Green Terror Cichlids: Size, Tank Mates & General Care

Green Terror Cichlids are a unique (and misunderstood) freshwater fish that have quite the fan base in the aquarium community.

Like so many aquarists we were drawn to the Green Terror because of their magnificent colors and patterns. This species stands out in a crowd and is highly addicting to spectate. We know a couple of owners who said it actually impacted their productivity at home because they couldn’t peel their eyes away from the tank!

But if you’re interested in potentially owning this fish, you’ll need to educate yourself on how to properly care for them.

Green Terror Cichlids are both easy and difficult to care for. Their general tank and water requirements are a piece of cake, but their aggression is where you need to know your stuff as an owner. 

Adding to the complexity is the fact that there’s a lot of misinformation being passed around about this species online. That’s why we created the ultimate guide on Green Terror Cichlid care.


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Species Summary

First off, don’t let the intimidating name of these freshwater fish scare you away entirely. Green Terror Cichlids (Andinoacara rivulatus) are a stunning species that can add tons of color to your tank. While they do require a bit more work to take care of due to their temperament, Green Terrors are very manageable for aquarists with some experience.

Originally from calm tropical river basins in Peru and Ecuador, these fish are revered the world over for their impressive appearance. As you might have guessed, Green Terrors are part of the Cichlid family. Thus, they can be a handful and are often prone to aggressive behaviors.

With that being said, their inquisitive nature makes them a joy to watch. Unlike other fish that only occupy one part of the water column, Green Terror Cichlids will spend their days exploring every part of the tank.

Like any fish, the key to keeping Green Terrors happy and healthy is to provide them with a pristine environment and top-notch water quality.


The average Green Terror Cichlid lifespan is anywhere between 7 and 10 years in captivity! This means getting one is a commitment since you’ll likely have it for a while.

Several factors can contribute to their overall lifespan. Many aquarists have been able to help these fish live long and fulfilling lives by staying committed to keeping water conditions in good shape.

Author Note: There’s no need to complicate this though. Simply provide them with the best possible care and stick to the guidelines in this guide! Buying from a reputable breeder or store is always recommended as well.


These are one of the most beautiful freshwater fish species you can get. As their name would suggest, most specimens are quite colorful and are covered in an eye-catching metallic green. This is complemented by brighter blue markings all over their face and body.

Bright orange stripes are very common as well. These striped can be found on the tip of their pointed dorsal fin and outlining the tail fin.

Green Terror Cichlid in a low-lit tank

Color patterns can vary a bit. This is especially true with females. Females tend to have a duller color than males. Not only that, but those iconic orange stripes are sometimes absent from female fish.

Even juvenile fish have a distinct appearance. Young fish tend to have a silvery-blue hue. This usually deepens to the metallic green color as the fish get older.

The fins of the Green Terror Cichlid are unique, too. They are ray-finned fish. The fins are supported by thin spines. This is most evident in the expansive dorsal fin.

Green Terror Cichlids are sexually dimorphic. Aside from the different color patterns, females are often smaller than their male counterparts.

Males also have a distinct hump on their foreheads. It’s made of fatty tissue and can become very pronounced. In the wild, these humps get larger during the breeding season. Though, captive fish often have large humps that last a lifetime.

Green Terror Cichlid Size

The typical Green Terror Cichlid size is around 8 inches (they’ll rarely get any larger than that in normal tanks). That means these aren’t fish you can keep in a tiny tank. In captivity, adult males can reach lengths of 8 inches.

If you keep them in a very large tank they’re capable of growing larger than this. This species can get up to 12 inches long in the wild, and some owners have gotten theirs to surpass 10 inches in big home tanks.

The growth rate of Green Terror Cichlids is fairly average for this family of fish. However, this isn’t a fish that we recommend working up to a large tank as they grow.

Green Terror Cichlid Care

For the most part, Green Terror Cichlid care is relatively easy when it comes to maintaining their primary habitat. Like many other species that belong to the Cichlid family, these fish are hardy creatures. They can do well in a range of water conditions.

Even still, there are some guidelines you need to follow. Like all fish, Green Terror Cichlids do best when they are in a carefully crafted environment with optimal water quality.

Tank Size

Due to their large adult size, a sizable tank is a must. At the very minimum, most aquarists say you need a tank that’s 35 gallons. However, we recommend bumping that up to 50 gallons for the best results.

Here’s why:

Green Terror Cichlids are free swimmers that need plenty of room to roam. A larger 50-gallon tank will provide ample space to live comfortably. Plus, it can stave off aggressive behavior (a big bonus).

If you plan on having two Green Terror Cichlids, aim for a tank of at least 75 gallons. As a good rule of thumb, add 35 gallons of space for each Green Terror Cichlid you keep.

Water Parameters

The key to keeping Green Terror Cichlids happy and healthy is to recreate their natural habitat in your aquarium. In the wild, these fish live in slow-moving rivers.

Water is warm and relatively hardy. Before you introduce your fish into the tank, make sure that it’s fully cycled. Check water parameters regularly and invest in some gear to help you maintain optimal conditions at all times.

As for cleaning, we recommend performing a 20 percent water change every other week.

These fish are hardy, so you have quite a bit of wiggle room to get things just right for them. Here are the important parameters to follow:

  • Water temperature: 68 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (Ideal temperatures are between 72 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • pH levels: 6.5 to 8.0
  • Water hardness: 5 to 20 dGH

What To Include In Their Tank

When you’re planning the decor of your tank, it’s best to stick to natural items. Green Terror Cichlids are tropical freshwater fish that need everything from plants to rock formations.

Starting at the bottom of your tank, a sandy substrate is preferred. Green Terror Cichlids are known to dig (this is fairly common cichlid behavior). Sand is a safe and comfortable material that allows this behavior without causing any harm.

Avoid using large pieces of gravel. The fish can sometimes eat the tiny rocks, which cause physical injury.

When it comes to plant life, go for floating vegetation rather than rooted options. As we mentioned earlier, these fish will dig in the substrate. They are notorious for uprooting plants and eating them.

Java ferns and Anubias are popular floating plants used in Green Terror Cichlid tanks. They provide enough shade and light protection. Just make sure that all the roots are protected with pots to prevent damage.

Speaking of light, Green Terror Cichlids aren’t fans of brightly lit tanks. They’re not sensitive to light like other species, but they prefer lower light levels. Don’t utilize intense lights and also be sure to provide plenty of shade through plants and rocks.

Large rocks and driftwood are good items to have in the tank too. Not only do they give your fish something to investigate, but they can act as natural barriers. Green Terror Cichlids are very territorial, so having some items to separate one another is always a good idea.

Author Note: Another important thing to consider is filtration. Powerful filters are paramount. Thanks to their large size, Green Terror Cichlids produce a significant amount of waste. A high-quality filter can keep ammonia and nitrate levels low.

There’s no specific type of filter that you need to have. You can see success with in-tank canister filters (like the Fluval FX4) or external filters. Whatever you choose, just make sure that the pumps aren’t producing too much water flow.

Diseases To Watch Out For

Fortunately, Green Terror Cichlids are a pretty hardy species. However, they can suffer from all of the major freshwater ailments. This includes Ich, parasitic infections, and various skin conditions.

There are also a couple of common diseases that you should be wary of. The first is HLLE, or Head and Lateral Line Erosion. This issue is also commonly referred to as Hole-In-Head Disease.

With this condition, fish can suffer from the deterioration of the flesh. Holes and deep peaks can run throughout their head and body. Usually, this disease is caused by poor water conditions. It’s believed that high hardness levels are the culprit.

Another disease to keep an eye out for is Lymphocystis disease. This condition manifests itself through white lesions on the body and fins. These lesions can even appear on the mouth or gills.

Not to be confused with Ich, this disease is a viral infection that affects the connective tissue

Lymphocystis disease usually affects fish that are stressed out due to inadequate water conditions. A lack of oxygen and bad pH levels can have a significant effect on your fish, so it’s important to monitor conditions regularly and make adjustments as needed.

The best way to avoid these is to simply provide excellent care for your Green Terror Cichlid. A happy and healthy fish that’s living in a great environment is far less likely to get sick than a fish in a suboptimal habitat.

Food & Diet Recommendations

In the wild, Green Terror Cichlids lean on the carnivorous side. However, in captivity, they are very opportunistic eaters. They’re omnivores that like to have a diverse diet of foods.

For their main supply, you can provide high-quality fish pellets or flakes. The best commercially available foods are balanced and provide all the nutrients they need.

To give some variety to their meals, you can supplement with some live or frozen food. They’re not very picky, so feel free to experiment with all kinds of protein-rich foods.

Brine shrimp, bloodworms, feeder fish, and even crickets are all good options. Try to give your fish something other than dry food every once in a while. They’ll appreciate the treat.

Author Note: Just don’t overdo it! Green Terror Cichlids will overeat if given the chance and this can lead to serious digestive problems.

We recommend feeding your fish twice every day and only giving them enough food that they can eat in a couple of minutes. If you’re raising juveniles, you can provide three meals to help them grow.

Temperament & General Behavior

These fish are aptly named. If you put them in a substandard habitat they can be aggressive and terrorize any other fish in the vicinity. This is especially true if the fish are smaller. You might witness even more aggressive behavior during times of breeding as well.

You can keep the aggression to a minimum by providing plenty of good food. Ample space in the tank is important, too.

In fact, territory is at the root of almost all the aggressive behavior you’ll see. The fish will claim parts of the tank as their own and protect it at all costs. This is why large tanks with plenty of natural decor are essential.

In terms of their general activity level and behavior, they’ll likely spend their time exploring the tank. They are benthopelagic fish. Thus, they don’t stay in one part of the water column. They’ll swim across the tank, move up to the surface for food, and explore any nook and cranny that they can.

Author Note: This means picking tank mates can be a little bit trickier because you can’t rely on them to stay in one part of the tank. One second they might be near the surface, and the next they’ll be swimming around with the bottom-feeders.

Green Terror Cichlid Tank Mates

Despite their aggressive tendencies, there are a number of potential Green Terror Cichlid tank mates you can consider. As long as the tank is big enough and designed with territorial claims in mind, they can do well with similar-sized fish.

You’ll definitely want to avoid putting this fish in with smaller species however. The smaller fish will become food very quickly. Large fish that aren’t seen as food is best.

You can also keep other Green Terror Cichlids in the same tank. In fact, we recommend keeping a bonded pair together. Males and females can develop a bond and stick together throughout their lives.

They won’t fight and may even share territorial claims. This happens a lot during the breeding season. The only thing you need to be careful about is keeping the pair separated from other fish when they start breeding.

Here are some species that make good tank mates for Green Terror Cichlids:

The most important thing to remember when picking Green Terror tank mates is to respect the individual temperament of each specimen. Some aquarists have made certain species work that others haven’t been able to replicate.

Always keep a close eye on your fish (especially during the beginning) and don’t be afraid to end the experiment if things look iffy.


As we mentioned earlier, Green Terror Cichlids will pair off. This makes the breeding process quite easy. In fact, bonded pairs can breed very frequently if the water conditions are good.

Green Terror Cichlids are egg layers. Females can lay upwards of 600 eggs at once! The great thing about these fish is that they are highly protective of their young. Females will usually care for the eggs and young while males spend their time defending the breeding site.

To trigger the breeding process, you can raise the water temperature a bit. Many breeders will aim for temperatures between 77 and 88 degrees Fahrenheit. Frequent feedings of live food have been known to start the process as well.

You’ll know when your fish are ready to breed. Not only do they become more vibrant in color, but their behavior changes. Males and females will clean the substrate for their future babies and look for spots to lay eggs.

Females will usually lay yellow transparent eggs on a flat rock. Sometimes, they’ll remove the sand from the bottom of the tank and lay the eggs directly on the glass.

Once the eggs are laid, the male will fertilize them. After about 3 to 4 days, the tiny fry will emerge! In another 2 to 4 days, you can start feeding the baby fish microplankton, infusoria, and baby brine shrimp.

While separating the fry from the parents is important with other fish species, that’s not the case with Green Terror Cichlids. They make good parents and will watch out for their young until they get large enough to fend for themselves.            

What Do You Think?

Now that you know the essential elements of Green Terror Cichlid care it’s time to decide if they’re a good fit for you.

While their beauty is absolutely undeniable, their aggressive tendencies are something that not all aquarists want to deal with. There are plenty of pretty species that are downright pacifists you know!

But, if you’re someone who enjoys the rewarding aspect of keeping a fish that requires some thoughtful planning we encourage you to give the Green Terror a try. The satisfaction you get from successfully keeping semi-difficult fish is hard to explain until you’ve done it yourself.

If you’re still on the fence about this species or have any questions you’d like help with we’re more than happy to chat. Talking fish is a blast for us!

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