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My Top 10 South American and West African Cichlids, From the Mind of a Cichlid Madman

Dicrossus filamentosus "Checkerboard Cichlid" - SmallSo, this time we are going to talk about my 10 from two areas, South America and West Africa. I’ve found through experience that both species can tolerate the same type of water conditions, with pH below 7.5 and softer water than African Lake Cichlids. Most of the species I’ve kept were for the challenge of breeding and/or their rarity. So lets begin.

Discus are first on my list, and not much needs to be said about these guys. Although they’ve come along way through their years as hobbyists gems, they still can give seasoned aquarists a headache with their rather high-maintenance requirements and sensitivity to changes in condition. Nowadays, there are so many different selectively bred color variants that a lot of keepers don’t bother with the naturally beautiful wild discus, which is kind of a shame.

Apistogrammas have to be second in line. When it comes to these little guys it is tough to pick any one as a favorite.  Many of the private breeders I know have racks of 15 gallon tanks with pairs of different species of apistos in them. They each have great color, great character, and they’re also a great addition to a community aquarium.

Dicrossus filamentosus, or the Lyretail Checkerboard Cichlid, is a bit of a tough one.  The trick is getting your hands on good, strong stock. I have kept this species in a 10 gallon with a reddish sand, some driftwood, and leaves from an outside tree which they would always use as cover and spawning sites.  They are really fun to watch, and their patterns really are beautiful when they’re in the right set-up.

Geophagus altifrons is possibly the most amazing of the eartheaters. The most magnificent geo specimen I have ever seen in person was at an Ohio cichlid convention. The individual was pushing 10 inches and its fin extensions were about 6 inches. Such a gorgeous fish, but unlike its cousins it may eat smaller fish. It may not seem like much to look at as a juvenile, but give it the right conditions and it will amaze you when it matures.

Red Terror CichlidAmphilophus festae, the Red Terror! Now here’s a beast worth keeping! I have actually heard stories of females killing adult males, but if you end up with a stable pair, there is a lot to look forward to. Males develop turquoise coloration and females are a blood red with black bars. They can really “wow” you if you can do it right!

Pseudocrenilabrus nicholsi, also known as Nichol’s Dwarf Mouthbrooder, is a vivid 4 inch firecracker that hails from the streams of West Africa. Males exhibit a metallic blue to turquoise body with a bronze head, blue cheeks and red striations in the body and fins. They are absolutely gorgeous and they can tolerate wide water conditions.

Pelvicachromis taeniatus “Wouri” is a variant worth seeking out. In rift lake cichlids, the males are the colorful ones, but in West Africa, its normally the females. This 3 inch fish is one of many color strains, each one identified by the location they are collected. The males are tan with yellow lips and some yellow in the fins. Females, on the other hand, have a violet-red belly surrounded by a circle of light blue. During breeding phases, they turn yellow, sometimes gold.

Tilapia joka is a rare, and not-so-colorful West African. When I kept these guys, they were also known as the “poor mans tropheus”. This species gets to about 8 inches in the wild, but only about 5 inches in the home aquarium. Both male and female share the same color with 8 to 9 yellow vertical bars on a dark body. Males have elongated anal and dorsal fins tipped in white.

Stomatepia pindu is a 4 to 5 inch West African predator. It sports some some very interesting color and behavior, but is not often seen in the trade. When kept properly adult individuals are completely black in color, body and fins, with reddish to brown eyes. At times they also swim around very actively, and other times they prefer to lay at the bottom. Some believe this could be a specialized behavior exhibited when waiting for prey.

Thorachromis brauschi is a 5 inch West African species. We have carried this tempermental species a couple times, but it still isn’t what I would consider common. Males sport a very beautiful color, even when not in breeding dress. It consists of a yellow-gold body with a white belly, and red through the throat that can extend into the belly. I have seen males in color at 2 inches in length.


  1. avatar

    I have raised over 200 south american cichild(redtops).Ihave given away or sold all but 9.Some are as large as 8or9inches.they are 5years old &have become very aggresive.Iwant to sell them,any advice?thanks

  2. avatar

    Try online sites like craigslist or ebay…or your local fish dealers/pet shops.

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About Jose Mendes

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That Fish Place’s resident “Cichlid Pro.” In addition to working at TFP for 13 years, Jose’s been breeding Cichlids for over 14 years and has produced over 200 different species. Jose is the man to question for everything cichlid. Check out Jose’s work in the article: Keeping and Breeding African Cichlids in Small Aquariums, and his many other contributions on cichlid husbandry, behavior, and his personal experiences with keeping cichlids from across the globe.