Red Empress Cichlid Care: Everything You Need To Know!

The Red Empress Cichlid is a great freshwater fish for aquarists of all experience levels. They’re always one of our first picks for people who want a nonaggressive cichlid or an aesthetically pleasing species.

But their temperament is not the main reason why so many people love this species. The real draw is their beauty.

These fish are absolutely stunning. The bright vibrant colors that gradually transition and change over the length of their bodies are something you need to see in person.

We’ve heard from countless owners who say they can’t get enough when it comes to looking at these fish (even if they’ve been owners for years).

This guide will lay out the essentials of Red Empress Cichlid care. You’ll learn all about the species and how to keep them happy and healthy.

Species Summary

The Red Empress Cichlid is a visually striking fish that can add vibrant color to your aquarium. Scientifically, these fish are referred to as Protomelas taeniolatus. However, to aquarists, they are known as the Red Empress Cichlid or Spindle Hap.

Take one look at these fish and you’ll understand their colorful name. They are known for their dazzling colors, which can vary dramatically from fish to fish.

Red Empress Cichlid swimming

Originally hailing from Lake Malawi in Africa, the Red Empress Cichlid has become a favorite among hobbyists (like their relative the African Cichlid). While most Cichlids are known for exhibiting aggressive behavior, Red Empress Cichlids are a unique outlier. They’re relatively docile and will spend their days swimming throughout the tank.

Not only that, but these fish are easy to take care of. They’re hardy and can live comfortably in a variety of conditions. Red Empress Cichlids do have their own unique challenges, but the work you’ll put into caring for these fish is well worth it in the end.


In captivity, the average lifespan of a Red Empress Cichlid is 5 years. However, it possible for these fish to live 7 to 10 years with proper care.

Many factors will influence a fish’s lifespan. These include water quality, diet, and environment. This goes for any species, no matter how hardy they might be.


Aesthetics is where the Red Empress Cichlid really shines.

Despite the feminine name, most of the Red Empress Cichlids you see in aquariums are not females. Male fish are the ones with the vibrant hues.

Generally, adult males will take on a reddish-orange color. Distinct markings in blue, yellow, and brown are relatively common as well.

There are even some specialty Red Empress fish that were purposely bred to achieve the most vibrant color possible. If you look closely, you may even see faint horizontal lines and irregular oval shapes beneath their scales on the body.

But what’s really unique about the Red Empress Cichlid is that coloration can vary based on location.

Fish that live in certain parts of Lake Malawi may take on a different color pattern than what most are used to.

There are Red Empress Cichlids with shades of gold, blue, orange, and more. Some of those fish even have local names to help people in the area distinguish where the fish came from.

Females, unfortunately, don’t have the same coloration as the adult males do. They are more subdued, taking on a silvery color. Like the males, females have two horizontal lines and some irregular ovals on the body.

Speaking of their bodies, these fish have some features that help their profile stand out. First, the anal, dorsal, pectoral, and caudal fins are quite long. They have an angled shape, which helps with swimming in the wild.

Each fin also has spiny rays. They can get quite sharp, helping these fish ward off predators. The front of the fins is a bit softer to make navigating the water a breeze.

Like other Cichlids, the Red Empress has two sets of teeth. One is located just inside their mouth. The second set is further back in the throat.


The average Red Empress Cichlid size is between 4.5 and 6 inches in length, which is reasonably large. In the wild, it’s far more common for these fish to reach the upper limits of that range. Fish in captivity, however, usually stay on the smaller end of the size spectrum.

Red Empress Cichlids typically reach sexual maturity at 8 to 9 months. Most fish will continue growing after that point until they have reached their full size. Their growth rate is fairly average for freshwater fish.

Author Note: If you want your Red Empress Cichlid to grow as large as possible it’s important to provide them with a large tank. If they have plenty of room they’re far more likely to continue growing.

Red Empress Cichlid Care

For the most part, Red Empress Cichlids are easy to care for. While some Cichlid fish are notorious for being a handful, that’s not the case for the Red Empress. They’re hardy, non-aggressive, and have a flexible diet.

With all that said, it’s still important that you provide proper care. Red Empress Cichlids need good care to reach their full potential. Here’s some information about Red Empress Cichlid care that you need to know.

Tank Size

We recommend a tank size of at least 75 gallons for a single Red Empress Cichlid. You might be able to get away with 55 gallons if the fish is on the smaller side but we don’t recommend it.

If space isn’t an issue and you want to maximize their size, health, and happiness you should go for a 100-gallon tank instead.

If you plan on having more than one Red Empress Cichlid in your tank, you may need upwards of 200 gallons.

As a whole, Cichlids are a type of fish that needs plenty of room to grow. Red Empress Cichlids, in particular, are avid swimmers. Without a sizable tank, you may encounter stress and health complication.

Water Parameters

Due to the unique properties of their natural habitat, Red Empress Cichlids require slightly alkaline water. The water where they come from is highly mineralized. These fish can tolerate a bit of salt, but you should not put them in full brackish water.

While they are hardy, water quality is of the utmost importance when caring for Red Empress Cichlids. When it comes to water chemistry, the lake they come from is surprisingly stable.

  • Water Temperature: 73 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit (the sweet spot is around 76 degrees)
  • pH Levels: 7.7 to 8.6
  • Water Hardness: 5 to 15 dGH

Author Note: Sticking to a strict regime of monitoring water conditions is the best way to keep these fish healthy and thriving. To prevent deteriorating quality, it’s recommended that you perform a 10 to 20 percent water change every week.

The exact changes you’ll need to perform depend on the size of the tank, the number of fish you have, and their waste production.

What To Put In Their Tank

Before you introduce Red Empress Cichlids into your tank, you must adequately prepare it for their needs.

First, let’s go over filtration and water flow. In their natural habitat, Red Empress Cichlids are exposed to plenty of water movement. The water they come from is fed by several streams that continually churn the water.

Investing in a high-quality pump can ensure that the water in your take is constantly moving.

Powerful filtration systems are a must, too. These fish are known to produce a lot of waste. If the filters are not sufficient enough to keep up with the fish byproducts, you run the risk of experiencing significant chemistry changes. This could lead to stress and illness for your fish.

As for decor, simulating the natural environment of the fish is preferred. Cover the bottom of the tank with a thick layer of fine sand.

Red Empress Cichlids like to sift through the sand for food. It’s where most of their protein comes from. Large gravel is not conducive to their feeding habits. Plus, it could physically injure the fish.

Fill the tank with plenty of rocks and wood. The trick is to give your fish spots to hide whenever they feel threatened or scared. In the wild, Red Empress Cichlids usually stick to the part of the lake where the rocks meet the sand.

While they enjoy free swimming in the wild, these fish will not stray too far from the rocks. It poses as a potential cover when predators come around. Providing that simulated experience in a tank is always a good idea.

You can also use some vertical rocks and smooth flat rocks. The latter will come in handy if you ever want to breed your fish.

Plants are a good option, too. Unlike other fish, Red Empress Cichlids will not destroy vegetation. They also aren’t prone to digging, so your plants can thrive just fine.

Whatever you decide to put in your tank, it’s important to make sure that there’s ample space for swimming. Keep the bottom and middle areas of the tank relatively barren so that your fish can swim without encountering any obstacles.

Common Possible Diseases

Red Empress Cichlids are not immune to common freshwater diseases. The fish can experience Ich. The highly contagious illness causes visible white spots on your fish. If left untreated, it can prove to be fatal.

There are several ways to treat Ich. Some aquarists prefer to raise the water temperatures up to 86 degrees Fahrenheit for a few days. Others go straight to copper-based medicine. No matter which method you choose, it’s always a good idea to quarantine infected fish as soon as possible.

In addition to Ich, Red Empress Cichlids can suffer from common aquarium diseases like bacterial infections, parasites, and fungal infections.

There is one issue that not too many freshwater fish species experience. Malawi Bloat is a condition that causes a visibly swollen abdomen, loss of appetite, and other uncomfortable symptoms. It can plague Malawi cichlids like the Red Empress. Typically, it’s caused by a poor diet.

Food & Diet

So, what are you supposed to feed these fish? Well, we’re happy to report that Red Empress Cichlids are omnivores. In the wild, they feed on algae that’s stuck on rocks. Fish in captivity will do the same, which is why it’s important to have rocks in the tank.

Protein is usually gathered by sand sifting. You can feed your fish spirulina-based flakes. Protein-rich snacks like krill can be fed periodically.

Red Empress Cichlids are prone to overeating. It’s better to provide multiple smaller meals throughout the day than to give huge meals.

Author Note: Overfeeding with beautiful fish like this is actually quite common because people like to see them be active or show them off to their friends. Don’t rely on feeding as a way to get a better glimpse, just be patient!

Behavior & Temperament

For the most part, Red Empress Cichlids are peaceful. They prefer to mind their own business when possible.

Although these fish can attack others, it’s quite rare. If you follow our tank recommendations and have lots of hiding spots and plenty of space to swim, you can significantly reduce your chances of aggression.

Red Empress Cichlid Tank Mates

While they are peaceful, Red Empress Cichlids are not considered to be a community fish. They fair well with similar species.

The best tank mates for these fish are other Red Empress Cichlids. Most aquarists will keep them in groups of one male with three females. Avoid having multiple male fish in one tank. This could lead to aggression.

You can also keep other Malawi Cichlids in the same tank. However, you need to make sure that your tank is large enough for each fish to have its own space.

Here are some good tank mates for the Red Empress Cichlid.


Breeding Red Empress Cichlids is not too difficult. These fish have a long history of being bred in captivity. Like other Cichlids, they are mouthbrooders. The breeding process is quite fascinating.

The male will initiate breeding by choosing a clear spot in the sand or a flat rock. Then, he’ll chase females until one follows him to the chosen spot. At this point, the male will shake in a vertical position.

The female then lays about 40 to 50 eggs and picks them up in her mouth. She’ll then collect sperm from the male for fertilization.

Red Empress Cichlid eggs take 3 to 4 weeks to hatch. Throughout the entire gestation period, the eggs are kept in the female’s mouth.

Red Empress Cichlids tend to exhibit signs of parenthood. The males and females will both guard the young fry after they hatch. They’ll keep them protected until they are ready to swim freely on their own.

Closing Thoughts

The Red Empress Cichlid is one of our favorite freshwater species. In our opinion, their beauty can only be matched by a handful of other fish.

They’re also great fish to keep in your aquarium. The Red Empress Cichlid is rather peaceful and will rarely start trouble in your tank.

The generous water parameters and hardiness are other things that owners can appreciate. It’s always nice having that peace of mind knowing your fish isn’t fragile.

We highly recommend this species if you’re looking for a beautiful low-maintenance freshwater fish. Once you see them swimming around in your tank you’ll be happy you got them!

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