The 10 best dwarf cichlids for your aquarium

Dwarf cichlids have big characters for such small fish, and they’re suitable for tropical community tanks. Just keep it to one pair of dwarf cichlids per tank. Here are some of our favourites

Ram, Mikrogeophagus ramirezi

Rams are gorgeous yellow fish with pink, black and blue markings. They need warm, soft water and are ideal tank mates for cardinal tetras. The standard fish are called blue or German blue (despite being yellow,) but now bright “electric blue” rams are also available, as well as all yellow “gold” variants. If they spawn it means you’ve got their tank just to their liking. 

Max Size 5cm

Kribensis, Pelvicachromis pulcher

Kribensis are probably the most popular dwarf cichlids and are hardy with regard to pH too. Give them half a coconut shell to spawn under and they’ll be happy. Look out for other Pelvicachromis species too like P.taeniatus.

Max Size 10cm

Thomasi, Anomalochromis thomasi

Anomalochromis thomasi are also West African dwarf cichlids, like Kribs, but they look more like dwarf Jewel cichlids. Often drab and unassuming in the fish store, get them home, give them a mature, well-decorated tank and they will repay you with blue reflective scales over a pink body. 

Max size 5cm

Keyhole cichlid, Cleithracara maronii

Keyhole cichlids are old favourites which are very much outshone (in terms of colour,) these days by other South American cichlids like Rams and Apistogramma. But these dwarf acaras have a peaceful temperament and develop tail extensions as they mature. Be lucky enough to breed them, keep them in dim light and you’ll see the pair display the Keyhole markings on their flanks that give them their common name. 

Max size 7.5cm

Curviceps, Laetacara curviceps

The Flag cichlid is a stocky little dwarf cichlid that is easy to keep and makes a nice breeding project. Offer them a natural-looking furnished aquarium and they develop more blue colouration as they mature. Laetacara dorsigera is a similar species but prefers higher temperatures. 

Max size 5cm

Apistogramma, Apistogramma spp.

Apistogramma is actually a large genus with some 90+ species, many of which are beautiful if a little delicate at times. Males develop ornate finnage and markings which make them popular aquarium fish, with The Cockatoo cichlid, A.cacatuoides probably being the most popular. Give them a blackwater themed aquarium with tetras or pencilfish as company and lots of plant or leaf cover and they will blossom. 

Average size 5-7cm 

Checkerboard cichlid, Dicrossus filamentosus 

Checkerboard cichlids are like Apistogramma in their care, needing quiet, mature, soft water aquaria to see them develop into their best. There are several species in the genus although D.maculatus and filamentosus are the most common. Not a fish for beginners, if you see a pair, invest time in caring for them and they turn into wonderful looking dwarves and may even breed too. 

Max size 5cm

Nannacara anomala

Nannacara is a genus of dwarf cichlid you may walk straight past in the shops, but give them a quiet, furnished aquarium and the male colouration can become a blend of gold, green and blue. They’ve been in the hobby a long time but now are often overshadowed by the much showier Apistogramma. But give them a try – they are little beauties.

Max size 5cm  

Bolivian ram, Mikrogeophagus altispinosa

Bolivians are larger than their yellow cousins, but they are also more hardy and straight forward to keep. They’re peaceful too. They don’t need such acidic water and are a good choice for the tropical community aquarium.

Max size 7cm

Egyptian mouthbrooder, Pseudocrenilabrus multicolor

If you can find them, these are wonderful little African cichlids that as the name suggests, holds eggs and fry in the (female’s) mouths. The genus Pseudocrenilabrus is instead much more widely represented by P.nicholsi, which is a much larger, much more aggressive fish, although with more striking black and red colouration too. Egyptians are by contrast much smaller when offered for sale, but males take on gold livery as they mature and they are a great breeding project and a way to keep mouthbrooding cichlids without having to keep hyper-aggressive Malawi cichlids.

Max size 8cm

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Jeremy Gay is an author, lifelong fishkeeper, and aquatic specialist. He's a former editor of Practical Fishkeeping Magazine, UK editor at Reefbuilders, a former aquatic store manager, and has collected fish in Sri Lanka and the Amazon. He's been on tv and radio, contributed to Koi Carp and Gardeners World magazines, been a product tester, a judge, and a product developer. Jeremy is here to guide and advise you on all things tropical, pond and marine, from set-up to stocking, health, feeding to breeding, as well as solving many common fishkeeping problems along the way.


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