Top 10 Cichlids We Love to Keep in 29-Gallon Aquariums
Cichlids are a very diverse group of primarily freshwater fish that are known for their brilliant coloration and feisty personalities. Many of them require larger tanks to accommodate their size and territorial behavior, but several species are small enough to fit in a 29-gallon aquarium or less. Find out which of these diminutive cichlids made our top 10 list.
South American Cichlids
1. German Blue Ram
This 2–2.5-inch (5-6 cm) dwarf cichlid boasts an amazing array of colors, such as a red eye, black markings, yellow head, and blue iridescent speckling on the body and fins. They also come in different color variations, such as gold, electric blue, and even black. The key thing to remember is get an aquarium heater that can raise the temperature to 84–86°F (29–30°C). The warmer water requirement limits you on suitable tank mates, so try keeping them with discus, cardinal tetras, and Sterbai cory catfish. For more details, see their full care guide.
2. Bolivian Ram
This underrated, hardier cousin of the German blue ram is a favorite of our warehouse manager Robert. It grows up to 3 inches (7.6 cm) long, has striking yellow and black coloration, and features long, trailing tips on its fins and tail. Compared to German blue rams, they are easier to breed and can live in cooler temperatures from 73–79°F (23–26°C). This easy-going cichlid goes well with other similar-sized community fish, like tetras, corydoras, livebearers, and barbs.
3. Apistogramma Cichlid
This brightly colored genus of dwarf cichlids comes in almost every color and pattern imaginable. Some of the most popular species include A. cacatuoides (or cockatoo cichlid), A. agassizii, and A. borellii. Like the German blue ram, they prefer hanging around the bottom third of the aquarium and want slightly warmer temperatures at 82°F (28°C). Many hobbyists enjoy breeding them by adding an apisto cave or coconut hut for them to lay their eggs. For more information on keeping apistogrammas, read our care sheet.
4. Lyretail Checkerboard Cichlid
Looking for something a little more challenging? Try the checkerboard or chessboard cichlid, named after the alternating rows of black squares running along its body. They prefer soft water with lower pH, so add catappa leaves and driftwood to naturally acidify the water. While they have a shyer disposition and get along with other community fish, they may squabble amongst their own species, so try to keep more females than males.
5. Golden Dwarf Cichlid
This South American species displays some serious sexual dimorphism, such that the two sexes look very different from each other. The male is approximately 3” (7.6 cm) long and features flashy, neon blue-green scales, whereas the female is half the size with a golden-tan body and black horizontal lines. Like most of the South American cichlids on this list, they enjoy slow-sinking pellets, frozen foods, and Repashy gel food. To encourage breeding, match one male to multiple females and provide spawning caves (similar to apistos).
6. Lyretail Fairy Cichlid
This gorgeous cichlid has a sleek body, long fin tips, and lyre-shaped tail. You can keep a breeding pair in a 20-gallon tank or a group of four to five in a 29-gallon tank. Because they can be more aggressive than the other fish on this list, we recommend keeping them in a species-only setup with no other tank mates unless you plan on upgrading their aquarium size to 55 gallons or more.
Brichardi cichlids, like most of the smaller African cichlids on our list, come from Lake Tanganyika and therefore require hard water with high pH from 7.8–9.0 and GH above 160 ppm (9 degrees). If you have softer water, use cichlid salts and substrates like crushed coral and aragonite sand to reach the necessary water parameters. Add lots of cave-like rockwork for the cichlids to spawn in, and you can enjoy watching the baby fry being closely guarded by their parents and even older siblings.
7. Lemon Cichlid
If you enjoy the vibrant colors of bigger African cichlids, you can’t go wrong with the Leleupi cichlid. This eye-catching species has a bold, lemony yellow to fiery orange body that reaches 3–4 inches (8–10 cm). As with the lyretail cichlid, it enjoys dwelling and breeding in the cracks and caves formed by piles of rock. They are not picky eaters and will happily feed on an omnivore diet of cichlid pellets, frozen foods, and spirulina flakes.
This popular aquarium fish is well-loved because of its ease of breeding and many color variations. Similar to the Apistogramma cichlids, they like to spawn in apisto caves and coconut huts and will display parental care toward their offspring. Unlike all the other African cichlids in this article, kribs do not come from Lake Tanganyika and therefore do well in slightly alkaline waters with pH levels of 7–8. They are also peaceful enough to live in a community tank but may become a bit territorial during breeding periods.
9. Julidochromis Cichlid
Julidochromis cichlids are known for their stunning black and white patterns, fins edged with iridescent blue, and elongated, cigar-shaped bodies. As rock dwellers, they tend to hover around the nooks and crannies between stones, diligently protecting their territory and caring for their children. Consider adding live aquarium plants to provide additional cover for your julies and help purify the water.
10. Shell Dwellers
Shell dwellers are some of the smallest cichlids in the world, with Neolamprologus multifasciatus (or multis) coming in at 1–2 inches (2.5–5 cm). Their common name refers to the fact that they live and breed in empty snail shells instead of rock crevices. They also like to constantly dig and redecorate, so use sand for the tank bottom and add live plants that don’t require substrate (e.g., java fern, anubias, and floating plants). Because the fry stay close to home and wait for food to drift into their shells, feed them tiny, slow-sinking foods like baby brine shrimp, nano pellets, and crushed flakes. For more details, read our shell dweller article.
Cichlids are some of our favorite fish because of their bold personalities and unique appearances. While Aquarium Co-Op does not ship fish, we have a list of trusted vendors that sell them online, so check out their selection and see if you can find the perfect cichlid for your next aquarium.