The Complete Guide to Jewel Cichlid Care

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Introduction

jewel cichlid

Jewel Cichlids are the epitome of aggressive aquarium fish. These fish are beautiful and entertaining, but definitely wolves in sheep’s clothing.  

I do recommend these fish for your home aquarium, but not for a community tank. They are so aggressive that it is not worth the risk to other fish. Placing Jewel Cichlids in a community aquarium is asking for slaughter on a large scale. 

What I do suggest is a tank that is dedicated to Jewel Cichlids. You can fit two in a 30-gallon tank, and if you have a larger tank, you can get even more Jewel Cichlids. Just make sure you have enough space to house them. 

In this article, I’ll cover everything you need to know about keeping Jewel Cichlids as an aquatic pet, from care to history to diet to keeping their tempers in check. It’s best not to think of their aggression as a dealbreaker; rather use it as guidance for how to set up and manage your tank.

CategoryRating
Care Level:Easy to moderate
Temperament:Aggressive
Color Form:Red/Orange, Blue
Lifespan:5 years and up
Size:5.5 inches (14 cm)
Diet:Omnivore
Family:Cichlidae
Minimum Tank Size:30 gallons
Tank Set-Up:Freshwater with plants and rocks
Compatibility:Not community compatible 

Overview

Jewel Cichlids (scientific name: Hemichromis bimaculatus) are gorgeous freshwater fish that are native to West Africa. Also known by the names African Jewelfish, Blue Jewel, Green Jewel, and Jewel fish, their natural habitat in the wild is small freshwater bodies such as lakes, rivers, and streams. 

In your home aquarium, you will want to recreate the waters of their wild habitat as well as the muddy bottoms.

If you want to see their colors really shine, provide them with a balance of dry and live food — you’ll be thrilled to see how vibrant their colors become. Also affecting their hue is their habitat. 

Special notes on a special fish

Proper care is essential for the successful raising of Jewel Cichlids. The average Jewel Cichlid lives for approximately 5 years, but in order to thrive, some extra measures are required on your part. First, providing them with proper tank conditions as well as trying to recreate their natural habitat is paramount. 

That means making sure that the water conditions are correct: for everyday life, Jewel Cichlids are more flexible, but they will need slightly acidic and warmer water when they breed. It also means making sure their tank is big enough. The smaller the tank, the more aggressive they are likely to be.

All aquarium fish are more likely to thrive when they live without stress. Jewel Cichlids are no exception; in fact, they need you to double down on reducing their stress in order to keep their aggression in check; doing so will help your Jewel Cichlid have a high quality of life and live for its expected lifespan.

Author’s note: Think about how you respond to stress. Most humans become more impatient when stressed and we sometimes lose our temper–Jewel Cichlids are the same. When they get stressed, they lash out. Because their personalities are more aggressive anyway, it’s more important to remove any triggers.

Another thing that improves their quality of life is making sure they have enough to eat. They get cranky and stressed when they don’t eat enough and are more likely to be destructive. Don’t overfeed–that creates its own set of problems–but make sure they’re not hungry.

One reason that you need to manage the aggression of the Jewel Cichlid is that living in constant stress can affect and shorten their lifespan. Another is that because these unique fish are prone to fighting, which not only creates more stress but also results in more physical injuries that increase their health risks.

One more consideration is that you, as an aquarist, should be aware of the situations that can trigger their aggressions. I’ll discuss these in more detail, but here’s a spoiler: Jewel Cichlids are ridiculously aggressive when they are breeding.

Typical Behavior

Jewel Cichlids are surely high on the aggressive scale as far as aquarium fish go. Don’t let that scare you away, though. 

As I mentioned before, controlling and managing their aggression is certainly possible with an owner who is mindful and takes care to limit the amount of stress that Jewel Cichlids encounter as well as mitigate situations that could cause aggression. You may not be able to completely eliminate the aggressive behavior, but you can certainly reduce it. 

One of the things that makes them more aggressive than other fish is that Jewel Cichlids are very territorial. It’s imperative that you give them enough space in the tank so that they can stake their claim on their own section of the aquarium. 

And as I mentioned before, Jewel Cichlids become super aggressive when they are mating, so keep the mating pair away from all other fish, Jewel Cichlids or otherwise, during breeding. You might consider a tank divider if you’re unable to provide a separate breeding tank.

How does Jewel Cichlid’s aggression manifest? When they are hungry or irritated, their aggression rears its ugly head. On a smaller scale, you’ll see them nipping at other fish, particularly long-finned fish. On a larger scale, they’ll get in full-blown fights that can lead to injury and even death. Jewel Cichlids are likely to win these battles.

Other behaviors of Jewel Cichlids include digging. Jewel Cichlids have a high amount of energy (this energy may in fact contribute to their aggression) and they are super active. It is not uncommon to see them digging around in the substrate in search of a snack. 

Let your knowledge of this digging serve as a warning that any live plants you put in your aquascape might also be at risk. Here are some things to remember:

I’d like to end the discussion of their behavior on a positive note: cichlids in general, and Jewel Cichlids in particular, are fiercely protective of their young and will not abandon them. Unlike some other species of aquarium fish, such as guppies and some tetras, who eat their eggs and their fry, Jewel Cichlids have strong parental instincts. This is important to remember as the flip side of aggression is often a protective streak.

Appearance

Although Jewel Cichlids can be found in a variety of colors, the most common is the red/orange Jewel Cichlid. These varieties are covered with spots that are often a light blue or green color; they’re just stunning to look at.

These colorations are also on their fins but resemble stripes rather than spots.

Sometimes Jewel Cichlids will have the same colored spots and stripes but with turquoise or dark blue body color. They aren’t as popular, but they’re my personal choice.

As for shape, Jewel Cichlids have narrow, pointy bodies. Their heads slant upward and have a curve towards the back. You’ll notice a little bump at the start of their back that is more visible when Jewel Cichlids are younger.

As far as fins, the anal fins are small — they extend to the same spot as the dorsal fin, which starts way up on towards the front third of their body. Both the dorsal and anal fins terminate just before the caudal fin. 

Jewel Cichlids reach about 5.5 inches (14 cm) in length in captivity, although in their natural habitat, they are often 12 inches (30.5 cm), a significant difference that is not present in other aquarium fish.

Differentiating between males and females

Like many species, the males have deeper and more vibrant coloring than the females, perhaps stemming from the fact that males are trying to attract female mates.

Both sexes have the coveted spots, but the male’s spot shimmer with iridescent yellow and aqua hues.

Habitat and Tank Conditions

jewel cichlid

Tank size for Jewel Cichlids is a primary concern because these fish need their space–we have already established their territorialism. In order to curb their aggressive behavior, they have to have enough room to space out and claim their territory.

If you are keeping a single Jewel Cichlid, you’ll need a minimum tank size of 30 gallons, but as I maintain that life with Jewel Cichlids is all about mitigating their tempers, 40 gallons would be better.

In addition to plentiful space, it’s important to recreate their habitat in the wild to the extent possible. Doing so will reduce their stress and aggression.

Because they are territorial, they need hiding places, so be generous with the caves and large rocks, reminiscent of the wild and offering personal space and territory. For substrate, sand is the best choice because it is similar to the bottoms of the rivers and streams, and also keeps them safe when they are digging around in the substrate. 

Rougher gravel or small rocks could damage their outer skin. Since their propensity for fighting is already going to mean more scrapes and cuts, it would be best to avoid substrate injuries.

If you’re concerned with aquascaping, keep plants in the background, which will be like their natural habitat and will also serve to protect the plants from Jewel Cichlid digging.

Finally, choose moderate lighting for your Jewel Cichlids. It’s not necessary to buy a special lamp, but don’t put the tank in a place with too much direct sunlight or block the sun with too many plants.

Water Conditions

Jewel Cichlids need the warm water that they are accustomed to in the wild. You’ll want to maintain proper water parameters, which will avoid stress and prevent illness.

They need water that is neutral: not too hard and not too soft; it’s imperative to keep it below 12 dGH.

Keeping a tank with clean water is vital for Jewel Cichlids, and with the sandy substrate that will be more challenging. Invest in a decent filter to help keep your Jewel Cichlids healthy.

The optimal parameters to ensure a close match to the Jewel Cichlid’s natural habitat are:

  • pH levels: 6.5 to 7.5
  • Water hardness: less than 12 dKH
  • Water temperature: 75°F to 80°F (22.2-26.1°C)

What Size Aquarium Do They Need?

A 40-gallon tank is ideal, but you can get away with a 30-gallon.

How Many Can Be Kept Per Gallon?

You can house one Jewel Cichlid in a 30-gallon tank, and another 10 gallons for each additional Cichlid. Some seasoned hobbyists claim success with a pair in a 30-gallon tank, but it’s a risky experiment.

Tank Mates

This is where you need to pay close attention because there are some horror stories out there when it comes to Jewel cichlid tank mates.

Some aquarists have had fantastic luck with keeping Jewel cichlids in community tanks. They have paired them with African cichlids, and even some varying kinds of tetras.

But in our experience, this is more of a lucky situation than anything else.

There are a few care guides and videos about Jewel cichlids that say they work great with other fish and the creator hasn’t had any issues with them. But when you look at the comments and feedback it’s filled with people saying their Jewel cichlids are super aggressive.

For this reason, we can’t recommend this fish for community tanks. The risk of them killing their tank mates is simply too high.

Again, think twice before putting a Jewel Cichlid in a tank with less aggressive fish species. If you’re keeping only one Jewel you might be ok, but keeping pairs will be a problem when keeping them with other fish

Suitable Tankmates

Keeping Jewel Cichlids Together

jewel cichlid

With that being said, keeping Jewel cichlids with each other is usually fine. So you can still have a lively and full tank of fish despite the tank mate concerns (make sure the tank size is big enough of course). 

Diet

In terms of feeding Jewel Cichlids, managing their aggressive behavior will have more to do with how much you feed them than what you feed them. They are not picky eaters and enjoy flakes or pellets as well as live food. It is important to offer variety, so mix the flakes and pellets and offer live options two days a week.

They do get cranky when they are hungry and that is when you will see their aggression rise, so make sure they are getting enough. 

Bloodworms and brine shrimp are excellent live choices, but consider live offerings to be treats, and don’t give too much live food.

If you are able to offer them a variety of flakes, live food, and pellets, you will notice more vibrant colors in your Jewel Cichlids. You will also notice that they will be less stressed out.

Care

Jewel Cichlids need special care not just for their physical well being, but also for their mental and emotional well being.

Stress reduction, anticipating triggers, offering plentiful space, and providing a clean tank are the best things that you can do to care for your Jewel Cichlids.

Other care will involve treating any injuries that they might incur during conflicts with other fish.

Breeding

A word to the wise Jewel Cichlid owner: make sure you separate the bonded pair of Jewel Cichlids at mating time. Use a dedicated breeding tank, or separate them with a tank divider. You don’t want blood spilled when new life is being made. Surely Jewel Cichlids are at the most aggressive when they are breeding.

However, in terms of mating itself, Jewel Cichlids are not difficult to breed. Unlike some freshwater fish species that have males trapping or injuring the females, Jewel Cichlids form monogamous bonds with each other and stay together as couples even after their fry are hatched.

If you want to encourage breeding, it is a good idea to raise the temperature a few degrees. If you have a dedicated breeding tank, you should keep that a little warmer than the regular tank. If you are housing only a pair of Jewel Cichlids, you won’t need a separate tank and can just raise the temperature slightly.

If you see the vibrancy increase in the male Jewel Cichlid’s colors, that’s a strong indication that he is ready to mate.

While the male’s color is deepening, you may spy the female searching the tank bottom for the perfect egg-laying spot. She will settle on a rock with a flat surface.

Two to four days after fertilization, the Jewel Cichlid eggs will hatch and the parents will immediately go into protection mode. Jewel Cichlids will stop at nothing to ensure the safety of their offspring, particularly if there are other fish in the tank.

See Related Article: The Complete Red Rainbow Fish Care Guide

Are Jewel Cichlids Suitable for your Aquarium?

If you are looking for an addition to your community tank, honestly I would not recommend Jewel Cichlids unless you are an experienced aquarist and have a really large tank. It’s just not fair to the other fish or to the Jewel Cichlids. 

But if you’re looking to establish a new tank and or second tank, Jewel Cichlids are gorgeous fish that are loyal to a fault. If you have the inclination and time to actively work on lowering their stress and keeping their aggressive tendencies in check, Jewel Cichlids make great aquarium pets.

Proverbs remind us how easy it is to find the dirt in someone, and that we should be the ones that find the gold. With the proper care, Jewel Cichlids have a lot of gold hidden under that aggression.

Are Jewel Cichlids worth the tradeoff of dealing with their aggressive behavior? I’d love to hear your opinion in the comments section below!

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About Robert 329 Articles
Robert Woods is the creator of FishKeeping World, a third generation fish keeper and a graduate in animal welfare and behavior. He is also a proud member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Marine Aquarium Societies of North America and the Nature Conservancy.

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