Beautiful, intelligent, with bags of personality. If there were a dating website for fish, Cichlids would have a great profile!
But are cichlids so lucky when it comes to longevity? While their lifespans vary considerably, most cichlid species will live between 5-10 years in captivity when treated well.
But since there’s so much variation, let’s take a closer look at the different lifespans of the most popular types of cichlids and what you can do to help your fish live for as long as possible.
African Cichlids are simply members of the Cichlidae family that are native to the African continent.
Although most of them hail from the East African lakes of Lake Malawi, Lake Victoria, and Lake Tanganyika, there are also a few from other parts of Africa, such as the glorious Jewel Cichlids and Kribensis from West Africa.
African Cichlids from the Great Lakes usually live for around 7-10 years when treated well in an appropriate environment. But, of course, there is some variation between species.
Species from other parts of Africa are more genetically diverse and can vary in age considerably.
Let’s take a look at some of the most popular varieties.
How Long Do Mbuna Cichlids Live For?
Mbuna cichlids are a popular group of cichlids from Lake Malawi.
Some of the most famous species include the Livingstonii Cichlid, Bumblebee Cichlid, Auratus Cichlid, Electric Yellow Cichlids, and Yellow Lab Cichlid.
When given hard, alkaline water and a healthy tank environment, mbunas typically live for 8-10 years.
How Long Do Peacock Cichlids Live For?
Also from Lake Malawi, Peacock Cichlids are an incredibly striking type of African cichlid. Popular species include Butterfly Peacock Cichlid, Blue Peacock Cichlids, Sunshine Peacock Cichlid, and Dragonblood Peacock Cichlid.
Like their cousins, the mbunas, Peacock Cichlids tend to live for between 8-10 years, but it has been known for specimens to exceed 15 years on rare occasions!
How Long Do Lake Tanganyika Cichlids Live For?
There are more than 150 different species of cichlid hailing from Lake Tanganyika, the second-deepest lake on our planet.
Ranging in size from 2 inches to over a foot long, the most popular aquarium species of this diverse group include:
The Lemon Cichlid (life expectancy of 8 years), Fairy Cichlid (life expectancy of 8-10 years), Daffodil Cichlid (life expectancy of 8-10 years), Frontosa Cichlid (life expectancy 8-10 years), and the Blue Goby Cichlid (life expectancy 3-5 years).
How Long Do Haps Live For?
Haplochromis, or “Haps” as they are commonly known, are the largest genera of Cichlids, with many species residing in Lake Malawi and Lake Victoria.
Popular species include Electric Blue Hap (or Electric Blue Cichlid), Blue Dolphin Cichlid, Tangerine Tiger Cichlid, and Venustus (also known as Giraffe Cichlid).
Hap species need to be chosen carefully to avoid fighting but can typically live for around 7-10 years when well cared for in a suitable aquarium environment.
How Long Do West African Cichlids Live For?
West African Cichlids are a lesser-known group of cichlids from countries such as Congo, Nigeria, and Cameroon.
Among the most famous of these are the cute, beginner-friendly Kribensis (or ‘Kribs’ for short) which tend to live for around 3-6 years in captivity, and the aggressive but stunningly beautiful Jewel Cichlid with a typical lifespan of around 4-6 years.
The longest-lived of the West African Cichlids that I discovered in my research is the extraordinary-looking Buffalo Cichlid (aka. Lionhead Cichlid or Blockhead Cichlid) which can frequently live for more than 10 years.
Central American and South American Cichlids
Crossing the Atlantic Ocean, we discover another wonderful array of cichlid species that enjoy different conditions to most African Cichlids.
Whereas African Cichlids tend to prefer hard, alkaline waters that resemble the great lakes, Central and South American Cichlid species typically come from soft, acidic rivers and streams.
Central and South American Cichlid species are a broad and diverse group, so it’s hard to generalize their lifespan. So let’s take a look at some of the most popular species.
Angelfish are by far the most popular aquarium cichlid species in the world, and can grow to a great size and age!
In the wild, Angelfish can grow up to 10 inches long and live for 15 years. In captivity, their average size is only about 6 inches long, and their life expectancy is around 10 years.
When kept in large tanks and given the right care, though, they can both grow bigger and live longer.
Discus are among the most beautiful of all freshwater tropical fish, but they are also one of the hardest to keep.
These Amazonian cichlids are especially sensitive to water quality and need soft, acidic water to survive. When kept in the right conditions, though, Discus can live for 10-15 years in a large fish tank.
Oscars are the bad boys of the cichlid world. Big, fierce, and predatorial, some fish keepers simply love their ‘tough guy’ appeal!
Oscars can grow to 10 inches long and prefer a tank size of at least 75 gallons.
When well looked after and given a carnivorous diet, Oscars can live for 8-12 years, with 15 years being attainable in exceptional circumstances.
Bolivian Ram Cichlids
Growing to just 2.5-3.5 inches long, Ram Cichlids are often described as dwarf cichlids.
Their relatively peaceful nature also makes them one of the best cichlids for community aquariums.
But, in keeping with their smaller size, Bolivian Rams tend to have a shorter lifespan than most other cichlids, only living to 3-5 years on average.
Convict Cichlids are popular for beginners because they are relatively easy to keep and breed.
But Male Convicts can sometimes grow up to 6 inches and become quite aggressive, especially during spawning.
A typical Convict will live for around 8-10 years when given adequate care.
Severums are surely some of the most underrated cichlids and my personal favorite.
Gold Severums and Green Severums can both grow to 8-10 inches in a 75-gallon aquarium and these peaceful giants can live for around 5-10 years with proper care.
How Does Cichlid Age Compare With Other Aquarium Fish?
When compared to many other popular aquarium fish, cichlids are relatively long-lived.
Killifish and Guppies are among the shortest-lived fish, only surviving for around 2 years on average. Danios, Betta Fish, Swordtails, and Mollies typically live for less than 5 years, and Tetras and Barbs can sometimes exceed 5 years when kept in the right conditions.
But with an average lifespan of 5-10 years, most cichlids don’t compare to goldfish, which can live for over 40 years, and larger pleco species, which have been known to exceed 60 years in captivity!
Factors That Affect the Age of Cichlids
One of the biggest factors affecting the longevity of a pet fish is its diet. Cichlids are a diverse family of fish requiring different menu options, so the key is to know your species properly.
Whereas herbivorous African cichlids like Tropheus and Mbuna would mostly live on algae, biofilm, and aquatic plants in the wild, some South American cichlids like Oscars are more carnivorous, preferring to eat meaty foods like small fish, insects, and insect larvae.
In truth, most cichlids could be classified as omnivores and will accept a variety of foods, including commercial dried foods.
But the secret to keeping your pet cichlids in radiant health is to regularly offer them a broad range of treats that reflect their natural diet.
My gold severum used to love eating cooked peas, but a range of nutritious meaty treats like bloodworms, brine shrimp, and mosquito larvae are usually very welcome too.
Just be careful not to overfeed – since this is one of the biggest causes of health problems and poor water quality.
Even more important than diet is the water quality of your cichlid tank.
Although many aquarium cichlids are relatively hardy fish, they will be in better health and live much longer when provided with excellent water quality.
The keys to good water quality are an effective filter, regular tank vacuuming, and water changes, as well as frequent testing to make sure your water is a safe and healthy environment for your fish.
By absorbing excessive nitrates and phosphates, and oxygenating the water, live plants can also have a positive impact on the aquarium water quality.
Just be sure to choose tough enough species such as Anubias or Java fern to stand up to the boisterous ravages of many cichlid species!
Aside from water quality, water parameters are also extremely important. As you may have noticed from the above list, cichlid species vary considerably in their preferences for water chemistry.
African cichlids from the Great Lakes need hard, alkaline water to thrive, with a pH of 7.5-8.5, and a dGH (degrees of general hardness) of 15-25. South American cichlids, on the other hand, tend to come from soft, acidic water habitats and prefer a pH of 6-7, and a dGH of 2-5.
This water chemistry makes a big impact on your fish’s health and lifespan. If you keep them in the wrong water conditions, they could easily become sick and die prematurely.
As for water temperature, most types of cichlid will be happy between 76–82°F, although a few exceptional species such as Discus need higher temperatures of between 82-85°F.
Cichlid Care and Disease Prevention
As well as providing the correct diet and water conditions, it’s essential to keep a close eye on your cichlids every day to make sure they remain in prime health.
An excellent fish keeper stands apart from a mediocre one by the level of care and attention they give their fish every day.
Take the time to watch your fish daily to make sure they’re all happy. If you notice certain individuals being bullied, make sure you intervene promptly before they get injured or sick from stress or shock.
If you notice any abnormalities such as skin conditions, bloating, or irregular swimming, be sure to diagnose and treat your fish immediately to prevent their lives from being needlessly cut short.
How Should I Decide Which Type of Cichlid To Keep?
With more than 1,500 species worldwide, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to finding your ideal cichlids.
But as well as lifespan, there are a few other factors that you need to consider when choosing your cichlid, most importantly cichlid aggression and the chemistry of your tap water.
Cichlids are notorious for being aggressive fish, and most species are not well suited to life in a community tank! But keeping similar species together can be a good way to prevent any fish from being bullied or harmed.
African Cichlid species, for example, are renowned for being territorial fish, but when kept in a specialized tank they can often get along with one another amicably.
For community tanks, the more peaceful dwarf cichlids such as Ram Cichlids, Kribensis, and Golden Dwarf Cichlids make great choices.
Your Local Tap Water
As we’ve discussed, different cichlids have different water preferences. I’d highly recommend choosing the fish that suit your local water chemistry.
If your tap water is soft and acidic, go for South American Cichlids, if it’s hard and alkaline, choose African Cichlids.
This will save you a lot of trouble later on, trying to constantly adjust and maintain the correct water parameters for your fish.
Cichlid lifespan varies considerably. Whereas dwarf cichlids will sometimes live for less than 5 years, some larger African cichlids have been known to exceed 15 years of age!
But as with all fish, cichlids can only fulfill their maximum lifespan when they’re offered the ideal diet, water conditions, and care.
Check out our guides to African Cichlids, South American Cichlids, and Dwarf Cichlids by clicking on the links!