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Jewel cichlid | Labeotropheus | Sciaenochromis | Steatocranus

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Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Perciformes
Family: Cichlidae
See text.

Cichlids (pronounced “sick-lids”) are fishes from the family Cichlidae in the order Perciformes. The family Cichlidae, a major family of perciform fish, is both large and diverse. Estimates of species range from 1300 to 1900, making it one of the three largest vertebrate families.[1][2] They span a wide range of body sizes, from so-called dwarf species as small as 2.5 cm in length (e.g. Neolamprologus multifasciatus ) to much larger species approaching a metre in length (e.g. Boulengerochromis and Cichla). As a group the cichlids exhibit a similarly wide diversity of body shapes, ranging from strongly laterally compressed species (such as Altolamprologus, Pterophyllum, and Symphysodon) through to species that are cylindrical and highly elongate (such as Teleogramma, Teleocichla, Crenicichla, and Gobiocichla).[3] On the whole though, cichlids tend to be of medium size, round in shape and slightly laterally compressed, and generally very similar to the North American sunfishes in terms of morphology, behaviour, and ecology.[4]

Some species, particularly the tilapiines are important food fishes, while others are valued game fish (eg. Cichla species). Many species are also highly valued in the aquarium trade.[5][6] Cichlids are also the family of vertebrates with by far the highest number of endangered species, most of these being from among the haplochromine group.[7] Cichlids are particularly well known for having evolved rapidly into a large number of closely related but morphologically diverse species within in large lakes, particularly the African Rift Valley lakes of Tanganyika, , and Victoria, and Malawi. [8][9] Many cichlids that have been accidentally or deliberately released released into freshwaters outside of their natural range have become nuisance species, for example tilapia in the southern United States.[10]


Characteristics of cichlids

Cichlids are members of a group of perciform fish known as the Labroidei alongside the wrasses Labridae, damselfish Pomacentridae, and surfperches Embiotocidae. This very large grouping shares a single key trait: the fusion of the lower pharyngeal bones into a single tooth-bearing structure. A complex set of muscles allows the upper and lower pharyngeal bones to be used as a second set of jaws for processing food, allowing a division of labour between the "true" jaws (mandibles) and the pharyngeal "jaws". Cichlids in particular have evolved to be very efficient feeders that are able to capture and process a very wide variety of food items and this is assumed to be one reason why they are so diverse (see section on diet below).[11]

The particular features of cichlids that distinguish them from the other Labroidei include:[12]

  • A single nostril on each side of the forhead instead of two.
  • No bony shelf below the orbit of the eye.
  • The lateral line organ is divided into two sections, one on the upper half of the flank and a second along the midline of the flank from about halfway along the body to the base of the tail (except for genera Teleogramma and Gobiocichla).
  • A distinctively shaped otolith.
  • The small intestine leaves the stomach from its left side, not from its right side as in other Labroidei.
  • Extensive brood care, with eggs and fry being guarded by one or both parents.


Cichlids are mainly freshwater fish that are most diverse in Africa and South America. Substanial numbers are also found in Central America as far north as the Rio Grande in southern Texas, and Madagascar has its own distinctive fauna of cichlids phylogenetically only distantly related to those on the African mainland. Asia largely lacks endemic cichlids except in the Levant east to Iran, Sri Lanka, and southern India.. Europe, Australia, Antarctica, and most of North America do not have any native cichlids, although where environmental conditions are suitable, for example in Florida and northern Australia, feral populations of cichlids have become established as exotics. [13] [14]

Cichlids are less commonly found in brackish and salt water habitats, though many species will tolerate brackish water for extended periods; Cichlasoma urophthalmus, for example, is equally at home in freshwater marshes and mangrove swamps, and can be found living and breeding in salt water environments such as the mangrove belts around barrier islands. [15] However, only a few cichlids are found primarily in brackish or salt water, most notably Etroplus maculatus, Etroplus suratensis, and Sarotherodon melanotheron. [16]


Cichlids are astonishingly diverse in terms of diet. Many are primarily herbivores feeding on algae (e.g. Petrochromis) and plants (e.g. Etroplus suratensis) and small animals, particularly invertebrates, are only a small part of their diet. Some cichlids are detritvores and eat all types of organic materia; among these species are the tilapias of the genera Oreochromis, Sarotherodon, and Tilapia.

Other cichlids are predatory and eat little if any plant matter. These include generalists that catch a variety of small animals including other fishes and insect larvae (e.g. Pterophyllum), as well as variety of specialists. Trematocranus is a specialised snail-eater, while Pungu maclareni feeds on sponges. A number of cichlids feed on other fish, either whole or in part. Crenicichla are stealth-predators that lunge at small fish that pass by their hiding places, while Cichla are open water pursuit predators that chase down their prey. Paedophagous cichlids such as Caprichromis species eat other species' eggs or young (in some cases ramming the heads of mouthbrooding species to force them to disgorge their young). Among the more unusual predators are Plecodus straeleni feeds on scales and fins ripped from other fishes, and Nimbochromis livingstonii, which lies on its side and plays dead, hoping to lure smaller fish close enough for it to snap them up.

Scientists believe it is this wide adaptability of feeding styles that has helped cichlids to inhabit such a wide range of habitats. It is largely the pharyngeal teeth (teeth in the throat) that allows the cichlid so many 'niche' feeding behaviors, i.e. the jaws may be used to hold or pick food, while the pharyngeal teeth are used to crush what was harvested.


All species show some form of parental care for both eggs and larvae, often extended to free-swimming young until they are several weeks or months old. The discus fish (Symphysodon species) are noted to feed their young with a secretion on the skin from slime glands. Other South American, some Central American and Madagascan cichlds have also been observed with fry feeding on their parents, but not to the extent of the discus. Parental care falls into one of three categories: mouthbrooders, substrate brooders, and delayed mouthbrooding where the eggs are laid in the open or in a cave, and subsequently brooded in the mouth(s) of the parents.

Endangered cichlids

Because of the introduced nile perch and water hyacinth, deforestation causing siltation of water, and overfishing, many species of Lake Victoria cichlids have been wiped out or drastically reduced in the wild. Thankfully, the myriad of satellite lakes surrounding Lake Victoria have not been affected, and harbor a vast array of similar species.

Hybrid cichlids

Some cichlids have been found to hybridise with closely related species quite readily, both in the wild and under artificial conditions.[17] This is not particularly unusual, having been observed among other groups of fishes, such as European cyprinids.[18] What is unusual is the extent to which cichlid hybrids have been put to commercial use, in particular as fast-growing food fish and as aquarium fish.[19][20]

Cichlids as aquarium fish

Cichlid keeping aquarists tend to divide cichlids into groups based on regions such as Central America, South America, Madagascar and India, Lake Tanganyika, Lake Malawi and Lake Victoria. It is noteworthy that most cichlids are not the most peaceful aquarium residents, though there are exceptions to this rule.

Cichlids from Lake Tanganyika were first collected by German hobbyists during the 1930's. However, it was during the 1970s and 80s that the cichlids from lakes Tanganyika and Malawi began to become popular aquarium fishes. This trend continues to the present unabated.

Perhaps the most commonly encountered species in retail aquariums is Pterophyllum scalare, known in the trade as the "angelfish". Other cichlids commonly stocked by retail aquaria include:

  • Astronotus ocellatus (oscars)
    Cleithracara maronii (keyhole cichlids)
    Hemichromis sp. (Jewel cichlids)
    Labidochromis caeruleus (electric yellows)
    Mikrogeophagus ramirezi (blue rams)
    Pelvicachromis pulcher (kribensis)
    Sciaenochromis fryeri (electric blues)
    Symphysodon discus (discus)

Species of cichlid can be kept in aquariums with other fish, however, many cichlids are aggressively territorial or predatory towards smaller fish. Conversely, some cichlids, such as Apistogramma or Julidochromis spp., can be timid in the aquarium. In such cases the use of dither fish is recommended.


Source: Froese, R. and D. Pauly. Editors. 2006.FishBase. World Wide Web electronic publication., version (03/2006). As of 2006, there are 223 genera.

Acarichthys Eigenmann 1912
Acaronia Myers 1940
Aequidens Eigenmann & Bray 1894
Alticorpus Stauffer & McKaye 1988
Altolamprologus Poll 1986
Amphilophus Agassiz, 1859
Anomalochromis Greenwood 1985
Apistogramma Regan 1913
Apistogrammoides Meinken 1965
Archocentrus Gill 1877
Aristochromis Trewavas, 1935
Astatoreochromis Pellegrin 1904
Astatotilapia Pellegrin 1904
Astronotus Swainson 1839
Aulonocara Regan 1922
Aulonocranus Regan 1920
Australoheros Rican & Kullander 2006
Baileychromis Poll 1986
Bathybates Boulenger 1898
Benitochromis Lamboj 2001
Benthochromis Poll 1986
Biotodoma Eigenmann & Kennedy 1903
Biotoecus Eigenmann & Kennedy 1903
Boulengerochromis Pellegrin 1904
Buccochromis Eccles & Trewavas 1989
Bujurquina Kullander 1986
Callochromis Regan 1920
Caprichromis Eccles & Trewavas 1989
Caquetaia Fowler 1945
Cardiopharynx Poll 1942
Chaetobranchopsis Steindachner, 1875
Chaetobranchus Heckel, 1840
Chalinochromis Poll 1974
Champsochromis Boulenger 1915
Cheilochromis Eccles & Trewavas 1989
Chetia Trewavas 1961
Chilochromis Boulenger 1902
Chilotilapia Boulenger 1908
Chromidotilapia Boulenger 1898
Cichla Bloch & Schneider 1801
Cichlasoma Swainson 1839
Cleithracara Kullander & Nijssen 1989
Copadichromis Eccles & Trewavas 1989
Corematodus Boulenger 1897
Crenicara Steindachner 1875
Crenicichla Heckel 1840
Ctenochromis Pfeffer 1893
Ctenopharynx Eccles & Trewavas 1989
Cunningtonia Boulenger 1906
Cyathochromis Trewavas 1935
Cyathopharynx Regan 1920
Cyclopharynx Poll 1948
Cynotilapia Regan 1922
Cyphotilapia Regan 1920
Cyprichromis Scheuermann 1977
Cyrtocara Boulenger 1902
Danakilia Thys van den Audenaerde 1969
Dicrossus Steindachner 1875
Dimidiochromis Eccles & Trewavas 1989
Diplotaxodon Trewavas 1935
Divandu Lamboj & Snoeks 2000
Docimodus Boulenger 1897
Eclectochromis Eccles & Trewavas 1989
Ectodus Boulenger 1898
Enterochromis Greenwood 1980
Eretmodus Boulenger 1898
Etia Schliewen & Stiassny 2003
Etroplus Cuvier 1830
Exochochromis Eccles & Trewavas 1989
Fossorochromis Eccles & Trewavas 1989
Gaurochromis Greenwood 1980
Genyochromis Trewavas 1935
Geophagus Heckel 1840
Gephyrochromis Boulenger 1901
Gnathochromis Poll 1981
Gobiocichla Kanazawa 1951
Grammatotria Boulenger 1899
Greenwoodochromis Poll 1983
Guianacara Kullander & Nijssen 1989
Gymnogeophagus Miranda Ribeiro 1918
Haplochromis Hilgendorf 1888
Haplotaxodon Boulenger 1906
Harpagochromis Greenwood 1980
Hemibates Regan 1920
Hemichromis Peters 1857
Hemitaeniochromis Eccles & Trewavas 1989
Hemitilapia Boulenger 1902
Herichthys Baird & Girard 1854
Herotilapia Pellegrin 1904
Heterochromis Regan 1922
Hoplarchus Kaup,1860
Hoplotilapia Hilgendorf 1888
Hypselecara Kullander 1986
Hypsophrys Agassiz 1859
Interochromis Yamaoka, Hori & Kuwamura 1988
Iodotropheus Oliver & Loiselle 1972
Iranocichla Coad 1982
Julidochromis Boulenger 1898
Katria Stiassny & Sparks 2006
Konia Trewavas 1972
Krobia Kullander & Nijssen 1989
Labeotropheus Ahl 1926
Labidochromis Trewavas 1935
Labrochromis Greenwood 1980
Laetacara Kullander 1986
Lamprologus Schilthuis 1891
Lepidiolamprologus Pellegrin 1904
Lestradea Poll 1943
Lethrinops Regan 1922
Lichnochromis Trewavas 1935
Limbochromis Greenwood 1987
Limnochromis Regan 1920
Limnotilapia Regan 1920
Lipochromis Greenwood 1980
Lithochromis Lippitsch & Seehausen 1998
Lobochilotes Boulenger 1915
Macropleurodus Regan 1922
Maylandia (Metriaclima) Meyer & Foerster 1984. For information on Maylandia vs. Metriaclima see: Maylandia.
Mazarunia Kullander 1990
Mbipia Lippitsch & Seehausen 1998
Mchenga Stauffer & Konings, 2006
Melanochromis Trewavas, 1935
Mesonauta Günther, 1862
Microchromis Johnson 1975
Mikrogeophagus Meulengracht-Madson 1968
Myaka Trewavas 1972
Mylacochromis Greenwood 1980
Mylochromis Regan 1920
Naevochromis Eccles & Trewavas 1989
Nandopsis Gill, 1862
Nannacara Regan 1905
Nanochromis Pellegrin 1904
Neetroplus Günther, 1867
Neochromis Regan 1920
Neolamprologus Colombe & Allgayer 1985
Nimbochromis Eccles & Trewavas 1989
Nyassachromis Eccles & Trewavas 1989
Ophthalmotilapia Pellegrin 1904
Oreochromis Günther 1889
Orthochromis Greenwood 1954
Otopharynx Regan 1920
Oxylapia Kiener & Maugé 1966
Pallidochromis Turner 1994
Parachromis Agassiz 1859
Paracyprichromis Poll 1986
Paralabidochromis Greenwood 1956
Parananochromis Greenwood 1987
Paraneetroplus Regan 1905
Paratilapia Bleeker, 1868
Paretroplus Bleeker, 1868
Pelmatochromis Steindachner 1894
Pelvicachromis Thys van den Audenaerde 1968
Perissodus Boulenger 1898
Petenia Günther, 1862
Petrochromis Boulenger 1898
Petrotilapia Trewavas 1935
Pharyngochromis Greenwood 1979
Placidochromis Eccles & Trewavas 1989
Platytaeniodus Boulenger 1906
Plecodus Boulenger 1898
Prognathochromis Greenwood 1980
Protomelas Eccles & Trewavas 1989
Psammochromis Greenwood 1980
Pseudocrenilabrus Fowler 1934
Pseudosimochromis Nelissen 1977
Pseudotropheus Regan 1922
Pterochromis Trewavas 1973
Pterophyllum Heckel 1840
Ptychochromis Steindachner 1880
Ptyochromis Greenwood 1980
Pundamilia Seehausen & Lippitsch 1998
Pungu Trewavas 1972
Pyxichromis Greenwood 1980
Reganochromis Whitley 1929
Retroculus Eigenmann & Bray 1894
Rhamphochromis Regan 1922
Sargochromis Regan 1920
Sarotherodon Rppell 1852
Satanoperca Günther, 1862
Schubotzia Boulenger 1914
Schwetzochromis Poll 1948
Sciaenochromis Eccles & Trewavas 1989
Serranochromis Regan 1920
Simochromis Boulenger 1898
Spathodus Boulenger 1900
Steatocranus Boulenger 1899
Stigmatochromis Eccles & Trewavas 1989
Stomatepia Trewavas 1962
Symphysodon Heckel 1840
Taeniacara Myers 1935
Taeniochromis Eccles & Trewavas 1989
Taeniolethrinops Eccles & Trewavas 1989
Tahuantinsuyoa Kullander 1991
Tangachromis Poll 1981
Tanganicodus Poll 1950
Teleocichla Kullander 1988
Teleogramma Boulenger 1899
Telmatochromis Boulenger 1898
Theraps Günther, 1862
Thoracochromis Greenwood 1979
Thorichthys Meek 1904
Thysochromis Daget 1988
Tilapia Smith, 1840 See also: Tilapiine cichlids
Tomocichla Regan 1908
Tramitichromis Eccles & Trewavas 1989
Trematocara Boulenger 1899
Trematocranus Trewavas 1935
Triglachromis Poll & Thys van den Audenaerde 1974
Tristramella Trewavas 1942
Tridontochromis Greenwood 1980
Tropheops Trewavas 1984
Tropheus Boulenger 1898
Tylochromis Regan 1920
Tyrannochromis Eccles & Trewavas 1989
Uaru Heckel 1840
Variabilichromis Colombe & Allgayer 1985
Vieja Fernandez-Yepez 1969
Xenochromis Boulenger 1899
Xenotilapia Boulenger 1899
Xystichromis Greenwood 1980

Images of cichlids

female Apistogramma nijsseni
female Apistogramma nijsseni
a pair of "Cichlasoma" amarum in Cancun lagoon, Mexico
a pair of "Cichlasoma" amarum in Cancun lagoon, Mexico
Cichlids of Lake Malawi, Toronto Zoo, 2003
Cichlids of Lake Malawi, Toronto Zoo, 2003
A substrate brooding female Parachromis managuense guards a clutch of eggs in the aquarium.
A substrate brooding female Parachromis managuense guards a clutch of eggs in the aquarium.
female Pelvicachromis pulcher
female Pelvicachromis pulcher
Variabilichromis moorii
Variabilichromis moorii
A pair of Mikrogeophagus ramirezi, male in front, female behind. Many cichlids form strong pair bonds whle breeding.
A pair of Mikrogeophagus ramirezi, male in front, female behind. Many cichlids form strong pair bonds whle breeding.


  1. ^ Froese, R. and D. Pauly. Editors.. Family Cichlidae - Cichlids. FishBase. Retrieved on 2006-11-08.
  2. ^ Kullander, S.O., 1998. A phylogeny and classification of the South American Cichlidae (Teleostei: Perciformes). p. 461-498. In: L.R. Malabarba, R.E. Reis, R.P. Vari, Z.M. Lucena and C.A.S. Lucena (eds.) Phylogeny and classification of neotropical fishes. Porto Alegre, Edipucrs
  3. ^ Loiselle P. V.,: The Cichlid Aquarium, Voyageur Press, ISBN 1564651460
  4. ^ Helfman G., Collette B., & Facey D.: The Diversity of Fishes, Blackwell Publishing, pp 256-257, 1997, ISBN 0865422567
  5. ^ Chapman F. A.: Culture of Hybrid Tilapia: A Reference Profile. University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Circular 1051, 1992 [1]
  6. ^ Loiselle P. V.,: The Cichlid Aquarium, Voyageur Press, ISBN 1564651460
  7. ^ Reid G. M.,: Captive breeding for the conservation of cichlid fishes. Journal of Fish Biology 37, pp 157-166, 1990
  8. ^ Salzburger W, Mack T, Verheyen E, Meyer A (2005) Out of Tanganyika: Genesis, explosive speciation, key-innovations and phylogeography of the haplochromine cichlid fishes BMC Evolutionary Biology 5:17
  9. ^ Snoeks J. (ed.) (2004) The cichlid diversity of Lake Malawi/Nyasa/Niassa: identification, distribution and taxonomy. Cichlid Press, 2004, ISBN 0966825586
  10. ^ Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission. Fact sheet for Oreochromis mossambicus (Peters, 1852). Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission. Retrieved on 2006-10-20.
  11. ^ Loiselle P. V.,: The Cichlid Aquarium, Voyageur Press, ISBN 1564651460
  12. ^ Froese, R. and D. Pauly. Editors.. Family Cichlidae - Cichlids. FishBase. Retrieved on 2006-10-20.
  13. ^ Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission. Non-Native Aquatic Species Summaries. Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission. Retrieved on 2006-10-24.
  14. ^ ABC Far North Queensland. Tilapia :: Far North Queensland. Retrieved on 2006-10-25.
  15. ^ Loiselle P. V.,: The Cichlid Aquarium, Voyageur Press, ISBN 1564651460
  16. ^ Frank Schäfer (2005). Brackish-Water Fishes. Aqualog. ISBN 3-936027-82-X (English), ISBN 3-936027-81-1 (German).
  17. ^ Smith, P. F., Konings, A., and Kornfield I.: Hybrid origin of a cichlid population in Lake Malawi: implications for genetic variation and species diversity. Molecular Ecology 12, pp 2497–2504, 2003 [2]
  18. ^ Wood, A. B., and Jordan, D. R.: Fertility of roach × bream hybrids, Rutilus rutilus (L.) × Abramis brama (L.), and their identification. Journal of Fish Biology 30, pp 249-261, 1987
  19. ^ Chapman F. A.: Culture of Hybrid Tilapia: A Reference Profile. University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Circular 1051, 1992 [3]
  20. ^ Matt Clarke. Frequently asked questions on Parrot cichlids. Practical Fishkeeping. Retrieved on 2006-10-20.

Further reading

  • Barlow, G. W. (2000). The Cichlid fishes. Cambridge MA: Perseus Publishing.
  • Cichlidae: ITIS Standard Report. (Integrated Taxonomic Information System: National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C., 2004-05-11). ITIS 169770

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