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How to Stop Cichlid Aggression?

Cichlids are a type of tropical freshwater fish and a favorite among aquarium hobbyists. Found primarily in the lake waters of Africa, Asia, and South America, their bright coloring, unique behavior, and active nature make them a joy to observe in captivity. But what about their temperament? Are they aggressive in a community tank environment?

The main way to reduce cichlid aggression in captivity is to house them with other fish of similar size and temperament. Ensuring your tank is large enough so cichlids can claim their own territory is yet another method to limit their hostility. Feeding cichlids adequately is also important in lessening their aggressive tendencies.

Now that you know how to minimize cichlid aggression in captivity, let’s explore this topic further. I’ll explain why these fish become hostile in a community tank, which species are the most aggressive, and how to recognize the difference between fighting and mating. I’ll also discuss how many cichlids can be kept together in the same aquarium and which species make the best tankmates.

So, if you’re ready to learn about cichlid fish temperament and behavior in a contained aquatic environment, then let’s begin!

Are Cichlid Fish Aggressive or Semi-Aggressive?

Depending on the species, cichlid fish are usually classified as either aggressive (African cichlids) or semi-aggressive (Asia and South American cichlids). Hostile behavior is often directly related to environment. In the case of cichlid fish, for example, tanks that are too small and overcrowded are typically the main causes of their hostility.

Why are Cichlid Fish Aggressive?

Cichlids are naturally territorial, which leads to their heightened aggression. If they feel other fish are invading their area or threatening their food supply, they become hostile. For this reason, it’s imperative that they be kept in as large an aquarium as possible. As well, they must be fed sufficiently to prevent them from chasing after their fellow tankmates at mealtimes.

Which Cichlid Species are the Most Aggressive?

The most aggressive species of cichlid fish are typically of the African variety. Those found in the Malawi lakes of central Africa can be especially hostile in a contained aquatic environment. Regarding South American cichlids, Oscars tend to be the most aggressive. Their large size and massive girth allow them to easily intimidate smaller fish and they’ll often eat tiny tankmates if their food supply is scarce!

single livingston cichlid

How do You Calm an Aggressive Cichlid Fish?

To calm cichlid fish aggression, you must keep them in a very large tank with different fish of like size and temperament. In the wild, cichlids will compete with others of their kinds. Therefore, if you house them with large fish that don’t share the same color patterns, you’ll help limit their hostile tendencies. As well, an extra-large tank will allow your cichlids plenty of space to claim their own territory.

Another way to calm cichlid fish aggression in is to feed them appropriately. Competing for food is a major cause of heightened hostility among cichlids. If you offer edibles frequently and plentifully, you’ll be going a great seal to reduce their aggressive tendencies. That said, make sure you don’t overfeed them – stick to a schedule of 2-3 meals per day with just enough food to be consumed in 2-3 minutes.

Other tips to reduce cichlid fish aggression include not overcrowding the aquarium, adding fish that prefer to swim near the surface or in the middle of the tank (cichlids like to swim along the bottom), rearranging the rocks/decorations when introducing new fish, adding extra plants for cover, and keeping cichlids in a male/female ratio of 1:2/3 (multiple males will often fight each other for dominance).

Why are My African Cichlids Chasing Each Other?

African cichlids chase after each other when establishing territory, if competing for food, or to initiate mating. If the tank is too small or overcrowded, cichlids will feel the need to defend their area from invaders. As well, if food is scarce, cichlids will attack other fish that try to feed in the same space. And finally, when it’s time to spawn, male cichlids will chase after the females as part of the mating ritual.

Should I Remove an Aggressive Cichlid Fish?

Though some level of aggression is normal for cichlids, if you have one that’s overly hostile, you may need to isolate it from other fish for awhile. To do this, simply catch it in a net and place it in a hang-on quarantine cage for a few days. If this doesn’t seem to lessen its aggression, you may need to remove it and place it in a separate tank. If this isn’t an option, you might have to give it away or rehome it.

Are My Cichlids Fighting or Mating?

Cichlid males will chase off other males when it comes time to mate. They’ll also chase after the females as part of their spawning ritual. This frenzied behavior is typically referred to as a ‘mating dance.’ When fighting, their movements are less erratic. Male cichlids will often grab onto each other and ‘lock lips’ as they wrestle about which, in turn, can cause serious injury.

What is Normal Cichlid Fish Behavior?

Typical cichlid behavior in captivity includes swimming actively near the substrate and around the rocks at the bottom of the tank, swimming among and through as well as uprooting plants, and displacing or rearranging tank decorations. If your cichlid is swimming closer to top of the tank at feeding time and is expanding its gills regularly – not rapidly – in the water, then your fish is healthy and doing well.

Aggressive to semi-aggressive acts such as chasing after tankmates that invade their territory, attacking fellow cichlid males to establish dominance, and chasing female cichlids around as part of a mating ritual are also considered to be ‘normal’ behavior. Its important to recognize that these behaviors – though hostile at times – are innate to this species and can only be limited, not eradicated.

How Many Cichlids can be Kept Together?

Cichlids are best kept in smaller groups of 6 to 8. A ratio of 1 male to 2 or 3 females is best. The only way to house multiple males in the same tank is if the aquarium is large enough to allow each male to claim its so own territory. For example, if you want to keep 2 males and 4 females, you’ll need a 55-gallon tank minimum. Make sure it’s got plenty of rocks/decorations to provide cover and act as territory markers.

albino cichlid

What Cichlids are Best for a Community Tank?

The best cichlids for a community tank are those that are semi-aggressive in nature and typically of the South American variety. ‘Peaceful’ types including dwarf cichlids, angelfish, blues acaras, Bolivian rams, discus fish, German blue rams, rainbows, and severums are your best bet. Make sure to keep fish of like size and temperament together to prevent chasing, nipping, and other hostile behaviors.


In summation, one of the best ways to limit cichlid aggression in a contained aquatic environment is to keep them with other fish of like size and temperament. Making sure your tank isn’t too small or overcrowded is also important. Should your cichlid continue to be overly hostile no matter what measures you take, then you must consider isolating, removing, or rehoming it.

I trust this article has been of help in answering your questions pertaining to cichlid fish aggression in captivity. Thanks for reading and best of luck with your freshwater aquarium hobby.

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