They are known for nothing but aggression. But it turns out most Cichlid fish can be just an excellent option as a favorite pet fish.
Still, with more than 1300 Cichlid species to pick from, making the right selection is never going to be a piece of cake.
If you are interested in exploring the beautiful world of the Cichlid fish or maybe keeping one at home, this guide might be all you need to make your search a success.
We’ve created a list of the 20 types of Cichlids well-suited to the aquarium hobby. These are tried and tested species with an enticing appearance, some even happy to coexist in bonded pairs.
1. Electric Blue Hap Cichlid
Electric Blue Hap is a real showstopper in the aquarium hobby. They are electric fish originating from the fresh waters of Lake Malawi in Africa.
They can be a focal point inside the aquarium when kept with suitable tank mates. However, the Electric Blue Cichlids tend to be aggressive and may not be an excellent option for community tanks.
They flourish in small groups of up to 4 species, with just one male inside the tank at any given time.
Being natural omnivores, these species are happy to feed on whatever food item can fit in their mouths. But to maintain a balanced diet, stick to a healthy supply of flake food and pellets with occasional live foods like bloodworms, brine shrimp, and small fish.
2. Convict Cichlid
Convict Cichlid, sometimes called the Zebra Cichlid, is a beautiful member of the Cichlidae family with showy black and white stripes all over their bodies. They are extremely hardy fish, perfect for anyone graduating from entry-level aquarium fish care.
Like most Cichlids, beware of potential aggression in the Convict Cichlid community that limits the possible tank mates you can introduce to the same aquarium.
Many aquarists opt for a single Zebra Cichlid at home or a male-female combination to limit their aggression. But you can try to introduce other possible tank mates like the Oscar Fish, Pictus Catfish, Silver Dollar Fish, and Clown Loach, albeit with increased caution.
3. Jewel Cichlid
Hemichromis bimaculatus, or simply Jewel Cichlid, is a West African fish that needs no introduction to the aquarium community. They are another hardy Cichlid variety that’s rather aggressive and unsuitable for community tanks.
Despite their spectacular bright red base coloration on the narrow, pointed bodies, the Jewel Cichlids can get quite aggressive in the wrong environment, getting into nasty fights that sometimes become fatal.
For that reason, Jewel Cichlids are neither an ideal option for community tanks nor the best selection for newbie aquarists. Thankfully, breeding them is easier in captivity, and their monogamous tendencies allow for easy pairing during the spawning season.
For anyone looking for an exciting Cichlid variety that’s unique in many ways, the Jewel Cichlid might be the best option.
4. Jack Dempsey Cichlid
Well, you don’t get named after a legendary boxer for no reason. And truly, Jack Dempsey Cichlid can be aggressive and highly territorial in captivity.
So, every time you introduce them to your tank, ensure you provide enough hiding spots using crevices and caves to be certain everybody has their territory.
Pretty underrated yet so rewarding in many ways, Jack Dempsey Cichlid has fast become one of our favorite Cichlid fish for many reasons.
But as a general guideline, any small fish doesn’t belong to a Jack Dempsey’s habitat. The same applies to any slow-moving, peaceful fish that can become Jack Dempsey’s snack in a split second.
As for the best tank mates, restrict your selections to other aggressive fish that can defend themselves during a fight. That includes the Blue Acaras, Silver Dollars, Convict Cichlids, Angelfish, and Plecos, among the rest.
5. Firemouth Cichlid
Firemouth Cichlid is native to Guatemala, Belize, Mexico, and the Yucatan Peninsula in South America. And they bring a ton of personality to any tank with their fiery, orange-red coloring.
While their names and large bodies can be intimidating, Firemouth Cichlids are a low-maintenance species.
Usually, the male Firemouths are dominant in captivity and may occasionally flair their gills when they feel threatened inside the tank.
With a standard ten-year lifespan in captivity, keeping Firemouth Cichlids require long-term commitment, which is why they aren’t necessarily the best option for beginner-level aquarists.
For starters, Firemouths will only thrive inside a 30-gallon tank with slightly neutral to basic pH and a standard temperature of 75°F-86°F.
6. Venustus Cichlid
Venustus Cichlid has been famously called the Giraffe Harp, thanks to the beautiful giraffe-like markings on their bodies.
You won’t fail to spot their large body sizes at first sight, and with an up-close look, you might even see the additional set of scary pharyngeal teeth that are exclusively modified for hunting.
Despite their impressive hunting instincts in the wild, Venustus Cichlids have straightforward dietary needs in captivity, making them an excellent option for intermediate-level aquarists.
With at least a 70 gallon tank from the start, this magnificent African Cichlid should readily flourish in captivity. But it won’t be long before you consider a tank upgrade, with a fully mature fish only expected to thrive inside a 125-gallon tank.
7. Frontosa Cichlid
Are they a truly peaceful Cichlid? That’s the only question many aquarists ask when they first come across Frontosa Cichlids. And our answer? A simple yes!
If we were to settle for a lesser-known Cichlid variety that deserves more attention from fish lovers around the world, it would certainly be the Frontosa Cichlids.
Hailing from Lake Tanganyika in the eastern part of Africa, these beautiful fish rival many members of the Cichlidae family for size and aggression.
However, their majestic appearance puts them ahead of the rest, and the fact they are less popular makes them even more impressive.
They have 5-7 black stripes on their beautiful blue and white bodies and while they are a semi-aggressive species, caring for the Frontosa Cichlids is easy, usually commencing with the ideal tank setup.
At 10-13 inches in full length, there’s no doubt they will need a sizable aquarium, usually about 50 gallons for the baby fish and up to 70 for fully mature species.
8. Lemon Cichlid
Lemon Cichlid is a cute-looking snail eater that only measures about 4 inches in full body length. They are a semi-aggressive species native to Lake Tanganyika in eastern Africa.
Lemon Cichlids have the typical Cichlid body configuration, displaying beautifully elongated bodies with large lips and expansive dorsal fins.
Like most aggressive species, Lemon Cichlids lead solitary lives. And the only time you will see a peaceful pair living together is during the breeding period. But even then, you must maintain the right number of male fish to prevent aggressive behavior.
As far as the ideal tank setup goes, medium-sized Lemon Cichlids are happy inside a sizable tank, and a minimum of 20 gallons would be great for a single fish.
9. Lionhead Cichlid
Lionhead Cichlid is native to the Congo River and Pool Malebo in Africa and is so named for its showy, elongated head.
Their distinct appearance has earned them other common names, including the African Blockheads, Humphead Cichlids, Lumpheads, Lionheads, and Buffaloheads.
As you may already know, the nuchal humps on their heads are with no doubt the most recognizable part in Lionhead Cichlids, with most species taking on a classic olive green body coloration.
A few specimens have gray, blue, and brown coloring, with the aquatic world now witnessing even the rarer dark-blue breeds.
While everything revolves around their elongated heads, the African Blockheads are easy to care for, and with an average lifespan of 10 years, you could be in for an interesting journey if you settle on them as a favorite pet fish.
Angelfish might be one of the easily recognized freshwater fish in the aquarium community. But what many people don’t know about these wonderful freshwater fish is they also belong to the Cichlidae family, with South American roots.
Their exciting swimming behavior makes them admirable, and even if you are not fond of the presumably aggressive Cichlid fish, a captive-bred Angelfish can be a stunning addition to a home aquarium.
Most Angelfish species have medium-sized bodies, measuring about 6 inches in full length. Also, they have triangular-shaped snouts and iconic dorsal fins that set them apart from the rest.
While everybody assumes Angelfish are an outright aggressive species, they are only violent when defending their territories, just like any fish would, especially when kept in a cramped environment.
11. Blood Parrot Cichlid
Blood Parrot Cichlid is many aquarists’ favorite hybrid Cichlid, thought to come from a Midas-Redhead combo. They were first introduced to the aquarium community in 1986 and have been many peoples’ favorite Cichlid fish ever since.
Save for the endless controversies around their breeding, Blood Parrot Cichlids can be an exciting addition to community tanks.
They have a characteristic appearance that starts with large, round bodies, prominent nuchal humps, and brightly colored eyes. But that’s just the beginning of their conspicuous look. Their small mouths make them so addictive to watch, with most species taking on a solid red coloration.
While their care requirements can be technical for newbie aquarists, managing Blood Parrot Cichlids is not as challenging as many assume. Stick to a large 30-gallon tank to create an ample swimming space, slightly acidic waters, and multiple hiding spots.
And when it comes to feeding, provide high-quality sinking pellets with occasional protein supplements like bloodworms and brine shrimp.
12. Flowerhorn Cichlid
Flowerhorn Cichlids are just as beautiful as their cute name suggests. They are entertaining ornamental fish originating from Asia with vivid colors that stand out in any environment.
Flowerhorn Cichlids combine their vibrant body coloring with a prominent nuchal hump to become one of the best Cichlid types in the aquarium hobby.
But the trickiest part of maintaining them at home involves their aggressive temperament and large sizes, which can sometimes prove challenging to beginner-level aquarists.
The fundamentals of an ideal aquarium setup include the general tank size, usually about 70 gallons, with low water hardness and neutral to slightly basic pH.
As for their dietary requirements, Flowerhorns will have plenty of options in captivity, including the typical protein-rich sources like bloodworms and brine shrimp and plant-based varieties like vegetables.
13. Green Terror Cichlid
Green Terror Cichlid is another colorful freshwater Cichlid that’s quite popular in the aquarium trade. They come from South American natural water bodies and have been introduced to home-based aquariums to add a ton of color and personality.
As their name suggests, Green Terror Cichlids can get quite aggressive and territorial, only worsening when kept in a subpar environment. These Cichlids can be a nightmare to any small fish in the same tank, their aggression only worsening during the spawning season.
The easiest way to go around that is to provide enough swimming space and a lot of food to calm your Cichlids in captivity. Be sure to keep a bonded pair if the tank is large enough.
14. Oscar Fish
Oscar fish is a unique Cichlid variety from the tropical South American region. They go by many names, including the Marble Cichlids, Velvet Cichlids, and Tiger Oscar, to mention a few.
Like most Cichlids, Oscar fish are an aggressive species, which automatically disqualifies them from community tanks besides making them an unfitting option for newbie aquarists.
While everybody marvels at their colorful black or brown and orange patterns, we find Oscar fish’s intelligent behavior even more enjoyable. They are among the few freshwater Cichlids that can recognize their owners, constantly wagging their tail fins during feeding.
For ideal living conditions, stick with a minimum of 25 gallons for every Oscar fish with a constant supply of high-quality flakes, pellets, live foods, and plant-based foods.
15. Red Devil Cichlid
Many people know Red Devil Cichlids from their fiery appearance, with pointed anal and dorsal fins.
We call them beautiful Cichlids with a charismatic personality, and given the kind of bond they develop with their owners, there’s no excuse not to keep one at home.
Their long lifespan (around 10-12 years) automatically makes them an exciting prospect in the aquarium hobby, but that doesn’t mean they will be suitable for beginner-level aquarists.
Red Devil Cichlids prefer multiple hiding spots with a soft sand substrate and proper filtration system when kept in captivity.
Live plants aren’t mandatory when setting up the fish’s habitat, given the feisty personality that sometimes pushes them to rearrange or destroy any vegetation on sight. That’s how nasty they can be, but also the beauty of keeping Red Devils at home.
16. Cockatoo Cichlid
Cockatoo Dwarf Cichlid is a South American freshwater Cichlid that’s increasingly gaining popularity in the aquarium community. They get a fair share of praises for their beautiful coloring, that’s more pronounced during the breeding season.
But that’s not all. Unlike most Cichlids, Cockatoo varieties are smaller species, only measuring about 3 inches long in full length, with simple care requirements.
They benefit from enough swimming space inside a 30-gallon tank and remain adaptable to different water conditions.
Being the natural carnivores, Cockatoo Cichlids have a penchant for eating worms, larvae, and insects in the wild.
And when you introduce them to a confined environment, feed them on pellets, flakes, and other meaty products like brine shrimp, worms, and crustaceans to maintain their beautiful coloring.
17. Peacock Cichlid
Many people have called them the most stunning freshwater Cichlids in the aquarium hobby, and it’s easy to see why.
Peacock Cichlids are an interesting freshwater fish with a specific advantage over most species; beauty. They are easy to care for, peaceful, and beautiful, combining all the impressive traits you could be looking for in a freshwater Cichlid.
Their coloring can be anything from blue to yellow or red, but one thing is always certain; the Peacock Cichlids will always stand out in any environment. While the male Peacocks can be somewhat aggressive, that’s easily avoidable with the right tank size.
The Peacock Cichlids are typical bottom-dwelling fish and will always spend much of their time searching for food on the soft sandy substrate.
18. Bolivian Ram Cichlid
Bolivian Ram is another attractive freshwater Cichlid we recommend to aquarists of different backgrounds.
They show a peaceful demeanor and are easy to care for, making them such an approachable species for newbie aquarists.
Bolivian Ram Cichlids are endemic to the Amazon River basin and go by other names like the Ruby Brown Cichlids and the Bolivian Butterflies.
They portray a relaxed temperament and only want to add their playful trait to a community tank. Measuring only 3 inches in total length, top-notch Bolivian Ram care involves the right tank setup, with high-quality water and suitable tank mates.
If you’re seeing them for the first time, you will be amazed by their distinct appearance, starting with the elongated bodies and silver or tan base coloration.
19. Discus Fish
Discus fish is simply stunning. They are wonderful South American Cichlid fish with distinctive shapes, colors, and behavior.
First things first, Discus fish get their name from the distinctive disc-shaped bodies with round dorsal and anal fins. They can reach about 10 inches in maturity and could quickly become an important addition to your aquarium.
As for the color patterns, Discus fish show intense colors that can quickly light up your aquarium. Most species take on green, yellow, brown, red, and bright blue coloring,
Generally, Discus fish are a peaceful Cichlid, choosing to mind their own business as long as they can escape unnecessary squabbles inside the tank.
They are safer in a shoal and will only flourish with the right tank size. So, we recommend a minimum of 50 gallons for up to 5 species at a time.
As for the suitable tank mates, the Discus fish will be happy to live together with other non-aggressive species like the shoaling Tetras, Bolivian Ram Cichlids, and Gouramis, to mention a few.
20. Yellow Lab Cichlid
Our list would be incomplete without mentioning Malawi’s finest Cichlid, Labidochromis caeruleus, or simply the Yellow Lab. These are beautiful Cichlid fish native to Lake Malawi in southeastern Africa.
If it’s purely creating an alluring aquarium, you can’t certainly go wrong with Yellow Lab. They have solid bright yellow bodies that say a lot about their popularity in the aquarium trade.
They readily accept frozen foods like brine shrimp, pellets, and flakes and will be easy to care for in captivity.
Also, they will thrive in large tanks featuring rock structures, gravel or soft sandy substrate, and plenty of caves as hiding spots.
Of course, the tank water quality has to be at the highest level with frequent water changes, and proper filtration is an integral part of effective Yellow Lab care.
Cichlidae is one of the best families of fish for aquarium enthusiasts. They are an excellent option for committed aquarists and anyone who understands the nitty-gritty of raising a semi-aggressive or aggressive freshwater fish.
You might have judged them harshly by other people’s opinions or even avoided them altogether because of their aggressive temperament, but the benefits of owning a beautiful Cichlid fish outweigh the risks.
So, how about getting one for yourself? Wouldn’t it be rewarding?