Exploring the Colourful World of South American Cichlids

South American Cichlids

South American cichlids are freshwater fish indigenous to South America. They have distinctive characteristics such as striking colors and intriguing behavior patterns. The variety of shapes and sizes they come in makes them a preferred choice for those who enjoy owning aquariums. In this article, we will discuss the different types of South American cichlids, the best tank ideas, and what fish can live with them in a community tank.

What are South American Cichlids?

South American cichlids are fascinating kind of fish that belongs belonging to the Cichlidae family. These fishes inhabit diverse water bodies ranging from rivers to lakes located throughout South America. Amongst their distinctive characteristics are their vibrant hues, peculiar behaviors, and territorial nature.

List of South American Cichlids

There are numerous species of South American cichlids, but we have rounded up some of the most popular ones:

  1. Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare)
  2. Discus (Symphysodon spp.)
  3. Oscar (Astronotus ocellatus)
  4. Convict cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata)
  5. Green terror (Andinoacara rivulatus)
  6. Jack Dempsey (Rocio octofasciata)
  7. Firemouth cichlid (Thorichthys meeki)
  8. Severum (Heros severus)
  9. Blue acara (Andinoacara pulcher)
  10. Red devil (Amphilophus labiatus)

south american cichlids group

Central and South American Cichlids

With their strikingly comparable looks, it’s no surprise that South American cichlids are often confused with Central American cichlids. Nevertheless, these aquatic creatures originate from varying regions and exhibit differing temperaments. A notable distinction between South American and Central American cichlids lies in their behaviour. While South American cichlid is generally known for being tranquil and adaptable to communal tank environments the Central American cichlid tends to be more aggressive and territorial by nature – making them ideal candidates for species-only tanks.

South American Cichlid Tank Ideas

A successful South American cichlids tank must closely mimic their natural habitat. These fish feel most at home in warmer waters with tranquil currents and large foliage and shelters. Here are some suggestions on how you can effectively replicate this environment for your cichlids:

1. Amazon Biotope

A biotope tank is a tank that is set up to mimic the natural habitat of the fish. For South American cichlids, a biotope tank could include a sand substrate, driftwood, and plants that are native to their natural habitat.

2. Planted Tank

A planted tank is a great option for South American cichlids as they appreciate natural environments with lots of plants. A planted tank can include various species of plants, such as Amazon swords, Java ferns, and Anubias.

3. Rockwork Tank

Rockwork tanks are a favored selection among South American cichlid enthusiasts, as these fish take pleasure in secluding themselves in crevices and caves. By incorporating large rocks and caverns, you can efficiently simulate the natural environment of cichlids, thereby offering them a conducive habitat to breed and seek refuge.

What Fish Can Live with South American Cichlids?

Territorial and aggressive tendencies are not uncommon among South American cichlid species when they share a tank with other fish. Nonetheless, there are several types of fish that can thrive alongside South American cichlids without issue. Among the peaceful co-residents that work well with these particular species are:

1. Tetrastetra fish

Tetras are a popular choice for community tanks as they are peaceful and can coexist with South American cichlids. Some tetra species that are suitable for South American cichlid tanks include neon tetras, black skirt tetras, and rummy nose tetras.

2. Plecosplecos fish

Plecos are a popular species of catfish that can help keep your tank clean by eating algae. Plecos can coexist with South American cichlids, and some species that are suitable for these tanks include the common pleco and the rubber-lipped pleco.


corydoras fish3. Corydoras

If you want to create an atmosphere of peace in your South American cichlid aquarium, then you simply must get yourself some adorable little corydoras! These friendly catfish are beloved by many aquarists for multiple reasons – they add personality and cuteness to your tank while also helping with cleaning duties.
To achieve this ideal balance, consider introducing peppered or bronze corydoras into your South American cichlid environment. Their playful nature will complement your existing fish perfectly.

South American Cichlid Community Tank

Creating a South American cichlid community tank requires careful consideration of several factors, such as tank size, aquascape, and choosing suitable community fish.

1. Tank Size

To adequately keep South American cichlids, it’s important to factor in their potential for growth. They tend to be quite sizable and therefore require a tank that can hold at least 50 gallons of water. Nevertheless, fish enthusiasts who choose the discus variety should be aware that this breed demands slightly more room; in fact, they need at minimum an aquarium with a capacity of about 75 gallons.

2. Aquascape

It cannot be stressed enough how critical it is to mirror the native environment of South American cichlids while constructing an aquascape. By introducing plants, rocks, and driftwood you can cater to their need for shelter while also crafting a realistic atmosphere.

3. Choosing Community Fish

To ensure a calm atmosphere in your South American cichlid tank while introducing community fish into the mix it’s important to choose amicable species that won’t pose a threat or aggression towards your prized cichlids. Tetras, catfishes (plecos, and corydoras) all have compatibility with the constraints of such an aquarium.


When constructing a suitable South American cichlid habitat take into account critical factors like aquarium dimensions, aquascape architecture, and other creatures’ compatibility. By prioritizing diligent care practices aligned with these fish’s natural ecological conditions via an adequate maintenance regime, you’ll be able to cultivate a thriving environment fit for your spectacularly colorful pets.


1: Are there any must-have accessories I should buy alongside my South American cichlids?

For a successful South American cichlid experience, invest in necessary equipment such as:

  • A heater and thermometer to maintain the preferred temperature range.
  • A high-quality filter, ideally one suited for larger aquariums due to their adult sizes.
  • Gravel substrate to create a natural environment and help maintain water quality.
  • Underwater decorations enhance their sense of security and visual appeal in your tank.
  • Quality lighting promotes overall fish health.

Also, remember to regularly monitor water parameters, including pH levels, ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates, using test kits.

2: Can I keep multiple male South American cichlids together?

Keeping two males in a single tank might cause disputes and harm. As a rule of thumb, avoid housing more than one male per 50 gallons of water, unless they belong to different genera. However, if you do choose to introduce another male, always introduce a younger and smaller individual later after careful observation of existing fish behavior.

3: Should I remove fry from my cichlid’s nursery tank or leave them be?

Removing fry ensures optimal development without interference from adult fish or predators in the main tank. Isolating newborns also minimizes stress for both parents and offspring during the early stages. You will want to set up a separate fry tank dedicated solely to rearing the juveniles. Alternatively, leaving the fry with parents allows nature to run its course, provided there aren’t too many adults in close quarters. Assess your specific situation carefully to determine which approach works best.

Recommended Reading: Keeping Guppies: Tank Sizes, Companions, and More

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