The Jewel cichlid is a fun and unique looking freshwater fish that doesn’t get the attention it deserves from the aquarist community.

Sure, they’re pretty popular all things considered. But we think they’re actually still pretty underrated!

The main reason for this is their aggression. These suckers can be nasty in the right (or wrong) situation!

While this is definitely something to be aware of, it shouldn’t turn you away from this fish completely. If you have some experience and want to take care of a gorgeous and entertaining fish, the Jewel cichlid is a great choice.

In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about Jewel cichlid care, what makes them great pets, and how you can manage their aggression and keep the peace.

Species Summary

The Jewel cichlid (scientific name: Hemichromis bimaculatus) is a popular fish in the cichlid family. These fish originate from west Africa primarily but can be found a bit further east as well. Another common name for them is the African Jewelfish.

They spend most of their time in smaller bodies of freshwater like rivers, streams, and lakes (among others). This is useful to know because this is the kind of environment you’ll be trying to replicate when setting up their tank.

Lifespan

The average Jewel cichlid lifespan is roughly 5 years. There have been instances when this fish has lived up to 7 in captivity but it’s extremely uncommon.

Their lifespan is influenced by the quality of care and habitat they’re provided with (just like any other fish). However, what makes them a little bit different is the importance of managing their aggression.

You see, Jewel cichlids are far more prone to get into altercations and fights in their tank. Besides the obvious health issues that frequent fights can cause, this also puts them in a state of stress.

Constant stress can significantly shorten the lifespan of your red Jewel cichlid, which obviously isn’t fair to them. We’ll get more into the specific care guidelines to follow, but it’s worth noting the impact this can have on their lifespan.

Appearance

The beauty of Jewel cichlids is something that can’t be denied. There are a number of color variations that they come in, but the red Jewel cichlid is definitely the most common.

Jewel cichlid swimming at the bottom of the aquarium

These fish have a bright red/orange body with colored spots all over. These spots are typically a light bluish-green and cover their entire body. The same colors are on their fins as well, but they are a bit more striped.

Another color variation you see a fair amount is a dark blue or turquoise body with the same bright blueish-green dots. They definitely aren’t as popular as the red bodied fish, but you’ll see them quite often.

The body of Jewel cichlids is fairly narrow and pointed. Their dorsal fin starts about a third of the way down their body and continues to right before their caudal fin. Their anal fins are shallow and trim and end exactly as far back as their dorsal fin does.

Their head shape slants upward from their mouth and then curves into the start of their back at a very subtle bump. This bump is usually more pronounced when Jewel cichlid fish are younger.

Size

The average Jewel cichlid size is usually no more than 6 inches when in captivity. However, in the wild they can get as long as one foot.

While it’s quite common for fish to be larger in the wild than they are when kept in an aquarium, this is a rather significant difference. There doesn’t seem to be a strong theory about why this gap in size is so large when it comes to Jewel cichlids compared to other fish. 

Jewel Cichlid Care

Jewel cichlid care is something that revolves mostly around your ability to manage their aggressive tendencies. This is what you hear people talk about most when it comes to this fish, and it’s for good reason.

However, it’s also crucial to understand the essential tank and water guidelines they need as well. If these aren’t taken care of, nothing else matters!

Tank Size

Tank size is the most important place to start when it comes to caring for your Jewel cichlids.

While a lot of people recommend a 30 gallon tank minimum, we think that something a little larger will make your life a whole lot easier. A 40 gallon tank provides some extra room to help your fish be more comfortable and will give them the space they need.

If you intend on keeping multiple Jewel cichlids in the same tank you’ll want to increase the size by roughly 10 gallons to play it safe. We’ve heard from aquarists who have gotten away with pairs in as little as 30 gallons, but there are also plenty of others who’ve gotten fish killed trying this.

We prefer to play it safe when it comes to the health and safety of our fish. If you’re an experienced aquarist who knows their fish very well, feel free to experiment with caution.

Water Parameters

You want to take water conditions very seriously when it comes to Jewel cichlid care. Failing to stay within these guidelines certainly result in health issues (some that you might not be able to reverse).

Since these are tropical fish you’ll be doing what you can to replicate their natural environment. This means nice warm water 

  • Water temperature: This should stay between 75°F and 80°F
  • pH levels: 6.5 to 7.5
  • Water hardness: This should stay in a neutral-soft range doesn’t exceed 12 dGH

Due to the kind of substrate you’ll be putting in the tank (more on that in the section below) you’ll likely want some kind of external filtration. This will ensure that the water is clear and healthy for your Jewel cichlids to swim and live in.

Moderate lighting is also recommended. You won’t need to get a fancy lamp for this. Standard lighting options will do just fine.

What To Put In Their Tank/Habitat

A large part of caring for Jewel cichlids and keeping them stress-free comes down to their habitat. Each species of fish has its own preferences for what they like in their tank, and it’s up to you to understand what’s best for them.

Having your tank setup effectively mimic their natural habitat has a number of benefits.

The first is it will help your fish feel comfortable and able to behave how they would naturally. The second benefit is that it will allow you to potentially keep multiple fish in the same tank. Hiding spots and places to call their own go a long way!

So here’s what to include:

  • Sandy substrate: This is because Jewel cichlids like to root around and dig at the bottom of the tank. Anything rougher could cause them to get cut when they do this.
  • Background covering: If you use an aquarium background you’ll want to make it as natural as possible. Our recommendation is something with a mix of rocks and plants.
  • Large rocks: This will make all the difference. First of all, rocks help mimic their natural habitat of rivers, streams, and lakes. Secondly, this gives your Jewel cichlids a place to call their own. This will help prevent territorial spats.

Food & Diet

Jewel cichlids are omnivores and will happily snack on flake food, pellets, and live food. Overall they’re pretty easy fish to feed, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble managing their diet.

However, you’ll definitely want to make sure you provide them with a balanced diet if you want to keep them as healthy as possible. This means a mix of flakes or pellets and a couple days of live food mixed in each week.

For live food the usual suspects make sense. Two of your best choices are frozen brine shrimp or bloodworms. Don’t feed these to your Jewel fish too much though, a couple of times each week is the max.

Behavior & Temperament

Jewel cichlids have a reputation for being quite aggressive and potentially difficult to manage in certain situations.

We’re not one to play up the aggression of an aquarium fish (because a lot of fish aren’t as feisty as their reputation indicates). However, Jewel cichlids are definitely deserving of this classification in the right circumstances.

Adult Jewel cichlid in motion

That doesn’t mean they’re impossible to care for or keep with other fish. In fact, there are a handful of aquarists out there who swear that they make great fish for community tanks.

But if you want to play it safe, this is something you’ll likely avoid (more about that in the section below).

Understanding their aggressive and territorial tendencies is necessary to help you create the perfect habitat that will allow them to thrive.

Here are some things to remember:

  • They get MUCH more aggressive when mating.
  • Providing them with their own space to claim in the tank will help reduce confrontations.
  • Jewel cichlids will nip at the fins of other fish (especially ones that have long fins) if they’re aggravated or hungry.
  • They’re active fish and you will often see them digging and rooting around in the substrate looking for food.

Jewel Cichlid Tank Mates

This is where you need to pay close attention because there are some horror stories out there when it comes to Jewel cichlid tank mates.

Some aquarists have had fantastic luck with keeping Jewel cichlids in community tanks. They have paired them with African cichlids, and even some varying kinds of tetras.

But in our experience, this is more of a lucky situation than anything else.

There are a few care guides and videos about Jewel cichlids that say they work great with other fish and the creator hasn’t had any issues with them. But when you look at the comments and feedback it’s filled with people saying their Jewel cichlids are super aggressive.

For this reason, we can’t recommend this fish for community tanks. The risk of them killing their tank mates is simply too high.

With that being said, keeping Jewel cichlids with each other is usually fine. So you can still have a lively and full tank of fish despite the tank mate concerns (make sure the tank size is big enough of course).

Breeding

Despite some of the other concerns that exist when it comes to this fish, breeding them is pretty straightforward. Once you’ve accurately determined the gender that is!

Author Note: A fun fact about Jewel cichlids is that they are about as monogamous as fish can possibly get. The breeding pair will form a close bond during the mating process that lasts long after their eggs have hatched.

Jewel cichlids get very aggressive around mating time so it’s important that each fish is a fairly equal match physically.

A close up of an African Jewelfish

To help encourage the process it’s smart to raise the water temperature a few degrees. This is assuming you have their water temperature set within the recommended range we mentioned earlier.

You’ll typically observe more vibrant colors on the male when he’s ready to mate. This is a sign that things will be happening very soon!

The female will lay her eggs on a suitable rock that has a flat surface. Before this, you’ll probably see her inspecting the bottom of the tank looking for the perfect place.

After the eggs are fertilized it will take between 2 and 4 days for them to hatch. Once they’ve hatched you’ll notice that the parents will move everyone over to another part of the tank and defend them aggressively if needed.

Guide Wrap Up

Now that you have a better understanding of what’s necessary to provide great Jewel cichlid care, it’s on you to decide if they’re right for you.

Due to their aggressiveness, a lot of aquarists prefer to avoid them if they had their heart set on a community tank. However, if you love the beauty of this fish and want to add them to your collection, we highly encourage it.

When kept in a single species tank Jewel cichlids are a beautiful and rewarding freshwater fish to care for. We know owners who have had them for years and couldn’t be happier!

As always, if you have any suggestions or feedback that you think would help us improve our care guide we would love to hear from you. The expansive knowledge of the aquarium community is the ultimate resource!

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