Top 10 Cichlids We Love to Keep in 29-Gallon Aquariums
Cichlids are a very diverse group of primarily freshwater fish that are known for their brilliant coloration and feisty personalities. Although many of these fish require large tanks in order to accommodate their size or territorial behavior, some species can fit in a smaller tank (e.g., a 29-gallon aquarium) to be able to house them. Discover which of these tiny cichlids made it onto our top 10 list.
South American Cichlids
1. German Blue Ram
This 2-2.5-inch (5-6 cm) dwarf cichlid boasts an amazing array of colors, such as a red eye, black markings, yellow head, and blue iridescent speckling on the body and fins. There are many color options, including black, electric and gold. It is important to choose an aquarium heater capable of raising the temperature to between 84 and 86 degrees F (29-30 degrees Celsius). Warmer water requirements can limit your options for tank mates. You might consider keeping them with cardinal tetras, discus, and Sterbai cory cats. You can find more information in their care guide.
2. Bolivian Ram
This underrated, hardier cousin of the German blue ram is a favorite of our warehouse manager Robert. The ram can reach 3 inches (7.6cm), and is distinguished by striking yellow and dark coloration. It also has long, trailing tail tips and fins. They are much easier to breed than German Blue Rams. They can also live in lower temperatures (73-79degF/23-26degC). This easy-going, friendly cichlid can be paired with similar-sized fish such as barbs, corydoras and livebearers.
3. Apistogramma Cichlid
This brightly colored genus of dwarf cichlids comes in almost every color and pattern imaginable. A. cacatuoides (or cockatoo cichlid), A. agassiziii, and A. borellii make up the majority of these species. They are similar to the German blue ram and prefer the bottom third. Many hobbyists enjoy breeding them by adding an apisto cave or coconut hut for them to lay their eggs. Our care sheet contains more information about keeping apistogrammas.
4. Lyretail Checkerboard Cichlid
You are looking for something more difficult? Try the checkerboard or chessboard cichlid, named after the alternating rows of black squares running along its body. They are more comfortable with low pH water so they can be added catappa leaves or driftwood to help naturally acidify it. While they have a shyer disposition and get along with other community fish, they may squabble amongst their own species, so try to keep more females than males.
5. Golden Dwarf Cichlid
This South American species exhibits serious sexual dimorphism. The sexes appear very different from one another. The male measures about 3 inches (7.6cm) in length and has flashy neon blue-green scales. The female is roughly half the size and has a golden-tan physique and black horizontal stripes. They enjoy Repashy gel food, slow-sinking pellets and frozen foods. Matching one male to multiple females is a good way to encourage breeding. Also, spawning caves can be provided (similar to apistos).
6. Lyretail Fairy Cichlid
This beautiful cichlid features a sleek, long body and a lyre-shaped tail. You can keep a breeding pair in a 20-gallon tank or a group of four to five in a 29-gallon tank. We recommend that they be kept alone in a tank with only their species, and no other fish mates, unless you are planning on increasing their aquarium size to 55 gallon or more.
Brichardi cichlids, like most of the smaller African cichlids on our list, come from Lake Tanganyika and therefore require hard water with high pH from 7.8-9.0 and GH above 160 ppm (9 degrees). If you have softer water, use cichlid salts and substrates like crushed coral and aragonite sand to reach the necessary water parameters. You can watch the parents and older siblings closely monitor the baby fry as they spawn by adding lots of cave-like rockwork.
7. Lemon Cichlid
The Leleupi cichlid is a great choice if you like the bright colors of larger African cichlids. The Leleupi cichlid is a striking species with a bright, yellowish-to-fierce orange body measuring 3-4 inches (8-10cm). It is similar to the lyretail Cichlid and enjoys living in cracks and caves made by rock piles. They do not eat picky foods and will happily eat omnivore food, including frozen foods and cichlid pellets.
This popular aquarium fish is well-loved because of its ease of breeding and many color variations. Similar to Apistogramma cichlids they spawn in apisto huts and coconut huts. They also care about their offspring. Unlike all the other African cichlids in this article, kribs do not come from Lake Tanganyika and therefore do well in slightly alkaline waters with pH levels of 7-8. They are also peaceful enough to live in a community tank but may become a bit territorial during breeding periods.
9. Julidochromis Cichlid
Julidochromis Cichylids are well-known for their striking black and/or white patterns, iridescent blue fins and long, cigar-shaped bodies. They are rock dwellers and tend to stay in the corners of rocks, protecting their territory and looking after their children. To provide extra cover for your julies, and purify the water, you might consider adding live aquarium plants.
10. Shell Dwellers
Shell dwellers are the smallest of all cichlids, measuring in at 2.5-5 cm (2.5-2.5 inches) They are known by their common name because they breed and live in empty snail shells, rather than rock crevices. They love to dig and redecorate constantly, so make sure you use sand as the tank’s bottom and add live plants that don’t need substrate (e.g., anubias and java ferns). Because the fry stay close to home and wait for food to drift into their shells, feed them tiny, slow-sinking foods like baby brine shrimp, nano pellets, and crushed flakes. For more details, read our shell dweller article.
Cichlids are a favorite fish due to their bright personalities and distinctive appearances. Aquarium Co-Op doesn’t ship fish but we do have a list trusted vendors who sell them online. Check out their selection to see if they have the right cichlids for you.