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Types of African Cichlids | 5 FantaSEA Favorites

Thinking of setting up an aquarium for African cichlids? Not surprising. The many types of African cichlids from the Rift Valley lakes Malawi and Tanganyika are extremely diverse in color and give you an amazing opportunity to set up a biotope aquarium.

Not all African cichlids are made equal. There is a lot of variation between species in terms of size, color and temperament. In this article, we discuss 5 of our favorite Rift Valley lake cichlids, as well as a bonus species from West Africa!

Peacock cichlid (Aulonocara nyassae)

Peacock cichlid (Aulonocara nyassae) aquarium fish

Also known as the peacock cichlid or emperor cichlid, Aulonocara nyassae is a rather spectacular way to kick off this list. Available in a range of different color variations such as electric blue, neon orange, and lemon yellow (both naturally occurring and selectively bred), the genus Aulonocara is sure to be the focal point of your Malawi aquarium.

Aulonocara nyassae, the blue peacock cichlid, reaches a maximum size of around 6” and can be kept in aquariums of 55 gallons and up. The genus is quite peaceful for cichlid standards, making it a suitable choice for combining with other Malawi cichlids. Keep in mind that only the males display the typical spectacular coloration, but avoid combining multiple males to prevent territorial squabbles!

Electric Yellow cichlid (Labidochromis caeruleus)

Electric Yellow cichlid (Labidochromis caeruleus) aquarium fish

Another aquarium favorite that naturally occurs in Lake Malawi is the rather appropriately named electric yellow cichlid. This neon species is on the small side with a maximum size of around 4”, making it suitable for aquariums of 40 gallons and up.

The electric yellow cichlid is a popular choice among beginning African cichlid keepers due to its relatively peaceful nature. Keep it in harems to avoid overly aggressive spawning attempts as well as territorial displays on the part of the males. Other peaceful Haplochromis cichlids work well to finish the community.

You can find more information about this striking cichlid in the full electric yellow cichlid care guide.

Electric blue cichlid (Sciaenochromis fryeri)

Electric blue cichlid (Sciaenochromis fryeri) aquarium fish

Though not actually that closely related to the electric yellow cichlid, the electric blue (Sciaenochromis fryeri) certainly does make a good match with it color-wise. Males of this medium-sized (up to 8”) Malawi cichlid show stunning neon blue coloration when they’re in the right ‘mood’, making them a stunning addition to your Rift Valley aquarium as long as tankmates are chosen carefully.

Given their size, electric blue cichlids are best suited to aquariums of 80 gallons (long) and up. Although they’re not known for being exceptionally aggressive it’s recommended to keep them in harems with only one male, as they take their territory rather seriously.

Frontosa cichlid (Cyphotilapia frontosa)

Frontosa cichlid (Cyphotilapia frontosa) aquarium fish

Also known as the humphead cichlid due to their rather pronounced forehead (which is especially noticeable in the males), Frontosa cichlids from the Cyphotilapia genus are probably the most well-known species from Lake Tanganyika. With a maximum size of up to 12” this is the largest species on the list, and it’ll generally make good use of this advantage in order to take rule of the aquarium.

This is not a fish for small tanks, not just due to its size but also because it naturally occurs in very large groups and appreciates some company in the aquarium as well.

The species can be kept in community aquariums with other Tanganyika cichlids, but keep in mind that it’ll happily devour any significantly smaller fish.

Venustus cichlid (Nimbochromis venustus)

Another relatively large species with a maximum size of around 10”, the Venustus cichlid (Nimbochromis venustus) is naturally found in Lake Malawi. It’s an attractive species with its neon yellow and blue coloration, especially when the males are preparing for the spawning process.

Keep in mind that this species naturally preys on smaller fish and will actively hunt even in the aquarium, often using a fascinating but deadly method of playing dead. If you’d like to keep it in a community aquarium, be sure to go for similarly large species that the Venustus can’t fit into its mouth.

Bonus: Kribensis cichlid (Pelvicachromis pulcher)

Although the Rift Valley Lake cichlids are probably the most popular when it comes to African cichlids, they are not the only ones. Other areas on the African continent also contain a wealth of cichlid species. In West Africa, for example, you’ll find Pelvicachromis pulcher (better known as the Kribensis cichlid).

Unlike the other species on this list, the Kribensis cichlid can be kept in various types of community aquariums. It doesn’t require such hard and basic water and is an easy species to keep in aquariums of 20 gallons and up.

Want to read more about this feisty, red-bellied number? Head over to the full Kribensis care guide.

Need help?

An aquarium filled with gem-like, colorful cichlids is a real sight to see. It’s not always easy to successfully set up one of these biotope tanks, though: finding the right species to combine and getting the water values right can be challenging.

If you need help, you’re in the right place! Simply contact us here and we’ll see what we can do to realize your dream aquarium.

Photo of author

Marijke Puts

Hey! I'm Marijke, FantaSEA's resident blog writer. I'm a full-time pop science author, part-time PADI diver and snorkeler, and have been keeping fish since I was a kid. When I'm not writing fish care guides, you can usually find me underwater or trying to figure out how to fit more tanks into my house.

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