Breeding Cichlids


Most fish owners are thrilled at the thought of their fish breeding. If that’s you, there’s several steps you can take to make that happen.


I’m not really an expert, I haven’t purposefully bred anything, but I’ve been successful nonetheless. So here are some of my insights on the fun adventure of making baby fish.


Buy the right ratio:


So, in my experience with breeding cichlids it generally works to buy one male, and one female. Usually they will bond as a pair and you are good to go. I have heard that sometimes they just don’t bond. In that case, then you probably want to get another male after like five or six months of no action. Some people might think, oh why not get a bunch of males to ensure someone will mate’… but competition can stress out the fish and they might start killing each other. I would suggest googling the male to female ratio whenever buying fish so that you don’t stress out your fish unnecessarily (some species though are happy with any male-female ratio). This also means you’ll have to research sexing which is different with every species. In general, males are usually prettier and bigger. But, some fish only differ in small characteristics like dorsal or anal fin size. I have bred both apistogramma and kribensis cichlids using just one male and one female.


Provide a good home:


One thing that people commonly mess up is having a proper cave. Sometimes the fish are picky, so while your tank might have plenty of hiding spots they really just want a deep cave they can both fit in to hide the babies and or eggs.


If you have a community tank, other fish may have claimed the cave you intended for the couple, and there is not much you can do about that except for to try to add more caves. Either way, adding a couple for variety works well. I sell some awesome caves in my shop that are all natural and fool-proof.


Breeding in a community tank is not recommended. The fish want privacy and In general, fish will eat anything they can fit in their mouth so the babies aren’t necessarily going to be safe with other fish in the tank, and the presence of other fish may stress them out too much to breed. 


The fish usually like a smooth surface to deposit the eggs. The eggs will stay there for a while and will eventually drop. Ive seen angel fish deposit their eggs just on the side of the glass or even on the filter and discus do sometimes as well. I think some fish are pickier than others so it’s good to research that too.


Increase temp: I’ve read online that this is the secret many people use to kick start the breeding process. You can research the breed and what specifically they like. In my experience it is somewhat true. My kribs definitely breed more in summer and bred for the first time in warm weather when the tank was a bit hotter than usual. But, recently my Apistos bred and my tank was actually on the cold side, only about 21°c. So, take that for what it is.


Monitor Ph:

I have obviously never done this; I don’t aim to breed my fish. So I don’t have much specific advice in this area. But, it’s kind of a no brainer. Some fish just won’t breed unless the ph is the softness or hardness that the eggs need. Luckily I think for people like me who keep the ph quite neutral it works in our favour as at least it’s not going to be too far off from the fish’s desired Ph.


Food: brine shrimp is my go-to and I see a lot of people suggest it online. I didn’t feed my cichlids frozen food at first, so when I switched to brine shrimp after a few months I think it made a difference.


What to expect:

It takes a few months usually for the fish to mature together and really pair up. I think it was probably four months in when my kribs bred. Patience is key, they aren’t in a rush so neither should you be.


The eggs may be no good. Sometimes the eggs are not viable. The first couple of batches may not actually be fertilized. They will usually be a different colour, and you can Google what they look like to really know. Usually if they are transparent or white that means they are not viable. For example my kribs have healthy orangey-brown looking eggs.


The hatching process takes at least a few days. Usually they are stuck on a surface for 2-3 days. This is a fragile stage where sometimes the parents will actually eat the eggs the first few times they breed. I’m pretty sure this is what has been happening with my Apistos as twice I’ve seen pale coloured eggs for about 24hrs and mom picking at them… and then they are gone.


Next, the eggs will drop and be vibrating for 3-4 days. This is the fry eating the egg sack and preparing for the world. They kind of roll around a bit during this stage but the parents will keep them in line, even picking them up and spitting them out.


Once they are free from the egg they will finally be free swimming. Fry usually look the same, clear with a bit of black. Usually at this stage you will have twenty plus.


Taking the babies:

What you want to do with the babies is up to you. If the eggs are stuck to something then you can always take them out. But, moving them to different water parameters might not be good. Ideally when breeding you should have the parents with them until they lay the eggs and then remove the parents. The parents are not that trustworthy and may eat some fry. But you can always catch the fry in a net once they are free swimming and put the fry in a tank by themselves if that’s what you want. I’ve done this with success as once the fry got big enough they went back in the community tank and grew up to adulthood.


Not taking the babies:

I have a community tank and only a very small breeder tank so breeding is not really my aim. I just like getting cichlids in pairs because I find it’s more error-proof as they aren’t going to be territorial together. But nonetheless my kribs have made babies many times. Generally, they start with a lot, and within a few days, despite the parents watching over the fry non stop , the school is halved. It seems to me after a few days they whittle them down to three or four. I think the parents purposefully concentrate their efforts on the best ones and say fuck it to the rest. The parents will continue to defend the fry for several weeks, until either they are all gone or big enough to move away from the parents. I’ve successfully raised two fry now that managed to not get eaten by their tank mates or parents. So, it’s 100% possible to raise fry in a community and the parents will protect them if they care to.


And that’s it! Hopefully this is helpful if you are breeding cichlids. It seems that breeding some species like betta can be really complicated, but this is more of a bare minimum effort approach that has worked for me 😁