Red Devil Cichlid 101: Care, Tank Mates, Size & More

Red Devil Cichlids are an interesting freshwater fish that sport a unique look. This makes them a very popular fish for aquarists to consider getting at some point.

However, if you’re going keep one there are a few things you should know.

Yes, their appearance and activity level makes them very appealing. But these are large, feisty fish that require some experience and knowledge to care for.

This guide will go over everything you need to know about Red Devil Cichlid care so you’ll be prepared if you decide to get one yourself. You’ll learn about ideal tank mates, their size, diet, and more.

Species Summary

The Red Devil Cichlid, known scientifically as Amphilophus labiatus, is a beloved fish with a charismatic personality. These fish are known to develop bonds with their owners. They can show off for aquarists and even beg for food like a dog.

With that said, Red Devil Cichlids are not for the faint of heart. As their name would suggest, these fish can be a handful. Not only are they aggressive to other fish, but they’re also known to destroy anything that they can get their teeth into.

No Spam, Subscribe for Cool Fish Stuff!

* indicates required

In the wild, Red Devil Cichlids can be found in Nicaraguan lakes. More specifically, they heavily populate Lake Nicaragua, Lake Managua, and Lake Xiloa. Originally, they were classified under the genus Cichlasoma. However, they’ve since been moved to their own genus as they no longer fit the description of Cichlasoma labiatum.

No matter what you call them, Red Devil Cichlids are a great fish for any aquarist. While they do have their challenges, their striking appearance and playful attitudes make them a joy to care for.


Generally, the average Red Devil Cichlid lifespan is around 10 to 12 years in captivity.

Though, there have been reports of some fish living longer with the proper care. Like any other fish, their lifespan is affected by the quality of water they’re in and their overall living conditions.


Red Devil Cichlids are quite beefy, which only adds to their intimidating appearance. Their dorsal and anal fins are pointed. Both of those fins are very pronounced and have a “swept” look to them. This helps to provide speed and agility in the water.

Males and females look very similar, but there are some slight differences.

The most noticeable is a nuchal hump on males. Males tend to develop a prominent forehead hump in captivity. In the wild, the hump usually becomes visible during the breeding season only. Males are often a bit bigger as well and have pointed genital papilla.

When it comes to color, there’s a lot of variety with this fish species. In the wild, you’ll usually see brown or grey Red Devil Cichlids. Considering the dark and murky waters of Nicaraguan Lakes, the coloration helps the fish blend into the environment in moments of trouble. Some more vibrant colors are found in the wild, too.

Some are white, yellow, and bright red. Fish with these color patterns are most common in captivity. You can also find spotted Red Devil Cichlids with multiple colors. Black-tipped fins and tails are prevalent as well.

Red Devil Cichlids have thick lips with a rubber-like consistency. They tend to be a bit smaller in captivity than they are in the wild. It’s believed that lip size is determined by their diet, but no conclusive studies have been done to support this. Their lips are usually orange, but black coloration has been observed, too.

Inside their mouth, Red Devil Cichlids have some big teeth. They’re strong enough to cause a lot of damage. Not only that, but these fish have very powerful jaws, making them a natural predator in or out of captivity.


The average Red Devil Cichlids size is around 15 inches long when fully grown. This makes them rather large compared to many other freshwater fish you see in many tanks. Males tend to be a bit larger than females.

Most fish will reach their full length at about 3 years old.

Red Devil Cichlid Care

Generally, Red Devil Cichlids are quite hardy and easy for experienced fishkeepers to care for. With that said, they’re not the best fish species for novice aquarists.

Red Devil Cichlids can tolerate various water conditions. However, these fish won’t reach their full potential unless they are cared for just right. Here’s some crucial information to help keep these fish healthy for years to come.

Tank Size

How much room does a large 15-inch Red Devil Cichlid need? We recommend at least 55 gallons for a single fish.

If you plan on having a breeding pair, you need to invest in a tank that’s at least 125 gallons. For multi-fish tanks, we recommend 200 gallons or more.

In general, Red Devil Cichlids need a lot of room to roam. They’re avid swimmers and will quickly outgrow cramped tanks as they get bigger.

Water Parameters:

The key to keeping a Red Devil Cichlid healthy is to stay on top of water conditions. While there is some wiggle room when it comes to exact parameters, sticking to the following ranges is paramount. Major water condition problems can lead to health complications and stunted growth.

  • Water Temperature: 75 to 79 degrees Fahrenheit
  • pH Level: 6.5 to 7.5
  • Water Hardness: 6 to 25 dGH

Author Note: Make sure to perform regular water changes for the sake of health and disease prevention. Poor water quality is the number one cause of illness and shortened lifespans, so take this seriously!

What To Put In Their Tank

When you’re setting up a tank for Red Devil Cichlids, preparation is key. These fish are prone to rearranging their environment. If you don’t prepare for this behavior, the fish will wreak havoc and ruin the aesthetics of your tank.

On the bottom of the tank, fine sand is preferred. These fish are diggers. Gravel or tough substrate will only cause harm.

We don’t recommend including any plants. Red Devil Cichlids are notorious for shredding any foliage they can access. Plus, they love to uproot plants while they dig.

As for other accessories, make sure to provide plenty of hiding places with rocks and wood. In the wild, these fish often hang around crevices so that they can easily hide out if trouble arises. In aquariums, Red Devil Cichlids will exhibit the same kinds of behavior. So, provide plenty of places for your fish to hide in.

As a good rule of thumb, place all of your rocks firmly within the substrate at the bottom of the tank. If you have smaller rocks, consider anchoring them to the tank with fish-safe epoxy. The fish are known to topple rocks if they are simply sitting on top of the sand.

When it comes to equipment, we recommend utilizing dual filters. A traditional canister filter paired with a sump setup will do just fine. Make sure that the tank has a moderate water movement.

It’s also a good idea to install some airstones. These fish do very well in highly oxygenated water. Airstones can help keep their color vibrant.

Author Note: Like many other aggressive fish, Red Devil Cichlids can potentially decide to attack exposed equipment. Make sure to protect every piece of gear you use to prevent it from getting damaged (or your fish from hurting itself).

Common Possible Diseases

There are no special diseases that are exclusive to the Red Devil Cichlid. However, these fish are susceptible to diseases that commonly affect freshwater fish.

One of the most common issues aquarists have to deal with is Ich. This condition is highly contagious and can lead to death if untreated. Ich can be treated by raising the tank temperature to about 86 degrees Fahrenheit for about 3 days. Alternatively, you can utilize copper-based medications.

In addition to Ich, Red Devil Cichlids are prone to “hole-in-the-head” disease. Also known as Head and Lateral Line Disease, this condition causes visible pits on the head and face. It’s believed that the disease is caused by nutrient deficiencies and poor water quality.

Make sure you replace about 25 to 30 percent of the tank water weekly and use powerful filters to remove organic matter regularly.

Food & Diet

The great thing about Red Devil Cichlids is that they’ll eat pretty much anything you drop in the tank. While many people think that they’re carnivores due to their aggressive behavior, these fish are actually omnivores.

We recommend feeding your fish a nice balance of dry food and live food. Fish flakes and high-quality Cichlid pellets are a great foundation to start with. You can also provide your fish with krill, earthworms, bloodworms, crickets, and spirulina-based food. Provide some variety to their meals so that the fish are receiving all of the nutrients and vitamins they need.

Exercise some caution with mammal meats. Things like chicken and beef aren’t part of their wild diet. As a result, having too much can cause some intestinal issues. These foods should be used as treats rather than the primary meal.

These fish eat a lot. You’ll have to feed them multiple times a day to meet all of their dietary requirements.

Behavior & Temperament

As we mentioned earlier, Red Devil Cichlids are very conscious of their owners. They are charismatic and energetic fish. However, they do not do well with other fish. This includes fish of the same species.

Red Devil Cichlids are very aggressive. They’re territorial and will attack other fish in the tank. Furthermore, you’ll often find the fish trying to destroy anything that they can get their mouths on.

When they’re not fighting with other fish or destroying non-protected items in the tank, Red Devil Cichlids will do a lot of swimming. They need plenty of room to explore. We recommend keeping the center of the tank relatively open so that they can move around freely.

These fish can become even more aggressive if the tank doesn’t suit their needs. This is pretty common with fish kept in small tanks with very little room to swim.

Author Note: The quality of their habitat will impact their mood significantly. A small tank that doesn’t have the necessary items included will cause them to become grumpy and more prone to aggression. On the other hand, a great habitat will keep them a bit more calm.

Red Devil Cichlid Tank Mates

If you want to care for a Red Devil Cichlid, be prepared to have a one-fish tank. Due to their aggression, these fish are usually kept alone. They can be kept with other fish, but you have to start early.

Young Red Devil Cichlids usually don’t show signs of aggression if they are raised in a tank with other Red Devil Cichlids. However, this can change once they get older. After they’ve reached maturity, most don’t want to share any tank space.

If you do want to keep multiple fish in one tank, you’ll need a massive tank. Many hiding places and natural territory separations can help to avoid aggression.

The good news is that Red Devil Cichlids can be kept in pairs. These fish are monogamous, so you can keep males and females together in most cases.


Red Devil Cichlids have been bred in captivity for quite some time. It’s relatively easy to breed these fish, even for beginners. Thanks to their monogamous nature, you don’t have to worry about some common breeding issues. Males and females will protect their young until they are free-swimming and ready to fend for themselves.

To start the breeding process, raise the tank temperature to about 77 degrees Fahrenheit. This mimics the naturally warm waters during the breeding season in the wild. Feed the fish plenty of nutrient-rich foods, such as bloodworms.

When the female is ready to lay her eggs, she will choose a flat rock or inclined substrate. You can provide a breeding area by creating a subtle hill or introducing driftwood into the tank.

Females lay between 600 and 700 eggs at once. They’re translucent and take on a yellowish-orange tinge. After about 3 to 4 days, the eggs will hatch.

The male and female fish may then move the tiny fry to another area of the tank. Sometimes, the male will dig a pit to offer better protection against predators. After another 5 to 7 days, the dry should be able to swim on their own.

Now It’s Up To You

Now that you understand the essentials of Red Devil Cichlid care it’s time to decide if this fish is right for you. These are incredibly rewarding fish to keep, so if you think you’re up to the challenge we highly recommend it.

The beauty these fish add to a room is something you have to see to believe. We’ve heard from plenty of experienced fishkeepers who’ve said these are their favorite freshwater species for this very reason!

If you want to learn more about these fish or run any questions by us don’t hesitate to get in touch. Red Devil Cichlids are one of our favorite fish so we’re always up for talking about possible tank mates, their diet, and anything about caring for them.

You May Also Like