Cichlids are a popular type of freshwater tropical fish for home aquariums, and at least one group within the species, tilapia, are also farmed for food. There are hundreds of varieties of cichlids, though only a limited number are kept in home aquariums. Each of these varieties has its own growth characteristics, including growth rate and age at maturity. Some of the fast-growing species have been reported to add as much as an inch per month to their size. There are four main factors that will determine how fast cichlids grow, and how big they ultimately get.
How much room the fish have is critical to their size and growth rate. Cichlids that are cramped for space will not grow as fast or as large as those that have plenty of room. The exact amount of space that a cichlid requires will vary depending on the size of the fish as well as on its individual characteristics, since some of these fish remain in a relatively small area while others are fast swimmers that need lots of room. Many cichlids grow to 8 inches or more in length, and these typically need tanks that hold at last 55 gallons, and in many cases a minimum of 100 gallons is preferable.
In addition to needing plenty of space to grow well, cichlids need water that is free of a high level of contaminants and is maintained at the appropriate pH level. Cichlids do best with a pH level of 7.8 to 8.5. Weekly water changes of 15 percent to 50 percent of the total water will help to maintain overall water quality. Providing fish with these optimal conditions will help to ensure that they stay healthy and are able to grow well.
Water temperature can have a significant impact on the growth rate of cichlids. Water that is too cool will slow down the fish's metabolism, causing it to grow at a much slower rate than it is capable of. Temperatures that are too high can cause the fish to become overheated and die. The optimal temperature for African cichlids is between 72 and 82 degrees. This should be monitored continually to ensure that it remains relatively constant.
How cichlids are fed can have a significant impact on growth rates. Using top-quality foods appropriate for the specific type of cichlid is the best way to ensure that the fish do well. Live foods or fresh-frozen foods such as brine shrimp will help to keep the fish healthy and growing well. Commercial diets designed for cichlids are also beneficial. Overfeeding can result in a buildup of decaying matter in the aquarium and will affect the water quality.