Last update: December 17, 2022

13 Best African Cichlids Tank Mates

Having an aquarium speckled with colorful fish can be an instant source of satisfaction when you walk into a room. African cichlids are the perfect, charming fish to fill a tank with color. As you plan your tank, you’ll want to know the best African cichlids tank companions so you don’t end up with an unruly fish habitat. 

The best African cichlids tank mates are ones that aren’t overly aggressive but are confident, as well as fish that aren’t too shy to hold their own in a tank. These cichlids also prefer fish that aren’t going to try and push them to be social. 

Building an aquarium with multiple fish isn’t always easy, but taking the time to make wise choices ensures the most harmonious tank possible. 

African Cichlids – What You Need To Know 

Understanding the ways of the African cichlid is crucial to ensure you set up their new home appropriately. It can also inform your choice for whether you want them to dwell with other types of fish, especially depending on your level of experience with setting up an aquarium. 


The one caveat with African cichlids is that they are pretty territorial fish who are able to dominate a lot of other types of fish. This makes it crucial to choose wisely as some fish won’t stand a chance against one of these temperamental fish. 


African cichlids can range in size; they can grow between 3 and 10 inches. Size matters with certain tank mates, as some of their potential companions like to eat fish smaller than them. 


What’s likely not surprising is that African cichlids view a lot of other fish as competition, given how much they like their space. To avoid having them attack other fish in an effort to establish their territory, you either need tank mates that can stand up to a domineering fish or ones that can do their own thing away from your cichlids. 

Parameters and Tank Setup 

African cichlids need a good amount of space inside their tank alongside their companions and their tank accessories. You’ll also need a filtration system in great working order and water temperature that sits between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. They also like a pH that sits between 6.5 and 8.5. 

Best African Cichlids Tank Mates 

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1. Red Tail Shark

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  • Scientific name: Epalzeorhynchos bicolor
  • Adult Size: 4-6 inches 
  • Compatible with: Honey gourami, tetras, African cichlids 
  • Water Temperature: 72-79°F
  • Minimum Tank Size: 55 gallons 
  • Care Level: Intermediate 
  • Origin: Thailand

The red tail shark is able to hold its own around the African cichlid, and also creates a beautiful contrast throughout the water. Their black visage with their signature red tail is truly a remarkable sight. 


  • Both fish enjoy the same type of water
  • Both fish have strong personalities


  • These two fish might fight if there is inadequate space or places to hide if needed 

2. Giant Danios

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  • Scientific Name: Devario aequipinnatus
  • Adult Size: 6 inches 
  • Compatible with: Some cichlids, red tail sharks, tiger barbs 
  • Water Temperature: 64-74 °F
  • Minimum Tank Size: 55 gallons
  • Care Level: Easy 
  • Origin: India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal 

If any fish can help to keep African cichlids in check, it’s a school of giant danios. Having about 8 to 10 in a tank shows the cichlid how to share space. Giant danios will often linger from the middle down in a tank, so each type of fish can linger where needed. 


  • Giant danios are able to deal with the African cichlid’s territorial nature 


  • It’s recommended that giant danios are adult size when acclimated to a tank so they aren’t eaten

3. Plecos

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  • Scientific Name: Hypostomus plecostomus
  • Adult Size: up to 24 inches 
  • Compatible with: Bettas, corydoras, some cichlids
  • Water Temperature: 72-78 °F 
  • Minimum Tank Size: 150 gallons
  • Care Level: Easy 
  • Origin: South America 

The pleco is a bottom dweller, and they’re also nocturnal, meaning their hunt for scraps, algae, and other food sources will be at night while your cichlid eats during the day. These two types of fish can work well in a tank together since they tend not to get in each other’s way. 


  • They won’t fight over food
  • They enjoy the same water temperature 


  • You’ll have to keep pH on the lower level for cichlids to make it compatible with plecos 

4. Leopard Bushfish

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  • Scientific Name: Ctenopoma acutirostre
  • Adult Size: 7 inches 
  • Compatible with: Gourami, silver dollars, African cichlids 
  • Water Temperature: 73-82 °F
  • Minimum Tank Size: 50 gallons 
  • Care Level: Intermediate 
  • Origin: Congo River 

The leopard bushfish and African cichlid coexist well in an aquarium because they both have pretty strong personalities. Neither fish is going to let the other one push them around. They have the same preferences for water as well which works out very well. 


  • The leopard bushfish can stand up to an African cichlid
  • These fish won’t fight over food 


  • The leopard bushfish are carnivores while African cichlids aren’t, so you’ll have to be careful about diet choices. 

5. African Red-Eyed Tetra

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  • Scientific Name: Arnoldichthys spilopterus
  • Adult Size: 4 inches 
  • Compatible with: African cichlid, tetras, rainbowfish 
  • Water Temperature: 73-82 °F
  • Minimum Tank Size: 50 gallons 
  • Care Level: Easy to hard 
  • Origin: Nigeria 

These two African fish are great companions in a big tank because they both like the same things in terms of habitat. Your African cichlid will not be bothered by how active this fish is, and won’t feel threatened either. 


  • Both fish enjoy the same water temperatures
  • Both eat similar foods 
  • This fish helps your African cichlids behave 


  • You’ll want at least 10 African red-eyed tetras to a tank, so you’ll need a big aquarium

6. Siamese Algae Eater

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  • Scientific Name: Crossocheilus siamensis
  • Adult Size: 6 inches 
  • Compatible with: Guppies, barbs, African cichlid
  • Water Temperature: 75-79°F
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons 
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Origin: Southeast Asia

Siamese algae eaters are a good choice because they won’t try to take over the tank. Since they are smaller fish, you’ll want to provide them with spots to hide and find some shelter. 


  • This fish helps keep aquariums clean by eating algae 


  • They need to live with African cichlids that can handle a more neutral pH

7. African Butterfly Cichlid

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  • Scientific Name: Anomalochromis thomasi
  • Adult Size: 3-3.5 inches 
  • Compatible with: Rasboras, barbs, African cichlid 
  • Water Temperature: 73-81 °F
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons 
  • Care Level: Minimal; easy for beginners 
  • Origin: Sierra Leone and Guinea 

While their names are very similar, the African cichlid and African butterfly cichlid are two unique types of fish. They can get along well in a tank that gives them both plenty of space to swim. Having some aquatic stones and clay tunnels will also help keep both types of fish very happy. 


  • Both fish share the same natural place of origin
  • These two fish like the same water 


  • These fish can butt heads without proper hiding places 

8. Clown Loach

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  • Scientific Name: Chromobotia macracanthus
  • Adult Size: 4-12 inches 
  • Compatible with: Plecos, African cichlid, gouramis 
  • Water Temperature: 72-86 °F
  • Minimum Tank Size: 75 gallons 
  • Care Level: Easy to hard 
  • Origin: Indonesia 

The clown loach and African cichlid can live harmoniously as they both enjoy different parts of the tank. The loach will scavenge off of whatever the cichlid drops, as loaches are bottom feeders who prefer laying low.

They also help to keep tanks clean. You just want to make sure there are aquatic plants and tunnels around so each fish can find solitude if needed. 


  • These fish aren’t likely to bump heads if the tank is set up well
  • These loaches help keep the tank clean 


  • Clown loaches can pick up disease quickly if the tank isn’t clean 

9. Paratilapia

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  • Scientific Name: Paratilapia polleni
  • Adult Size: 11 inches for males; approximately 5-6 inches for females 
  • Compatible with: Cichlids, loaches 
  • Water Temperature: 76-82 °F
  • Minimum Tank Size: 55 gallons
  • Care Level: Moderate 
  • Origin: Madagascar

The paratilapia is also a kind of cichlid, and is one that lives in similar conditions to the African cichlid. As long as your tank is set up well to give each type of fish a break from the other if needed, they will cohabitate just fine. 


  • They like the same tank setup as African cichlids 
  • They have a strong enough personality to handle African cichlids without dominating them 


  • You can only have one paratilapia in a tank as they don’t get along in pairs 

10. Pictus Catfish

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  • Scientific Name: Pimelodus pictus
  • Adult Size: 5 inches
  • Compatible with: Catfish, giant danios, rainbow shark 
  • Water Temperature: 71-77 °F
  • Minimum Tank Size: 55-100 gallons  
  • Care Level: Easy 
  • Origin: South America 

The pictus catfish makes for an easygoing tankmate for your African cichlids, given that they tend to stay at the bottom of the tank and keep to themselves. They are also a fish that enjoys being active at night, so having somewhere for your cichlids to sleep peacefully is important. 


  • They won’t fight African cichlids for territory 
  • They’re bottom dwellers 


  • They have slight differences in preferred water 
  • Must be the same size or smaller than cichlids 

11. Lake Malawi Synodontis 

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  • Scientific Name: Synodontis njassae
  • Adult Size: 7-8 inches
  • Compatible with: Cichlids
  • Water Temperature: 72-82 °F
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons
  • Care Level: Moderate 
  • Origin: Lake Malawi 

The Lake Malawi synodontis is a nocturnal fish, meaning they will be swimming around and eating while your African cichlids are asleep. As always, some caves and aquatic plants are recommended. 


  • Fish work on different schedules 
  • The synodontis is a bottom dwelling fish 


  • They must be paired with larger African cichlids or they might see the cichlids as food 

12. Flying Fox Fish

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  • Scientific Name: Epalzeorhynchos kalopterus
  • Adult Size: 8 inches 
  • Compatible with: Loaches, rasboras, some cichlids 
  • Water Temperature: 76-81 °F
  • Minimum Tank Size: 100 gallons 
  • Care Level: Easy 
  • Origin: Southeast Asia 

Flying fox fish and African cichlids share the same territorial tendencies, but a spacious tank with hiding spaces can mitigate that. Be sure you only have one flying fox fish in with your cichlids. 


  • They are good community fish 
  • They tend not to bother fish that don’t look similar to them 


  • You have to be picky with the type of flying fox fish you choose due to their pH needs 


The best African cichlid aquarium companions are ones that aren’t going to fall victim to their territorial ways. Of course, fish that like the same habitat can coexist, especially when you set up your tank with care and attention to detail. 

Ian Sterling

I've been keeping fish for over 30 years and currently have 4 different aquariums – it's an addiction. I'm here to teach you everything there is to know about fishkeeping.

I also use this site as an excuse to spend lots of money on testing and reviewing different aquarium products! You can find my reviews here.

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