Help Your African Cichlid Make Friends With These Top Tankmates

Do you have African Cichlids? Lucky you! These fish are absolutely gorgeous and if you’re looking for a colorful display in your tank, you should look no further than this illustrious species.

Unfortunately, while African Cichlids are known for being exquisitely colored and patterned, they are also notorious for their aggressive, territorial behaviors. Found in several African lakes, these fish are accustomed to the rocky terrain these environments offer.

African Cichlid Tankmates

African Cichlids need plenty of places to hide, particularly if there are other species in the tank. You need to make sure your fish has hiding spots and lots of open swimming room.

To keep your African Cichlid happy, you also need to provide it with a varied diet. While some enjoy eating algae, others like small insects and tiny fish. Cichlids who are not properly fed may become more aggressive, which can also make it more difficult to house your Cichlids with other tank mates.

What Are African Cichlids?

African Cichlids
Photo by Michael van Gaal

African Cichlids are some of the most colorful -and most popular – fish for freshwater aquarium setups. As active, hardy fish, they are gorgeous and fun to raise – but also present unique challenges.

Most African Cichlids hail from Lake Malawi, a landlocked lake that is in the Great Rift Valley of Africa. This lake is mineral-dense, making it hard and alkaline. It is home to over 1,000 species of cichlids, and there are three major types of African Cichlids that comprises that population.

Most African Cichlids are mbunas. These fish have rounded faces and are quite territorial. They like to hang out in the rockwork and will also eat algae they can grow from about four inches to seven inches long.

Peacock cichlids are another common type of African cichlids. These fish live deeper down in the lake, where water tends to be quite calm. They have slanted faces and large eyes, referring to hang out just above the sandy substrate they wait to prey on small invertebrates and other foods. These fish are not as aggressive as mbunas and do not do well in tanks where they are mixed with mbunas.

Open water haps are the last type of African Cichlid. These fish are fish eaters and can be extremely aggressive. Growing up to a foot in length, these African Cichlids are not commonly raise din aquariums because they are a large and aggressive. In fact, they have even been known to go after the smaller mbunas!

No matter what kind of African Cichlid you raise, you will want to make sure you have an exceptionally large tank. The more fish you have, the larger tank you will need. You will need to provide these fish with plenty of open swimming space as well as lots of decorations and rockwork. Plus, these active fish are voracious eaters that produce a lot of waste, so you will need to make sure you have room to install a good, well-functioning filtration system.

Best Tankmates For An African Cichlid Tank

African Cichlids 1
Photo by Michael

You need to be careful about adding new species to your Cichlid tank. Because of their high activity level, specific needs for a large, expansive tank set-up, and high levels of aggression, selecting tankmates for African Cichlids is not an easy task. Cichlids tend to be mostly tolerant of non-cichlids, particularly fish that tend to hang out at different levels of the tank.

A good rule of thumb is to always select tank mates that are as large as or larger than your African Cichlid. You should consider fish who tend to be more passive, as they won’t interact as often with you Cichlids, as well as those that hang out at different place sin the tank. That way, they won’t have to come into contact with each other very often.

While there aren’t many fish that African Cichlids get along well with, you might be best to keep them with fish of their own kind. However, if you’re looking for a more varied, unique tank, you can consider adding these following species to your African Cichlid tank.

1 Clown Loach

Clown Loach
Photo by Kevin

Also known as the Botia Loach, this fish grows to about four and a half inches in length. It prefers waters with temperatures between 72 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit, and while it is semi-aggressive itself, this is a good thing – it will allow the fish to hold its own against the territorial African Cichlid.

This fish is black and tan with four barbells that stick out from its mouth. The Botia loach loves to hide, just like the African Cichlid, so if you purchase decorations, rocks, and caves, make sure you buy plenty – you want lots to go around or you will see the more aggressive nature of this fish (as well as your Cichlids!) at play.

These fish are bottom feeders, preferring to spend most of their days at the very lowest levels of the tank. You can feed them foods such as brine shrimp, bloodworms, or even pellet and flake food.

2 Leopard Bushfish

Leopard Bushfish
Photo by Danny

This Cute fish grows to around seven inches in length. Although it’s lovely to look at, bearing the same patterns as the big cat species after which it was named, this fish can be a bit aggressive, making it a good match for the ferocious African Cichlid. This fish enjoys tricking other fish, trying to get them to think that they are pieces of leaves within the tank. However, when the prey swims by, they will attack. Therefore, you should only keep Leopard Bushfish with species that are larger and not smaller.

Despite their aggressive, predatory tendencies, Leopard Bushfish can actually b quite picky. You may find that you need to prepare separate meals for these fish when you house them with your African Cichlids. You can feed live, small, or frozen foods, and while you may occasionally encourage them to eat some flakes, you shouldn’t plan on it.

3 Plecos

The Complete Plecostomus Care Guide 2

Plecos are classic choices as companions for most type of cichlids because they perform a variety of functions. These fish are really good at cleaning your fish tank and will help keep it free from algae. They are bottom-feeders, so they normally won’t come into contact with your Plecos. They won’t fight for space, and they also prefer the same temperatures and pH levels (around 72 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit and 6.5 to 7.5 pH). One thing to keep in mind is that these fish can grow quite large – up to two feet long in some cases!

4 Giant Danio

Giant Danio
Photo by Shailendra Patil

The Giant Danio is another good option if you are looking for a species of fish that can hold its own against the African Cichlid. Danios prefer to spend their time in the bottom and middle elves to the tank and they get along well with Cichlids because of this. These fish, which thrive in colder temperatures of around 64 to 74 degrees Fahrenheit, only grow to about four inches long. They prefer highly vegetated tanks, so you will definitely want to add some live plants to the tank.

5 Red Rainbowfish

Red Rainbowfish
Photo by sakichin

This lovely fish is pretty to look at and grows to around four inches long. It is easy to care for, but you need to make sure you select a Rainbowfish that is fully developed. Some of these fish, particularly younger members of these pieces, can be particularly tiny. If you don’t take the time to make sure your Red Rainbowfish are large enough to hold their own against he African Cichlid, there’s a good chance that your cichlid will view the Rainbow Fish as a tasty snack.

Otherwise, these fish are shockingly easy to care for. They prefer prepared foods and are omnivores. They have big mouths but prefer smaller pieces of food. Tanks should be heated to around 72 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit.

6 Redtail Shark

Redtail Shark
Photo by Fábio Manfredini

The Red Tail Shark is a gorgeous fish that grows to about four inches in length. It has a sleek black body and a vibrant red tail – hence it sname. It’s absolutely beautiful to look at but can also hold its own against the African Cichlid. These fish are known as territorial species and will set up their own territories within the tank – you won’t be able to mistake which territories are theirs!

They prefer tanks that offer lots of vegetation and rocks, so if you are adding Redtail Sharks to your African Cichlid tank, you will want to make sure you have plenty of space to go around. Otherwise, these fish prefer temperatures of around 7 to 79 degrees Fahrenheit and an average pH between 6.5 and 7.5

7 African Red-Eyed Tetra

African Red-Eyed Tetra
Photo by nesihonsu

African Red-Eyed Tetras can grow quite large. They prefer warm tanks of up to 82 degrees Fahrenheit, and they require lots of room to swim around. These fish thrive in similar water conditions, though, and will eat just about anything. You can feed your African Red-Eyed Tetra pretty much the same diet that you give to your African Cichlid – potential foods might include frozen foods, algae, flakes, or live options. These fish prefer pH of around 6.0 to 8.0.

8 Scavenger Catfish

Scavenger Catfish

The Scavenger Catfish loves to hide, but since this fish grow to nearly a foot in length, it may have a harder time doing so! You should include plenty of caves, rocks, and other decorations in your tank if you plan on including this species in your tank. Like the African Cichlid, it also prefers tanks with lots of plants and a sandy substrate.

This fish often hangs upside down. This is a normal behavior and although it might startle you at some point, it’s nothing to worry about. These fish also like eating fish flakes, so it’s a good idea to throw some sinking pellets in so your catfish can eat to his heart’s content.

9 Other Cichlids

When in doubt, it’s usually safe to keep your African Cichlids with other cichlid species. You should try to keep cichlid tanks as cichlid=only tanks, and only keep cichlids from the same continent. For example, African Cichlids should not be kept with South American cichlids. They have different immune systems, so cichlids that are from one region can make cichlids from another extremely sick.

Here are some species you might consider for your African Cichlid tank. You might want to think about Dwarf Cichlids that are from western Africa. Be careful to select only those from Africa and not South America, for the reasons mentioned above. You might want to elect species like the Krib Cichlid, the Ram, or the Apsitos. They will get along well, preferring acid, soft waters, but keep in mind that you will only want to purchase larger dwarf cichlids to avoid any issues.

If you choose to keep Dwarf Cichlids with your African Cichlids, just make sure they are large enough to hold their own.

What Species Should I Avoid Keeping With My African Cichlid?

In general, you will want to avoid keeping any fish that is docile, small, or aggressive with your African Cichlid. This might include species such as guppies, discus fish, corydoras, glassfish, or angelfish.

You need to be very careful about adding any new fish to an African Cichlid tank, particularly once these fish have already established their territory. Although They are lovely to look at and incredibly fun to raise, they like to have their own space and will lash out at anybody who intrudes upon it!

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