Taiwan Reef Cichlid Care Guide

Taiwan reef cichlid care guide

Taiwan Reef Cichlid Care Guide7 mins read

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Taiwan reef cichlid care guide
Image from Flickr

The Taiwan Reef Cichlid, or “Protomelas sp. Steveni” forms part of the protomelas family, a genus of haplochromine cichlids that occur naturally in Lake Malawi, East Africa. They are sexually dimorphic, meaning males and females differ in color, as well as notorious mouthbrooders. The species is inherently popular among aquarists and can be sold under names such as the Taiwan Reef Cichlids, or Red Empress Cichlid.

In the Protomelas genus, there are currently 16 species that have been recorded of which the Taiwan reef Cichlid (Protomelas sp. Steveni) is a single species from this genus only found in very select areas of the Taiwan reef known in Malawi.

Though as with most Malawi cichlids, they are less aggressive than the Mbuna tribe cichlids, being from the Haplochromine tribe.

Anyone looking for that extra pop of color in their aquarium would be intrigued by this exceptional African cichlid species.

Breed Overview

OriginMalawi, West Africa
Lifespan7 – 10 Years
Size5cm (3 Inches)
ColorsYellow, Blue, Albino
Water TypeFreshwater
Tank Size75 Gallons
TemperamentTerritorial, Moderately Aggressive
Water Temperature23-28 °C (73-82 °F)
Water pH5 – 8.5
Difficulty LevelEasy to Intermediate

Description And Color Variations

Being one of the most popular Haplochromine cichlid species, the Taiwan reef Cichlid male takes around two years before exhibiting their full colors. However, these are so spectacular that it is worth the wait. Their colors are vibrant and exquisite and as mentioned males have a much different color variation than females.

  • Males and Females

Male Taiwan Reef cichlids are more colorful with a red pelvic and anal fin, deeper orange shaded flanks, and shades of blue on the head and dorsal fins to the base of the tail. There is a white stripe running from the top of the head to the tip of the dorsal fin. Apart from this, the body can differ from a brighter orange to more yellow shades with broken lines and darker almost black markings. Females have more of a metallic silver body. They are predominantly yellow with a brighter blue on their head, back, and down the tail.

  • Taiwan Reef Cichlid Juveniles

Usually male Taiwan Reef cichlids only develop their full colors at the age of around two years, and exhibit more female colors when they are still young.

  • Albino Taiwan Reef Cichlid

Another color variation is the Albino Taiwan reef, with a paler yellow-to-orange body. It has a very light blue almost white head, back, and dorsal fin. They similarly have light red anal fins and may have some blue patterns on the pectoral fins.

On the other hand, Taiwan reef cichlids can breed with similar haplochromine cichlid species. This lets aquarists specialize in breeding more color variations. A good example is the hybridization between the Peacock cichlid and Taiwan Reef cichlid that produces some exquisite color mutations.

Taiwan Reef Cichlid Size And Lifespan

Size and Lifespan of Taiwan Reef Cichlids
A fully grown adult male Taiwan Reef can reach sizes up to 20 cm (8 Inches) though averages around 15.2 cm – 17.7 cm (6 -7 Inches). Image from Flickr

A fully grown adult male Taiwan Reef can reach sizes up to 20 cm (8 Inches) though averages around 15.2 cm – 17.7 cm (6 -7 Inches), which places them in the group of smaller cichlids. Females are slightly smaller in size, around 12.7 cm – 15.2 cm (5 – 6 Inches). Taiwan reef cichlids have an average cichlid lifespan of 7 – 10 years with optimal care.

Temperament And Suitable Tank Mates

Being from the Haplochromine rather than Mbuna family of African cichlids, they are more moderately aggressive and territorial. This is usually mostly prevalent among males and during spawning. Taiwan Reef Cichlids like to claim an area such as a rock crevice or cave as their own, and will defend it fiercely if they need. This is why you need why ample space and hiding spots in your plan to keep a group. This is even if you keep other cichlid and freshwater tank mate species.

Males will become increasingly aggressive during breeding, especially towards other male cichlids. The biggest challenges are ones that may pose competition when it comes to choosing and guarding their females. It is crucial to have a single male in your tank only during breeding with two or more females.

On the other hand, Taiwan reef cichlids generally get along extremely well with other cichlids from the Haplochromine family. They also get on well with most species of bottom-feeding Plecos.

A few ideal tank mates include:

  • Victorian Haplochromine cichlids.
  • Malawi Peacock cichlids.
  • Malawi Haplochromine cichlids.
  • Red Shoulder Peacocks.
  • Azureus Cichlids.
  • Star Sapphire Cichlids.

Good advice would be to avoid keeping Mbuna or some other African cichlid species such as the bumblebee cichlid or blue dolphin cichlid as far away as possible from Taiwan Reef cichlids. This is because mbuna are highly aggressive African cichlids.

Caring For A Taiwan Reef Cichlids

Caring for Taiwan Reef Cichlids.
Ideally for a male and two female Reef cichlids a tank of at least 75 gallons will be suitable, and larger if there are other tank mates to be included.

Taiwan reef cichlids are said to be challenging, but not excessively difficult to keep. They are on the easier side to breed for that matter. They are reasonably tolerant within certain ranges of temperatures and water parameters. However, one of the most important aspects of their care is their need for very clean water and their habit of creating abundant amounts of waste. Thus, proper maintenance must form part of your care routine to keep them healthy and stress-free.

However, with proper knowledge of their needs, you can have a great time with them. Indeed, both more novice and experienced aquarists could easily add these gorgeous colorful fish to their aquariums. Simply follow the beloguidelines:

Aquarium Set-Up

Before investing in Taiwan Reef cichlids, whether for a communal cichlid tank, keeping in mind suitable tank mates, or in a new set-up aquarium that has cycled properly. As a result, it is vital to adhere to the subsequent specs:

  • Tank Size

Taiwan Reef cichlids should be kept at one male to two or more female ratio at least. This could be challenging if they are juveniles, as males are only in full color from around two years of age. If keeping juveniles, it is better to have a group that eventually pairs off. However, you will have to rehome additional males. Ideally for a male and two female Reef cichlids a tank of at least 75 gallons is suitable. This should be larger if there are other tank mates, too. Because Taiwan reef cichlids are so territorial, they need ample space. This includes hiding spaces to allow them to establish a safe and comfortable territory.

  • Water Parameters

These cichlids do well in water temperatures of around 23-28 °C (73-82 °F) and prefer a more alkaline pH of between 7.5 – 8.5. As mentioned they produce much waste. Thus regular tank maintenance including larger water changes are necessary to keep water pristine and clear.

  • Décor

It is best to keep cichlids of any species in an aquarium that simulates their natural habitat. The same principle applies to Taiwan Reef cichlids. A Rocky Malawi tank with sandy substrate, plenty of rock crevices and caves, and open spaces for swimming are ideal. Hardy-rooted plants and floating plants can work too. However, be aware that with live plants, they tend to eat and destroy them savagely.

  • Feeding

As far as possible, Taiwan Reef cichlids are herbivores. Thus they live most happily with similar herbivorous cichlids. On the other hand, this fact also makes them fundamentally easy to feed. In the wild, most of their diet consists of algae, which also makes them ideal for cleaning your tank. Foods that are rich in fiber and vegetable matter are essential.

A varied diet consisting of high-quality pellets or flakes, Spirulina algae, and freshly blanched vegetables, especially green leafy vegetables is ideal. Try to avoid overfeeding to prevent digestive issues, such as Malawi Bloat. Likewise, only feed them twice a day as much as they can within a few minutes. They are eager and will eat almost anything you provide, making them exceptionally easy to care for.


Regular tank maintenance of a Taiwan Cichlid tank is crucial because of the amount of waste they produce. This comes hand in hand with a low tolerance for dirty water!

Weekly water changes, siphoning at least 25%- 30% of the tank water from the bottom, and replacing it with clean, conditioned, and heated water is essential. You should also maintain the tank by removing all old food and dead plant material, and cleaning dirty décor and equipment as you may require.

Introducing A New Cichlid

Introducing a New Cichlid to the Tank
The entire acclimation process should take between 40 minutes to an hour. Image from Flickr

It is vital to have a properly cycled aquarium before even thinking about adding new fish. You should allow your tank a week or two to cycle, with lights on if you have live plants. This allows everything to settle and proper water parameters to stabilise, for which you will need an aquarium testing kit.

1. Choosing A Healthy Fish

It is best practice to research a few breeders and pet stores that specialize in freshwater fish first. This is before choosing a suitable retailer from whom to purchase your Taiwan Reef cichlids.  Juveniles can be live in groups, though when they reach adulthood you should rehome additional males (beyond just one). Always ensure that healthy fish are vibrant, active and feed eagerly. Look for any signs of parasites or disease such as frayed fins, discoloration, growths, or white spots.

2. Acclimating Your Cichlid

Acclimating your new fish to their home is essential to get them used to the new water parameters. They take time to adjust to temperatures, to prevent stress and shock, as they are sensitive to sudden changes. Allow your bag of fish to float on the surface for around 20 minutes. Do this before replacing a quarter cup at a time of tank water with water from the bag, at intervals of 15 minutes, until most of the bag water is gone.

You can allow the fish to swim into their new home, or gently net them one at a time. The entire acclimation process should take between 40 minutes to an hour.

Breeding Taiwan Reef Cichlids

As mentioned earlier, Taiwan reef cichlids are fairly easy to breed. They are Mouthbrooders that reproduce in large numbers. Keeping one male with several females will ensure a successful breeding experience.

The males usually entice females to fertilize eggs. Then, the females guard the eggs in their mouths for three to four weeks before they hatch. After this point, both the female and male will meticulously care for the fry.

Did you know that Taiwan reef cichlids will also hybridize with other cichlid species in your tank? Thus, more color variations may appear.

Health Issues Commonly Found In Cichlids

Common Health Issues in Cichlids
Ich is a parasite that causes tiny white spots on your fish, and is usually caused by being infected by new fish or plants, and grows with favorable conditions such as dirty tank water. Image from Flickr

Even though Taiwan Reef cichlids are reasonably robust, they are still prone to some diseases and pests.

  • Swim Bladder Disease

A common ailment among most freshwater fish, this disease affects the swim bladder. Fish may struggle to stay afloat and even become lethargic. Usually, a fungal or bacterial infection is the cause. However, you can treat this easily with quarantine in clean water, as well as an antifungal, or antibacterial treatment.

  • Fin Rot

Be cautious of physical damage from other fish, sharp objects, and even ammonia burns from dirty water. These can lead to damage that can become infested with fungus, resulting in fin rot. Treat this by quarantining your fish and using antibacterial medication.

  • Ich/White Spot Disease

Ich is a parasite that causes tiny white spots on your fish. It usually comes from infection from new fish or plants. However, like most diseases, it grows with favorable conditions such as dirty tank water. By raising the temperatures in your tank and using a suitable parasite medication, the issue should clear up within a few days.

  • Cotton Wool Disease

When there are sub-par water conditions in your tank, a fungus naturally found in aquariums can get out of hand. Then, it will cause fuzzy white growths on your fish. You can deal with this by using a salt bath for infected fish, and antifungal treatments. However, in this case, it is vital to perform proper tank maintenance to improve water conditions.

  • Hole in the Head Disease

A condition more prone to cichlids, also known as Hexamita, refers to the parasite that causes depression or dents in the head of the fish. Likewise, it causes weight loss and a loss of appetite. Usually, a mineral imbalance and poor water conditions make it favorable for the parasite to thrive. By improving water conditions, and using antibiotics, you can easily take care of it, however.

  • Gill Flukes

Gill Flukes are also parasites that pester many freshwater fish, attacking their gills. The gills become red and inflamed with a slimy coating. Eventually, your fish will struggle to breathe. The best treatment method in this case is aquarium salt and raising tank temperatures. This makes it unfavorable for the parasite to survive.

  • Malawi Bloat

One of the most common health issues especially among cichlids that are native to Malawi, and that are herbivores is Malawi Bloat. However, it can affect other cichlids too.

The symptoms are aggressive causing swelling of the abdomen, hyperventilation, and rapid breathing. You will also see a discoloration of feces and a loss of appetite. Malawi bloat can lead to more severe underlying conditions if you don’t treat it immediately and effectively. Ideally, clean the tank, condition it, and dose it with Metronidazole. After this point, add new water. Keep in mind to remove any activated carbon from filters when medicating the tank.

  • Tuberculosis

This is a contagious and almost always fatal condition affecting cichlids. Sadly, it can also jump to other fish and humans. Tuberculosis causes blotchy skin, frayed fins, a sunken stomach, and loss of appetite in fish. You will have to remove all fish without the condition and treat the entire initial aquarium with melafix to prevent further infection.

Final Thoughts

Taiwan reef Cichlids can add color and exquisite beauty to any aquarium. Keeping to the strict care requirements, and recommended tank mates they make great companions too. In fact, you could easily have one of the most colorful and extraordinary communal aquariums with this semi-aggressive African fish species. By following recommendations they are fairly easy to keep and hardy fish that will provide you with a few years of viewing pleasure and intriguing pets that deserve so much appreciation.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does Taiwan Reef Cichlid Fry Look Like?
Taiwan Reef Cichlid fry is tiny and a white almost translucent color, as they grow they develop black bars and markings and eventually female colors and juveniles.
What are Taiwan Reef Cichlid’s Sizes?
Males are usually an average of 15. 2 – 17. 7 cm (6 – 7) Inches, though specimens as large as 20 cm (8 Inches) have been recorded. Females are usually between 12.7 cm – 15 cm (5 – 6 Inches).
Is there a White Taiwan Reef Cichlid?
The closest true White Taiwan reef cichlid is the Albino, which is more yellow with a white head, back, and fins. Taiwan Reef Cichlids can be hybridized with other similar cichlid species, which in turn may produce more White or translucent colors.
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