Cuban Cichlid Care Guide

Cuban cichlid care guide

Cuban Cichlid Care Guide7 mins read

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Cuban cichlid care guide
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The Cuban Cichlid, is a large, powerful, and sophisticated cichlid species best kept in a single male and female pair, because of their moderately aggressive nature.

Though they are quite rare, many enthusiastic hobbyists and collectors find them intriguing and much sought after, with their unique character traits and the challenges that they present.

The  Cuban cichlid is a cichlid species more suited to advanced aquarists that can deal with its aggressive nature. That way you will be able to provide the space and care requirements for this species to flourish.

Breed Overview

OriginCuba and Hispaniola
Lifespan8-12 Years
Size25 cm (7.8 to 10 Inches)
Water TypeFreshwater to Brackish
Tank Size65 Gallons for 2 fish
TemperamentModerately aggressive
Water Temperature2 – 86°F (24 – 30°C), – 30°C)
Water pH0 – 8.0
Difficulty LevelAdvanced

Cuban Cichlid As A Species

The Cuban cichlid forms part of a small genus the Nandopsis, found mostly in streams and rivers situated in Cuba and Hispaniola. The Nandopsis species is the only cichlid species native to the Antilles.

There are three species of Cuban cichlids or Nandopsis:

  1. Nandopsis hatiensis – A Haitian cichlid found in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The species is quite diverse and can flourish in different habitats.
  2. Nandopsis ramsdeni, or the Cuban Ramsdeni cichlid, comes from Cuba with a white to gray color and black markings on the scales.
  3. Nandopsis tetracanthus or Cuban cichlid comes mainly from Cuba, though some specimens were located in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The tetracanthus species, known as the basic Cuban cichlid will be the topic species in this article.

Though the Cuban cichlid is still reasonably unusual in the trade it is fast becoming more popular and attainable.


The Cuban cichlid is a rather large cichlid species that has an unusual appeal. It has a white to grayish base color with gray and black spots or stripes. These sometimes resemble the markings of the Jaguar cichlid. Whereas the Cuban cichlid is mainly gray to white with black markings, the Jaguar cichlid has more gold and yellow tones, with a beige base color, and black markings, similarly, Cuban cichlids are relatively smaller than Jaguar cichlids.

  • Males and Females – Adult Males have much more vivid colors and are much larger than females. The most reliable way however to tell their gender is to observe the genitalia. Males will have pointy genitals, while females will have a more rounded genitalia. Another tell-tale sign sometimes noted is that the female Cuban cichlid may have much darker colors on her dorsal fins than males.

Cuban Cichlid Size And Lifespan

Cuban cichlid size and lifespan
Cuban cichlids have a long lifespan of between 8 – 12 years with optimal care. Image from Flickr

Cuban cichlids can reach lengths between 20 cm and 25 cm (7.8 Inches – 10 Inches), Females may be slightly smaller than males. Cuban cichlids have a long lifespan of between 8 – 12 years with optimal care.

Temperament And Cuban Cichlid Tank Mates

Cuban Cichlids are large and moderately aggressive as studies have shown. They tend to become more reclusive during spawning. At this time they would easily engage in a fight with any other cichlid that may seem like a threat to them.

It would be ideal to keep a pair of Cuban cichlids consisting of a male and female. If you plan on keeping more fish species the best option would be to stick with similar cichlids from central America. Or, use larger catfish and Pleco species, that are bottom feeders.

If you are unable to find an adult pair of Cuban cichlids, you can keep a group of juveniles together. You can allow them to pair off, whereafter it would be well advised to rehome the surplus cichlids to avoid fighting.

There are a few hobbyists who have reported successfully keeping Cuban cichlids with Electric Blue Jack Dempsey cichlids, Blue Emperor tetras, Green Terror Cichlids, and Yellow Jacket cichlids. However, this should only be attempted under strict supervision.

On the other hand, a fun fact is that many hobbyists have found that the Cuban cichlid can be quite responsive to their humans, and inquisitive as to their activities.

Aquarium Set-Up And Care Requirements

Aquarium set-up and care requirements for cuban cichlid
Cuban cichlids are freshwater fish, tolerant to brackish water, and enjoy tropical temperatures of between 75.2 – 86°F (24 – 30°C)

In their natural habitat, Cuban cichlids enjoy fast-flowing rivers and lakes with plenty of vegetation. They enjoy rocks, and a sandy substrate. They flourish in open spaces for swimming. However these also tend to seclude to a large hiding area in a rock crevice or cave area. In fast-flowing rivers as well as in lakes, preferably among plants. Cuban cichlids are tolerant to freshwater and more brackish water conditions, though they prefer pristine clean water.

Cuban Cichlid Tank Size And Water Parameters

There is much dispute over the exact tank size requirements for Cuban cichlids. Ideally, they need to be kept in a male and female pair. You can keep them with other species of cichlids from Central America mostly, and some Large Pleco species. Thus the tank size will largely depend on the group of inhabitants. For a pair of Cuban cichlids, the minimum tank size taking into account vegetation and tank décor would be 65 gallons.

Cuban cichlids are freshwater fish, and tolerant to brackish water. They enjoy tropical temperatures of between 75.2 – 86°F (24 – 30°C), ideally a more alkaline pH of around 7 – 8 should be suitable, along with moderately hard water conditions.

Decorating The Aquarium

As with most cichlid species, similarly, the Cuban cichlid prefers a much more natural aquarium setting to make them feel at home. Their natural river habitat and lake habitats are teeming with vegetation, rocks, driftwood, and sandy substrates. Thus, you can use these as a base. Keep in mind to keep a center space open for swimming and activity. Also, try to arrange driftwood, plants, and rocks more to the back and edges of the aquarium.

You can create large hiding spots with rocks, or use caves, as they need a space to retire. Floating plants additionally add some shade and are an ideal option for décor. Keep in mind these large cichlids can be destructive. You will need a deep layer of sandy substrate to firmly plant rooted plants.

Rooted plants and floating plants that are more hardy are ideal for cichlids.

Proper Maintenance And Housekeeping

Keeping your Cuban cichlid water clean and pristine is vital for their health and well-being. A strong filter is required as these large fish produce much waste. However, they will tolerate a moderate current.

Weekly water changes of at least 20% to 30 % of the tank water are best. Siphon this from the bottom, and replace it with clean, heated, and conditioned water is crucial.

You can maintain regular maintenance by ensuring that there are no dead plants or food waste left over in the tank. You should also clean décor and equipment as you need.

Feeding Your Cuban Cichlid

Cuban cichlids are mainly Omnivores though require a higher protein diet.

  • What to Feed – As a staple, good quality cichlid pellets and flakes are good as a daily food. As treats and supplements to the diet blanched green leafy vegetables are a great choice, and frozen or live foods such as worms, shrimps, aquatic insects, and earthworms.
  • Frequency – You should feed adult cichlids twice a day as much as they can finish within a couple of minutes. Juveniles should eat more frequently and in smaller amounts.

Choosing And Acclimating New Cuban Cichlids

After setting up your new aquarium and ensuring that you cycle it properly with the right water parameters and temperatures, it is time to select your new inhabitants. As mentioned, ideally a pair of male and female Cuban cichlids are best to put together. You may similarly choose to house a few of the recommended cichlid or Pleco species. It is always best to find a trusted breeder or reliable pet store to source healthy fish from. You can then get proper advice further on their care.

Choosing A Healthy Cichlid

A healthy Cuban cichlid will be free from any damage, discoloration, or residue on its skin or fins. It will have bright and clear eyes, and a bold personality, actively swimming, and eagerly accepting food.

Acclimating Your Cichlid

The best practice and especially vital for cichlids in general is to properly acclimate them to a new environment. Do this before just adding them to the aquarium. You can achieve this in the following way:

  1. Ensure that the tank lights are off, and all other tank mates have been fed.
  2. Allow the bag with your cichlids to float on the surface for around 20 minutes.
  3. Gradually replace the water in the bag with that of the tank, at intervals of 15 minutes, until most of the water is new.
  4. Allow your cichlids to swim from the bag into their new home.

Breeding Cuban Cichlids

Breeding cuban cichlids
Cichlids in general make excellent parents and will take care of their eggs and young fry. Image from

Cuban cichlids are quite easy to breed, especially if you have a mature male and female pair. A group of juvenile cichlids that grow together will eventually form pairs. Though it is not advisable to have more than one male in your aquarium, especially during spawning. Luckily as with most cichlid species, Cuban cichlids will care for their eggs and fry, keeping them protected from predators. They may even fight off anything that may seem like a threat to their young. The female will lay her eggs on a flat surface such as a rock or breeding slate, and the male fertilizes them.

Cichlids in general make excellent parents and will take care of their eggs and young fry. You can supplement the young fry with baby brine shrimp, as soon as they are free swimming. Ideally, as soon as the young start pairing up and become adults themselves,  you should rehome. Most owners do this as adult or more juvenile pairs to avoid aggression, and overcrowding.

Health Issues Commonly Found in Cichlids

Most cichlids are prone to common freshwater fish pests and diseases, and there are similar health issues that are more commonly found in cichlids.

A few common health conditions include:

  • Swim Bladder Disease

When the swim bladder organ of your cichlid becomes infected via a bacterial or fungal infection, you may notice the fish struggling to keep upright and swim. Generally quarantine with pristine clear water and antifungal, or antibacterial medication will quickly clear up the condition.

  • Fin Rot

Physical damage or ammonia burns because of poor water conditions, can lead to damaged fins becoming infected with a fungus. Cleaning the tank water properly and using antibacterial medication can quickly clear up the infection.

  • Ich/White Spot Disease

The parasite Ich is usually introduced by adding plants or new fish already infected, and they will spread throughout your aquarium. You will need to treat the entire tank with medication for the parasite. Likewise, you can turn up the temperatures to make its survival more difficult. The parasite normally appears as white spots on the body and fins of your fish.

  • Tuberculosis

More common in cichlids and very contagious! Immediately quarantine all fish not infected. Treat the initial aquarium and ill fish with melafix. Tuberculosis in fish is almost always fatal and causes symptoms such as a sunken stomach, loss of appetite, blotchy skin, frayed fins, and lethargy.

  • Cotton Wool Disease

Cotton Wool disease is mainly a white residue formed by a fungal infection on your fish. This is especially when water conditions are not optimal. It can easily be treated with antifungal medication and quarantine in clean water conditions.

  • Hole in the Head Disease

Hole in the Head disease because of the symptoms that cause depression in the head and weight loss, is the result of a hexamita parasite. This is a parasite that flourishes in poor water conditions. An antibiotic is usually prescribed to clear the condition.

  • Gill Flukes

Parasitic worms attack the gills of your fish causing them to become red and have a discharge. The flukes will also affect the fish’s breathing. They are easy to get rid of by adding a tablespoon of salt per 55-gallon tank and increasing the water temperatures slightly.

There are a few common causes as to why most freshwater fish species suffer from health issues and even parasites:

  1. Poor water quality is one of the top contributors to common health conditions, especially infections in fish. Thus it is vital to do regular water changes and remove all waste materials from your aquarium.
  2. Improper diet can affect the health of your fish negatively. Cichlids need good quality foods and a diet that should either be high in proteins or not, depending on the specific species.
  3. Be careful when introducing new plants or fish, many times they are infected with parasites, or have a contagious illness. One of the best ways to ensure your initial tank is safe is to quarantine any new plants or fish, for a while before adding them to your original tank.

Final Thoughts

As can be seen, there is so much more to the Cuban cichlid than its rarity, controversial colors, and aggressive nature. The rare and elegant cichlid could be a prized possession for any avid collector who has the space and time to deviate from this delightful creature with its powerful demeanor.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Difference Between a Cuban Cichlid and Jaguar Cichlid?
The jaguar cichlid is larger than the Cuban cichlid and has more yellow to gold color pattern with black, than the Cuban cichlid which is a white/gray color. Cuban cichlids are similarly only native to Cuba.
What is the Growth Rate of the Cuban Cichlids?
According to some findings on Cuban cichlid owner forums, they generally have a faster growth rate with more regular water changes, and in pristine clean, and clear water. Usually between 1.5 inches in growth is noted from a small juvenile every two months, which slows down as they age. Males grow slower, though much larger.
The Difference Between a Male and Female Cuban Cichlid?
Male Cuban cichlids have brighter colors and are larger than females, similarly, males have pointier genitalia than more rounded genitalia in females. Females have also been noted to have a more darkened dorsal fin than males. Ideally, males and females will pair off and form a bond, which can be seen as they get older from the juvenile stage.
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Tal Halperin

Tal is an avid fish keeper and has been raising ornamental fish for decades. As a little boy, he drove his father crazy to buy him an aquarium with all the necessary equipment. Now, after a career in the field, he has set up Your Aquarium Place to offer the most comprehensive guide to ornamental fish keeping available and share his passion for the different species he has looked after.