Cichlid Tank Mates: 13 Best Friends Your Pet Desires To Have

cichlid tank mates
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Last Updated: August 25, 2023 by Flora Gibbins

African Cichlids are the type of aquarium fish that’ll always remind you that there’s a corner in your house full of vibrancy and a warm aura of positive energy. I mean, aren’t they bright and lovely?

They stand out like a sore thumb!

When the love is so much that you decide to add more members to the aquarium, selecting compatible ones is pivotal.

Here’s a list of suitable tank mates to deliberate upon.

Top 13 Tank Mates for African Cichlid Species

1. Red Tail Shark

red tail shark underwater image

Relax, they’re not sharks. The Red tail sharks are a beautiful fish species with sleek black bodies that uniquely complement their red tail. They make great in-home, community tanks, or aquarium companions.

They are good tank mates for the African cichlids because both species have intense temperaments and survive within similar water parameters.

For the two to have a harmonious living space, strategically place rocks and plants such as water wisteria and hornworts in the fish tanks to destruct them from confronting each other. Minimal contact with tank mates and a comfortable environment will have them minding their business.

Since red tail sharks are more territorial, having just a few in the same aqua space also curbs hostility with other tank mates.

2. African red-eyed tetra

african red-eyed tetras in aquarium

With their little red eye patterns and iridescent scales that exhibit different shades, wouldn’t it be glorious to have the African red eye tetras in your home? They are relatively sizable (grow up to 3.8 inches), so they’ll need enough space to swim around.

The African red-eyed tetra enjoys having plants, driftwoods, and soft, smooth stones that emulate their natural habitat. Having a smooth sand base in the tank also prevents damaging their barbells.

It also helps that the African red eyed tetras are not picky eaters making them very easy to care for. The same is true for African cichlids. You can feed both on the same kind of fish food like algae and flakes. What a convenience, right?

3. Clown Loaches

clown loach in fish tank

Clown loaches are bottom feeders. Their primary diet entails fish flakes, pellets, and brine shrimp.

Like the African cichlids, clown loaches don’t appreciate being in the limelight. Having rocky terrains and small caves that resemble their natural habitat helps them feel safe in the tank. If you set the tank right, they will not resort to aggression or even feel the need to guard their territories.

The challenge in rearing clown loaches is that they are prone to diseases.

You’ll have to be very fastidious about tank cleanliness and maintenance. Close monitoring is mandatory for both species to blossom to their full potential.

4. Siamese Algae Eater

siamese algae eater image

Generally, Siamese algae eaters are peaceful fish. They usually rank on top as good tank mates for several fish, including African cichlid species.

Since they are also bottom dwellers like the African cichlids, they can peacefully share the same space, provided there’s plenty of room to swim around. Feeding them isn’t cumbersome since their preferred menu is tropical algae. They can munch on pretty much any fish food, both commercial and live ones.

Before keeping them with other fish, ensure they are in a school of at least three or more to prevent the cichlids from bullying them.

Fun Fact: Siamese algae eaters resemble the flying fox fish and can be easily mistaken.

It’s quite hilarious that you can take it home thinking it’s a Siamese algae eater.

The key difference is that the latter do not have flaps at the corner of their mouth and should be silver in color with dark marks on their scales.

5. Flying Fox Fish

flying fox fish with beautiful rocks in fish tank

As noted earlier, they look like the Siamese algae eater but have a distinctive feature. Flying fox fish have flaps around their mouth with a golden band and a smooth edge running across their bodies with beautiful colored fins.

Coupling them with other fish species in an aquarium is seamless because of their friendly nature. When pairing them with African cichlids, have a spacious tank with plenty of driftwood, small caves, plant matter, and rocks

These artifacts, especially in a community tank, become their hiding places in case of any environmental aggression. Being bottom feeders, you must keep the tank well-oxygenated and the filtration system functional to ensure good water quality.

A diet that includes wafers, live food, and frozen food pellets is a nutritious addition to the algae they love to eat. It also keeps the tank clean.

 6. Giant Danios

giant danios with live plants in tank

Giant danios are always a sure aesthetics. You’ll feel their personalities in their intense glances, striking silvery hues, and the golden patches on their bodies with cobalt blue tops. They are not as demanding too.

When considering them as potential tank mates, remember they are community fish. You’ll have to have at least six in there. Otherwise, African cichlids will see them as an easy source of food. That factor also means you’ll have to get a sizable tank.

The Giant danios prefer to lounge at the bottom and middle areas of the tank, so make the aquarium feel like home.

7. Synodontis Catfish

synodontis catfish image

Synodontis Catfish are originally from Lake Tanganyika and Malawi, where most African cichlids pay homage. The two fish species prefer biotope aquariums that mimic tropical African waters. Fortunately, they can both quickly adapt to new environments.

Be careful with Synodontis catfish because they have spiny pectoral and sharp dorsal fins to protect themselves but can harm others.

Synodontis catfish have a distinctive shark-like appearance. They have strong fins and stark markings, which radiate colors from dark brown on top to light taupe on their belly, plus large dark spots that give them a unique look. If you ask me, that’s the type of beautiful magic you need in your aquarium.

These catfish keep to themselves and are never aggressive fish. You need at least three to keep them happy. The incredible thing about pairing them with African cichlids is that they are okay with similar tank decorations and substrates.

8. Pictus Catfish

pair of pictus catfish in the bottom aquarium

Adding them to the fish tank won’t require much adjustment because they are also bottom feeders. The rocks, plants, driftwood, and small caves are great hiding places that complement their peaceful nature. For the coexistence to make sense, ensure they are of similar size to the African cichlids so that no one intimidates the other.

You’ll only notice their predatory attitude if you put them in the same tank with smaller fish. Generally, most aquarists say that taking care of them is easy

9. Rainbow Fish

beautiful colorful rainbow fish

Rainbow fish are of Australian descent and are pretty hardy survivors. They seldom contract infections. These species make good tank mates because they mind their own. They are omnivores, so feeding them isn’t a hassle.

Rainbow fish need adequate swimming space, but these guys are jumpers.

Yes! You can find them outside the tank. You’ll have to cover the top of the tank to prevent such a tragedy.

If you decide to introduce the small-sized rainbow fish in the same tank with African cichlids, I advise you to give them enough room. Otherwise, they will become cichlid’s free meals.

10. African Butterfly Cichlid

african butterfly cichlid with blue background

If you’re a beginner fish parent looking for a type of fish species that needs minimal care, the African butterfly cichlid is your go-to. They have striking black stripes and are docile compared to others. You’ll have to provide them plenty of room filled with clay pot caves and flat rocks for spawning.

These species can live harmoniously with African cichlids since they come from the same continent and share almost the same water parameters. African butterfly cichlids can withstand a wide range of temperature and pH changes, affirming the minimal care level point I had pointed out earlier.

11. Plecos

pleco at bottom fish tank with pebbles

Given that both plecos and African cichlids are bottom feeders, you’ll have to create room to minimize confrontation.

Plecos enjoy eating algae, so they help clean the tank. Since they are always chilling at the bottom of the tank, add sand, plenty of plants, and driftwoods to keep a more natural environment.

12. Leopard Bushfish

leopard bushfish in the bottom aquarium

They get their name from beautiful splotches similar to Leopards’ skin. Watching them in an aquarium is so breathtaking.

Being semi-aggressive fish, they can coexist with African cichlids because none is too soft to let the other topple over them. So no one will bully the other. They are carnivores, which means you have to give them a proper diet, different from African cichlids

Another compatibility check is that the water temperature and pH they prefer fall within what African cichlids thrive in.

Fun fact: They can play tricks on other fish by camouflaging themselves to look like floating leaves.

They are better off with larger fish, so African cichlids are a perfect match.

13. Red-Spotted Scat Fish

red-spotted scat fish image

This is controversial, so I’d like to give a disclaimer even before we delve further.

Only consider the red-spotted scat fish if you are a seasoned aquarist.

First, these are mainly saltwater fish, while African cichlids live in tropical freshwaters. So regarding water parameters, putting them in the same tank is already complex math. The only factor we’re banking on here is that, in their natural habitat, some of them can sometimes veer into freshwaters searching for food.

The dilemma here is that we’re not sure if they can survive in both environments or if they just swap once in a while and then go back home. For the aquarium experts who’ve gotten it right, they are a favorite because of their resilience and ability to survive in varied water conditions

Since you can’t provide brackish water conditions and freshwater in the same tank, you’ll need a lot of faith to believe they’ll be fine. Funny enough, some aquarists have had success with this.

Take a look at this:

Tank Setup for Cichlids

Appropriate Tank Size

The best tank should accommodate the African cichlids, their tank mates, aquarium accessories, and other add-ons like filters and a pump.

Jump In: Kids always get excited with a new hobby! Make it easy for your kids to cope with taking care of their pet fish (i.e. cichlids) by purchasing an aquarium that is easy to maintain. Read our post for more information — Best Fish Tank For Kids: 5 Great Aquariums for Children.

Water Flow, Temperature, and pH Levels

The water flow in the tank should resemble that of a river. African cichlids are found in rivers meaning they will appreciate a stronger current. Installing a water pump in your fish tanks can achieve such a requirement.

The tank’s temperature should vary between 75°F and 85°F with a pH of 6.5 to 8.5. Frequently monitor the tank conditions using a water level test kit.

Tank Filtration System

Since African cichlids prefer being at the bottom of the tank, the water quality should be top-notch. It’s at the bottom where most residues settle, so the fish still need enough aeration and good water quality.

You don’t necessarily need a water stone, but an air pump comes in handy to provide extra oxygen to the tank. A good filtration system keeps the aquarium clean and fresh because fish are intolerant to waste and toxicity.

Proper Feeding

Being omnivore fish, feeding an African cichlid isn’t strenuous. You have options from flakes, pellets, wafers, green groceries, and occasional treats, both live and frozen.

Please take care not to overfeed them. The excess food only contributes to pollution in the tank. Having a feeding schedule will help you keep a healthy feeding pattern.

African Cichlids Tank Mates and The Ones to Avoid

African cichlids don’t mind staying alone. However, you can always spice things up by bringing in more mates if you prefer more engagements in the tank. The list of fish we’ve discussed above proves that Cichlids can make room for others.

Considering that African cichlids are aggressive fish in nature, there are traits you should drop when scouting for a perfect tank mate. You want to avoid any fish that is docile and is susceptible to bullying like guppies or ones that like being all over the place now that African cichlids are like those housemates that are big on boundaries.

Also, tinier fish like small tetras and tiny danios don’t make the cut because cichlids may think you’ve treated them to free meals.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many African cichlids can I put in one tank?

The tank size dictates the number of fish you can have and still leaves room for them to grow. For instance, Neolamprologus brevis grows up to 2.4 inches, while the Red Zebra cichlids can reach 5 inches.

For home aquariums, most people prefer the smaller and average-sized ones, from 2-8 inches. You can have 3-5 of them in a 30-gallon tank. Aquarists usually follow the 1 -gallon for every 1-inch fish rule.

What can I put in my African cichlid tank?

When setting up an aquarium, the idea is to recreate the fish’s natural habitat. In the case of African cichlids, they are from freshwater rivers and lakes of Africa.

That environment entails plant matter, stones, rocks, and gently flowing water. Get natural or artificial plants, sand substrate, soft gravel, and smooth-edged stones for your tank. Aquatic decorations are available in your local store and online platforms. Of course, you’ll also consider your taste, but remember your pets’ needs come first.

Are African cichlids high maintenance?

When determining the maintenance cost, consider their resistance to diseases and diet. African cichlids are generally hardy. Though omnivores, they primarily rely on a carnivore diet. So taking care of them isn’t quite tasking.

What you need to worry about more are temperamental issues. Ensure the tank conditions are conducive enough to keep their stress levels in check.

Are all African cichlids compatible?

All the 1500 species from South America, Asia, and Africa can’t all match. Ironically, even African cichlids still can’t maintain cichlid groupings despite living in similar environments and water parameters.

Some like peacock cichlids, dwarf cichlids, electric blue hap, and blue dolphin moorii are a bit laid back. To keep them together successfully, set the tank right and consider the correct male-to-female ratio. You still must watch their interactions, especially during the initial stages.


African cichlids are more territorial than they are aggressive. Their coexistence with other tank mates may be difficult but not entirely impossible. For the few recommended as suitable mates, carefully pick out the most appropriate, compatible, and ideal ones. Remember, they also take time to warm up to new acquaintances.

As much as they don’t get along with many fish, especially closely related species, it doesn’t mean they prefer solitude. However, if the coupling fails, you’ll have to take out the tank mates before the aquarium becomes a horror scene.

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