Cichlid Fish Behavior

Because of their color and unique traits, cichlids have become popular aquarium fish among aquarium enthusiasts. Their coloration enhances the aesthetics of any aquarium and brings life to one’s home. It is no wonder that they are among the popular freshwater fish that many people start aquariums with.

Before you decide to bring home one of your own, it is important that you understand cichlid behavior. This will temper your expectations of your new cichlid and help you adjust to it during the initial weeks. Raising cichlids is not a piece of cake, but once you have gotten used to it, you will find pleasure and joy in growing and breeding them.

Aggressive temperament

It is probably the first thing that any cichlid beginner finds out: Cichlids are aggressive.

Put a couple of cichlids into a tank and one of them is bound to dominate, while the rest of the bullied population will retreat to their caves.

There are many reasons why cichlids display aggressive behavior. It can happen when another fish encroaches into their territory or tries to steal food or a potential mate. In such cases, a cichlid shows aggression by flaring its gills and spreading its fins to make it look as large as possible. If the other fish isn’t deterred, one may progress to tail beating in which a cichlid attempts to show its strength by pushing water at its rival. This escalates to a face-to-face combat, which includes mouth wrestling and lip locking and, finally, chasing each other in a circle and attempting to bite the other.

Cichlid breeding behavior

Breeding behavior among cichlids vary. Some lay their eggs on open surfaces such as rocks, leaves, logs, and substrate—this type of cichlid is an open brooder. Others, on the other hand, need to retreat into caves or crevices to lay their eggs. For this type of cave brooders, it is important that the aquarium has many caves and other hiding places. Still another form of cichlid breeding is mouth brooding, in which the mother fish carries her eggs in her mouth until they hatch.

Breeding cichlids are a joy to watch. In some open-brooding cichlids, both the male and female parents are involved in caring for their brood, with the male guarding the territory against predators and the female fanning the eggs to increase oxygen supply. There have been some cases of female cichlids eating their young. This is often seen in mouth brooders. Because mouth-brooding cichlids carry their fry in their mouth, they often go hungry during the entire breeding process and end up eating their fry once hatched. This is why when you suspect that you parent cichlid could be eating its young, it is important to put it in a separate tank to preserve your baby cichlids.


Some cichlids have also known to change their colors depending on mood or maturity. Many male cichlids turn dark when it is time for them to breed. One particular cichlid, the rift lake species, shows shyness and dominance through color. When rift lake cichlids are stressed or timid, they look pale, but they turn dark or show off vibrant colors when they display their aggressive streak. Some cichlids, like the Maylandia crabro, for example, change coloration when they are stressed, such as when they have recently been moved to a new tank.

Once you have adjusted to your cichlids, you will discover more unique behavior in them. Find pleasure in getting to know your cichlids, and you will find that they will reciprocate your positive behavior.

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