Dwarf Cichlids

There are a number of dwarf cichlids available – these fish have all of the personality, color and interesting breeding behavior of their much larger cousins, but are generally peaceful and can be successfully kept and bred in small tanks, since they usually do not exceed 3”. In fact, for some of these guys you really do not need anything larger than a 10-gallon tank.

There are three main groups of dwarf cichlids:

  • South American – these include the ram or butterfly dwarf cichlid, the cockatoo dwarf cichlid, and others, mostly of the Apistogramma genus. These dwarf cichlids do best in neutral to somewhat acidic water (pH of 6.0 to 7.0) and soft water for breeding, although they can be maintained in water that is a little more alkaline and harder.
  • West African – this group of dwarf cichlids comes from the streams and still lakes of West to Central Africa, and they do best in neutral pH and hardness. The typical fish from this group is the “krib” (Pelvicachromis pulcher), which is one of the easiest fish to have breed for you. A pair of kribs in an aquarium with other fish will, when they want to set up house, take over half of the tank, usually around a cave of some sort for the to spawn in. A pair of kribs will do well in a 10-gallon tank, and all they require is a clay flower pot turned upside down with the bottom hole enlarged so that the fish can get through it. The male will guard the territory, and the female will disappear for a week or so, after which she will emerge with a flock of babies. The fry can easily be raised on frozen and dry foods.
  • East African – primarily from Lake Tanganyika, there are a number of dwarf cichlids from this lake that are excellent aquarium fish, and that will spawn regularly. The “daffodils” (N. brichardi) are one of the most interesting in that a male and a few females will establish a breeding colony, in which the younger babies are protected by their older siblings. Another interesting group of these fish are what are called the “shell-dwellers”, which are a group of species that live and breed in large snail shells; a tank as small as 5-gallons will easily house a group of these fascinating fish. Other Tanganyikan dwarf cichlids are available in many different shapes and colors, and all of them make excellent fish to keep and have breed for you.


Rainbowfish are a large group of fish that come from Australia and New Guinea, and they make excellent aquarium fish and a beautiful display if kept in a tank devoted solely to them. The only problem with rainbows is that they do not show their gorgeous adult colors until they are at least 2” long, and often the juvenile fish that are kept in stores do not look very attractive. As more commercial fish farmers, especially in the Far East, have been specializing in rainbows, older juveniles are often available, and these fish show the beginning of the adult colorations.

Rainbowfish usually get to be around 4” or so in length as adults, and there is also a group of dwarf rainbows available. The most popular of the larger rainbows include:

  • Red Irian Jayas – males of this species are a glimmering  reddish orange, with the females not quite as brightly colored. Males also develop a pronounced hump to their bodies.
  • Boesmani – a spectacular fish, with the body pretty much divided in color between orange to yellow over the rear half and bluish black in the front. Males develop deeper colors than the females and are somewhat larger.
  • Turquoise – the name says it all. These fish are a rich dark blue in various shades over the body. They do not get quite as large as some of the other rainbows.

There are also a few dwarf rainbows, who only get to be 2” or less in adult size. These include:

  • Featherfins – a truly amazing little fish, where the males have extended dorsal and ventral fins that are longer than the entire fish. When they display to each other, or better yet to a female, they are one of fishkeeping’s best little gems.
  • Dwarf Neons – These fish get to be 2” – 3” as adults, and they are a basic light blue color, with the males having red fins, the females more of an orange colored fins.

All rainbowfish adjust very well to water that is around neutral pH (7.0) and moderate hardness. They will eat anything, are completely peaceful, and make a wonderful tank display. It is best to keep them in schools of 6 fish or more, and the more fish in the school the more interesting, since they establish a true “pecking order” in which there is one dominant male, other sub-dominant males, and the same order of the females. Rainbows breed freely, and if you simply have some dense thickets of live plants in the tank they will eventually begin depositing eggs in the plants on a regular basis.