There are few aquarium experiences as rewarding as keeping cichlids. While most people have kept small schools of minnows or a handful of languid goldfish at some point in their lives, cichlids are a completely different experience.
Not only are cichlids attractive fish, but they provide a level of interaction that few other fish can match. Many cichlids will grow to recognize their owners and will become excited at the sight of them. And unlike other species of fish, most cichlids are devoted parents. They carefully tend to their eggs, and most species shepherd their fry around the tank (or carry them around in their mouth), keeping them safe and guiding them towards food.
But not all cichlids are created equal, and some of these fish are exceptionally difficult to keep. Some species are fragile and will quickly die in anything but a perfectly maintained tank, while other species are extremely aggressive.
Because of this, I’ve created a list of the five easiest to keep cichlids below.
If there is one universally agreed upon beginner cichlid, it’s probably the convict cichlid. These fish are incredibly hardy, breed readily, and are extremely prolific. If someone wants to experience all a cichlid has to offer, then these are the perfect fish.
Convict cichlids are easy to sex, and when a female reaches maturity, her belly takes on a reddish hue. Unless a person has a very large aquarium (55 gallons and above), then it’s best to start with a single breeding pair. Probably the only difficult aspect of keeping these fish is trying to figure out what to do with all the fry.
While these fish can be kept in semi-aggressive community tanks, it’s recommended to keep them in a species only aquarium. They are notoriously aggressive during spawning and will terrorize a fish tank. In fact, there are numerous stories of them killing every fish in their aquarium – even much larger, more aggressive fish.
To learn more about convict cichlids, read the Aquarium Tidings article – Convict Cichlid Care
The firemouth cichlid has long been a staple in the aquarium hobby, and while it’s not as popular as it once was, it’s still an excellent beginner cichlid. Like the convict cichlid, it’s hardy and breeds easily. What sets it apart from the convict cichlid, is that it spawns at a slower pace, which means an aquarium won’t become overwhelmed with fry.
These fish tend to coexist well with other central American cichlids but shouldn’t be kept with any non-aggressive fish, as firemouth cichlids become aggressive during spawning. Most similar sized cichlids will hold their own against a firemouth cichlid during breeding, but non-aggressive fish will be bullied and may become injured.
To learn more about firemouth cichlids, read the Aquarium Tidings article – Firemouth Cichlid Care
If an aquarist is looking for a slightly smaller cichlid, then kribensis cichlids are a wonderful choice. Not only do these fish have stunning colors, but they are also an undemanding and peaceful fish. They do well in small groups and spend much of their time weaving in and out of caves and decorations.
These fish are a little harder to breed than the other fish on this list, so if someone is interested in breeding cichlids, a different cichlid might be a better choice. Kribensis cichlids usually only breed in soft water, and it can be difficult to get the conditions just right in their aquarium to trigger spawning. Also, they are secretive breeders, and most of the parenting will take place inside of a cave.
While these dwarf cichlids would seem to be perfect for a community tank, it’s usually not recommended. With aggressive fish, the kribensis cichlids end up hiding most of the time, rarely emerging from their caves. And with non-aggressive fish, the kribensis will bully them relentlessly during spawning.
To learn more about kribensis cichlids, read the Aquarium Tidings article – Kribensis Cichlid Care
The Bolivian ram is an underappreciated dwarf cichlid and is an excellent choice for a beginner cichlid. While their colors aren’t as striking as German rams, they are still an attractive fish and are often viewed as an alternative to the troublesome German rams. Not only are they hardier than German rams, but they don’t suffer the same abuse in the aquarium trade (German rams are often injected with hormones to brighten their colors early).
These fish are easy to breed, and it’s quite entertaining to watch a male court a female by rapidly moving his head back and forth and bobbing up and down. Bolivian rams exhibit excellent parental care, and they will escort their fry around the aquarium, protecting them and finding them food.
Bolivian rams are one of the few cichlids that seem to do well in a community aquarium. While they are still territorial, mid-dwelling and top-dwelling fish are often left alone – especially in large aquariums. Still, it’s always best to be ready for problems before adding these fish and to have a backup plan in place in case of aggression.
To learn more about Bolivian Rams, read the Aquarium Tidings article – Bolivian Ram Care
While it may be strange to include the oscar – a fish often described as a football with fins – on a list of beginner cichlids, it’s actually one of the easiest cichlids to keep. Paradoxically, the larger an aquarium, the easier it is to maintain. And because oscars live in large aquariums, it’s usually easier to keep the water conditions stable and the fish healthy.
Oscars can be kept alone or in pairs and almost have the same mannerisms as a puppy. They will greet their owners when they get home and are always excited to see them. And they go crazy when it’s feeding time. For such a large fish, they aren’t overly aggressive and rarely cause problems with tankmates (unless the tankmates are small enough to eat). Surprisingly, oscars are usually the ones who get bullied. Because of that, it’s often easier to keep them in a species only aquarium.
These fish breed quite easily when paired bonded, but unlike many other cichlids, placing a pair together doesn’t guarantee they will bond. If someone wants to breed oscars, it’s best to purchase an already bonded pair of fish or to purchase half a dozen juveniles and then let them pair off.
To learn more about Oscar Fish, read the Aquarium Tidings article – Oscar Fish Care
Cichlids may take a bit more work than other species of fish, but they repay the work a thousand times over with their interactive nature and fascinating breeding habits.
If you’ve found any other easy-to-keep cichlids, let me know in the comments below.