Rainbow Cichlid Care Guide

Rainbow Cichlid Care Guide

Rainbow Cichlid Care Guide7 mins read

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Rainbow Cichlid Care Guide
Image from Flickr

The rainbow cichlid is one of the smallest Central American cichlid species, which is a colorful and popular addition to your aquarium.

Because of its peaceful nature and easy-care requirements, it is ideal for both beginner and advanced aquarists.  Known to be personable fish with desirable characteristics, Rainbow cichlids are intriguing and peaceful and even have the innate ability to change color.

They are attractive show specimens for any aquarium and an ideal addition to your communal aquarium. This guide will go over need to know facts like rainbow cichlid size and tank size as well as rainbow cichlid tankmates, feeding, and more.

Breed Overview

OriginCentral America
Lifespan7-9 Years
Size12-15 cm (4.7 Inches – 6 inches)
ColorsYellow, Brown, Red
Water TypeFreshwater
Tank Size55 Gallons for 2 fish
TemperamentPeaceful, Active, Social
Water Temperature22–36 °C 71.6–96.8 °F)
Water pH5 – 8.0
Difficulty LevelEasy to Intermediate

The Rainbow Cichlid As A Species

The rainbow cichlid scientifically referred to as (Hero tilapia multispinosa )is a popular and colorful freshwater fish species from the cichlid family. It is native to Central America, mostly the Costa Rican rivers, lakes, and swamps.

The rainbow cichlid prefers the muddy bottoms of lakes and swamps and boasts specialized teeth, with a low 3.5% jaw protrusion. This is because it mainly eats algae.

Furthermore, this fish is similarly closely related to the Criboheros and Jack Dempsey, which are two popular cichlid species in the aquarium trade.

Color Description

An interesting fact about the rainbow cichlid is its ability to change color with changes in individual mood and environmental changes. The original colors of the fish are mainly yellow with slight tints of red and brown that can darken and brighten. There are similar lines of spots and black horizontal stripes that adorn this gorgeous fish species. Color changes take place over a matter of seconds. Rainbow cichlids are not sexually dimorphic; thus, males and females are similar colors.

Rainbow cichlids are small, with oval bodies and pointed dorsal, and anal fins. They are well known as one of the smallest Central American cichlids.

Differentiating Males From Females

Unfortunately, especially when still juvenile, Rainbow cichlids are hard to sex with. Males and females are very similar in color. However, males tend to be slightly more colorful and have pointier fins, while females exhibit more rounded fins. Similarly, your rainbow cichlid size is an important clue. Females are smaller in size than males. These features are the only concrete factor that differentiates males from females.

Rainbow Cichlid Size And Lifespan

Rainbow cichlid size and lifespan

The Rainbow cichlid adult reaches sizes of between 12-15 cm (4.7 Inches – 6 inches), though generally in captivity they are around 7 – 8 CM (3 Inches – 3.5 Inches). Generally, rainbow cichlid size depends on their care and the tank size you choose for them. Ideally with proper care rainbow cichlids can live up to 9 years in captivity, with an average of between 7-8 years.

In The Aquarium

Because of their peaceful nature and suitability for communal tanks Rainbow cichlids are easy to keep in most aquariums with proper care. Furthermore, they do well in Tropical tanks with warmer temperatures that simulate their natural environment.


Rainbow cichlids are easy-going, docile fish that are robust and easy to keep. Furthermore, they will shoal if kept in groups and prefer to either rest or spar, chasing each other around.

An interesting behavioral trait is color change which depends on their mood and environment. However, as beautiful as they are, it is important not to keep more than one male Rainbow cichlid. Generally, this is because they become territorial towards other males during spawning.

Small shrimps, crabs, and even snails could also easily become prey to these scavengers. Therefore, you should be wary of keeping them as tank mates. On the other hand, plants are mostly safe with your Rainbow cichlids, as they are not destructive to plants.


Rainbow cichlids are well known for their peaceful nature and friendly temperament. They can easily be kept as a single fish, or in male and female pairs. Communal tanks are ideal in that you choose the right tank mates. However, it should be considered that males will become territorial during spawning season, and may become semi-aggressive.

Suitable Rainbow Cichlid Tank Mates

Any reasonably peaceful tropical fish species with similar water parameter requirements and medium size are ideal tank mates. However, as you include more fish, your rainbow cichlid tank size should similarly increase in proportion.

A few rainbow cichlid tank mates you should consider include:

  • Robust Live-bearing Fish.
  • Suckermouth Catfish.
  • Deep Body Tetras.
  • Giant Danios.
  • Firemouth Cichlids.
  • Blood Parrot Cichlids.
  • Convict Cichlids.

How To Care For A Rainbow Cichlid

How to care for a rainbow cichlid
Ideally for a single Rainbow cichlid, which is not recommended, a 20-gallon tank will suffice. Image from Flickr

Rainbow cichlids are easy to care for as mentioned, and will do well in your community aquarium. By following the guidelines provided and mimicking their natural environment they will easily flourish. Keep in mind their natural habitat is weedy margins and shallow muddy streams. These also have turbid waters, and small ponds, when selecting décor and filtration systems.

1. Setting Up The Aquarium

If you are starting with a new aquarium for your Rainbow cichlids it is vital to follow the correct guidelines to create a perfect environment for them. You may have to adapt your communal aquarium gradually, to make it more suitable for the addition of Rainbow cichlids, according to these guidelines.

In addition, cycling a new aquarium for at least a week after complete set-up will help to create good bacteria for proper water parameters and ecolife to create the best living environment for them.

2. Rainbow Cichlid Tank Size And Water Parameters

Ideally for a single Rainbow cichlid, which is not recommended, a 20-gallon tank will suffice. However, it is better to opt for a 55-gallon tank for a pair of Rainbow cichlids, or larger for a communal tank. Generally, rainbow cichlid tank size you give them plenty of room, but conversely, they are quite adaptable in terms of water pH. In fact, they can thrive in ranges between 6.5 and 8.0. They however prefer more tropical climates with temperatures ranging between 22–36 °C 71.6–96.8 °F). A water hardness of around 9-20 dGH can be tested for and will be suitable.

3. Substrate And Décor

A filter with a moderate current is ideal to keep water clean and moving along. Fine gravel substrate and additional rocks create a more natural setting. Natural driftwood is your best option for creating ample hiding spots. Keep in mind to allow some open spaces for swimming. Likewise, roots and weed-like plants are similarly suitable for recreating their natural environment.

4. Live Plants

Unlike other cichlid species, Rainbow cichlids do well in a heavily planted aquarium. Some of the best plants for Rainbow cichlids include:

  • Java Ferns
  • Vallisneria

Feeding Your Rainbow Cichlids

Rainbow cichlids are mainly omnivores. In their natural habitat, they feed on algae and detritus. However, they also prey on smaller fish and insects.

How To Feed

As a staple, they must be fed proper flake or pellet food specially formulated for cichlids. Algae wafers, spirulina, and vegetables can be supplemented. Protein-based foods such as shrimps, bloodworms, and insects are ideal. This means as a protein-rich snack in between feedings.

When To Feed

Ideally, you should feed your Rainbow cichlids several feedings of small amounts per day. In fact, two meals per day are adequate with snacks in between to keep them well fed and entertained throughout the day.

Choosing And Acclimating New Rainbow Cichlids

Choosing and acclimating new rainbow cichlids

When you introduce any new fish to a new tank or communal tank, keep in mind that it is stressful for the fish. Additionally, fish must acclimate to water temperatures and parameters gradually to prevent shock, as this can also cause unnecessary stress and health issues. So, before getting into acclimation, it is vital to find a healthy specimen or two to add to your aquarium.

Choosing A Suitable Source

You can scout through the internet or even regard other hobbyists as where to find trusted breeders or pet stores that source Rainbow cichlids. Furthermore, a trusted breeder or retailer that sells healthy-bred fish will be your best option. However, the best practice remains to check for the following signs of health:

  • Clear bright eyes.
  • Clear skin without any blemishes, protrusions, or residue.
  • No white spots near the gills, on the fins, or on the scales.
  • No ragged fins, or tears in the fins and tail.
  • The stomach must be well-rounded and not bloated or sunken.
  • Fish must be active and alert, swimming, and not floating abnormally.
  • A good appetite is also a good sign of health.


The following steps are proven to be the best when acclimating any new tropical fish, especially cichlids;

  • Switch off aquarium equipment and lights.
  • Limit movement in the area where the aquarium is.
  • Ensure that tank mates are fed.
  • Allow the bag with the new fish to float on the water’s surface for at least 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Gradually replace half a cup of the water in the bag with aquarium water.
  • Repeat replacing the water until almost all the water in the bag is replaced.
  • Gently net a single fish at a time into the aquarium, or allow them to swim in freely.
  • Try to avoid allowing excess water from the bag to enter the aquarium.

Keep in mind, water from the bag is filled with fish waste, and can cause ammonia spikes in your aquarium that are detrimental to the health of your fish, and additionally causes stress, and ammonia burns.

Treating Health Concerns In Cichlids

Even though the Rainbow cichlid is a hardy species, there are still a few common health issues to be vigilant for. Indeed, many diseases and stressors are commonly related to poor water conditions and diet, thus improving these factors can help.

To keep aquarium fish healthy and thriving, these steps can be followed as good practice:

  • Ensure that the water parameters are kept in line and suitable for the specific fish species.
  • Keep ammonia levels down, as Ammonia spikes cause many health issues.
  • Waste materials such as dead plant matter left over food, and fish waste contribute to ammonia levels.
  • Invest in a good filtration system to provide oxygen and clean water.
  • Ensure that water temperatures are kept stable and within the proper ranges.
  • Water temperatures may need to be slightly, and gradually elevated in the case of treating parasitic invasions.
  • Feed your cichlids a properly balanced diet to prevent digestive issues.
  • Refrain from eating too much protein-rich foods, especially for Rainbow cichlids.
  • Always quarantine new fish or plants first to prevent parasites and diseases from affecting your communal tank.
  • Wash your hands before handling fish, or items in your aquarium, and afterward.

Common Health Conditions In Cichlids

  • Swim Bladder Disease

If you notice that your cichlids are struggling to stay afloat, or are in an upright position, they may have swim bladder disease. This is usually a fungal or bacterial infection that affects the swim bladder of the fish. Did you know the swim bladder is an organ that helps fish stay afloat? It’s crucial for you fish, and therefore you should use antifungal or antibacterial medication to treat swim bladder disease.

  • Fin Rot

Fin Rot will exhibit discoloration and a raggedy appearance to the tail and fins. Usually caused by mechanical injury, or ammonia burns that are infected by fungus, the disease can spread all over the body. A good antifungal medication and clean water will usually do the trick.

  • Ich/White Spot Disease

If you see white spots on the gills especially, or the fins of your fish, it may be the protozoan parasite Ich. Usually, the parasite comes from newcomer fish or plants and is contagious. In this instance, treating the entire tank is ideal, and medication is readily available from pet stores. Furthermore, raising the temperatures of the aquarium helps to shorten the lifespan of the parasite.

  • Tuberculosis

One of the most contagious and deadly conditions in cichlids. It causes a loss of appetite, weight loss, frayed fins, blotchy skin, and a sunken stomach. Due to it’s contagion, the entire tank and ill fish will require a medication called melafix. Following this, you must remove all healthy fish into a quarantine tank and monitor them daily for symptoms of the condition.

  • Cotton Wool Disease

Cotton Wool disease is mainly a fuzzy white fungal growth on fish caused by fungus. Generally, it is dirty water and food waste that lead to this infection. Thus, cleaning the tank properly, and doing regular water changes can prevent, and clear up the issue.

  • Hole in the Head Disease

Also referred to as hexamita, a parasite affecting mostly cichlids. The symptoms include a lack of appetite, weight loss, and depression in the head. On top of this, scientists also discovered mineral imbalance and poor water conditions relating to this disease. However, this aspect is still under debate. Either way, atibiotics are the most effective treatment, along with improving water conditions.

  • Gill Flukes

Gill Flukes are parasites attacking and feeding on the soft gills of your fish. Not only are they unpleasant to see, they also cause redness, a slimy residue, and discomfort when breathing. Gill Flukes are easy to treat by adding one tablespoon of aquarium salt to a 55-gallon tank and raising the aquarium temperature slightly.

Breeding Rainbow Cichlids

Breeding rainbow cichlids
Rainbow cichlids bond as pairs, and bond in substrate. They are strictly monogamous, meaning males and females pair as a couple after courtship and establishing territory. Image from Flickr

Rainbow cichlids bond as pairs, and bond in substrate. They are strictly monogamous, meaning males and females pair as a couple after courtship and establishing territory.

1. Mating

Thus, after the initial courtship phase, the bonded male and female select a safe area of substrate to claim as future breeding territory for the reproductive season. Male and female couples will mate monogamously. Afterwards, the female lays her eggs on the substrate with a sticky residue where they will stick.

You may notice fierce territorial behavior in both males and females during breeding season as they fence off and guard their territory.

2. Breeding

Usually, they prefer a more vertical area rather than a flat substrate to lay eggs, and females lay their eggs in multiple lines. The parents skim-fan the eggs regularly to keep them oxygenated. Eggs hatch in around two days and the young fry are moved to a pit dug by the parents, inside the substrate, or they are sometimes placed on a vertical surface.

3. Fry Care

The parents use their mouths to move the small fry. After a few days, the fry become more independent and swim away from the pit, still under the watchful eye of their parents.

An interesting fact about spawning is the underwater sound Rainbow cichlids make before spawning. They use their swim bladders to make small “growling” sounds referred to as “volleys” or “thumps” to help synchronize pairs. This is an appeasing signal between breeding pairs that reduces aggressive behavior.

Maintaining Your Aquarium

Maintaining your rainbow cichlids aquarium
Use the testing kit again to test the water parameters and temperatures inside the aquarium. Image from Flickr

Keeping any tropical freshwater fish healthy and flourishing means, monitoring them daily for signs of adverse behavior, and performing regular maintenance.


Housekeeping including cleaning equipment and décor, as well as removing leftover food and plants must be done daily.

Weekly Maintenance

Weekly water changes are vital, and an integral part of tank maintenance.

  1. The following steps are proven ideal in regular tank maintenance;
  2. Switch off all aquarium equipment.
  3. Use a siphoning hose to siphon water from the bottom of the tank.
  4. Siphon at least 35% of the tank water.
  5. In a bucket add warm water and use your thermometer to achieve the correct temperature.
  6. Apply water conditioners and use a testing kit to achieve the correct water pH and hardness levels.
  7. Slowly add the water from the bucket to your aquarium.
  8. Switch on the tank equipment.
  9. Use the testing kit again to test the water parameters and temperatures inside the aquarium.

Final Thoughts

From what can be seen the Rainbow cichlid is a welcoming addition to any aquarium with its social, peaceful nature and vibrant colors. It is easy to care for by following the recommended guidelines, and even easy to breed. Its smaller size makes it ideal for medium aquariums and communal aquariums.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Rainbow Cichlids aggressive?
Rainbow cichlids are known to be quite peaceful, however, will defend their territory when breeding. However, it is vital not to keep more than two males together.
Do Rainbow cichlids eat plants?
Rainbow cichlids feed mainly on algae and dead plant matter. Thus, your aquarium plants will be quite safe with them.
How to tell if Rainbow cichlids are male or female?
Male rainbow cichlids are brighter in color, slightly larger, and have pointier tails and fins than females. Though, generally they are quite difficult to sex.
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