Wolf Cichlid: Ultimate Guide (Care, Diet, Breeding & More)

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Written By Matt Stevens

Hi, I'm Matt! I've been obsessed with fishkeeping for over 15 years now and created this site to share my knowledge with others.

Wolf Cichlid is a colorful and highly adaptable freshwater Cichlid that any aquarist would love to have at home. They are the perfect predators in the wild and would be a fascinating addition to the aquarium.

Wolf Cichlids, or Dovii Cichlids, as sometimes called, are an aggressive species, yet so intelligent. One of the most interesting stories we’ve heard about these fish involves the close bond they form with their owners over time.

However, if you want to keep Wolf Cichlids at home, you will have to review the accurate living arrangements and ensure you have what it takes to create a pristine environment. In this guide, we will be focusing on just that.

The forthcoming paragraphs will take an insightful look at Wolf Cichlid care, covering the fish’s lifespan, appearance, tank size, diet, behavior, tank mates, breeding, and more.

By the time you complete reading this guide, we hope you will be motivated to include a cute-looking Dovii Cichlid in your aquarium. Now, let’s get started.

Species Overview

Wolf Cichlids are sometimes called Parachromis dovii and are famous for their aggressive temperament both in the wild and captivity. Like many Cichlids, Gunther is credited with documenting the first-ever Wolf Cichlid species in the pet community back in the 1860s.

These fish are predominantly found in Central America, just like most Cichlids. In their natural environment, you will find them casually swimming in small rivers throughout Costa Rica and Honduras, as well as specific areas of the pacific slope.

Wolf Cichlids like to assert their dominance over their territory, which is evident in the wild, where they have total control over small fish.

Like you would expect, Wolf Cichlids belong to the Cichlidae family and have been a mainstay in the aquarium community ever since they were first introduced to the pet industry.

ColorYellow females, gray males
LifespanUp to 30 Years
Care LevelIntermediate
Behavior & TemperamentAggressive
Food and DietCarnivores
SizeUp to 28 inches
Tank SetupFreshwater; sandy substrate, rocks, driftwood, artificial plastic plants
Tank Size (Minimum)200 gallons for 1 male, 150 gallons for 1 female


Can you believe it? A typical Wolf Cichlid has an unrivaled lifespan of up to 30 years in captivity. So, that’s a whopping three decades if you maintain proper tank water conditions.

As we’ve always said, an investment in Wolf Cichlids is an investment for the future. So, if you intend to keep them at home, be ready for a long-term commitment.


Aside from their aggression, Wolf Cichlids are also known as one of the cutest looking freshwater Cichlids. They are the epitome of natural beauty, and sometimes, their eye-catching color pattern is thought to be unfair to many species.

The female fish spot a beautiful yellow body with attractive black dots and horizontal patches of the same color.

On the other hand, the charismatic males have beautiful gray bodies, with a captivating greenish-blue hue completing the fins.

The general body coloration depends on the existing environmental conditions, and it shouldn’t be unusual to see rarer red or orange Wolf Cichlids in the wild. Also, these fish have strong jaws with an extra set of pharyngeal teeth.

The juvenile fish display a smooth silvery color with neat-looking black stripes across their bodies. It is such a hue that later turns to the beautiful golden yellow tone that’s quite prominent in the adult species.


Wolf Cichlids are called large, aggressive, freshwater fish for a reason. A typical male fish will grow up to 28 inches long in captivity.

Similarly, the female species enjoy a steady growth rate and can reach lengths of about 16 inches in maturity. So, if you combine their aggressive temperament and large size, you will be getting an out-of-this-world Cichlid that’s just perfect for a home collection.

As we mentioned earlier, Wolf Cichlid’s large body size contributes massively to its dominant behavior in captivity.

Wolf Cichlid Care

To give Wolf Cichlids quality care in captivity, aquarists must first understand what these fish are accustomed to in the wild.

Are they true freshwater fish? What would their ideal tank mates look like? Can they survive with other fish in the same tank? And what’s the standard tank size that would keep everyone happy at home?

Those are the few guiding questions when setting up Wolf Cichlid’s habitat. So, let’s address each of them in the next paragraphs;

Tank Size

As you may probably guess, a large species like Wolf Cichlids deserve a significant tank size to feel comfortable in captivity. Therefore, we recommend a minimum tank size of 150 gallons to keep the females happy from the start. 

If it’s the agile males, you will need at least 200 gallons to keep one species. But, remember, that’s just a rough estimate for a young fish.

Because these fish enjoy a steady growth rate over a long time, be ready to upgrade to at least 300 gallons for a large, fully mature fish.

In all honesty, there’s no shortcut around Wolf Cichlid’s tank size. While they are famous for their resilience in the wild and captivity, Wolf Cichlids are just as active and require a significant tank with proper water flow.

Find it all in the next section;

Water Parameters

Wolf Cichlids are freshwater fish that prefer slightly acidic to basic waters with a moderate flow and enough vegetation in the wild. That means low water hardness, moderate to high temperatures, and an almost neutral pH will work just as fine in captivity.

In summary, here are the exact guidelines for maintaining the ideal tank water conditions;

  • Water Temperature: 75°F-82°F
  • Water Hardness: 5-20 dGH
  • pH Level: 6.0-8.0

We encourage frequent cycling of at least 10% of the total tank water every week to maintain high-quality water.

What to Put in Their Tank?

The general tank setup starts with substrate choice. And here, you can keep it simple with fine sand. With their aggressive tendencies and love for digging, rough surfaces like gravel can always injure your Wolf Cichlids.

Also, you can complete the general tank decoration with roots and rocks but never live plants, as you will find out shortly.

Introducing enough decoration inside the tank gives Wolf Cichlids plenty of hiding places and can help them mark their territories, eliminating their aggressive tendencies in the process.

Let’s just say Wolf Cichlids are a little obsessed with digging. And you must anchor every decorative element like rocks if they are to remain effective for many years.

In terms of lighting, you can settle for moderate to standard lighting conditions or a suitable LED system. 

What’s more, Wolf Cichlids are so good at souring the tank water with enormous waste production. And you can control that by installing a robust filtration system to ensure the water stays in the best possible condition.

Many aquarists settle for a standard canister filter that works just fine with these Cichlids.

Now back to our point on Wolf Cichlids vs. your favorite plants. Many freshwater fish love plants as part of the general tank environment. But we can’t say the same for the Wolf Cichlids, and that’s because of their aggressive tendencies.

If you’re lucky enough, these fish will only destroy parts of the plants. But in many cases, they will uproot the entire vegetation and even rearrange the aquarium.

Artificial plants might be the perfect alternative to the natural types as long as they are properly anchored inside the tank. Then, you can introduce other decorative elements like branches, roots, and driftwood to complete the general tank décor.

If you love them so much, you will want to save your Wolf Cichlids from the dangers of physical injuries by avoiding sharp objects or the wrong substrate. 

Common Diseases

Like any freshwater Cichlid, Wolf Cichlids are vulnerable to specific diseases within the broader aquarium community. 

One such popular culprit is Ich, a common freshwater ailment that will bother your Wolf Cichlids from time to time. You should suspect an Ich outbreak from the first time you notice white spots on the fish’s body or endless rubbing against the tank elements.

Treating Ich depends on what you believe in and what works best for your fish. Some aquarists have chosen the natural path, which involves raising the water temperature to about 86°F for at least three days.

On the other hand, others elect to use the right copper-based medications straightaway to manage the disease symptoms.

Aside from Ich, the hole in the head disease, sometimes called Head and Lateral Line Erosion (HLLE), is another condition you must keep away from a Wolf Cichlid community.

HLLE resembles Ich in many ways, including the classical presentation of visible holes or cavities on the fish’s head.

Like Ich, HLLE is also caused by reduced tank water quality and lack of nutrients to a lesser extent. So, the first step to managing its spread will be to improve the tank water quality before getting suitable medications.

Now, here’s the takeaway point. You see, no fish species is immune to diseases. And the same trend is seen in Wolf Cichlids.

However, maintaining ideal tank water conditions will go a long way toward saving your fish from such ailments. Take action as soon as you suspect any strange behavior in your fish, like an odd swimming pattern.

What Do Wolf Cichlids Eat?

So, what do Wolf Cichlids eat? Looks like the old, common question. Right? The Wolf Cichlids are carnivores with a strong liking for meat and similar food. They exclusively feed on insects, earthworms, crustaceans, and small fishes in the wild.

They will be happy with a wide range of foods that suit their feeding plan in captivity. That means you can feed Wolf Cichlids on pellets and suitable supplements like prawns, crickets, and worms.

When feeding Wolf Cichlids at home, you will want to design and stick to a befitting routine. In other words, feed your fish just the right amount of food they can finish within 2 minutes or less without the risk of overeating.

Sticking to a twice-a-day routine always makes sense with large-sized species like Wolf Cichlids. Of course, you must pay attention to the determinants of good health like mood, color intensity, and growth rate to see if you’re feeding your fish properly.

Behavior & Temperament

You might have seen this coming or probably guessed it right.

Wolf Cichlids are an aggressive species, just like most Cichlids. The strong, large mouths with sharp teeth say it all; a cute-looking “assassin” that’s prepared to fight.

They are excellent predators in the wild and will pounce on any small, fragile fish on sight.

What’s more, Wolf Cichlids have the added advantage of excellent swimming abilities, making them such a deadly killer in any environment.

Aquarists speak highly of Wolf Cichlid’s intelligence, with some thinking they can develop strong bonds with their owners at home.

In captivity, Wolf Cichlids will be the perfect escape artists, ready to jump out of the tank under no one’s watch and continue with their explorations outside the aquarium.

The only way to tackle that is to seal the tank properly at all times. Obviously, you must watch over your Cichlid buddies frequently to ensure they are settled in their new home.

Wolf Cichlid Tank Mates

Now, it gets trickier at this point. Who would want to live with such a large, aggressive, deadly killer as a tank mate, anyway? Perhaps a Jaguar Cichlid. Or similar-sized species. Maybe none at all. Let’s see.

For the record, an ideal tank mate for Wolf Cichlids is none other than similar species. A dominant male can wipe out the entire school of small, fragile fish when infuriated. But it doesn’t have to go that way.

When selecting a newcomer to a Wolf Cichlid’s habitat, all you have to do is pay attention to their behavior.

Wolf Cichlids are happy to cohabitate in pairs as male and female species.

Other large-sized aggressive species like Jaguar Cichlids might fit the same aquarium, but you must introduce them cautiously and watch over them over a long period.


Wolf Cichlid breeding is not as easy as many people think, but it’s certainly achievable in captivity. It’s important to find the right pair from the start by allowing your fish to form strong bonds from a young age.

That means you should select at least 6 or 8 juvenile fish and keep them in the same tank to promote natural pairing.

A male Wolf Cichlid can be a real nightmare to the female species, terrorizing her from time to time and even causing serious injuries sometimes. So, you must monitor the entire community during the breeding season.

Sometimes, the safest approach involves dividing the tank into two and leaving just a small space for fertilization.

If everything’s right, the female Wolf Cichlids will lay between 1000 to 2000 eggs on the spawning mops and other tank elements.

Just like most Cichlids, the Wolf varieties have admirable parental instincts. They believe in caring for their young ones to the end and will do everything to ensure the little fish are safe from potential aggressors.

Interestingly, caring for the little fish looks like a family affair, with the one-time aggressive males now completely immersed in looking after the little ones. Seeing them crush the pellets and other fish food just to feed the young ones is just incredible.

But don’t forget to introduce the juvenile fish to baby brine shrimp and other suitable foods because, at some point, they will want to fend for themselves.

Unfortunately, the biggest threat to the new fry comes from the juvenile fish, or let’s call them, the bigger siblings.

Usually, these fish will want to eat the new fry if they are in the same tank. But in a classic case of bitter-sweet revenge or so, the adult Wolf Cichlids will now turn to eat the juvenile fish in an attempt to protect the new fry.

So, you must prepare to remove the old siblings from the tank before it’s too late.

A young Wolf Cichlid will be sexually mature by around 10 to 14 months if everything goes well.

Final Thoughts

Wolf Cichlids are a large, colorful species that would greatly transform your aquarium. For obvious reasons, they are one of our favorite Cichlid species, and we can’t stop recommending them to fish lovers from all walks of life.

While caring for them is not as hard as many people assume, we think they would be a great choice for intermediate-level aquarists with a few years of experience under their belt.

Their aggressive tendencies alone can be troubling to newbie aquarists, and that’s why you need a solid background in caring for similar fish before getting your Wolf Cichlid. 

Of course, nothing should stop you if you are committed to keeping a large, aggressive Cichlid, even as a beginner-level aquarist. All in all, we hope this guide has uncovered every detail about Wolf Cichlid care, and you can now make an informed decision regarding your Cichlid choices at home.