Are African Cichlids Aggressive? How to Deal with the Aggression

Are African Cichlids Aggressive? How to Deal with the Aggression

When selecting fish for a tank, nothing catches the eye quite like African Cichlids. These visually-appealing, dynamic fish add color to a tank and are still reasonably easy to care for. But for many first time aquarists, the question remains: Are African Cichlids aggressive? They can be, as these fish are highly territorial. However, there are some steps you can take to curb African cichlid aggression, including overstocking your tank, providing larger tank decor, and changing your tank layout regularly.


Generally, novice aquarists are advised to stock their tank at or below 100 percent, using the ratio of 1 gallon of water to every inch of fish in the tank. However, experts suggest that African Cichlids be stocked at a 115 or even 125 percent to help curb aggression. With a higher concentration of fish in the tank, an aggressive cichlid that gives chase will quickly lose his quarry in the crowd and abandon his pursuit. Simply put, the more fish, the harder it is to fixate on any one opponent, and so the less likely for aggression to escalate.

Larger Tank Decor

A minimalistic tank may look clean and orderly, but it can also make cichlids more aggressive. Without large rocks, caves, and hiding places, the smaller, less aggressive cichlids in the tank will have nowhere to escape from their larger, more dominant counterparts. Engineering your tank so that it contains large decorations and dense vegetation will not only allow these more docile cichlids to escape scrutiny, but will break up the line of sight for the dominant aggressors. With other cichlids out of sight, these fish have no one to antagonize, and so become more docile.

Layout Changes

Because African cichlid aggression can be triggered by a desire to defend a specific territory, such as a particularly desirable plant, rock, or decoration, you should consider regularly changing the layout of your tank. Moving large tank components around will break up established territories and help reduce aggression temporarily. However, once your fish are accustomed to your new tank layout they will become territorial again, which should then prompt you to alter the layout again. </p/>

In addition to these strategies, there are other ways that may help reduce aggressive cichlid behavior, including:

  1. Adopt a strict feeding schedule to ensure that no squabbles erupt over food.
  2. Add a half dozen or more schooling fish to distract the dominant cichlid.
  3. Limit the number of male cichlids in your tank to curb fighting over females.
  4. Remove your most aggressive cichlid from the general population and place him in a separate tank for a few days to allow for the school dynamic to reset.

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