African Cichlids vs South American Cichlids (Differences)

There are many differences between both species of cichlid, with the most obvious one being that African cichlids reside in the three great lakes of Africa, whereas the South American cichlids have made the freshwaters of North and South America their home.

African cichlids vs south american cichlids

However, there are many more differences and also several similarities of both cichlid species despite living on different continents.

African cichlids prefer a more solitary life and are prone to being more aggressive than their American counterparts, whereas the South American cichlids are much more social fish, compatible with many other types of fish.

As a species of fish, cichlids are incredibly popular to own, with many seasoned hobbyists taking on these tropical freshwater fish at least once in their journey. With the most well-liked being African and South American cichlids. So, let's dive into the main differences.

What are South American Cichlids?

South American cichlids typically reside in the lakes of Central and South America, and in particular, certain rivers in Arizona. There are a few bright and unique color variations, which make them very popular with freshwater hobbyists.

What else helps out with their immense popularity is their hardiness and peaceful temperament. They can deal with different freshwater tank setups well and also will not go around terrorizing other fish in their space.

On occasion, smaller ram cichlids, like the Bolivian ram cichlid will fight each other, but that is typically due to underlying issues that can be easily resolved.

Do bolivian rams fight

Their feeding habits do vary from subspecies to subspecies, with the larger South American cichlids being predominantly carnivores and some of the smaller "Ram" cichlids opting for more of a balanced plant and meat-based diet.

Examples of South American Cichlids

There are an estimated 450 different types of South American cichlid species, but only around 300 have been confirmed and named. Not only are there many different types of them, but they all come in a plethora of different shapes and sizes, with the largest reaching a length of 24 inches (60 cm) in length, and the smallest only 1 inch (3 cm) in length.

Here are some examples of popular South American cichlids to keep:

What are African Cichlids?

Despite popular belief, African cichlids are the most common type of cichlids found in the world. These cichlids can be found residing in the three great lakes of Africa - Lake Malawi, Lake Victoria, and Lake Tanganyika. Moreover, they are considered to be the most brightly and diversely colored cichlids too!

Red devil cichlid care

Their abundance of different colors makes them an eye-catching addition to any freshwater aquarium, with the color spectrum covering blue, red, yellow, orange, and black.

African cichlids have an adaptable diet, pretty much, eating anything they can get their fins on, but mainly meats and plant/vegetable matter.

Examples of African Cichlids

Due to being very adaptable and hardy fish, they can resist poor conditions and bad water quality for the most part. Unfortunately, unlike the South American cichlids, African cichlids are far more aggressive and do not like the company of other fish, in fact, you should nearly always keep them in isolation.

Some popular examples of African Cichlids are:

  • Peacock cichlid
  • Red Devil cichlid
  • Zebra cichlid
  • Goby cichlid
  • Dogtooth cichlid
  • Electric Yellow cichlid

What is the Difference Between African Cichlids and South American Cichlids?

Firstly, they both reside on different continents, so, that is the first key difference here. Additionally, their behavior differs, with South American cichlids being very relaxed and peaceful, and African cichlids being very up-tight and aggressive with other fish, which is why they should have no tank mates.

The table below displays a direct comparison between the fish, highlighting what the main differences are between both of them.


South American Cichlids

African Cichlids


South American and Central American rivers

Three Great Lakes of Africa

Maximum Size

24 inches (60 cm)

36 inches (90 cm)




Decor Requirements

Heavily planted Tank

Well-planted tank with rocks and other decor


Hardy fish

Extremely hardy fish

What are the Similarities Between African Cichlids and South American Cichlids?

There are not too many similarities between both of these cichlid fish, however, here are their closest attributes:

  • Both African and South American Cichlids are freshwater fish.
  • Both subspecies vary massively in coloration and size.
  • They share similar diets.
  • Both types of cichlid can be bred to be used as ornamental fish should the conditions match their requirements.

South American cichlid and African Cichlid FAQs

Here are our answers to some of the most frequently asked questions regarding both African and American cichlids.

Which is better - African or American cichlids?

Neither type of cichlid is considered better than the other, it is totally dependent on the hobbyist's experience level, tank size, and general fish preference. If you prefer smaller and more social fish, then the South American cichlids are for you, and alternatively, if you like a more solitary fish that is large in size and full of personality, then the African cichlids are for you!

Can you mix South American cichlids with African cichlids?

Mixing both of these cichlid species together will result in some pretty bad consequences! Their personalities and general sizes are not compatible due to the South American cichlids being considerably smaller than the Africans. This will likely result in a beautiful South American cichlid becoming a tasty snack or a constantly bullied fish.

Can you mix different types of cichlids?

You can only mix different types of cichlids if they originate from the same region. So, you must only keep South American cichlids with South American cichlids and the same applies to African cichlids. Not following this rule will result in a messy situation for your freshwater fish.

Electric blue ram cichlid


Cichlids as a species are incredibly special, and also readily available in the majority of fishkeeping stores as they are the most common type of ornamental fish (fish bred for aesthetic purposes).

The main differences between both African cichlids and South American cichlids are their wild origins and their social behavior. However, we are sure that you will have equally as much fun raising an African cichlid as you would a South American cichlids.