Wolf cichlids are fascinating (and slightly intimidating) freshwater fish. This species is known for its intelligence, aggression, and beauty.
In this guide, we’ll cover everything you should know about wolf cichlid care before you think about owning one. There’s a lot to consider!
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Also known as the dovii cichlid, wolf cichlids (Parachromis dovii) are a unique fish species that many seasoned aquarists consider owning at some point. But they’re not for the faint of heart. These fish are massive, requiring large aquariums with ample room for swimming.
They’re also some of the most aggressive fish in the trade. Like the ferocious mammals they’re named after, dovii cichlids are straight-up bullies that will kill and eat any unfortunate small fish that crosses their path. For that reason, it’s rare to see these fish in pet stores.
But if you’re up for the challenge, caring for a wolf cichlid can be a rewarding experience. They’re a beautiful freshwater species that can offer decades of captivating beauty in your tank.
The wolf cichlids are native to Central America. They’re most commonly found in the Aguan and Móin Rivers in Honduras and Costa Rica. Some populations also reside in Lake Nicaragua, and invasive groups may live in some lakes and rivers in Florida.
Author Note: Due to their unique challenges, they’re not as common in the pet trade. But breeders and specialty fish suppliers offer young fish to those up for the task.
One of the biggest reasons aquarists love wolf cichlids is their stunning beauty. Like other Central and South American cichlids, these fish are colorful and full of aesthetic detail.
Males are the most vibrant of the bunch. They have a beautiful golden color with subtle, reflective silver splashes. You may also notice patches of purple, blue, and black.
Many specimens have dark black spots dotting the entire body, creating a stunning contrast against the spectrum of color throughout. A black stripe is common for males of this species. It usually runs from behind the gills to the caudal fin.
Their fins look quite similar to other cichlid species. These fish have expansive dorsal and anal fins stretching to the tail fin’s forks. On males, these fins are usually longer and pointier, making it easy to distinguish the sexes.
Females also have a more uniform yellow color and often lack the dots males sport.
Overall, the body of the wolf cichlid is slender and muscular. From the moment you see them, it’s clear that these are predators! They have prominent heads with noticeable humps that they can use for sparring. Their mouths are also massive, giving them all the power to gobble up smaller fish.
If you’re considering owning a wolf cichlid, be prepared for the long-term commitment.
These fish have long lifespans, living between 24 and 30 years on average. In pristine living conditions, some can even surpass that 30-year mark!
Of course, you never know exactly how long a fish will live. Like any other species living in captivity, the lifespan of your wolf cichlid will depend on genetics and the quality of care you provide. Fail to meet their distinct care needs, and the fish can easily succumb to disease.
Another major hurdle to overcome when keeping a wolf cichlid is its size. When you first buy one of these fish, it may only be a few inches long, but they grow surprisingly quickly.
With a long lifespan comes the potential to reach colossal sizes. Fully grown, the average size of a wolf cichlid is about 28 inches from the mouth to the caudal fin. However, it’s not out of the question for them to reach 30 inches!
These are big fish, and they need plenty of room to stay healthy.
Wolf Cichlid Care
Wolf cichlid care is not for beginners. They’re a large species with specific needs for you to meet.
The good news is that they’re relatively hardy and can adapt to many freshwater aquarium environments. But to ensure that your fish lives happily and comfortably, follow these care guidelines.
Let’s start with one of the biggest hurdles to overcome: Tank size.
As you can imagine, a fish capable of reaching 30 inches in size needs a massive habitat. These fish are used to swimming freely in expansive lakes and rivers. They can easily adapt to life in captivity, but you need a large enough home for these fish to stay healthy.
The smallest tank size you should consider is 150 gallons. Your fish may be fine in a tank that holds 100 gallons during its first few years. But as it creeps up to that mature size, you’ll need to upgrade to 150 gallons or more.
Author Note: Remember, that’s the bare minimum. If possible, it’s never a bad idea to go bigger. Some aquarists even keep these fish in ponds and other larger vessels.
Dovii cichlids need room to swim around. They’re strong swimmers that require ample exercise. Putting them in a cramped aquarium will only lead to stress, increased aggression, and a variety of health issues (more on that later).
Here’s where wolf cichlid care gets a little easier. This species can live in most standard freshwater tank setups. They’ve been found living in waters as cold as 70 degrees and as hot as 80-plus degrees.
They’re surprisingly adaptable.
That said, it’s best to mimic the natural waters they occupy in the wild. Before getting your fish, cycle your tank and establish good water conditions.
Stability is the most important thing. Wolf cichlids can handle slight fluctuations here and there, but sudden major changes can lead to undo stress and health problems.
To avoid that, stick to these parameters and monitor water conditions to stabilize the environment throughout your fish’s life.
- Water temperature: Between 75 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal
- pH levels: 6.8 to 7.6 (Near neutral)
- Water hardness: 20 DH (hard water)
What To Put In Their Tank
With a tank of 150 gallons or more, you have a lot of room to get creative. Wolf cichlids thrive in natural tank setups that mimic rivers and lakes.
Use sand or fine gravel substrate for the bottom of the tank. Technically, you don’t have to use substrate at all. But the material can provide another form of enrichment for your fish.
Author Note: Dovii cichlids are notorious diggers and messy eaters. A finer substrate material is easier to clean and poses fewer safety risks for the fish.
For decor, create hiding spots and places of exploration. You can do that with smooth rocks, bogwood, and roots.
If you use rocks, secure them directly on the glass. Don’t set them on top of the substrate. The fish can easily dig below the rocks, causing them to tumble and hit the glass.
Feel free to create rock arrangements with aquarium cement. It’s best to use smooth rocks to build large caves, tunnels, and other nooks for them to explore. Rocks can be a great way to create territorial boundaries, so don’t hesitate to take advantage of them as you decorate.
Plants are usually out of the question for wolf cichlid aquariums. The fish is far too destructive to keep plants alive for too long. However, some fish keepers see success with sturdy plants like anubias and java fern cultivated on wood. Anything grown in the substrate will likely get dug up.
For equipment, invest in strong canister filters and pumps. Cichlids produce a significant amount of waste, and weak filters won’t do much to maintain water conditions.
Use canister and sponge filters with robust pumps to create a steady current.
Common Possible Diseases
Wolf cichlids are intimidating underwater beasts, but they’re still susceptible to health problems.
Ich and hole-in-the-head disease are two of the most common issues this species can face.
Ich is a condition that can impact any freshwater fish. It’s a byproduct of stress, typically occurring when water conditions sour. High ammonia and nitrate levels, low temperatures, or incorrect pH levels can trigger it.
When fish experience forms of stress in an aquarium, their immune response suffers. That allows the external protozoan parasites to take hold, causing Ich. Ich is highly contagious and can lead to death.
Fortunately, it’s easy to treat with over-the-counter medication and quarantine. You’ll also have to address the conditions that caused Ich in the first place to bring your fish back to good health.
Hole-in-the-head disease is a unique health problem that predominantly affects African cichlids, oscar fish, and discus fish. It’s a parasitic disease that causes parts of the head to erode, creating a literal hole or pit.
For wolf cichlids, this condition usually occurs due to stress. It’s common when this species lives in tanks that are too small. Cold water temperatures are also known to trigger it.
Food & Diet
Wolf cichlids are predatory fish through and through! They love to eat high-protein foods, and they won’t hesitate to chase around feeder fish and other live food sources.
The most accessible food you can provide is cichlid pellets. They’re nutritionally balanced, and many formulas bring out the species’ intense coloration.
To supplement commercial food, consider giving live or frozen snacks every once in a while. Good options include:
- Feeder goldfish
- Beef heart
- Diced fish
Author Note: Be wary of the live food you provide. Cheap feeder fish from questionable sources could introduce disease into your tank, affecting your fish. It’s also wise to steer clear of fatty foods like pork.
It’s best not to rely entirely on live food. Some aquarists say that providing too much can increase your dovii cichlid’s predatory behavior.
Wolf cichlids only need to eat every two or three days. On feeding days, provide them with one or two meals. Because the fish are so messy, do your best to pick up any leftovers after feeding to avoid ruining water conditions.
Behavior & Temperament
There’s a reason why these fish are called wolf cichlids, they’re one of the most aggressive in the trade!
These aren’t community fish, and most aquarists keep them in solitude. It’s technically possible to keep a few together in a large enough aquarium, but territorial aggression is always going to be a risk.
This species will attack and kill any fish or vertebrate that gets in its way. It often mistakes smaller species for food and lashes out at anything it thinks is entering its territory.
And that might include you.
Some fish will get comfortable with humans reaching in for tank maintenance. But if you unintentionally back the fish into a corner, it will not hesitate to attack.
Wolf cichlids have sharp teeth, so they can do a good amount of damage. Bites are painful, so you must be wary whenever putting your hand into the fish’s domain.
Wolf Cichlid Tank Mates
There aren’t many viable tank mates for this predatory and aggressive freshwater fish.
It may be possible to keep others of the same species together. Some aquarists also experience success keeping them with similarly sized and like-minded fish, such as the jaguar cichlid.
However, there’s always the possibility of violence.
The only way to keep them with other fish is to have a massive aquarium with plenty of hiding places. Otherwise, it’s best to keep these fish in solitude. They don’t mind being alone, so it’s the safest course of action in most situations.
Breeding wolf cichlids is possible, but it’s not easy.
The best way to approach breeding is to raise male and female pairs together. Introducing new fish into a breeding tank doesn’t always go well, and males are known to kill females that don’t reciprocate breeding.
If you raise couples together, you might see success. To facilitate breeding, set up a tank with no less than 500 gallons. Decorate it with the same decor as a regular wolf cichlid aquarium.
However, make sure to add smooth rocks and caves. After spawning, females will find a smooth rock to deposit as many as 1,500 eggs.
After that happens, males will become fiercely protective of the eggs. They’ll watch over the clutch for three to five days after they hatch. At that point, the adults will dig a pit and move the fry.
The babies will feed on their egg sacs for a couple of days before becoming free-swimming. You can remove the adults at that point and provide the young fish with brine shrimp and other high-protein foods.
Keep an eye on the juveniles and separate them by size. That aggressive behavior starts early, and the bigger fish will fight with the smaller ones. To increase survival rates, separate by size as they grow.
While their size and temperment can make wolf cichlids challenging to own, the process can also be quite rewarding! Many owners say this is their favorite species, so keep that in mind when deciding if this species is right for you.
If you have any questions about this fish, let us know. We’re more than happy to help.