting their eggs and even rearing and feeding the fry. Both parents will fan and clean the eggs and fiercely defend the nest from any potential intruders. When the eggs hatch the fry are reared and fed by the parents until they are free swimming.
These fish are well known for their aggression and their territorial nature. This gives them a bit of a bad reputation among fish keepers. However, there are plenty of non-confrontational Cichlids.
Here are all the different Cichlids:
- South American and Central American Cichlids: These species range from the southern tip of Texas to Peru. Many of them occur in the Amazon River basin, and the two most famous examples are the Oscar and the Convict.
- African Cichlids: These species are found in Africa’s Lake Malawi, Lake Victoria, and Lake Tanganyika, along with freshwater streams in West Africa and the Middle East. The Jewelfish, Blue Mbuna, and Peacock Cichlid are the most popular examples. Believe it or not, the Tilapia is a type of African Cichlid.
- Angelfish: These South American Cichlids are known for their beautiful appearances. Their diamond shaped bodies and trailing fins resemble an angel’s wings. There are 3 different types of Freshwater Angelfish: the Common Angel, the Altum Angel, and Leopold’s Angel.
- Discus: This unique subset comes from the Amazon River basin. These fish have round, disc shaped bodies and there are three different species: the Red/Heckel, Blue/Brown, and Green Discus.
- Dwarf Cichlids: These Nano sized species are all under 4 inches long. They include the Kribensis, Bolivian Ram, and Apistogramma. Dwarf species are among the best for beginners and community tanks.
- Chromides: The Chromides come from India and Sri Lanka. There are 3 different species: the Green, Orange, and Banded Chromide.
Best 17 Types Of Cichlids
|Oscar||South and Central American||1|
|Jack Dempsey||South and Central American||2|
|Convict Cichlid||South and Central American||3|
|Electric Blue Acara||South and Central American||5|
|German Blue Ram||Dwarf||6|
|Green Terror||South and Central American||7|
The Altum Angelfish (Pterophyllum altum) comes from the Orinoco River basin.
They are sensitive to their environment and need an experienced keeper. If you are new to fish keeping then you should consider the Common Angelfish.
Unfortunately, many pet stores label Altum Angels as Common Angels.
The way to tell the difference is to look at the bands. Common Angels have 3 thin borderless bands that break in some places. An Altum Angel has 3 very thick complete black bands with silver or white borders.
These fish require pristine water with no trace of ammonia or other waste products. Their water must be very acidic, with a pH below 6.0.
The Common Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) is the most famous species of Freshwater Angelfish.
Their elegant appearance has earned them the title King of the Aquarium.
Common Angelfish have a much calmer temperament than other Cichlids. Because of this they are much easier to care for and are the best type for beginners.
They are community friendly and can get along with Corys, large Tetras, and Livebearers. However, they will get a bit pushy with their own kind. Due to their long trailing fins you should not keep them with Barbs or other fin nipping fish.
The Blue Mbuna actually refers to 2 different species from Lake Malawi:
- Electric Blue Johannii (Melanochromis johannii)
- Fuelleborni Cichlid (Labeotropheus fuelleborni)
The Electric Blue Johannii comes in iridescent blue with thick black stripes. The females are a dull orange color with pale black stripes.
Fuelleborni Cichlids come in blue and orange with black zebra stripes. The females come in mottled orange.
This fiery red Cichlid is one of the fiercest that you will find.
Not only is this fish territorial but it also loves to nip and bite. It is only suitable for an advanced hobbyist keeping a single species setup.
You should make sure there are at least 3 females for each male.
Use a 30-gallon tank for a solitary Jewelfish and add 10 gallons of water for each additional Cichlid.
You can find them in bright red or orange, with yellow or blue spots along their body and fins.
The Peacock Cichlid is certainly the most colorful Cichlid.
All of these species are native to Africa’s Lake Malawi and this diverse environment has caused them to evolve in a variety of different colors and patterns. There are actually 22 different species and they come in combinations of yellow, red, purple, blue, green, gold, orange, and pink.
- A Strawberry Peacock is pink, white, and red.
- Sunshine Peacocks come in bright yellow or orange.
- Blue Tigers are blue with black zebra stripes.
Just like most types of Cichlids they are prone to aggression. However, their temper can be managed by keeping them in a large enough aquarium.
A 40 gallon tank can host a single Peacock.
The Green Chromide is one of only 3 Cichlids native to India and Sri Lanka.
They are an olive green color with 6 dark green bands. Green Chromides can reach up to 16 inches in length so you will need at least 100 gallons to keep just one.
Unlike many of the other Cichlids on this list, this fish lives in brackish bays and estuaries. In the aquarium they need a water hardness over 15 dGH.
Although they are not aggressive, it can be difficult to find tank mates because of their size and natural habitat. You can try them with Archerfish, Scats, and Monos.
The Orange Chromide is a small and peaceful species endemic to Sri Lanka.
These Cichlids grow up to 3 inches long and boast a beautiful neon orange or golden color.
They are an excellent introduction to the Indian and Sri Lankan Cichlids.
Orange Chromides are easier to keep than the larger Green Chromide.
In an aquarium they will need a brackish setup with a hardness over 15 dGH. You will only notice aggression in your Orange Chromides when they are getting ready to breed. To reduce aggression you should place a mated pair in a separate tank where they can safely tend to their eggs and fry.
The Blue or Brown Discus (Symphysodon aequifasciatus) is very different from other Cichlids.
They are extremely timid and sensitive.
Blue Discus will hide if their school is too small or if there are not enough hiding spaces.
In the wild these Discus are naturally brown but in captivity you can find them in white, yellow, blue, green, brown, or orange.
This fish must school in groups of 5 or more.
They can grow up to 10 inches long and will need at least a 75 gallon tank.
The Red or Heckel Discus is the most common species of Discus.
This large fish lives in shallow floodplains and other flooded areas along the Amazon River basin. They are usually found in groups of 6 or more.
You can find them in some of the most beautiful bright colors including red, yellow, orange, white, gold, and blue. They also come in many different patterns including carnation spots and tiger stripes.
The Heckel Discus is not a good pick for beginners because they are so sensitive to their tank conditions. They must have tea-colored, acidic blackwater with a pH of about 6.5, and a temperature of around 86°F. The water hardness can be no higher than 8 dGH and the light intensity should range from 2 to 3 watts per gallon.
If something is wrong with the water quality then the Discus will lose their brilliant colors and spend less time out in the open.
These Discus are one of the most peaceful Cichlids around.
They can be kept with Tetras, Danios, Rasboras, and peaceful Dwarf Cichlids.
The Bolivian Ram is a small and peaceful species from the Amazon River.
Because of their peaceful nature they are perfect for beginners.
Their colors have also helped add to their popularity. You can find a kaleidoscope of blue, orange, black, yellow, and red all on one fish.
They are extremely resilient and can handle fluctuations in water quality. However, their ideal parameters include a temperature of 75°F, a pH of 6.0 to 6.5, and a water hardness of 10 dGH.
Bolivian Rams are extremely compatible with other small and medium sized community fish, including Corys, Zebra Danios, and Rummy Nose Tetras. You can also pair them with other Dwarf Cichlids.
German Blue Ram
The German Blue Ram is named after their deep blue color, which shimmers alongside red, yellow, black, and orange.
German Blue Rams have the same non-confrontational temperament as the Bolivian Ram, and the two species can live in the same tank. It is peaceful enough to be kept with just about any Nano fish.
When keeping a group of German Rams in one tank you should make sure there are more females than males. The males will get a little bit hotheaded when they are competing against each other.
The Green Kribensis are friendly fish.
They are a lovely forest green color which helps them to blend in with most underwater plants. Their underside is blush pink and their fins are bordered with yellow and red.
These friendly fish are at their happiest in groups of 5 or more. Just make sure to keep at least 2 females for every male.
A group of Kribensis will complement an aquascape full of Anubias, Java Ferns, and Dwarf Hairgrass. Outside of plants you do not want to add too many other decorations. Your Kribensis will want wide open space for swimming and exploring the aquarium.
Congo Tetras, Fancy Guppies, Algae Eaters, and Rasboras make excellent tank mates for this brightly colored fish.
South and Central American Cichlids
The Convict Cichlid is one of the most popular South American Cichlids.
They are also one of the biggest bullies in the tank.
Their black and white prisoner stripe pattern develops when they are only 3 days old. As they mature the stripes change from horizontal to vertical.
Because of their aggression it is very difficult to keep Convict Cichlids in a community tank. They will fight with any fish that ventures into their territory.
It is best to keep this fish in a single-species tank.
You will need 30 gallons for a single Convict and at least 50 gallons for a group. You can use rocks, logs, and overturned flower pots to create artificial caves for them to live in.
Electric Blue Acara
The Electric Blue Acara is a glittering cyan blue color.
They come from Central America and love to dig and play in the substrate. They are active and graceful swimmers.
Electric Blues are difficult to keep in a community.
They like to snack on smaller fish and invertebrates and may pick fights with larger fish.
Just like the Convict Cichlid it is best to keep them in a single species tank.
While the Green Terror has an intimidating name, they are certainly one of the most beautiful freshwater fish around.
They sparkle in bright green and males develop a hump on top of their heads when they are getting ready to breed.
This Cichlid can grow up to a foot long and needs at least a 75 gallon aquarium.
If the tank is too small then they will live up to their name. They will terrorize any other fish that happen to get in their way. It will bully, harass, and even kill smaller fish and other Cichlids. However, it will not pick a fight with anything larger such as Arowanas and Bichirs.
You will need to keep them in a community of other fish that are strong enough to fight back.
They can live with Jack Dempseys, Oscars, and Convicts.
The Jack Dempsey is an iridescent blue fish from Central America.
Their unusual name is a homage to William Harrison Jack Dempsey, a boxer from the 1920s. It is quite a fitting name for such a fierce fish. Jack Dempseys do not appreciate other fish getting in their way and are not afraid to pick a fight with fish of any size.
When unprovoked they are shy and willing to keep to themselves.
You can find them in green, gold, red, purple, or pink.
In a community tank they need to be kept with other boisterous species like the Firemouth, Convict, and Oscar.
Despite their aggression they are very inquisitive and quite amusing to watch. You will find them on every level of the aquarium and they are a surprisingly skillful jumper.
The Oscar is one of the largest and most well-known species from South America.
This fish comes in stunning black and orange Halloween colors.
They can grow up to 15 inches long and need to be kept in a large tank or a heated pond. A single Oscar needs at least a 75 gallon tank.
Oscars are very intelligent and enjoy playing tricks on their keepers. They may jump, splash, or squirt at you while you are feeding them or cleaning the tank. However, they are also known for their aggression. They are very pushy with other fish and will drive potential intruders away by rushing, biting, or locking lips.
You will need to include plenty of decorations that the Oscar cannot destroy.
Large boulders and thick pieces of bogwood work well.
Oscars can live with even the most imposing large fish, like Arowanas and Bichirs. They can safely cohabitate with Jack Dempseys, Convicts, and Green Terrors too.
Cichlid Species List
- Albino Peacock
- Altum Angelfish
- Angel Ram
- Apache Peacock
- Black Belt
- Black Stripe
- Blood Parrot
- Bicolor Peacock
- Blue/Brown Discus
- Blue Dolphin
- Blue Frontosa
- Blue Mbuna/Electric Blue Johannii
- Blue Mbuna/Fuelleborn’s Cichlid
- Blue Neon
- Blue Tiger Peacock
- Blue Zebra
- Bolivian Ram
- Common Angelfish
- Electric Blue Acara
- Electric Blue Hap
- Electric Blue Ram
- Flavescent Peacock
- German Blue Ram
- Gold Mbuna
- Gold Ram
- Green Chromide
- Green Discus
- Green Terror
- Heckel Discus
- Ice Blue Mbuna
- Leopold’s Angelfish
- Malawi Eyebiter
- Masked Julie
- OB Peacock
- Orange Chromide
- Orange Zebra
- Port Acara
- Red Cheek
- Red Devil
- Red Empress
- Redfin Hap
- Red Terror
- Red Zebra
- Rock Kribensis
- Snow White
- Strawberry Peacock
- Sunshine Peacock
- Three Spot
- White Spot
- Yellowtail Acei
- Yellow Dwarf
- Yellow Lab
Which Cichlid Should You Pick?
No two Cichlids are exactly the same.
This incredibly diverse family is full of all sorts of unique personalities, appearances, and colors.
The amount of variety in the Cichlidae family is part of the reason why they are one of the most popular families.
There are lots of beginner friendly species and some of the most colorful are actually suitable for first time fish keepers. There are hundreds of different ways to design a setup for these fish. Some love plants, others prefer rocks, and others enjoy wide open spaces.
Now that you know more about the many types of Cichlids out there, you should be able to pick the perfect one for your aquarium.
Which Cichlid do you prefer? Let us know in the comments section below…