Can Cichlids Live Alone or is that Cruel? The Answer


Sometimes a cichlid in a group gets picked on and can no longer live in that group, and this raises the question whether one can house a cichlid alone. I hopped online and asked some avid cichlid keepers to find the answer.

Can cichlids live alone? When provided with clean water and food, in theory most cichlids are able to survive alone. However it is best to keep at least a breeding pair or more to allow them to thrive. The only cichlid that is often kept alone is the Oscar.

While possible to keep alone, I would recommend to not keep cichlids solitary. A cichlid owner compared keeping a cichlid alone like locking a kid in a closet for the rest of his life, which is kind off cruel unless his name is Harry Potter. In the rest of the article I will cover crucial knowledge to make sure you can provide the best care for your cichlids.

Solo raised cichlids are more aggressive

Whenever you raise a cichlid alone in an aquarium, it will become more aggressive. The reason for this is because cichlids are extremely territorial. Whenever you add a new fish to the tank it will see it as an intruder and will be aggressive towards the new fish. This is also the case when you would remove a cichlid from a group and place it in its own aquarium, as it will start to see the new aquarium as its territory.

This is also the reason why it is best to raise a group of cichlids together in an aquarium whenever you want to keep a beautiful group of cichlids together in the future. When they grow up together they will learn to share the aquarium and spend their days having small fights about dominance and territory. This is also what makes keeping cichlids as rewarding because it is a lot of fun to watch them and never gets boring.

African Cichlids, Central- and South American Cichlids

First of all it is important to not keep cichlids from different parts of the world together in the same aquarium. This has to do with their immune systems, which makes it possible for one group of cichlids to make other groups ill. For the rest these cichlids have a lot in common, but it is crucial to research the specific type of cichlid that you have and see what tankmates they like.

Oscars are able to live alone

Oscars seem to be the exception to the rule and do fine alone. They are one of the most popular beginner cichlids and sometimes are compared to a soccer ball with fins. Over time they grow a beautiful personality including allowing their owner to pet them and eating the food out of his/her hand.

Experience from cichlid keepers

What better way to find the answer than to see what other people experienced. There were some people that had to keep their cichlids alone in an aquarium due to circumstances. In one case the cichlid had killed its tank mates, in another situation the cichlid got bullied in the group and therefore had to be removed. From their experience the cichlids become very timid when kept alone. They do not explore the tank in the same way they would do when they were kept together with more fish from the same species. They would keep hiding for the first couple of days, which is longer than they would do when added to a “community”.

There are also instances of people finding that their cichlid had no problem living alone. However, they did argue the fish might be lonely. I personally do not think it is possible to see if a fish is lonely, but a tip might be adding some ram cichlids (as long as they are not much smaller than the other cichlid or they will end as a meal) or some bottom feeders like a catfish. Again, make sure they are not much smaller and remember the information about fish protecting their territory.

Bart Sprenkels

I have been keeping multiple aquariums since I was 18 years old. Just like many of you, I started with two goldfish but quickly learned they were not suitable for aquariums. Later, I switched to a tropical community tank and I also have two pet musk-turtles in a bigger aquarium. You can read more about me here.

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