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Large South American Cichlids

Facts About Central and South America Cichlids

Family: Cichlidae Oscar Cichlid, large South American Cichlid OscarAstronotus ocellatusPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy David Brough

Large South American Cichlids are majestic looking fish that make impressive show specimens!

All the large American cichlids, with their personalities, temperaments, and size, are great specimens for an awesome show tank. Many will interact with their keepers and their environment.

The cichlid family is so vast that there are many good aquarium inhabitants. There are also some large cichlid hybrids that are very colorful and unique in appearance, like the Blood Parrot and the Flowerhorn Cichlid.

Many aquarists thoroughly enjoy these large specimens for their intriguing behaviors and friendly, companionable personalities. The large American Cichlids are generally quite durable fish, handsome fish that will provide much enjoyment.

Though all cichlids are relatively aggressive, a few of the large cichlids have a more amiable nature. These include some popular favorites such as the Severum, Discus, and Angelfish. These can be kept in a group environment, but many other large cichlids are quite aggressive and are best kept singly.

One of the rather fascinating behaviors of large cichlids is their propensity for digging in the substrate. Many types of large cichlids will quickly uproot any plants. Cichlids are also notorious for constantly be “remodeling”, excavating the gravel and heaping it into tall piles. When using an undergravel filter, pay attention to their digging as this can expose the filter plate and reduce its efficiency.

But despite a few little challenges, keeping large American cichlids with their individual habits is always interesting, and is never boring!

To learn more about all types of Central and South America Cichlids, see:
South American Cichlids: Fish Information and Cichlid Care for New World Cichlids

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Large American Cichlid Habitats

The large American Cichlids are found in Central American and South American, as well as the lower part of North America. Central and South America comprises a huge geographic area with greatly diverse habitats ranging from savannas to rain forests, consequently cichlids are found in a wide variety of conditions.

The water of South American waters is described as having three types: clear water, white water, and black water. While there can be a significant variation in pH levels, all of the waters of South America are soft to very soft. Some cichlids may be acclimated and survive in harder water, but it may be very difficult for them to successful spawn unless the water is soft.

About American Cichlids

Large South American Cichlids are those that are not considered to be Dwarf Cichlids. Most large species found in the hobby grow to a moderate size, and are readily suited to a medium or large home aquarium. Many range in size from about 6-12” (15-30 cm) for adult males. The term “dwarf cichlids” applies to much smaller cichlids that only reach up to about 4 inches (10 cm) or so. To learn about their dwarf counterparts see Dwarf Cichlids Facts: South American Dwarf Cichlids.

The largest of the South American cichlids that are occasionally available are the Wolf Cichlid and the Peacock Cichlid. These are fish that can reach a length of 24" (60 cm) or more. They will require at specialized aquarium, one that is at least 250 gallons, with larger being better, and are best kept singly. Most of the very largest species are not really suitable for most home aquariums due to size.

The aggression level of large cichlids varies greatly between species. Here's some examples:

  • Amiable
    Some large cichlids, such as the Severum, are quite amiable and can be kept in a community environment. Angelfish are also quite peaceful. Discus are comparatively peaceful, but because they are also rather delicate and need care taken in their environment, are generally only kept in groups with other discus.
  • Relatively mild
    Large cichlids like the Nicaragua Cichlid or the Firemouth Cichlid, are relatively mild and they can be housed together.
  • Moderately aggressive
    Moderately aggressive cichlids include species with the nature of the popular Jack Dempsey and the Salvini Cichlid.
  • Very aggressive
    Very aggressive cichlids include species like the Red Devil and the Texas Cichlid. These are best house singly. or as pair in a very large tank, having lots of rockwork with escape routes away from the aggressor.

Pairs of highly aggressive species may not be able to be housed together unless you have a huge tank, and lots of rockwork with escape routes away from the aggressor. Usually it is the smaller female that gets the worst of it if aggression erupts, and can be killed by the male. See each individual species for information about their aggressive level and suitability with other tank mates.

Types of Large Cichlids

Various types of Large South American Cichlids:

South American Cichlid Aquariums

South American Cichlids are naturally aggressive fish. When placed in the confines of an aquarium you may see an increase in aggressive behavior. This is especially true if the aquarium is too small, and if there is inadequate places for a tank mate to avoid an aggressor. Planning ahead can help avoid problems of predation and aggressive incompatibility.

  • Size
    Don’t make the mistake of getting too small a tank when you first start out. That cute little juvenile you bring home will grow, and South American Cichlids can grow quickly. The size of the aquarium for all large cichlids should be no smaller than 50 gallons (190 l). And it may very well need to be much larger depending on the species you plan on keeping, or if you will keep more than one.
  • Water
    It is really important to know about the type of cichlid you are getting, especially if you plan to keep more than one. When setting up a tank for South American Cichlids, keep in mind that you will want to provide them with water that is fairly soft.
  • Decor
    Most cichlids need plenty of rockwork to feel comfortable, and if keeping more than one, to provide places of refuge in case of aggression. Aquatic plants help create a natural environment that is suitable with some species, but most types of large American cichlids will simply uproot them, and some even eat them.
  • Feeding
    South American Cichlids diets vary, but most can be fed all kinds of live, fresh, and flake or pelleted foods. Feed 2 to 3 times a day in smaller amounts rather than a large quantity once a day. See each individual type of cichlid for more in-depth information on care and feeding.

See each individual species for in-depth information along with specific care and feeding requirements.