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Can Cichlids Live Together with Tetras in the same Aquarium

Sometimes in the aquarium hobby I want to keep everything together! There are so many different beautiful fish and so little space. But this is not always smart. I did my research and found the answer.

Quick Answer

Bigger cichlids will eat most small tetras. It often comes down to the size difference. Big cichlids will eat small tetras, but luckily there are dwarf cichlids which you can add to community tanks with a school of tetras.

Of course you do not want any of your fish to end up as a snack, and therefore it is important to know what will happen before you add fish together. In the rest of the article I will share all you need to know concerning cichlids and tetras.

African Cichlids and tetras

Keeping African cichlids with other fish is a challenge. Most people recommend to keep a cichlid only tank, but a lot of people add other fish and make it work. Most African cichlids grow quite big and are therefore able to eat all tetras. Therefore, one can not keep African cichlids together with tetras.

A popular fish to add to an African cichlid tank are silver dollars. It has been done, but you should know there is a difference in the required pH between Afican cichlids and silver dollars.

Silver dollars prefer a pH between 5 and 7, while in general African cichlids prefer a pH between 7.5 and 9. Therefore I would recommend to not keep these fish together, as they will never thrive is suboptimal water parameters.

Also, do not keep African cichlids with your regular ember/neon/cardinal tetra as they are too small and will get eaten by African cichlids as they are way bigger.

South American Cichlids and tetras

There are a lot of beautiful South American (SA) cichlids available to add to our aquarium. Unlike African cichlids, there are some dwarf cichlids that come from South America. Examples are Ram cichlids like the Blue Ram and Bolivian Ram and the rainbow kribensis.

These smaller SA cichlids are suitable to keep with regular size tetras such as cardinal tetras given that the tank size is sufficient and you add enough rocks, plants or ornaments to break the line of sight. The dwarf cichlids will still show the dominant and territorial behavior from cichlids and therefore might be aggressive towards other fish.

If you’re looking for some cichlid proof plants to add to your aquarium, make sure to check out my list here.

For the regular sized SA cichlids there is an option to add silver dollars to your aquarium to serve as dither fish. The desired pH of SA cichlids is between 6 and 7.5. Therefore there is overlap with the silver dollars. Dither fish is a fish that you add to make your cichlids feel more comfortable. This in turn will make your cichlids swim more in the front of your aquarium. Know that it is not necessary to have dither fish as cichlids are curious fish that like to explore.

Do not add small tetras to bigger SA cichlids as they will end up as a meal.

From experience someone told me that they kept an Oscar together with a couple of silver dollars. They made for a good combo and had no problems. This is the beauty of silver dollars, they grow rather big (up to 8″ or 20 cm). Therefore it is possible to add them to a group of other big fish.

Angelfish are also cichlids from South America, and are sometimes kept in community tanks. While there are smaller varieties of angelfish out there, most angel fish grow to be rather big. Therefore it is a risk to keep them with regular lemon-, cardinal-, or neon tetras. When the tetras are too small the angel fish will eat them.

How to raise your chances of succeeding

It is always difficult to predict whether something will work out when combining cichlids with different fish species. One of the ways to raise your chances is to add the cichlids to the aquarium when they are still really small. This way, they will learn to share the aquarium with others instead of seeing the entire aquarium as their own territory.

Furthermore, when combining dwarf cichlids with tetras, make sure your tank is big enough and that there are enough hiding spots and objects to break the line of sight. This is especially important when you plant to breed your cichlids in the aquarium. When cichlids are breeding they will show way more aggression to other fish that enter their territory as they are protecting their eggs and fry.

A different scenario happens when a breeding pair of cichlids in a tank start to display breeding behavior. When there is no place for the female to go, the male will keep harassing her as he is always able to see where she is. Adding a pile of rocks or tall plants allows the fish to get out of each others sight.

Looking for more information on aquarium fish?

In that case, make sure to check out our aquatic fish page. There you’ll find everything you need to know about aquarium fish, shrimp & snails.


To conclude this article, I want to give you a short summary. If there is just one thing you will remember I want you to remember that tetras will only survive when you match them with dwarf cichlids. Big cichlids will eat the tetras eventually.

African cichlid image – Author: Ed Schipul Licensed under: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic No changes
Angelfish image – Author: Jeff Kubina Licensed under: Some rights reserved No Changes