Central and South American Cichlid Care Sheet
Developed with and approved by a qualified veterinarian.
This care sheet covers a variety of Central and South American cichlid species, including:
- Flowerhorn cichlid
- Red devil cichlid
- Oscar cichlid
- Firemouth cichlid
- Jack Dempsey cichlid
- Ram cichlid
- Texas cichlid
- Parrot blood cichlid
- Green terror cichlid
- Red chromide cichlid
- Blue acara cichlid
- Green severum cichlid
- Cockatoo cichlid
- Red-striped geophagus cichlid
Cichlasoma sp., Amphilophus labiatus, Astronotus ocellatus, Thorichthys meeki, Rocio octofasciata, Mikrogeophagus ramirezi, Herichthys cyanoguttatus, Andinoacara rivulatus, Pseudetroplus maculatus, Andinoacara pulcher, Apistogramma cacatuoides, Geophagus surinamensis
There are approximately 570 species of Central and South American cichlids. These fish are known for their interesting behaviors and extroverted personalities, making them some of the most popular freshwater aquarium pets. These active, hardy and durable cichlids come in a wide variety of color palettes and have a pleasing appearance. Central and South American cichlids will actively defend their territory; always research compatibility when adding new fish to your aquarium.
Typical appearance and behavior
- Most cichlids can be highly territorial
- Most species have been known to spawn in captivity
- They come in a wide variety of colors; males are typically more colorful than females
- Many Central and South American cichlids are mouth brooders with strong parental instincts. Males will create a nest in the substrate where fertilization takes place. The female or male, depending on species, will carry the eggs in their mouth until they hatch. The parents actively care for and protect their young after hatching
- Many cichlids have been known to interact with their pet parents and congregate at the top of the aquarium during feeding time
- Due to the variances in natural habitats and varied levels of aggression, avoid mixing cichlids from other regions, such as African cichlids
- Central and South American cichlids are sturdy fish and may do well with other appropriate size and temperament species
|Care Difficulty||Beginner to advanced, depending on species|
|Average Life Span||Up to 20 years when properly cared for, depending on species|
|Average Adult Size||2-24+ inches long, depending on species|
|Diet||Carnivore and omnivore, depending on species|
|Minimum Habitat Size||10+ gallons for dwarf cichlids only; 29+ gallons for all other cichlids, depending on species|
Keep in an appropriately sized aquarium based on the species selected, which can range from a 10-gallon aquarium for a smaller species, like an adult ram, to 75+ gallons for species such as an adult oscar.
Building your habitat
- Water health - Provide proper filtration to ensure optimal water quality to help maintain health. Moderate to strong water circulation, depending on species, should be provided to mimic water currents and high oxygen levels found in the Central and South American cichlids' natural habitat. Stable water quality (pH, ammonia, nitrate, nitrite) and water temperature are critical to the health of aquatic life. If you are unsure of your water quality, bring a sample to Petco for free testing. An aquatic heater should be used to stabilize water temperature, ensuring it does not fluctuate more than +/-2 degrees in a 24-hour period. Many Central and South American cichlids will benefit from the addition of freshwater salt to the aquarium; the specific gravity should be kept at 1.004. Always research your species-specific needs before adding freshwater aquarium salt. Do not allow specific gravity to fluctuate more than +/- 0.001 in a 24-hour period.
- Décor - Many cichlids become territorial as they mature and should be provided with plenty of rocks, caves and hiding places. Plants can be beneficial, but some species may uproot plants. A substrate of 1 to 2 inches is recommended, as many cichlid species love to dig.
- Some cichlid species are powerful jumpers; a secure cover is strongly recommended.
A well-balanced Central and South American cichlid diet consists of:
- Appropriately sized flakes, pellets, freeze-dried, frozen or live food, based on the size of the species
- Things to remember when feeding your Central and South American cichlid:
- Depending on size and species, feed 1 to 2 times per day, no more than fish will consume in 1 to 2 minutes; some larger species may need to be fed 2 to 3 times per day
- Thaw frozen food before feeding
Central and South American cichlid care
Maintaining great water quality with regular water changes and adequate filtration is important to help keep your Central and South American cichlids healthy
- Daily: Check filter, water temperature and other equipment
- Weekly: Test water quality at least once a week
- Weekly to monthly: Change 10–25% of the total volume of water every two to four weeks, or as needed. Change filter media monthly
Avoid overcrowded conditions; this is a major cause of stress and disease
Where to buy Central and South American cichlids
Various Central and South American cichlid species are available for purchase at Petco online and in store; availability varies by location. If visiting your local Petco Pet Care Center location, call ahead to check availability.
- Appropriate-size aquarium
- Appropriate food, dry and frozen
- Water conditioner
- Water test kit
- Full-spectrum lighting
- Freshwater substrate
- Airline tubing
- Air pump
- Check valve
- Freshwater salt
- Live plants
Some Central and South American cichlid species can become aggressive and territorial as they mature. Larger cichlids can eat smaller fish; keep with similar-sized fish. Some species, like ram cichlids, have peaceful temperaments and may do well in a community aquarium with similar-sized aquatic life.
Signs of a healthy Central and South American cichlid
- Clear eyes
- Eats vigorously
- Bright, even coloring
- Free of parasites or disease
Red flags (If you notice any of these signs, contact your local aquatic specialist or aquatic veterinarian)
- Loss of color
- Loss of appetite
- Spots or fungus on body or mouth
- Cloudy eyes or pop-eye
- Elevated scales
- Labored breathing
- Erratic swimming
- Weight loss
- Hole in the head
- Lateral line erosion
Common health issues
|Health Issue||Symptoms or Causes||Suggested Action|
|Health IssueFin rot||Symptoms or CausesFrayed or disintegrating fins; the base of the fins usually reddens.||Suggested ActionImprove water quality; consult your local aquatic specialist or aquatic veterinarian for treatment.|
|Health IssueFungus||Symptoms or CausesWhite cottony growth and/or discoloration of the eyes.||Suggested ActionQuarantine fish; use a commercial antifungal remedy as directed; consult your local aquatic specialist or aquatic veterinarian for treatment.|
|Health IssueBacterial infections||Symptoms or CausesCloudy eyes, open sores and/or reddening of the skin.||Suggested ActionImprove water quality; add freshwater salt and use a commercial antibacterial remedy as directed; consult your local aquatic specialist or aquatic veterinarian for treatment.|
|Health IssueIch||Symptoms or CausesWhite spots appear on fins and body; fish rubs against hard objects or swims erratically; rapid respirations.||Suggested ActionQuarantine fish immediately; add freshwater salt and use commercial ich remedy as directed. Consult your local aquatic specialist or aquatic veterinarian for treatment.|
|Health IssueCottonmouth or columnaris||Symptoms or CausesCottony white growths along the body and/or gills, frayed fins and gills turn brown and necrotic in late stages; caused by bacterial infection.||Suggested ActionQuarantine fish; improve water quality; lower aquarium temperature to 72°F to deter bacteria from growing; medicate as directed; consult your local aquatic specialist or aquatic veterinarian for treatment.|
|Health IssueHole in the head and lateral line erosion||Symptoms or CausesPale coloration, white stringy feces, loss of appetite, emaciation, pitting lesions in the head and erosion along their lateral line; cause can vary from environment, diet and parasitic infection.||Suggested ActionQuarantine fish; improve water quality; lower aquarium temperature to 72°F to deter bacteria from growing; medicate as directed; consult your local aquatic specialist or aquatic veterinarian for treatment. Quarantine fish; improve water quality; improve diet; utilize parasitic medication as directed; consult your local aquatic specialist or aquatic veterinarian for treatment.|
- What do cichlids eat? Depending on species, cichlids should be provided with a variety of appropriately sized flakes, pellets, freeze-dried, frozen or live foods.
- How long do cichlids live? Cichlids can live up to 20 years when properly cared for.
- What is a cichlid? Cichlids are a group of fish that belong to the Cichlidae family, consisting of 2,000+ species.
Additional care sheets
Notes and resources
Ask a Pet Care Center partner about Petco's selection of products available for the care and happiness of your new pet. All products carry a 100% money-back guarantee.
Because all aquatic life are potential carriers of infectious diseases such as atypical mycobacterium and salmonella, always wash your hands before and after handling your aquatic life or habitat contents to help prevent the potential spread of disease.
Pregnant women, children under the age of 5, senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems should contact their physician before purchasing or caring for aquatic life and should consider not having aquatic life as a pet.
Go to cdc.gov/healthypets for more information about aquatic life and disease.
The information on this care sheet is not a substitute for veterinary care. If you need additional information, contact your veterinarian as appropriate.