Cichlids have become popular aquarium fish because of their beautiful colors and ease of care. Their striking coloration rivals many salt-water species, but they can easily be kept in any standard freshwater tank. However, most aquarium keepers like to keep communities of fish, which poses a problem with aggressive cichlids because they are notorious for eating other fish and harassing and chasing the ones they don't eat. Below, we discuss the commonly asked question: what kind of fish can you put with cichlids?
It is important to ensure your fish will all thrive in or at least tolerate the water conditions your cichlids need. Cichlids from South America need soft, acidic (pH 6.5 or a bit lower) water, while cichlids from African rift lakes need hard, possibly even brackish, alkaline water (pH 8 to 9.0). Species that originate from the same local area are your best choices to thrive in cichlid aquariums.
Cichlids are open-swimmers and will take control of and defend a territory in the middle of the tank. Thus, fish that prefer to hang out on the bottom or sides of the tank hiding in vegetation and rock structures tend to not trigger the wrath of the resident cichilds. Large, swift aggressive catfish like the South American Pictus catfish can co-exist and even thrive when housed with cichilds. Another good choice is one of the large, aggressive, and heavily armored bottom-feeding South American Plecostomus fish. For African cichlid tanks, consider a Synodontis Petricola catfish.
Other good choices for cichlid tankmates are very speedy, aggressive, large fish. Even the fastest small fish will eventually become lunch for your cichlid as your cichlid matures, so it is important to select tankmates that are about the same size as your cichlids or preferably even larger. Two suggestions are provided below:
A school of tinfoil barbs can be an excellent addition to a cichlid aquarium. They can tolerate both South American and African cichlid conditions, are very speedy and somewhat aggressive in their own right, and can grow up to 14 inches long.
The black shark thrives in South American cichlid conditions, can grow up to two feet in length, and is aggressive, fast, and large enough to be an interesting addition to a tank containing South American cichilds; it is important to only keep one black shark per tank because they are very territorial towards their own species.
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