The family Cichlidae, more commonly known as "Cichlids", is a large family of fish found in many continents around the world - particularly Africa, South America and North America.


Cichlid Poster Around the World

Above: This A2 Poster is designed to give a basic layout of the kinds of Cichlids available and their typical geographical locations. This can be of help in understanding what species may be suitable for a Cichlid tank. Below is a more comprehensive explanation of the common groupings of Cichlids. 


Cichlids are well loved for their diversity and have a range of niches. They can prefer a herbivorous-based or carnivorous-based diet, cold or warm water, and a pH range anywhere from 5.0 to 9.0 - all depending on their natural habitats. However, Cichlids from particular continents may have common traits, and are typically split into three or four groups. 



African Cichlids

African Cichlids, as the name implies, are found predominantly in the three main lakes of Africa - Tanginyika, Malawi and Victoria, however they may also be found in other rivers and bodies of water. The three lakes are considered to be of great diversity in their inhabitants, which Cichlids make up a large portion of. Cichlids in these lakes can be seen showing many evolutionary traits such as different forms of mimicry, reproduction (especially mouth-brooding), algae-specific diets and behaviours - for example, the Livingstoni Cichlid (Nimbochromis livingstonii) is even known for "playing dead" by lying on their sides on the sand beds, waiting to snap up fish that come by! 


African Cichlids can range significantly in their preferences, however the Lake Cichlids commonly prefer harder, alkaline water with sand and plenty of rocks for territory. Diets can range as Tanganyikan fish may need more omnivorous diets, whereas Malawis are known for their fascinating mouth adaptations for scraping algae off rocks.


Despite their diversity, African Cichlids tend to have one trait in common - their aggression! It's typically recommended to either overstock or understock tanks containing Africans to spread or reduce aggression levels. In order to overstock a tank, it's important to remember to have a strong filtration system with a good water change schedule to prevent the build-up of wastes.


Apistogramma trifasciata female with fry

Above: An Apistogramma trifasciata female showing parental care for her fry. 


Dwarf Cichlids

Dwarf Cichlids are less of a geographical grouping and is instead based on the size of the Cichlid. Dwarf Cichlids tend to be under 10 centimetres in size, are often less aggressive in behaviour and typically come from rivers or small bodies of water. Because of this, they may be considered more suitable for "community" setups due to their lack of aggression and tendency towards preferring soft, acidic waters, like many of the community fish available in New Zealand. 


Many Dwarf Cichlids are a well-loved staple of the aquarium, and includes species such as Rams, Nannacara, Kribensis, Keyhole Cichlids and Dwarf Flag Cichlids. Many Dwarf Cichlids are sensitive in nature, however less commonly found Dwarf Cichlids that can have specific requirements may also include Lionhead Cichlids, Shell Dwelling Cichlids ("Shellies"), African Butterfly Cichlids and Apistogramma.


While they are known as being less aggressive in nature, it is important to remember that Dwarf Cichlids are still very much a part of the Cichlid family and can become fierce when spawning or feeling their young are under threat. Because of this, however, Dwarf Cichlids are often easy to spawn and raise due to their good parental care.


freshwater blue angelfish

Above: A "Blue Diamond" Freshwater Angelfish / Pterophyllum scalare 


New World Cichlids

New World Cichlids is the third grouping, however this may be split into two groups as despite being rather close together on the map, they can have very different preferences in hardness and pH due to their range in habitats. This group may be split into Central American Cichlids, which often come from hard waters containing limestone, and the South American Cichlids, which tend to come from more slow-moving black-water environments.


Despite this range in water parameters, these fish have some characteristics in common. New World Cichlids are often Omnivorous in nature (some leaning towards Carnivorous-based diets) and are frequently highly aggressive fish. Unlike with African Cichlids, it's often recommended to understock New World Cichlids to reduce aggression - even keeping some species solitary to prevent fish from "pairing up".


These fish often grow rather large and will definitely eat anything that fits in their mouths - making them a less than ideal community fish. Two of the most well known fish in this group, however, are almost always found in Community tanks - Discus and Angelfish. These fish tend to be less aggressive and do best in groups of six or more. Note that stocking rules with New World Cichlids can be tricky as they are often kept for their individualistic personalities - meaning some fish of one species may be more aggressive than others.