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6 Peaceful Dwarf Cichlids For Your Community Tank!

Last Updated May 25, 2021
Dwarf Cichlids

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Cichlids are known for belligerence and having an aggressive nature. However, it is possible to keep dwarf cichlids in a harmonious community setup, provided you choose the right species to live together. 

There are a few dwarf cichlid species for beginner aquarists that provide a gentle introduction to keeping these lovely fish. As you become more experienced, you can progress to taking on more difficult characters that need more advanced care. 

In this guide, we profile six peaceful species of dwarf and Apistogramma cichlids that make suitable beginner fish. But first, let’s answer a few of the most common questions a cichlid enthusiast might ask. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the easiest dwarf cichlid to keep? 

Neolamprologus multifasciatus are probably just about the easiest dwarf cichlids to keep, especially if you have a small tank. 

Multis, as they’re known, are found in Lake Tanganyika, the world’s longest lake that’s located in the Great Rift Valley in East Africa. The fish make their homes in the discarded shells of a freshwater snail called Neothauma tanganyicense which is also native to the lake. 

These tiny shell-dwelling fish live happily in groups and are a wonderful species for beginners to keep. You can read more about their care later in this guide. So, Neolamprologus multifasciatus is probably the best cichlid for a novice’s tank. 

Can you mix dwarf cichlids? 

Different cichlid species are found all over the world. Consequently, the individual cichlid species have different tolerances in terms of water parameters. However, experienced aquarists often group cichlids together from the same areas since the fish have the same requirements in terms of water chemistry and are usually compatible. 

Dwarf cichlids, including Kribensis, apsitos, and rams, are native to the waters of South America and West Africa. Despite their geographical differences, the fish are usually compatible, and their water chemistry requirements are similar, so you can often keep these types together in larger tanks. That said, it’s often safer to keep smaller species, like tetras or rasboras, as tank mates for dwarf cichlids. 

How long do dwarf cichlids typically live?

Although their lifespan can vary slightly between species, the typical life expectancy of most types of dwarf cichlids is up to five years. However, many aquarists report their fish live longer than that, with some fish reaching ten or more years old if given the right care and a high-quality diet. 

Dwarf Cichlid Care

Tank Size

One of the most appealing things about keeping dwarf cichlids is that you don’t need a massive tank to house them.

If you’re planning on keeping a pair of cichlids with intentions of possibly breeding them, you’ll need a tank of at least 20 gallons with plenty of hiding places and dense planting. A community of fish that includes dwarf cichlids will need a larger tank, as some species are territorial and can be aggressive during the breeding season. 

Tank Decorations

Cichlids look best when displayed in a biotype tank that reflects their natural habitat. 

Aquarium Substrate

Most dwarf cichlids live in environments where the substrate is mostly mud or sand, and many species enjoy sifting through the sand in search of scraps of food. 

Sand is easy to keep clean with an aquarium vacuum. However, it’s important not to make the substrate layer too deep. If the sand is too deep and dense, it’s highly resistant to water movement. That can lead to dead zones, where pockets of harmful bacteria can form. Those can be extremely dangerous for your fish and damaging to the overall water quality in the tank. 

Ornaments

Cichlids love to have somewhere to hide out, especially when they’re breeding. So, you need to include plenty of rockwork, caves, passages, flower pots, coconut shells, driftwood, and the like. 

You can also add complexity to your setup by including a layer of oak leaves across the bottom of your tank. Cichlids love to swim through the labyrinth of leaves, and many live in a habitat that contains them. Oak leaves are the best to use, as they retain their stiffness when wet, so you can create some wonderful passageways and caves. 

Plants

Live plants are essential for cichlid tanks. Provide plenty of dense planting that creates a maze of hiding places, passages, and caves. Floating plants are also useful for providing shade and shelter for vulnerable fry. 

Generally, dwarf cichlids don’t eat or damage aquatic plants, so you can use pretty much any species that will tolerate the water conditions in your cichlid tank. 

Dwarf Cichlid Color Varieties

There are many different and attractive color morphs of Apistogramma dwarf cichlids. Generally, males have much brighter body coloration than females, so it’s easy to tell the difference, which is handy if you want to adopt a breeding pair.

  • Apistogramma cacatuoides are just about the most popular dwarf cichlid color morph, and you can buy them in most good fish stores for a pretty low price. The fish come in an orange flash variant that has bright orange dorsal and tail fins and a distinctive horizontal stripe on their bodies. There’s also a bright crimson super red variant with a striped body and cherry red finnage. 
  • Apistogramma borellii are also called umbrella cichlids. These fish are a very pale shade of blue with darker speckles on their bodies and beautiful lemon yellow dorsal and tail fins. 
  • Apistogramma trifasciata has three dark horizontal stripes along its body and brilliant blue fins, making this fish an absolutely stunning addition to any tank. 

6 Peaceful Dwarf Cichlids to Add to Your Home Tank

Neolamprologus multifasciatus

  • Minimum Tank Size: 15 gallons
  • Size: 1-2 inches
  • Water Temperature: 75-81 degrees Fahrenheit
  • pH: 7.5-9.0
  • Water Hardness: 8-25 dGH

Multis are very appealing little cichlids. Although they lack the beautiful colors many other dwarf cichlid varieties have, these fascinating little fish make up for that in many other ways. 

Unlike some other cichlids that must be kept in pairs, Neolamprologus multifasciatus are happy living in harems, even in a small aquarium, and they will tolerate most peaceful tank mates

These appealing little fish have one extremely interesting trait: they like to form small territories around snail shells! So, if you replicate multis’ natural environments by using a sandy substrate and providing lots of empty food-safe snail shells, your fish will reward you with fascinating behavior. 

Ideally, you want to allow two shells per fish and spread them around the tank so squabbles don’t break out. 

Nannacara anomala (Golden Dwarf Cichlid)

  • Minimum Tank Size: 15-20 gallons
  • Size: 1.5-3 inches
  • Water Temperature: 72-77 degrees Fahrenheit
  • pH: 6.0-7.2
  • Water Hardness: 3-8 dGH

Golden dwarf cichlids are beautiful little fish with gorgeous golden and blue coloring. Their hardiness and suitability for a peaceful community tank make them the ideal choice for someone wanting to get into keeping dwarf cichlids. 

Although these fish can become aggressive during spawning and when guarding their eggs, these dwarf cichlids can be kept in pairs in a long aquarium of at least 20 gallons. You can also keep them in a harem consisting of one male and several females if you have a bigger tank

These cichlids like a heavily planted tank that contains clay pots and driftwood decorations where they can spawn and take shelter when they want to. They prefer softer water, although they’re pretty tolerant of a range of water parameters. 

Though they have a reputation for being fussy feeders, most owners find these fish enjoy a varied diet and will eat cichlid pellets, live foods, meaty frozen food, and even blanched veggies like lettuce and zucchini. 

Apistogramma cacatuoides (Cockatoo Cichlid)

Cockatoo Cichlid
  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons
  • Size: 3-3.5 inches
  • Water Temperature: 75-81 degrees Fahrenheit
  • pH: 5.5-7.0
  • Water Hardness: up to 10 dGH

Apistogramma cacatuoides is also commonly known as the cockatoo cichlid because of the males’ bright colors and large fins, which can range from yellow to red. 

These dwarf cichlids are not the most peaceful of the species, especially when there are fry and eggs around, but they will live relatively peacefully with bottom dwellers and small schooling species like rasboras. Apistogramma cacatuoides is a hardy fish that tolerates a wide range of water conditions, making them an attractive choice for a beginner. 

If you have a large tank, you can keep a harem of Apistogramma cacatuoides. If you want to try breeding these fish, provide plenty of cover in the form of dense planting, cichlid hides, and flower pots where the fish can lay eggs. 

As with most cichlids, we recommend you avoid other varieties of cichlids, especially in smaller tank setups. In general, small schooling fish species are a much better option and usually live in harmony with dwarf cichlids. 

Mikrogeophagus ramirezi (German Blue Ram)

German Blue Ram
  • Minimum Tank Size: 15 gallons 
  • Size: up to 2 inches
  • Water Temperature: 78-85 degrees Fahrenheit
  • pH: 6.0-7.5
  • Water Hardness: 6-14 dGH

The German blue ram is a firm favorite of many hobbyists thanks to its beautiful, striking coloration and fascinating behavior. 

A long 15-gallon tank is fine for a pair of these dwarf cichlids. However, these fish aren’t ideal for beginners, largely due to their sensitivity to water conditions due to poor breeding practices. For that reason, you need to maintain pristine water conditions and choose small, non-threatening tank mates like tetras. 

Mikrogeophagus ramirezi is a fish that’s selectively bred to produce many different color morphs, including an electric blue variety that doesn’t have the characteristic markings of the original fish. They also occur in a golden, yellowish variant. 

The German blue ram is often confused with the Bolivian ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosus). In fact, the Bolivian ram is a better beginner choice for most novice aquarists, as it’s not as fragile and can be a good fit for many communities. 

Pelvicachromis pulcher (Kribensis Cichlid)

Kribensis Cichlid
  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons
  • Size: up to 4 inches
  • Water Temperature: 75-79 degrees Fahrenheit
  • pH: 5.0-8.0
  • Water Hardness: 5-20 dGH

The Kribensis cichlid is just about the most popular small cichlid available in the trade…and for good reason!

Male Kribs have a bright, pinky-red belly and beautiful markings. But it’s their captivating breeding behavior and ability to adapt to peaceful community aquariums that make them so desirable among hobbyists. 

That said, these cichlids can be aggressive and very defensive when spawning, and a large tank with plenty of hiding places and caves is recommended for a pair in a community tank. 

Usually, the female fish will dig a shallow burrow in which to lay her eggs. Once the fry hatch and are free-swimming, the parents will escort the tiny babies around the tank, and the male will guard and defend the fry from any tank mates that may become too curious. 

Apistogramma borellii (Yellow Dwarf Cichlid)

  • Minimum Tank Size: 15 gallons
  • Size: 3-4 inches
  • Water Temperature: 68-79 degrees Fahrenheit
  • pH: 6.0-8.0 
  • Water Hardness: 5-19 dGH

Yellow dwarf cichlids are good fun to keep and are an ideal choice for beginners, as they’re peaceful and hardy. You also don’t need a huge tank to keep a pair of these cichlids. 

Provided the water conditions in your aquarium are relatively stable and you keep things clean, these cichlids adapt pretty readily to a wide range of water parameters and temperatures. Apistogramma borellii enjoy mature, well-planted tanks with plenty of caves and hiding places. 

Final Thoughts

Though many species of large cichlids have a reputation for belligerence, there are plenty of dwarf cichlids that make peaceful enough community fish, provided the habitat contains lots of hiding places and dense plant cover. 

As with any fish species you’re considering adding to your tank, always do your research to make sure they share the same aquarium water requirements (including chemistry and temperature) and diet. You should also make sure each of the beautiful cichlids you want to keep together has a peaceful nature.

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7 Comments

  • Reply blucanary June 12, 2016 at 10:24 am

    I’m looking for something small to mid sized (no more than 6 in) to keep down the guppy and tadpole populations in my ponds (somewhat predatory, but not too much)
    the pond is about 300 litres, and is slightly leaky, (a quarter of its volume a day) and is on a flow-through system. it’s got a muddy bottom for a lotus plant growing in it, and is about 30 cm deep and a meter square. any suggestions for a brightly coloured fish?

    • Reply Mari June 12, 2016 at 5:49 pm

      What kind of climate do you live in (if it’s an outdoor pond)? That’s a pretty important factor!

      • Reply blucanary July 5, 2016 at 1:12 am

        tropical
        I live in jakarta, & sometimes find wild betta in the streams near my house

  • Reply Nicholas Crettol March 1, 2016 at 7:12 pm

    Very interesting read. I have been wanting to start a cichlid tank myself, but have only ever had experience with tropical schooling fish. This was a great start for me in realizing it would be possible with what experience I have.

    • Reply Mari March 1, 2016 at 7:37 pm

      That was the goal of this article! Cichlids are often considered too difficult or intimidating even though there are plenty of species that are relatively easy and very interesting to keep.

  • Reply Gregg Martin February 7, 2016 at 4:01 pm

    Well, that enlightened me about cichlids, I’d always been wary of them due to specific requirements, size, water,etc. Think I’ll think harder about these in the future if a tank opens up.

    Gregg

    • Reply Mari February 7, 2016 at 4:09 pm

      I had the same thing when writing this! I knew about their care but they never really appealed to me for some reason – until now. I just love the little shell dwellers especially.

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