Cichlids – Weird Behaviors And 3 Fun Facts


Cichlids are spiny-rayed freshwater fishes that reach their most abundant diversity in Africa, specifically in the excellent east African lakes of Victoria (over 400 species), Malawi (300 to 500 varieties), and also Tanganyika (around 200 types).

Cichlids have more than 1,300 species of fishes of the family Cichlidae most of which are prominent fish tank fishes. Cichlids are mainly freshwater fishes and are also located in tropical America, mainland Africa and also Madagascar, and southern Asia. The majority of types are African, showing great diversity in the significant African lakes.

Cichlids are instead deep-bodied and also have one nostril (instead of the usual 2) on each side of the head. The lateral line alternates, and also there are three or more anal spines. They normally have rounded tails and, although sizeable for tropical fish, normally do not grow longer than about 30 cm (12 inches).

In numerous types, the rear sides of the dorsal, as well as anal fins, are sharp and the pelvic fins are elongated.

Cichlids range from vegetarian to carnivorous, depending on the species. They are known for their intricate mating and reproduction behavior. This generally involves courtship as well as preparation, upkeep, and also a defense of the nest as well as protection of the new one.

However, in particular, varieties, called mouthbreeders, the eggs are not placed in a nest but are lugged in the mouth of the parent until hatched.

This mouth breeding practice is common to several varieties of the genus Tilapia as well as various other Old world genera.

Cichlids overview


Cichlids are fish from the family Cichlidae in the order Cichliformes. Cichlids were generally classed in a suborder, Labroidei, together with the wrasses (Labridae), in the order Perciformes yet molecular research studies have negated this group.

The closest living family of cichlids are possibly the convict blennies and both households are classified in the 5th edition of Fishes of the world as both families in the Cichliformes, component of the subseries Ovalentaria.

This household is both large and also diverse. At the very least 1,650 species have been scientifically defined, making it one of the biggest animal families. New species are discovered yearly, as well as several species stay undescribed.

The actual number of varieties is for that reason unknown, with estimates ranging from 2,000 to 3,000. Lots of cichlids, specifical tilapia, are crucial food fishes, while others, such as the Cichla types, are valued game fish. The family members likewise consist of numerous preferred freshwater aquarium fish kept by hobbyists, including the angelfish, oscars, as well as discus.

Cichlids have the biggest number of threatened types among vertebrate families, the majority of them in the haplochromine group. Cichlids are especially popular for having rapidly evolved right into numerous closely relevant but morphologically varied types within big lakes, particularly Tanganyika, Victoria, Malawi, and Edward.

Their diversity in the African Great Lakes is necessary for the research of speciation in evolution. Numerous cichlids introduced into waters beyond their natural variety have come to be problems.

All cichlids have some type of parental care for their eggs and fry. That adult treatment might come in the kind of securing the eggs and fry or it may come in the type of mouthbrooding.

Types of cichlids

Among the better recognized of the male preferred fish tank cichlids are the fire mouth (Cichlasoma meeki), a fish with bright red in its mouth and on its throat and chest; the Jack Dempsey (C. biocellatum), a large dark fish found with blue-green; the oscar (Astronotus ocellatus), an attractive fish with an orange-ringed black area on its tail base; and also the discus (Symphysodon discus), a very deep-bodied fish spotted with blue.

Another preferred aquarium fish of this group is the angelfish, or scalare (Pterophyllum). A remarkable cichlid is Tilapia mossambica, a prolific African type that is currently cultivated in several regions as a source of food.

Anatomy and appearance of cichlids


Cichlids span a variety of body dimensions, from types as tiny as 2.5 centimeters (0.98 in) in size (e.g., female Neolamprologus multifasciatus) to a lot bigger species approaching 1 m (3.3 ft) in length (Boulengerochromis and Cichla).

Aulonocara Jacobfreibergi (Malawi Butterfly) Profile

As a group, cichlids exhibit a comparable diversity of physique, varying from strong side to side compressed types (such as Altolamprologus, Pterophyllum, as well as Symphysodon) to types that are cylindrical as well as very lengthened (such as Julidochromis, Teleogramma, Teleocichla, Crenicichla, as well as Gobiocichla).

Typically, however, cichlids often tend to be of medium size, ovate in shape, and somewhat laterally pressed, and usually comparable to the North American sunfishes in ecology, behavior, as well as morphology.

Cichlids share a solitary crucial trait: the fusion of the lower pharyngeal bones into a single tooth-bearing framework. A complex collection of muscular tissues permits the upper and lower pharyngeal bones to be used as a 2nd set of jaws for processing food, allowing a division of labor in between the “true jaws” (maledibles) and the “pharyngeal jaws”.

Cichlids are reliable and also commonly highly specialized feeders that catch and process a really wide range of food items. This is presumed to be one factor why they are so diverse. The attributes that distinguish them from the various other family members in Labroidei include:

  • Instead of two, they have a single nostril on each side of the forehead
  • No bony shelf below the orbit of the eye
  • Division of the sideline organ into 2 areas, one on the upper half of the flank and the 2nd along the midline of the flank from about midway along the body to the base of the tail (except for category Teleogramma as well as Gobiocichla).
  • A distinctly shaped otolith.
  • The tiny intestine’s left-side exits from the tummy instead of its right side as in various other Labroidei.

Taxonomy of cichlids

Kullander (1998) recognizes eight subfamilies of cichlids: the Astronotinae, Cichlasomatinae, Cichlinae, Etroplinae, Geophaginae, Heterochromidinae, Pseudocrenilabrinae, and finally Retroculinae . A ninth subfamily, Ptychochrominae, was later on acknowledged by Sparks and Smith.

Cichlid taxonomy is still disputed, and also classification of the category can not yet be definitively given. A comprehensive system of appointing varieties to the monophyletic category is still lacking, and there is not total agreement on what category needs to be identified in this family.

As an example of the classification troubles, Kullander placed the African genus Heterochromis phylogenetically within Neotropical cichlids, although later documents summarised otherwise. Other issues center upon the identification of the presumptive usual ancestor for the Lake Victoria super flock (male carefully associated species sharing a single habitat), and also the genealogical lineages of Tanganyikan cichlids.

The difference between a morphologically based phylogeny and analyses of genetics loci create differences at the category level. There continues to be an agreement that the Cichlidae as a family is monophyletic. In cichlid taxonomy, teeth were formerly made use of as a categorizing quality. Nonetheless, this was complicated by the truth that in numerous cichlids, tooth form changes with age, because of wear, and so can not be depended upon.

Genome sequencing and also other modern technologies transformed cichlid taxonomy.

Distribution and Habitat of cichlids

Cichlids are among the biggest vertebrate families worldwide. They are most varied in Africa as well as South America. Africa alone is estimated to host a minimum of 1,600 species. Central America as well as Mexico have about 120 species, as far north as the Rio Grande in southern Texas.

Madagascar has its own distinctive varieties (Katria, Oxylapia, Paratilapia, Paretroplus, Ptychochromis, and also Ptychochromoides), only distantly pertaining to those on the African landmass.


Within the cichlid family, there are carnivores, herbivores, detritivores, planktivores, and omnivores, meaning Cichlidae encompasses essentially the full variety of food usage feasible in the animal kingdom.

Different varieties have morphological changes for detailed food sources, but the majority of cichlids will certainly consume a broader selection of foods based on the schedule.

Carnivorous cichlids can be further divided into piscivorous and molluscivorous, since the morphology, as well as hunting behavior, varies greatly between both groups.

Piscivorous cichlids will eat other fish, fry, larvae, and eggs. Some varieties eat the offspring of mouthbrooders by head-ramming, wherein the hunter shoves its head right into the mouth of a female in order to expel her young and consume them.

Molluscivorous cichlids have numerous hunting methods amongst the selections within the team. Lake Malawi cichlids consume substrate and filter it out through their gill rakers to consume the mollusks that remained in the substratum. Gill rakers are finger-like frameworks that line the gills of some fish to capture any kind of food that may run away through their gills.

Astronotus Ocellatus Species Profile

The bumblebee cichlid, Pseudotropheus crabro, is specialized in feeding upon bloodsuckers from the catfish Bagrus meridionalis. Lots of cichlids are primarily herbivores, feeding on algae (e.g. Petrochromis) and plants (e.g. Etroplus suratensis). Small animals, particularly invertebrates, are only a minor component of their diets.

Other cichlids are detritivores and also eat the organic products, called Aufwuchs; amongst these varieties are the tilapias of the genera Oreochromis, Sarotherodon, and Tilapia.

Other cichlids are predatory and consume little or no plant matter. These consist of generalists that catch a selection of small animals, including insect larvae and also other fishes (e.g. Pterophyllum), and other specialists.

Trematocranus is a specialized snail-eater, while Pungu maclareni preys on sponges. A number of cichlids feed upon other fish, either completely or partially.



Aggressive habits in cichlids is ritualized and also contain numerous displays used to look for a fight while being associated with the assessment of rivals, coinciding with temporal distance to mating.

Displays of ritualized hostility in cichlids include an extremely fast change in pigmentation, throughout which an effectively leading territorial male presumes a more vivid and brighter pigmentation while a subservient or “non-territorial” male presumes a dull-pale coloration.

Added to color displays, cichlids use their sidelines to sense movements of water around their opponents to examine the contending male for physical traits/fitness. Male cichlids are extremely territorial due to the stress of reproduction, male establish their region and social standing by literally driving out other challenging males (unique intruders) with lateral displays (parallel positioning, uncovering gills), attacking, or mouth fights (head-on collisions of open mouths, gauging jaw size, as well as attacking each other’s jaws).

The cichlid social dichotomy is composed of a single dominant with numerous subordinates, where the physical hostility of males ends up being a competition for resources (mates, territory, food).

Female cichlids choose to mate with an efficiently alpha male with brilliant coloration, whose territory has food readily available.



Cichlids mate either monogamously or polygamously. The mating system of a given cichlid type is not continually related to its brooding system.

Although male monogamous cichlids are not mouthbrooders, Chromidotilapia, Gymnogeophagus, Spathodus, and Tanganicodus all consist of– or entirely include — monogamous mouthbrooders.

In comparison, numerous open- or cave-spawning cichlids are polygamous; instances consist of lots of Apistogramma, Lamprologus, Nannacara, and Pelvicachromis varieties.

Most grown-up male cichlids, particularly in the cichlid tribe Haplochromini, display a special pattern of oval-shaped, shade dots on their rectal fins. These phenomena are known as egg-spots and also help in the mouthbrooding systems of cichlids.

The egg-spots include carotenoid-based pigment cells, which indicates a high cost to the microorganism when thinking that fish are unable to synthesize their own carotenoids.

The mimicry of egg-spots is utilized by males for the fertilization process. Mouthbrooding females lay eggs and also immediately seize them up with their mouths. Over countless years, male cichlids have actually evolved egg-spots to initiate the fertilization procedure much more successfully.

When the females are taking up the eggs into their mouths, the male gyrates their anal fins, which lights up the egg-spots on his tail. Later on, the female, thinking these are her eggs, positions her mouth to the rectal fin (specifically the genital papilla) of the male, which is when he releases sperm into her mouth and fertilizes the eggs.

Brood Care (Pit-spawning in cichlids)

Pit-spawning, also described as substrate breeding, is an action in cichlid fish in which a fish will certainly build a pit in the sand or ground where they will date their mate and as a result, spawn with them.

There are numerous different variables that enter into these actions of pit-spawning including the female selection of the male and pit size, along with the male protection of the pits once they are dug in the sand.

Cichlids are often divided into 2 main teams: mouthbrooders and substrate brooders. There are different parenting investment levels as well as actions connected with each sort of reproduction. As pit-spawning is a reproductive behavior, there are numerous physical modifications that take place in the cichlid while this process is taking place that hinders social communication.

There are various types of species that numerous and pit-spawn different morphological modifications that occur because of this behavioral experience that has been studied in cichlids.

Pit-spawning is a developed action throughout the cichlid group. There is phylogenetic evidence from cichlids in Lake Tanganyika that might be practical in revealing the evolution of their reproductive habits. There are a number of essential behaviors that are connected with pit-spawning, including parental treatment, food provisioning, and brood safeguarding.

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Mouthbrooders vs. pit-spawning

Among the differences studied in African cichlids is the distinction in their reproductive behavior. There are some varieties who pit-spawn and also some that are referred to as mouthbrooders.

Mouthbrooding is a reproduction strategy where the fish will scoop up eggs and also fry for security. While these reproductive habits vary from species to species in the details, the general basis of the actions is the same.

This differs entirely from the other reproductive habits of cichlids, pit-spawning. As stated above, pit-spawning is when cichlids dig pits for their eggs instead of holding them in their mouths.

These two sorts of behavior vary not only in the means that they look after their eggs and fry but also in how they pick their mates and reproducing grounds.

In a 1995 research study, Nelson found out that in the pit-spawning females will pick which male to mate with based on the size of the pit that they dig as well as several of the physical attributes shown in the male.

Pit-spawning additionally varies from mouthbrooding in the dimension and also post-natal care that is exhibited. Eggs that have been hatched from pit-spawning cichlids are generally smaller-sized than those of mouthbrooders.

Pit-spawners’ eggs are normally around 2 mm while mouthbrooders are commonly around 7 mm. While there are different behaviors that occur -post-natally in between pit-spawners and mouthbrooders, there are some resemblances.

Something that both mouthbrooders and pit-spawning cichlids share is that the female in both cases will care for their young after they are hatched. In some cases, there is biparental care, discussed in a later area, however, the female will certainly constantly take a passion in taking care of the eggs as well as recently hatched out fry.

How pit-spawning is done

There are numerous various types of cichlid that use pit-spawning as reproductive habits, however among the less typically studied types that show this behavior is the Neotropical cichlid fish or the Cichlasoma dimerus.

This fish is a substrate-breeder who shows biparental care after the fish have actually hatched from their eggs. In a research done by Alonso, et al., they studied the reproductive behavior in addition to the social actions of these specific varieties to see how they accomplished their pit-spawning as well as behaviors associated with the social facet of these animals.

These researchers took a look at a range of different physical factors in the cichlids consisting of hormonal agent level, color modifications, plasma cortisol levels, as well as their behavior directly connected with pit-spawning.

They discovered that the whole spawning procedure could take around ninety minutes and anywhere between 400 and 800 eggs can be laid in the procedure. The female would deposit ~ ten eggs at once, connecting them to the spawning surface which might be a pit created on another surface or the substratum.

They found that the number of eggs that were laid correlate to the quantity of room that they carried the substratum. As soon as the eggs were affixed, the male would swim over the eggs and also fertilize them.

The parents would then dig pits in the sand, 10 to 20 centimeters wide and 5 to 10 centimeters deep where larvae would be moved after hatching out. Larvae would begin swimming eight days after fertilizing and parenting habits, as well as several of the physiological factors measured, would certainly change.

Color changes

In Alonso’s research, they noted that color changes were existing before and after the pit-spawning occurred. For example, after the larvae were transferred and the pits were beginning to be shielded, their fins turned a dark grey shade.

In additional research, done by Brown as well as Marshall, they examined the Rainbow Cichlid, Herotilapia multispinosa. In this study, they considered the color modification that occurs in this fish throughout the spawning process.

They found that pre-spawning, the Rainbow Cichlid was an olive color with grey bands. As soon as pre-spawning behaviors began, the body and fins of the fish became more of a gold color. When the eggs are completed being laid, the pelvic fin all the way back to the caudal fin turns to a darker color and also smudges in both the male and the female.

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Pit dimension

As stated formerly, a study done by Nelson shows that females favor a larger pit size when choosing where to lay eggs. Another study done by York, et al., shows that there are distinctions in the sizes of pits that pit-spawning cichlids develop, as well as a change in the morphology of the pits.

They discovered that there might be transformative differences between species of fish that cause them to either produce castles or pits when spawning. The differences that they found were modifications in the method that each variety fed, their macrohabitat, as well as the capacity of their sensory systems.



Cichlids are renowned for their recent, rapid transformative radiation, both across the entire clade and within different communities across separate habitats.

Within their phylogeny, there have actually been many parallel instances of family trees advancing to the exact same quality as well as multiple cases of reversion to a genealogical characteristic. The family Cichlidae arose between 80 and 100 million years ago within the order of Perciformes (perch-like fishes).

Fun Facts

  1. Unique Species
    Cichlids are an exceptionally varied family of fishes, the majority of which are located in rift lakes in Africa. There are more than 500 varieties in just 3 lakes: Victoria, Malawi, and Tanganyika. The majority of them are specialized feeders, which enables several kinds to cohabit without many competitors.
  2. What’s for Dinner?
    Amongst the predative types, preferences vary together with variants in jaw form. Some molluscs eaters squash the shell of their target as well as consume them entirely, while others get hold of the prolonged foot of the victim and suction them out of the shell. Invertebrate eaters might choose via algae beds or dig with the sloppy base looking for food. Types that feed upon zooplankton typically filter feed in the open water. And although there are several piscivorous varieties of cichlids, some consume just larvae, adults, or eggs, or particular body components of various other fishes, consisting of scales, fins, and even eyes!
  3. Keeping count
    New varieties of cichlids are found each year. Producing conservation strategies is difficult due to the fact that researchers do not know exactly how many types there are. Just like all pets that are extremely focused on adaptation or habits, cichlids are at risk to environmental changes, such as air pollution and also the introduction of unique types, which can enhance competitors, predation, as well as hybridization. Cichlids are additionally endangered by overfishing and collection for the pet trade.
  4. Many kinds of cichlids are mouth-brooders. Male blue tilapias dig a pit with their mouths and also fins in shallow water when spawning starts. They proactively safeguard their regions from various other males while dating females. An interested female lays eggs by the male, which he after that fertilizes. The female takes the eggs in her mouth and also swims off while the male waits for an additional female (although in a couple of tilapia varieties, the male protects the female). The female incubates and also hatches her eggs in her mouth. For about a week, the female permits the young to swim back inside her mouth if the risk is nearby.
    Some cichlids are substrate-spawners. With this kind of reproduction, the female lays a string of eggs, which the male fertilizes. The male and the female safeguard the eggs up until they hatch.\

Ecology and conservation

Countless cichlid varieties can leave together. Of the 300 or so recognized fish varieties in Lake Malawi, Africa, even more than 250 are cichlids. Since they are colorful, calm, as well as sturdy, they are prominent amongst fish tank lovers.

Some, such as blue tilapias (Oreochromis aurea), have actually come to be an essential food resource. Blue tilapias are raised on fish farms in countries like the USA.

Blue tilapias, belonging to north Africa and the Middle East, were imported to Florida in 1961. They have ended up being developed in lakes, fish ponds, rivers, streams, and canals throughout central and southern Florida.

They rapidly grow throughout the first couple of years of life. Most blue tilapias in Florida ranges from 10 to 30 centimeters (4 to 12 in.) in size. The biggest sampling found was 53 centimeters (21 in.) in size and also considered to be 4.5 kg (10 pounds).