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8 Great Tank Mates for African Cichlids (Compatibility Guide 2023)

Kristin Hitchcock

By Kristin Hitchcock

african cichild

African Cichlids provide variety and color to an aquarium. They are also easy to take care of, allowing you to easily spice up your aquarium without extra work. However, they are known for being quite aggressive, which makes it difficult for them to be housed with tank mates.

Being able to house these fish with others relies on setting up the correct tank environment. It is important to provide many rocks and other places for these fish to hide. This will help prevent them from feeling threatened and aggressive. A safe fish is a peaceful fish.

Of course, you also have to pick the correct tank mates. In this article, we help you do just that.aquarium plant divider

The 8 Tank Mates for African Cichlids

1. Clown Loaches (Botia Loches)

clown loaches
Image Credit: Joan Carles Juarez, Shutterstock
Size: 4 ½ inches
Diet: Bottom feeders
Minimum tank size: 75 gallons
Care level: Moderate
Temperament: Somewhat aggressive

The Clown Loach is a semi-aggressive fish, like the African Cichlid. Because of their similar natures, they can generally hold their own when put up against African Cichlids. They also like rocks with plenty of places to hide, so you’ll need to ensure that there are enough hiding spots for everyone. When provided with the opportunity to hide, that’s typically what they’ll decide to do. Otherwise, they may get a bit aggressive.

As bottom feeders, they usually stay toward the bottom of the tank. They are predatory toward shrimp and similar fish, so you won’t be able to have any of these in your tank alongside them.

2. Red Rainbow Fish

red rainbow fish
Image Credit: NERYXCOM, Shutterstock
Size: 4 inches
Diet: Omnivores
Minimum tank size: 50 gallons
Care level: Easy
Temperament: Docile

The Red Rainbow Fish is often a suitable tank mate for a Cichlid as long as your tank is big enough to keep them apart. They are not able to go up against a Cichlid with any sort of rigor. They will get eaten! However, if you provide them with enough room, these fish generally leave each other alone to some degree.

These omnivores typically do fine with regular fish pellets. They aren’t that picky, so if you’re looking for an easy fish to take care of while you concentrate on your African Cichlid, this may be a suitable option.

3. Red-Tail Shark

red tailed shark
Image Credit: Diego Grandi, Shutterstock
Size: 4 inches
Diet: Omnivorous
Minimum tank size: 55 gallons
Care level: Moderate
Temperament: Semi-aggression

The Red-Tail Shark is a beautifully unique fish that stands out in most aquariums. They are completely black except for their red tail. They are also an extremely common freshwater shark that doesn’t require extensive amounts of care.

However, you shouldn’t let these fish fool you. Like you might expect from a shark, they are semi-aggressive and can hold their own in most situations. They will attack docile fish and even more aggressive fish.

For this reason, they do best in tanks with other fish that can hold their own. This includes fish like the African Cichlids. It isn’t that these fish won’t fight. But when they do, they’ll be evenly matched. Your tank needs to be large enough for both of these fish, though, as the Red-Tail Shark is territorial.

4. Giant Danios

giant danios fish
Image Credit: Karel Zahradka, Shutterstock
Size: 4 inches
Diet: Omnivorous
Minimum tank size: 30 gallons
Care level: Easy
Temperament: Docile

While these fish are docile and not nearly as aggressive as other fish, they are quite large. This allows them to stand up to African Cichlids and/or ignore them. It is important that you choose larger Danios, as smaller ones will get eaten. These fish also prefer the bottom and middle of the tank, which allows them to stay separated from the African Cichlids.

They like vegetated areas, as these provide them with extra cover. Ensure that there are plenty of plants at the bottom of your tank for them to hide in. Otherwise, they may become stressed and prone to attacks.

5. Plecos

Bristlenose Plecos inside aquarium
Image Credit: TTONN, Shutterstock
Size: 24 inches
Diet: Bottom feeders
Minimum tank size: 150 gallons
Care level: Easy
Temperament: Docile

Plecos are bottom feeders and like to hide similarly to African Cichlids. However, they are extremely large, so you can expect African Cichlids to leave them alone without much difficulty. It is important to provide them with plenty of rocks and caves to hide in, as these hiding spots can get quite crowded with both them and African Cichlids.

These bottom-feeders prefer to stay at the bottom of the tank and suck up food from there. This doesn’t interfere with the African Cichlids, who tend to roam around the top and middle of the tank. For this reason, there are less likely to be any aggressive behaviors.

6. African Red-Eyed Tetra

african red-eyed tetra
Image Credit: Andrzej Zabawski, Shutterstock
Size: 4 inches
Diet: Omnivorous
Minimum tank size: 50 gallons
Care level: Moderate
Temperament: Territorial

This species can get along with the African Cichlid as long as they are provided with enough room to swim around. This is a more difficult fish to keep with the African Cichlid, so be prepared for a bit of work. If the tank is large enough, there usually shouldn’t be too much to worry about, though. Both fish can be a bit uptight about others in their space, so both fish must have enough space of their own.

Beyond their similar territorial natures, these fish thrive in the same water conditions and on the same food as the African Cichlid. Therefore, they can make easy tank mates. You won’t have to balance any water parameters or anything of that sort.

7. Leopard Bushfish

leopard bushfish
Image Credit: Pavaphon Supanantananont, Shutterstok
Size: 7 inches
Diet: Carnivores
Minimum tank size: 50 gallons
Care level: Moderate
Temperament: Aggressive

This fish is known for their aggressive tendencies. However, this makes them a good match for the African Cichlid, as they won’t put up with much of their territorial behaviors. Therefore, they make good tankmates.

These fish are picky eaters, which makes them more difficult to take care of. They require live or frozen food in most cases. Your African Cichlids are likely going to want this food when it is introduced, so this will increase the maintenance of your aquarium overall.

These fish are carnivores, so simple fish flakes likely aren’t going to be enough.

8. Scavenger Catfish

pygmy corydoras
Image Credit: Kasama Kanpittaya, Shutterstock
Size: 10 inches
Diet: Carnivores
Minimum tank size: 55 gallons
Care level: Easy
Temperament: Docile

Scavenger catfish are exactly what they sound like. They hang around in caves and on rocks scavenging what they can from the bottom. Because they prefer the bottom of the tank, they generally stay out of the way of fish that prefer to hang out higher. If this species and the African Cichlid happen to come across each other, this catfish is a bit too large to be bothered. This is one reason that they are solid fish to choose as tank mates. They’re simply too large to be much trouble.

These catfish do like to eat fish flakes, but they also enjoy sinking catfish pellets. You’ll likely need to feed them the sinking pellets, as the Cichlids will eat most of the floating flakes. This feeding will help them stay at the optimal body condition, which makes them able to withstand the aggression of the African Cichlids better.

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What Makes a Good Tank Mate for African Cichlids?

African cichild
Image credit: Arunee Rodloy, Shutterstock

The African Cichlid is territorial and aggressive. However, they are also quite attractive, with many different patterns and colors. It can be difficult to find tank mates that fit with them due to their high level of aggression.

Your goal should be to choose fish that are equally as aggressive as these fish. It is important that they can hold their own against the African Cichlids, or they may end up as dinner.

Of course, you also want to ensure that the tank mates you choose prefer the same water temperature and breakdown that these fish do. Otherwise, you’ll be balancing the water parameters constantly. It is much easier when all the fish enjoy all the same things.

Where Do African Cichlids Prefer to Live in the Aquarium?

These fish typically roam near the top and middle of the tank. They love to hide and will spend much of their time in caves and similar hiding spots. If there are other fish in the tank, be sure you provide plenty of hiding places for them as well.

Since this species tends to roam the whole tank, they do best with bottom feeders. They don’t spend much time at the bottom, which means that they typically do fine with fish that hang around down there.

Water Parameters

african cichild
Image Credit: planet5D LLC, Shutterstock

The African Cichlid prefers hard water, as this is the water that they naturally prefer. They do not like fast-flowing water because they’re naturally from lakes. They do need movement in the water, but not more than what the typical bubbler will create.

They prefer water that is around 78 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit. It should have a pH level of around 7.8 to 8.6.


African Cichlids can get as long as 6 inches, though many will be much smaller. It takes them a bit to grow to their full size. They need plenty of space to swim around and multiple hiding spots. They need at least a 30-gallon tank and more if you want to pair them with other, bigger fish.

Since many of the suitable tank mates for African Cichlids are large, you will need quite a big tank to house all of them.

Related Read: 6 Best Plants For African Cichlids – Reviews & Top Picks

Aggressive Behaviors

The African Cichlid is known for their aggressive nature. They are territorial and will attack nearly any fish that enters their space. Therefore, the only tank mates that they can be housed with are those that are either equally aggressive or too large to care about an African Cichlid.

Benefits of Having Tank Mates for African Cichlids in Your Aquarium

yellow lab african cichild
Image Credit: Lmnopg007, Shutterstock
  • Increase the liveliness of your tank. While African Cichlids are pretty and decently active, they may spend quite a bit of time hiding. Adding other species can improve the amount of movement that you have inside your tank.
  • Keep things clean. Many bottom feeders can be kept with this species. These can help you keep your tank clean by filtering out debris on the bottom and keeping the algae controlled.

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The African Cichlid is an aggressive fish, so it is often thought that they can’t be kept with others. However, there are a few species that they can be suitably housed with. These include bottom feeders and fish that are just as aggressive as them. It is important to choose bigger fish that can hold their own, as the African Cichlid will likely attempt to bother them at least once or twice.

Choosing a fish to go with the African Cichlid isn’t so much a matter of choosing a docile species. You should focus on choosing a species that can fight with the African Cichlids as necessary. Bottom feeders are also suitable because they’ll stay away from the most aggressive Cichlids.

See Also:

Featured Image Credit: Arunee Rodloy, Shutterstock

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