Red Empress Cichlid Care Guide7 mins read

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Red empress cichlid care guide
Image from Flickr

The red empress cichlid is one of the most suitable cichlid species that will cater to the needs of all freshwater fish aquarist hobbyists. They are ideal for beginners and the most advanced aquarists.

These fish are easy to keep as communal fish with the right tank mates, and very simple to care for. Furthermore, Red Empress cichlids are bright and bold in color, with peaceful personalities. Many times, fish keepers do not give them the credit they deserve next to the brilliant Peacock cichlid. In fact, they resemble this species, well known to the aquarium trade, and often sought after.

Thus, you may need to dig a bit deeper to find a reliable breeder or pet store that specializes in this exquisite cichlid species. Especially so if you specifically want a female red empress cichlid or a male to add to an existing group.

As you may have noticed, the red empress cichlid male has a much brighter and bolder color profile and shape. The red empress cichlid female may seemingly be duller; however, it is no less interesting.

Though, it remains, their exquisite beauty is what always tickles the fancy of most aquarists. Being so easy to keep, here are a few easy guidelines to keep your fish healthy and flourishing.

Breed Overview

OriginLake Malawi East Africa
Lifespan5 – 10 years
Size3 cm (4.4 Inches)
ColorsGold, Blue, Orange red
Water TypeFreshwater
Tank Size55 – 75 Gallons for 4 – 5 fish
TemperamentPeaceful, Foraging
Water Temperature26-28 °C (82.4 °F)
Water pH5– 8.2
Difficulty Level

Red Empress Cichlid Species Information

The Red Empress Cichlid, scientifically referred to as the Protomelas taeniolatus, is a haplochromine cichlid species native to Lake Malawi in East Africa.

It is quite a popular choice in the aquarium hobby because of its bright and almost rainbow-like colors, especially in adult males. It also has a very peaceful temperament as opposed to many African cichlid species. Unfortunately, like most Haplochromines, females are duller than males.

As a freshwater fish, the Red Empress cichlid prefers its natural habitat of rocky shallow waters. Here it feeds mainly on algae growing on the rock’s surfaces, and a variety of smaller invertebrates. One of 850 species of freshwater fish from the cichlid family, this beauty is closely related to the well-known Peacock cichlid.

Description And Colors

Description and colors of red empress cichlid
Red Empress Cichlids have a similar-shaped body to the Peacock Cichlid. However, they have higher foreheads, forked tails, and longer fins. Image from Flickr

As mentioned, Red Empress cichlids show sexual dimorphism, so males vary in color to females. Although small, Red Emperor cichlids do not disappoint when it comes to striking color and their majestic nature.

There are several naturally occurring color morphs of the red empress cichlid. Blue fire red empress cichlids have completely blue bodies, while the edges of the scales have orange or red tips.

Color Profile

Red Empress Cichlids have a similar-shaped body to the Peacock Cichlid. However, they have higher foreheads, forked tails, and longer fins. Red Empress Cichlids come in a few color variants depending on their habitat, as well. In fact, the body may be a shade of gold, blue, orange, or red in males.

Red empress cichlids come in many color variations, depending on where in Lake Malawi they are from. The body of the red empress cichlid comes in shades of gold, blue, orange, or red. There are quite a few color morphs available, and most likely many more to come. This is because of selective breeding, by more experienced breeders.

The Fire Red Blue Morph Red Empress Cichlid on the other hand has a blue body with orange or red-tipped scales.

Most males have an orange-red body and blue head, while the female’s silver body is markedly less colorful.

Depending on where they live, some males have a brownish-red anal fin. The red empress’s upper body is has two horizontal lines and faded oval spots decorate the back.

Fin Profile

Red Emperor Cichlids have impressive finnage profiles to enable them to survive in their natural territory—the larger body sports spiny fins to ward off predators. In addition, the anal, dorsal, caudal, and pectoral fins are longer allowing faster swimming, for a quick getaway.

Red Empress Cichlid Male and Female Colors

  • Female Red Empress Cichlid – A mature female Red Empress cichlid has a less colorful silvery body with a splash of orange on their fins. They have two horizontal lines on their bodies, topped off with ovals on the back. They are very similar in color to juvenile Red Empress cichlids. Adult and juvenile females will have rounded, more elegant fins, especially anal fins.
  • Male Red Empress Cichlid – Mature males have an orange or red body with a blue head and horizontal lines. This is along with faded oval spots that are more prominent than that of the female. Males have sharper more pointed fins, especially anal fins. You can especially see these throughout their juvenile stages.

Red Empress Cichlid Size And Lifespan

Red empress cichlid size and lifespan
According to most research, the average lifespan of a Red Empress cichlid is around 5 years in captivity. Image from Flickr

According to most research, the average lifespan of a Red Empress cichlid is around 5 years in captivity. However, there have been cases where they attain lifespans of 10 years.

You might expect a big, bold cichlid from their colors. However, red empress cichlid size is actually quite small. They are smaller cichlids at around 11.3 cm (4.4 Inches) when fully grown, the females being slightly smaller than males.

Temperament And Behaviour

Are seldom aggressive, however, Red Empress cichlid males can become territorial when breeding. Additionally, they are not tolerant of other males. Thus, it is always ideal to keep a ratio of four females with one male, as they are communal fish.

Again, due to red empress cichlid size, it’s good not to keep them with bigger tankmates. For beginners it is best to stick to the same species. However, more advanced aquarists can try the following species as good tank mates:

Suitable Tank Mates

A few good tank mates include:

  • Nimbochromis cichlids.
  • Venustus Cichlids.
  • Blood Parrot Cichlids.
  • Pictus Catfish.
  • Malawi Cichlids.
  • Livingston Cichlids.

Other peaceful African cichlid species may also be a good option to consider.

Care Requirements

There is no question about it, the Red Empress will add color and vibrance to any aquarium. They are simple to care for if you keep them within the right water parameters and feeding routines. As mentioned, the red empress cichlid can also be a peaceful and suitable addition to an established communal tank. However, if you have the right tank mates, you should provide them with ample space and hiding spots.

1. Tank Size

Being a smaller cichlid species, a 55-gallon tank should suffice for a group of one male and three females. This provides ample space for swimming and territory to claim for males.

2. Water Parameters

Sticking to strict water parameters and investing in a good testing kit will ensure your fish are always healthy and thriving. The following water parameters are optimal.

pH7.5 to 8.2
Water Temperature26-28 °C (82.4 °F)
Water Hardness5 to 15 dGH

3. Substrate And Décor

To create the perfect environment for a Red Empress cichlid, try and mimic their natural habitat as much as possible. In nature, they thrive in shallow water bodies with open spaces and plenty of rocks. Water movement is important, thus good filtration with a good current and a quality pump is desirable.

Sandy substrate with some rocks and wood should do the trick, and a live plant here and there. Luckily Empress cichlids do not destroy vegetation but prefer sifting through sand looking for a snack.

Open spaces are vital as they enjoy swimming majestically and mesmerizing you with their colors and antics. –

4. Live Plants

Live plants are great fun to choose. Nevertheless, it is wise to choose plants suitable for similar water conditions. They should be that are slightly more hardy. These may include:

  • Cryptocoryne
  • Usteriana
  • Java Ferns
  • Bolbitis
  • Anubias

Feeding A Red Empress Cichlid

Red Empress cichlids are omnivores. They feed on algae from rocks and driftwood in the wild and sift through the sand and rocks for small invertebrates. Luckily, they will do the same in your tank.

A quality pellet flake food is best as a staple. Then you can add spirulina flakes, and for protein some krill as a snack.

Many individuals use food snacks to entice their fish to come out and play, it is important never to overfeed them.

They generally prefer more regular smaller meals a day rather than one or two meals per day. These cichlids are rather active and rely on constant foraging for food, and grazing on algae.

Proper Tank Maintenance

Any aquarist worth their weight in gold will tell you that good tank maintenance and housekeeping are essential. These are the things to keep cichlids healthy and thriving. The easiest way to clean any freshwater fish tank, even a cichlid tank will be frequent water changes, and cleaning items as necessary.

Weekly water changes are a necessity following these steps:

  • Firstly, switch off all lights and equipment in your fish tank
  • Clean all dirt items in your tank with a sponge or cloth
  • Drain at least 30% of the water from the bottom of the tank with a siphoning hose
  • Prepare freshly prepared water and add water conditioners
  • Use a testing kit and thermometer to get the perfect temperature and parameters
  • Heat the water to the required temperatures, (you can use warm water and cool it down).
  • Slowly add new conditioned water to the tank.

Choosing And Acclimating New Cichlids

With any new cichlid, it is always safer to allow them to acclimate. This means keeping them within the bag first as opposed to just adding your fish to the bag. They need to acclimatize to their surroundings in a calm environment, as well as water conditions and temperatures.

  • Choose Your Cichlid

Choose a Red Empress cichlid male along with three females from a trusted breeder or retailer. You may need to get a group of several juveniles and ween out the males as they get older. Or ensure that you purchase adult fish.

You can return additional males. Nevertheless, you still shouldn’t ever keep one Red Empress male in a single communal tank environment.

  • Adding A Cichlid To Its New Home

To Acclimate cichlids, you can follow the proven routine:

  1. Dim the lights and switch off all noise and pumps
  2. Allow the fish to float in the bag for at least 20 minutes in the tank water
  3. Gradually add tank water replacing it with water from the bag at 10 to 15-minute intervals for another 45 minutes
  4. Now allow your fish to swim freely into their new home

Breeding Red Empress Cichlids

Luckily Red Empress Cichlids have a long history of breeding in captivity, and they are relatively easy to breed. They are mouth brooders, which means that the females carry the eggs in their mouths until they hatch.

For the most part cichlids in general make excellent parents. Either way the male, female, or both parents resume the duty of caring for the eggs and young after hatching. Males may become slightly more aggressive and agitated during the breeding season. They are also highly territorial over their breeding area, seeing any other fish or newcomers as a potential threat. This is especially due to red empress cichlid size. Being small, they have to boldly warn off potential predators.

1. Mating

Males will usually initiate breeding by clearing a spot in the sand or on a flat rock. They then start chasing a female to such a chosen spot. At the spot, the male shakes in a vertical position producing sperm.

2. Breeding

The female red empress cichlid lays around 40 or more eggs and picks them up in her mouth. At this stage, she collects sperm produced by the male along with the eggs. Then she keeps the eggs safe in her mouth where they hatch within three to four weeks.

3. Fry Care

Males and females are nurturing parents, always keeping young fry close. They look after them well until they are ready to take on the world by themselves. Small krill or baby brine shrimp are a great extra as a healthy protein-rich snack for young Empress cichlid fry as a supplement.

Health Issues Commonly Cichlids

Health issues commonly cichlids
Fin Rot is a fungal infection resulting from physical damage or ammonia burns. It becomes worse in poor water conditions. Image from Flickr

Red Empress cichlids are relatively robust fish with fewer health issues, nonetheless, it is still better to learn of the following possible health conditions.

  • Swim Bladder Disease – Quite common is Swim Bladder disease causing your fish to struggle to stay upright. Mostly caused by poor water conditions leading to an infection of the swim bladder, and treated with antifungal or antibacterial medication.
  • Fin Rot – Fin Rot is a fungal infection resulting from physical damage or ammonia burns. It becomes worse in poor water conditions. Thus, quarantine in optimal water conditions, with good antifungal treatment is necessary.
  • Ich/White Spot Disease – Parasites such as Ich are transferrable from new fish and plants causing white spots on the fins and gills of our fish. In the case of Ich, you will have to treat the entire tank, and raise water temperatures slightly.
  • Malawi Bloat – Malawi bloat is a common condition found mostly in African cichlids. It causes bloating, discoloration of feces, and a lack of appetite in cichlids. You can treat it by adding healthy vegetable matter such as algae or green vegetables for fiber, and keeping their diet well balanced.

To Conclude

A favorite in the freshwater aquarium hobby, the Red Empress cichlid is a particular beauty amongst freshwater fish. With its peaceful nature, you will rarely have trouble in your tank,

In addition, you can enjoy the peace of mind that it is also not a fragile fish. So, if you want an aquarium fish that is peaceful, vibrant, and easy to care for, you can never go wrong with the Red Empress cichlid.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I know If My Red Empress is Male or Female?
The red empress cichlid male will have bright blue bodies with blue heads. Conversely, the red empress cichlid female will have a duller brown silvery color. With juveniles, males have more pointy fins, especially anal fins while the fins in females are more rounded.
Are red empress cichlids aggressive?
They are generally one of the more peaceful cichlid species, however, males of the same species do not get along.
What is the right tank size for red empress cichlids?
Ideally, keep a ratio of three to four females with a single male Red Empress, as they prefer being in groups. A tank of between 55 to 75 gallons is suitable.
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