What Are Good Tankmates with African Cichlids?

By Naomi Bolton

African cichlids are colorful, hardy and very aggressive freshwater fish. That aggression is the most problematic issue regarding cichlids' compatibility with other fish. There are thousands of species of African cichlids and they are all territorial. By choosing potential tankmates carefully, the aquarist can combine various interesting species with cichlids.

General Considerations

The highly territorial and belligerent nature of cichlids is exaggerated within the confines of the average home aquarium. When considering other species as tankmates, the aquarist must take into account activity levels, size, color and preferred swimming levels. African cichlids display the most aggression toward fish that are similar in appearance to themselves. This behavior typically occurs because fish that look like each other often require similar food and nesting sites and therefore pose a threat to one another. Fish species to be housed with African cichlids must also be able to live in the water parameters created for the cichlids.

Catfish Species

Catfish do not resemble the huge variety of African cichlid species and can safely be included in a cichlid aquarium. The spotted Raphael catfish, hifin catfish, upside down catfish, ocellifer catfish and spotted catfish are all suitable as tankmates for African cichlids. These catfish will feed heavily on algae in the aquarium, but will require supplementary feeding, particularly once the algae has been grazed down. Aquarists should avoid dropping sinking algae wafers into the territory or nesting area of the cichlids, or unnecessary conflicts will arise.

Other Cichlid Species

Although many African cichlids come from Great Rift Valley lakes, many cichlid species inhabit rivers in western Liberia, Sierra Leone and southeast Guinea. The African butterfly cichlid is found in these rivers and can be housed with the more well-known Great Rift Valley species. The pugnacious little buffalo head cichlid from the Congo River can also be included with cichlid species. Aquarists should always offer their cichlids as large an aquarium as possible and remove individuals that continue to fight.

Miscellaneous Tankmates

Various types of danios and tetras may be housed with African cichlids, as can the Australian rainbow fish. The spotted climbing perch, which is related to the Siamese fighting fish, is an eye-catching addition to the African cichlid aquarium. The carnivorous spotted climbing perch requires an area within the aquarium where it can shelter.