Pike Cichlid Care Guide

Are Pike Cichlids suitable for beginners?

Pike Cichlid Care Guide7 mins read

Fact checked by
Tal Halperin
Reading Time: 9 minutes
Pike cichlid care guide
Image From Flickr

The pike cichlid is not a beginner fish, but for those who feel ready to take care of them, this disparate group of Cichlids in the Crenicichla genus provides an astonishing variety of options. In fact, variants like the red pike cichlid and orange pike cichlid add color to a large South and Central American Cichlid tank.

With a range of different colors, behaviors, and sizes, you may have thought that these fish were all one species but ultimately there is a lot of variation between them. From the red and orange pike cichlid to the zebra pike cichlid, they have relatively different appearances and needs. This guide will cover some of the general tips for their care, as well as important differences and different choices within the genus for the home aquarist.

Breed Overview

OriginSouth American rivers, including the Rio Negro
Lifespan10 years
SizeUp to 15 inches or 30 cm
ColorsMottled greenish brown
Water TypeFreshwater
Tank SizeMin 100 gallons (378 liters)
TemperamentBoisterous and aggressive
Water Temperature75 – 85 F (24-29 C)
Water pH5.5-6.5 (acid)


How Does The Pike Cichlid Get Its Name?

The pike cichlid is unrelated to the Pike fish that inhabits the northern hemisphere, but it does get its name from this. After taking a look at them side by side, it’s not hard to see the similarities in body shape.

However, the pike cichlid comes in a much wider variety of colors, so read on for the low down of some popular variants.

Types Of  Pike Cichlid

There are over 90 types of pike cichlid, most of which are endemic to the tributaries of the Amazon River basin. All Pike Cichlids fall into the genus Crenicichla; the various species and subspecies give rise to the different colloquial names you may see in aquaria. However, new varieties are occasionally discovered, and some, like Wallace’s Pike Cichlid, were not given formal names until many years after their discovery.

1. Red Pike Cichlid

As its name suggests, the red pike cichlid is a vivid red color all over. It’s a great fish if you want something colorful but aren’t looking for a typical tropical fish like a discus. Always remember that it’s not a good idea to pair aggressive Cichlids with fish of the same color that they could see as a threat. That’s why it might not be a good idea to pair this fish with red devil Cichlids.

2. Orange Pike Cichlid

These are not only one of the most peaceful Pike Cichlids but also one of the largest. The orange pike cichlid has a bright reddish-orange body and fins. As they mature they will develop a greenish tint on their head and fins until they become mostly green with a red belly. The full scientific name is Crenicichla sp. Xingu.

3. Zebra Pike Cichlid

The zebra pike cichlid is one of the most expensive fish in the genus due to the fact it was only recently discovered. Based on its name, you might expect black and white stripes like the Zebra Pleco. Instead, this is an attractive red-bellied fish whose coloration turns greenish as it reaches the dorsal fin and which has a black line lengthways along its body. This fish does, however, have vertical black-grey stripes near its tail fin that may have given it its name.

Tank Setup and Maintenance

Tank setup and maintenance of pike cichlid tank
A tank for this fish should be an absolute minimum of 100 gallons (378 liters) due to their aggressive, exploratory, and territorial nature.

1. Size And Filtration

A tank for this fish should be an absolute minimum of 100 gallons (378 liters) due to their aggressive, exploratory, and territorial nature. However, bear in mind that you will have to calculate an additional capacity for each tankmate you want to add! Therefore the pike cichlid is not a low-budget species at all. Do not ever keep them in a novelty aquarium such as a hexagonal tank. They simply need too much space!

2. Water Acidity

The pike cichlid enjoys water that is soft and slightly acidic. This comes from the large amounts of decayed organic matter in its natural habitat. If your tap water is hard, you can lower the pH and softness by adding driftwood and lots of plants.

Alternatively, you can also purchase a CO2 bubbler that can lower the water pH by putting carbon dioxide into the water. This has the added benefit of giving your plants carbon dioxide which can encourage their growth.

3. Layout

The pike cichlid does well with a similar Amazonian setup to other fish from this river basin. It enjoys a sandy or gravel substrate (use sand if you are planning on including plecos) and plenty of rocks and caves to hide in as well as driftwood and heavy planting that mimics the high amounts of organic matter in its natural environment.

4. Tankmates

There are quite a few potential tankmates for the pike cichlid but the important thing is never to keep them with fish of the same species or even similar pike cichlids in the same genus. For example, don’t keep the red pike cichlid with an orange pike cichlid, they will see each other as a threat.

Yes, it’s simply too common that they see each other as competition and fights break out. However, there is a large list of aggressive, large South and Central American species that can all thrive in a tank with a Pike Cichlid. In fact, all the following share similar water requirements:

  • Stingrays
  • Green Phantom Pleco
  • Blue Phantom Pleco
  • Royal Pleco
  • Bistlenose Pleco
  • Chinese Algae Eater
  • Red Devil Cichlid
  • Green Terror Cichlid
  • Jack Dempsey
  • Oscar Fish
  • Blood Parrot Cichlid
  • Firemouth Cichlid

Author’s Note: Yes, freshwater stingrays exist – and what’s fortunate is many of the over 30 species popularly kept in aquaria are suitable to keep with Pike Cichlids. This is as they also come from acidic Amazonian tributaries. However, make sure you are a very experienced aquarist and add the minimum tank size for your chosen stingray onto the tank size for your Pike Cichlid. These are not a tankmate you can simply add to a community aquarium.


Feeding Pike Cichlids is one of the things that gives them their reputation for aggression. Simply put, in the wild, these guys are predators, and they eat smaller fish and crustaceans.

What Do Pike Cichlids Eat?

Due to their predatory nature, it’s important to give them a diet that mimics this. This means there is no avoiding it – these guys have to eat live fish. If you are hoping to avoid this you may wonder whether you can get away with feeding them frozen protein. This can be in large chunks or chopped-up earthworms or bits of meat. Whilst these can be dietary supplements, your fish will ultimately not thrive very well unless you meet its predatory instincts.

Author’s Note: in the wild, different species may eat different diets due to the wide variety of habitats these fish come from. So long as your fish has a healthy appetite, if they are not eating as expected, don’t worry too much – many fish also have individual preferences.

Using Feeder Fish

What fish to feed your Pike Cichlid? The most common feeder fish for predatory Cichlids are feeder guppies and you should be able to purchase these at any good aquatics store. Many fish keepers keep a separate tank for their feeder fish so they can feed them as and when needed.

Behavior And Temperament

Behavior and temperament of pike cichlid
Large Cichlid behavior can be notorious and legendary for its aggression. Image From Flickr

Large Cichlid behavior can be notorious and legendary for its aggression. But what actually causes aggression? The following guide will take a look at it in more detail.

Pike Cichlid Aggression

Generally, any predatory fish can become aggressive as this is how they defend territory and hunt for prey. However, there’s a lot you can do to minimize aggression in the pike cichlid, such as the following:

  • Set out separate territories in the tank
  • Include lots of hiding places
  • Don’t have any fish small enough to fit into your Pike Cichlid’s mouth

Some factors that increase aggression are:

  • Poor diet with a lack of variety
  • Hunger
  • Overcrowding
  • Poor water conditions
  • If your fish is breeding

Are Pike Cichlids Interactive?

Pike Cichlids are quite interactive fish. They are fast and boisterous and you will often see them exploring. These Cichlids are generally intelligent, as they have to be to hunt prey.

The pike cichlid also does not necessarily bond with their owners in the same way some Cichlids like red devil Cichlids do. But they do exhibit a wide variety of behavior that makes them fascinating to watch from one day to another.

Pests And Diseases

Pests and diseases in pike cichlid
Ich shows up as white spots on your fish’s body. It’s caused by a small parasite and can spread from fish to fish, but is generally easily treated. Image From Flickr

Freshwater tropical fish diseases tend to fall into two categories – parasites, and bacterial infections. Of course, there are also fungal infections, but the following guide will help you recognize the most common pathologies in the two main categories:

1. Bacterial Infections

Bacterial infections are caused by bacteria, true to their name, and are generally as ign of dirty tank water and a fish with a weak immune system. Generally, they are treated with antibacterial medication and by quarantining the fish in a separate tank. Some of the most common are:

  • Fin Rot: Caused when bacteria attack your fish’s fins, it shows up as ragged and sore patches that look red, black, or white.
  • Swim Bladder Disease: Characterized by lethargy, your fish struggling to stay afloat, rolling from side to side, and staying near the bottom of the tank. Here bacteria affect the swim bladder, the organ that helps your fish maintain balance.
  • Dropsy: Dropsy is the most serious of these diseases and attacks the kidney. You may see all the above symptoms but in addition, your fish’s body swells with water and its scales stick out like a pine cone. In this case, prevention is better than cure. Always maintain very clean water for your Cichlids.

2. Parasitic Infections

Parasitic infections are treated with a saltwater bath as opposed to antibacterial medications. However, the same applies in that you must quarantine the Cichlid in a separate tank. Some of the most common parasites are

  • Ich: Ich shows up as white spots on your fish’s body. It’s caused by a small parasite and can spread from fish to fish, but is generally easily treated. This is a common reason why many species of fish change color.
  • Hexamita: Hexamita is caused by a parasitic protozoan and causes holes to appear in your fish’s flesh. It’s generally unpleasant and best to prevent through good hygiene, but can be treated.
  • Gold Dust: Gold dust is a less severe parasite that looks like gold flecks on your fish’s body, hence its name. You may also hear it termed ‘velvet disease’.


Breeding in pike cichlid
Males and females mate similarly to other freshwater egg-laying (as opposed to live-bearing) fish. Image From Flickr

It can be hard to breed these fish, yet once you are confident, there’s no reason why you can’t breed most Pike Cichlid varieties in captivity.

Mating Habits

Pike Cichlids are cave spawners, meaning that they require a secluded place to lay their eggs. As the term suggests, this is usually a cave. However, in a tank setup, you can provide this habitat with a length of PVC piping, a rock structure, and other hidey holes you create from stones, driftwood, and rocks you place in the tank. So long as it is naturally guarded and secluded, it will work for your fish.

Males and females mate similarly to other freshwater egg-laying (as opposed to live-bearing) fish. The female lays her eggs and the male swims over them, spraying his milt.

The male and female will guard the eggs together in their chosen site, protecting them from other fish and potential predators. Even though Pike Cichlids are in some ways apex predators in most aquarium environments. Additionally, the instincts they have to prevent their vulnerable eggs from getting eaten remain strong. Therefore, they will naturally be more aggressive at this time.

Author’s Note: if you are worried about this affecting other tankmates, consider getting your Pike Cichlids to breed in a separate tank. If separating them is too hard or you are worried about causing stress to your fish, a tank divider is a very useful piece of kit. It lets you separate the breeding pair while still giving them a choice as to where they lay their eggs and express their natural behavior.

Looking After The Fry

Once the fry has hatched, they absorb their yolk sacs for 3-4 days after which you can feed them on infusoria and baby brine shrimps. You should remove the parents once they hatch and keep the fry separate from any and all other larger tankmates.

One common issue that you may encounter is cannibalism amongst the fry. Larger fry may eat smaller fry if your fish grow at disproportionate rates.

Therefore, it’s important to separate fry by size regularly, so preparing smaller separate tanks is always useful.

Final Thoughts

Overall, if you feel ready for the challenge of one of the more aggressive tropical Cichlids, the pike cichlid offers so much variety that this genus alone can provide you with many years of fascinating tanks.

Although not as placid as some other Cichlids, they are relatively easy to care for in a mixed large Cichlid tank and generally don’t need that many different water parameters. Thus, they make an impressive sight in any tank whilst similarly being low maintenance relative to their difficulty level.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Pike Cichlids suitable for beginners?
Unfortunately, Pike Cichlids are not good beginner fish at all! They are simply too sensitive and reactive to be forgiving of mistakes. If you get their water conditions wrong or don’t provide enough space or territory, they can easily turn aggressive against other tankmates. However, if you have kept medium-difficulty Cichlids such as Mbuna Cichlids or other larger Amazonian species, you might be ready for a Pike Cichlid.
How many kinds of Pike Cichlids are there?
The Pike Cichlids form the genus Crenichichla and there are over 90 different species! However, they all have a similar body shape, predatory habits, and water requirements. The fish in the genus generally live in the Amazon basin, meaning they inhabit tributary rivers such as the Xingu, Rio Negro, and more. The different kinds have adapted subtly different features, such as jaw shape, so they can specialize within their niche.
Are Pike Cichlids expensive?
Pike Cichlids are relatively expensive due to their size and the fact they aren’t always easy to breed. The average price tends to be in the 100 to 200 USD range. However, some rare or more sought-after species such as the zebra Pike Cichlid can be over 300 USD! Once you factor in the tank, aquarium upkeep and maintenance, planting, equipment, and tankmates, you can easily spend over 1,000 USD on keeping one of these magnificent fish.
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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.