Cichlids are fish species belonging to the Family Cichlidae. Some of the most well known cichlid species are Angelfish, Oscar, Jack Dempsey and Discus. You will find more detailed articles about these species and about a wide range of other cichlid species as well, if you scroll down this page. The Family Cichlidae is an extremely diverse family and cichlids inhabit a multitude of different environments. The different cichlid species have developed in order to fit their own specific niches and different cichlid species can therefore vary significantly when it comes to size, temperament, feeding habits, preferred water quality, etcetera. Cichlids live in fresh and brackish waters and can be found in Asia, Africa and south of 30 degrees N in America.
Aquarists usually divide the cichlid species into three main groups: African cichlids, Central and North American cichlids, and South American cichlids. In Africa, the Great Rift Valley region is home to a wide variety of different cichlids that have been extremely popular among aquarists since the 1960s and a lot of the species are endemic to the lake where they live. African cichlids are accordingly divided into four subcategories depending on which lake they live in; Lake Malawi cichlids, Lake Tanganyika cichlids, Lake Victoria cichlids, and Other African cichlids. Dwarf cichlids are sometime counted as a special group even though they technically belong to one of the African or American cichlid groups. Today, there are more than 2000 described cichlid species and this number will most likely increase significantly in the future. Cichlids inhabit waters that have not been thoroughly researched by scientists. Some cichlid species might unfortunately become extinct before we have a chance to find them. The introduction of new food fish in African lakes has for instance severely disturbed delicate ecosystems.
As mentioned earlier, cichlids have adapted to a life in a wide range of different habitats and their degree of specialisation can be astonishing. This also means that some cichlid species will be more difficult to keep in aquariums than other. The mere sizes of some cichlids make them unpractical or impossible to keep for most aquarists. The largest known cichlid species can reach a size of 50-100 centimetres. An example of such a large cichlid is the Boulengerochromis microlepis. This can be compared to the smallest cichlids - the dwarf cichlids in the Apistrogramma group – that never grows larger than 3 centimetres. Dwarf cichlids are popular among aquarists since they do not require very large aquariums, but dwarf cichlids are more sensitive than their larger counterparts and crowding a small aquarium with dwarf cichlids simply because the “fit in the box” is therefore not a good idea. These small cichlids can actually benefit from a larger aquarium, since it is easier for the aquarist to keep up the water quality in a big aquarium with plenty of water.
Even though the different cichlid species can look and act very differently, they all share some common anatomic characteristics. All other known fish species have small intestines that leave the stomach from the right side, but with the cichlid species the small intestine leaves the body at the left side. The cichlids are also equipped with no more than one nostril. This is a characteristic that they share with the Damselfishes. Another interesting fact is that cichlids have teeth in both the upper and the lower jaw – and in the throat!