Wolf Cichlid Care Guide

Wolf Cichlid Care Guide

Wolf Cichlid Care Guide7 mins read

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Wolf Cichlid Care Guide
Image from wikimedia.org

Despite its large size and aggressive predatory nature, the wolf cichlid is truly a specimen to speculate about. They are beautiful with their muscular large bodies, brilliantly rich colors, and yet offer so much more in personality.

They are rewarding and social pets that will extend their territory beyond just the aquarium. You will find that they investigate your every move inquisitively, and meticulously.

Wolf cichlids are relatively undemanding to care for, despite their substantial sized tank requirements, and aggressive nature. However, they do not fare well in communal tanks and rarely get along with the few suitable tank mates.

The Wolf cichlid may even bite the hand that feeds it, and a Wolf cichlid bite is not something to take lightly. In fact, wolf cichlid teeth are large, long and pointy, ideal for predatory fish. This vivacious predator will eat anything that fits inside its mouth! It is extremely territorial and aggressive, thus you must choose and handle them with great care.

If you are looking for a show-stopper fish to keep on its own, or with a female, or few suitable mates, chosen with care, the Wolf cichlid is sure to turn a few heads. However, it is vital to follow the unique care guidelines as it is a hardy, dominating, and challenging freshwater species. Indeed, a wolf cichlid bite is not something nice for a beginner aquarist to experience!

Breed Overview

OriginCentral America
Lifespan30 Years
Size72 cm – 80 cm (28 Inches – 2.6 feet)
ColorsGold, Blue, Red, Orange
Water TypeFreshwater
Tank Size150 Gallons for 1 fish
TemperamentAggressive, Territorial
Water Temperature6°F – 80.6°F (22 ̊ C – 27 C)
Water pH0 – 8.0
Difficulty LevelEasy to Intermediate

Wolf Cichlid Species

The Wolf cichlid has multiple names, including Parachromis dovii, guapote, or Rainbow bass. It is native to Central America, and mostly occurs in the lakes, rivers, and streams of Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica.

Known as one of the largest cichlid species, and a predatory, this aggressive species is often a gamefish and in rare cases kept as an aquarium species by select hobbyists. In fact, wolf cichlid size is one of the main reasons it’s not easy to keep.

The Wolf cichlid gained its name to honor John Melmoth Dow, a ship captain and amateur naturalist who loved to collect specific specimens.


The Wolf cichlid has a deep muscular body and long length. Mature males are a rich golden yellow, with a silver base and speckles ranging from black, to blue and purple. The head is adorned with green and red and the fins and tail are a bluish green color. Females are mostly entirely yellow in color, and smaller in size.

The Wolf cichlid fry starts silver in color with a dominant black line. As it matures green and yellow start to appear on the body of the fish until the juvenile stage. Males normally grow a large nuchal hump as they mature and flecks of gold to blue and purple will start to form from the jaw to the scales on the body.

Wolf Cichlid Colors

Though inherently rare there are reports of more color morphs in the Wolf cichlid. One of the more common color morphs is the Red Wolf cichlid. However, individuals salted in the hobby refer to color morphs as pertaining to their origin, whether Honduran, Nicaruaguan, or Costa Rican.

The blue variant belongs mostly to the Nicaruaguan family, while Costa Rica holds the Rio Higueron Blue, the Rio Heridia Gold/Blue, and the Lake Arenal Blue. Red and Orange specimens mostly originate from Lake Nicaragua and Rio Puerto Viejo. Several color morphs are available as well as the normal form. Some orange-red specimens come from Lake Nicaragua and Rio Puerto Viejo.

Wolf Cichlid Teeth

As their canine name suggests the wolf cichlid has large, sharp pointy teeth and a large mouth. They have teeth known as an evolved pharyngeal set, along with regular teeth. Their teeth allow them to hunt down predators and devour their prey. Unfortunately, their teeth make a wolf cichlid bite quite nasty and painful for any pet owner to experience.

Wolf Cichlid Size And Lifespan

The Wolf Cichlid's Size and Lifespan
They can reach sizes between 72 cm – 80 cm (28 Inches – 2.6 feet) and are heavyweights at between 12 kg and 14 kg in body weight. Image from pinterest.com

As warned, Wolf cichlids are one of the largest cichlid species. They can reach sizes between 72 cm – 80 cm (28 Inches – 2.6 feet) and are heavyweights at between 12 kg and 14 kg in body weight. The large wolf cichlid size means you will have to have an accordingly large tank to accommodate wolf cichlid size (see our section on setup). Similarly, these fish are a long-term investment and a pet that will serve you well for many years. Most have a life expectancy of around 30 years or less, that is with proper care of course.

Temperament And Behavior

Now, this is the part where besides its gorgeous colors, the Wolf cichlid becomes truly interesting. Generally known as an aggressive, territorial predatory fish, preying on smaller fish, there is so much more to the species. It is highly intelligent and social, with a bold personality that does not scare off easily.

Your Wolf cichlid will show avid interest in what you are doing and even follow you around. Unfortunately, because of their aggression, it is better to keep a single fish, or a well-bonded pair. Even with the few suitable tank mates, aggression will still be possible.

Suitable Tank Mates

Wolf cichlids are one of the most aggressive species in the trade, and they are not suitable community fish. Most aquarists prefer to keep a single wolf fish, not just due to wolf cichlid size but also their aggression. Though technically you can keep a few together in a large enough tank, though there will always be a risk of territorial aggression.

Wolffish will even attack and kill anything that gets in their way. Indeed, a wolf cichlid bite can kill tank mates instantly. Smaller fish species and invertebrates quickly become an easy meal, and they will lash out at anything, even their owner, should such come near their territory.

The only way to keep a wolf cichlid with other tank mates is to have a massive aquarium with ample hiding spaces, and then again. Only similar-sized, and like-minded fish can live together, so they can avoid wolf cichlid teeth and potential predation.

Wolf cichlids can co-exist with its species, or other aggressive cichlids such as the Jaguar cichlid. However, it is best to stay on the safe side and not introduce tank mates. Luckily, the wolf cichlid is perfectly fine with its own company.

Wolf Cichlid Care Requirements

More experienced aquarists could attempt keeping a pair of Wolf cichlids, or even other tank mates. However, for beginners, it is arguably advisable to only start with a single Wolf cichlid. They are robust fish, and easy to care for, especially because they can tolerate such a wide range of water parameters. However, the biggest concern is that they need a rather large tank and proper setup to flourish and stay healthy and happy.

1. In The Aquarium

Ideally, a 120-gallon to 150-gallon tank is best for a single wolf fish for proper long-term care. They require large open spaces for swimming, along with plenty of caves and rock crevices to hide in. A sandy or fine gravel substrate is ideal to entertain these notorious diggers, though you may need to invest in some hardy well-anchored plants or floating plants as wolf cichlid teeth can easy rip up weaker plants. Plants such as Anubias, Java Ferns, and Amazon Swords, are potential good options.

Ideally, the wolf cichlid will enjoy some toys and tank décor to keep them occupied and prevent boredom. Indeed, these are active and playful creatures, with an inquisitive nature.

Wolf cichlids enjoy harder water parameters with a pH between 6.0 and 8.0, which is stable, once settled.

2. Filtration And Heat

Ideally, because they produce large amounts of waste a strong canister filter with a moderate current is vital, to filter through waste. Because they are tropical fish, a large enough heater for the substantial size tank is best. It should keep consistent temperatures between 71.6°F – 80.6°F (22 ̊ C – 27 C).

3. Light

Regular light, such as LED light is sufficient for a wolf cichlid. They are not fussy when it comes to light, though it is best to avoid very bright light. Lighting will depend more on the requirements of the live plants in your aquarium.

4. Feeding

The wolf cichlid is primarily a Carnivore and predator. In the wild, they prey on smaller fish and crustaceans, along with the occasional insect. As a pet, you can feed your Wolf cichlid balanced pellet food, with ones available specifically for their high protein needs. You can supplement their food with live or frozen fish, shrimps, earthworms, bloodworms, and other meaty snacks.

Ideally, they need two solid meals daily, just enough to finish within a couple of minutes.

Keep in mind excess food waste could quickly spike up ammonia levels in your aquarium, which is dire to the health of your fish.

5. Tank Maintenance

Two things:

  1. Wolf fish are voracious and messy eaters that produce excessive waste.
  2. They require pristine clean water conditions.

That said, they need at least two substantial water changes of at least 30% to 40% a week and two or more powerful filters to account for wolf cichlid size and messiness.

You can employ several large canister filters for the wolf cichlid, although a sump filter is a better option. Keep your heaters in the sump and out of the main tank where they can sustain damage.

You must test the water parameters and chemical levels regularly, as any changes can affect the health of your fish.

Before doing a twice-weekly water change, you can use an algae cleaner or magnet to clean the side panes of your tank, and an algae brush to clean off décor. Also, remove all waste food matter and dead plant matter from the tank immediately.

Water Change – To do a water change you will need a powerful siphoning hose. Siphon 30% to 40% of the water from the bottom of the tank. In a separate bucket prepare heated water with conditioners and test for the optimal water parameters and temperatures. After siphoning, slowly add the newly prepared water to your tank.

Choosing And Acclimating

After setting up your aquarium, and ensuring that all water parameters are optimal, it is vital to allow a week or two for your tank to properly settle. This is so it can cycle first before introducing your new cichlid.

Sourcing a healthy wolf cichlid may take some time and research to find a breeder or specialized pet store that keeps these creatures. You may have to consult the internet, or some forums with aquarists that could give you a nudge in the right direction.

When you find the right source for your new cichlid, always ensure to check for signs of health:

  • Clear skin and eyes.
  • Actively swimming.
  • Eager appetite.
  • Full-rounded body with no bloating.
  • No signs of spots or discoloration.
  • Clear fins with no frayed edges.

Acclimating New Cichlids

You can follow these steps to acclimate your cichlid to its new environment:

  1. Allow the bag with fish to float on the surface of the tank for at least 20 minutes.
  2. Replace a half cup of water from the bag with that of the tank water.
  3. Replace the water at intervals of 15 minutes until most of the bag water is gone.
  4. You can allow your cichlid to swim into the new tank, or gently net it with a large net.
  5. Avoid too much waste-filled water from the bag entering your tank.

Breeding Wolf Cichlids

One of the biggest challenges with breeding the wolf cichlid is to get a bonded pair, as there is usually much aggression between both sexes. Wolf cichlids seldom breed in captivity, though it is still possible if you have a separate appropriate setup. However, breeding is best left to the experts. Generally, wolf cichlid size and aggression mean this also has to be a hands off process.

  • The male wolf cichlid has long pointy fins and small dots near the head, while females have a yellow base color and lack the dots near the head.
  • Bonding a pair takes time, and there is a risk of aggression, especially from the male. Males become extremely territorial and aggressive when breeding.
  • Females usually lay their eggs on a flat surface or in a cave. Females will find a calm area to lay their eggs, and the male will fertilize them. The eggs hatch within 5 days and the young fry will be free swimming within a few days after.
  • The wolf cichlid tends to make good parents, as opposed to their aggressive nature, and care for the young fry. You will notice the fry growing rapidly, and they will require baby brine shrimp as a supplement.
  • Sorting young fry by size, and separating them is vital, otherwise the larger fry may eat their smaller siblings.

Basic Health Conditions In Cichlids

Basic Health Conditions in Cichlids
Damage from physical injuries or ammonia burns can become infected by fungus in your aquarium. Image From Flickr

Though hardy and healthy fish, Wolf cichlids are still prone to basic freshwater fish diseases.

For the most part, keeping your aquarium water clean, and being careful when adding new fish or plants, can help to prevent possible diseases and pests in general.

Some of the most common health issues include:

  • Ich – Ich is a protozoan parasite that usually comes from new fish or aquarium plants that have not spent time in quarantine first. The symptoms of Ich are white spots on the skin, lethargy, and a loss of appetite. Fish with Ich respond to medication for the parasite, aquarium salts, and by raising aquarium temperatures slightly.
  • Hole in the Head Disease – Also a well-known parasite affecting cichlids that causes indentations in the head mainly. Other symptoms include lethargy, a loss of appetite, and a trail of mucus. You can treat the parasite with antibiotics and as a rule by improving water quality.
  • Fin Rot – Damage from physical injuries or ammonia burns can become infected by fungus in your aquarium. You will notice color changes or a raggedy appearance in the fins, and your fish may have a loss of appetite and exhibit lethargic swimming. It is vital to remove all elements causing physical damage and to treat the condition with anti-fungal medication. Clean water parameters are ideal for preventing fungal infections.

To Conclude

The Giant Wolf Cichlid is the ideal species for substantial home aquariums or public aquariums. Easy to care for and a real voracious bold species, it is definitely something to behold. However, you must take care as this species produces much waste and is in constant need of pristine clean water conditions. It is also aggressive and wolf cichlid teeth can leave you with a nasty injury if you are not careful. However, for a competent fish keeper, they are an exciting and challenging variety than can provide heaps of interest.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Big Do Wolf Cichlids get?
Wolf cichlids can easily grow up to around 2.6 feet and weigh 14 kg.
Is my Wolf cichlid a male or female?
The only sure way to have sex with a Wolf cichlid is when they are more mature. Wolf cichlid males tend to have many spots on their tails and fins, whereas females lack these spots.
What is the minimum tank size for a Wolf cichlid?
The absolute minimum tank size for a single Wolf cichlid should never be less than 150 gallons.
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