Expert Guide : Food for Cichlids

Cichlids with their vivid colors and interesting behavior, have found many aficionados in the aquarium world. Due to the diversity of these fish, some fish keepers have doubts about the best food to provide. Each type of cichlid needs a special diet. This article talks about food for cichlids in home aquariums.


The Diverse Dietary Habits of Cichlids

The cichlid family is notable for its diversity of species with different habits, especially their eating habits. Being the most diverse group of fish and distributed in many locations around the globe, each cichlid species feeds differently.

Some are omnivores, feeding in riverbeds. Herbivores eat vegetation and fruits that fall into the water. Carnivores feed on fish, insects, and other animals. The food needs of these fish are the result of their selection and adaptation imposed by the natural environment in which the species lives. Therefore, to ensure the health and well-being of cichlids, it is vital to consider a rich and appropriate diet.


Omnivores, Herbivores, and Carnivores

Cichlids are fascinating animals. A large part of this is because of how they adapt to the environment in which they live. Cichlids from different geographic regions have developed their own strategies for feeding and surviving. For example, certain African cichlids from Lake Malawi have a primarily herbivorous diet, while South American cichlids are carnivores that feed on smaller fish and invertebrates.

To provide adequate nutrition for our fish, we must understand the difference between omnivorous, herbivorous, and carnivorous fish. Only in this way can we offer a well-balanced diet to nourish the specific species’ needs.


Omnivorous cichlids

An omnivorous cichlid has a varied diet. This diet contains both foods of animal and vegetable origin.

These fish are generally highly adaptable to the environment. A notable example is Tilapia, which will feed on literally anything. This adaptability allows cichlids to feed on virtually any food available.

They are highly “generalist” fish, quickly adjusting to different feeding conditions.

For omnivorous cichlids, it is vital to offer a range of foods of different origins, which include animal and vegetable proteins. You can find high-quality commercial foods specifically for omnivorous cichlids; these are ideal daily foods. Supplementing the diet with live and frozen foods, such as mosquito larvae and daphnia, and fresh foods like vegetables and algae, will enrich the cichlid’s diet.



Another food category for cichlids is herbivores. These fish have a diet based on foods of plant origin, such as biofilm, plants, and algae. The position of the mouth and the teeth of these omnivore cichlids are adapted to perform movements such as scraping algae, breaking fruits, and tearing leaves.

An example of herbivorous cichlids is the Mbunas of Lake Malawi, which feeds on algae and biofilms that grow on the lake’s rocks.

When keeping herbivorous cichlids, prioritize high-quality commercial plant foods and regularly offer snacks such as nori, zucchini, blanched carrots, and boiled peas.



The last classification is that of carnivorous cichlids, which feed mainly on foods of animal origin. Just like herbivorous cichlids, carnivore cichlid species feed differently. Some are predators and hunt by ambush. Others search directly, chasing their prey. Other carnivorous cichlids feed only on invertebrates.

These are generally fish that require a stable environment with good water quality. They are agile and smart. An outstanding example of carnivorous cichlids includes the peacock bass and the discus fish.

To feed carnivorous cichlids, depending on the species, commercial foods will not always work, and live foods such as small fish and worms, or fresh foods such as shrimp and bloodworms must be offered. Commercial dry foods for carnivorous fish are essential to supplement possible nutritional imbalances.


Types of Cichlid Fish Food

Understanding eating habits is vital for choosing the correct foods for your cichlids and is an essential part of the health and well-being of the aquarium and its inhabitants.

Pelleted and Flake Foods

Pellets and flakes are commercial foods and a great choice due to their convenience and ease of storage. However, we find many brands and labels available, which can complicate the selection of the appropriate product for the cichlid species we keep. Since African cichlids, for example, may require a different diet than South American cichlids.

With the advent of technology, we find more and more types and brands of commercial foods available in stores. It is easy to find foods formulated specifically for the type of cichlid we have, and we should always opt for this product.

Commercial foods contain all the foods to keep cichlids well nourished.


Live Foods

Live foods are valuable food for the diet of omnivorous and carnivorous cichlids. In addition to providing the natural behavior of fish to capture their own food, these foods contain a wide range of nutrients and proteins vital to the diet. Options like small fish, brine shrimp, earthworms, and crickets are rich in proteins, vitamins, and minerals essential for fish development.

These foods are even more beneficial when cichlids are about to reproduce, as they act as natural triggers for reproduction, keeping the fish healthy.

When using live food, especially fish, you must be extra careful about the possibility of transmitting diseases to your cichlids. Make sure these foods come from reputable sources. If you are not sure, you can freeze them before offering them to your fish; this can eliminate parasites and pathogenic organisms.


Frozen Foods

Frozen foods, called biomass, can be safer and easier to use than live foods.

Mysis shrimp, brine shrimp, and daphnia are the most common products in this category. In addition to these frozen foods containing essential nutrients, they can be divided and portioned, reducing handling and contamination of the food as a whole while avoiding waste.

Frozen foods should be used to the same extent as live foods, and should only be offered to omnivorous and carnivorous fish. They can be alternated with dry and live foods or used as snacks, ensuring that the fish obtain a wide range of nutrients. Furthermore, a varied diet stimulates cichlids’ interest in food.


Vegetable Matter

Many species of cichlids are herbivorous, feeding almost exclusively on plant matter or omnivores, which means they need plant matter in their diet.

To feed this type of cichlid in the aquarium, we must use commercial foods for herbivorous cichlids, preferably those of superior quality. The inclusion of fresh or dry foods is also beneficial and can be used as an alternative between meals or snacks.

Algae like spirulina and nori, and vegetables like spinach and broccoli are great foods. Many algae not only provide a great source of nutrients but also contain compounds that help bring out cichlids’ vibrant colors.

Vegetables can be blanched and boiled quickly to make them more palatable and easily digestible. These foods provide a large amount of essential fiber, which is vital for the proper functioning of the fish’s digestive system.


Tailoring Diet to Specific Cichlid Types

It is necessary to adapt the diet of the cichlids in your aquarium according to the species and their specific needs, this is the only way to guarantee the health and well-being of the fish.


African Cichlids: Lake Malawi vs. Lake Tanganyika

Although Africa is a gigantic continent, when we talk about African cichlids, we are referring to the cichlids that inhabit the famous two lakes, known as Malawi and Tanganyika. Although all fish come from the same common ancestor, each lake has its own species with different eating habits.


Cichlids of Lake Malawi

Lake Malawi cichlids are predominantly omnivorous, with a high tendency towards herbivory. The diet of these fish is based on algae, biofilms, and plant matter found in the lake.

In aquariums, the supply of food of animal origin should be avoided. Some accept an occasional offer of live or fresh food, such as those called Haps. This animal food must be provided 2 to 4 times a month.

In addition to the daily commercial feed for Malawi cichlids, fresh foods such as nori seaweed, spirulina, and blanched vegetables can be provided. To meet the dietary needs of these species, it is essential to provide a diet rich in vegetables such as spirulina, peas, spinach, and plant food pellets.

Maintaining a balanced diet rich in plant-based foods is essential for these herbivorous cichlids to maintain vitality and the proper functioning of their digestive tract.


Cichlids of Lake Tanganyika

Lake Tanganyika cichlids exhibit a varied diet, with carnivorous, herbivorous, and omnivorous fish. These fish will eat anything in their environment, including detritus, algae, invertebrates, crustaceans, and even small fish.

To meet their needs, when in tanks, offer a balanced diet that includes high-quality commercial foods, live foods such as daphnia, and fresh plant foods, depending on the species.


South American Cichlids

The vast majority of South American cichlids exhibit a tendency towards carnivory, even those considered omnivores.

South American cichlids such as angelfish and discus fish have a primarily carnivorous diet, eating small fish, insects, and other invertebrates. Likewise, they consume biofilms and a small amount of plant foods. Large cichlids are mostly piscivores, feeding on other fish.

In aquariums, not all species of these fish accept commercial foods quickly, requiring a slow introduction and transition. Meanwhile, live and fresh food must be provided, such as earthworms, mosquito larvae, daphnia, and small fish.

You can also include foods of plant origin, offering fresh or blanched vegetables such as cucumbers and spinach.


Dwarf Cichlids

Dwarf cichlids are a subcategory that houses small cichlids. These fish are generally found in South America, but there are African species.

Its food depends on its origin, the African kribensis is a herbivorous fish, while the Amazon Apistogrammas are carnivorous. When in captivity, these fish readily accept commercial foods as well as fresh, live foods. Research the species you are keeping and use this guide to find the perfect food for it.


Common Feeding Mistakes and Their Impact

Inadequate feeding is a common mistake among aquarists, especially beginners, and is a problem that is highly harmful to the fish and the balance of the aquarium. Among the main food problems committed by fish keepers, the most frequent are overfeeding and food mono diversity.



Overfeeding is a common problem. Often the aquarist does not have a parameter to understand the correct amount of food to offer. The first big problem with this is obesity. Cichlids are gluttonous fish, which will eat large amounts of food, becoming obese.

Obesity in fish causes numerous health problems, such as accumulated fat in the liver and other organs, lethargy, and swimming difficulties, culminating in a reduction in lifespan.

Overfeeding causes yet another problem, negatively affecting the quality of the water in the aquarium. Fish that eat large amounts of food also excrete large amounts. Along with uneaten food leftovers, water quality will quickly degrade, releasing ammonia and other pollutants.

Excessive feeding also negatively impacts the fish’s digestive system, causing problems such as impaction and bloating.



Food mono diversity is when we only use one type of food. In addition to leaving a large margin for some type of nutritional deficiency, the fish end up getting bored and sick of the food. This can be considered a lack of animal welfare, leading the fish to boredom and consequently stress.

In cichlids, dietary variety is vital to ensure they get the nutrients they need to thrive and stay in good health. A diverse diet also stimulates the fish’s interest in food and brings new things to a monotonous life in the aquarium.


Understanding Cichlid Behavior and Feeding

With such a diverse group, it is not strange to find countless types of eating behavior. Understanding these different types of behavior is essential to providing our fish with the correct diet.

Cilides exhibit diverse feeding behaviors, being able to acquire their food through sifting the substrate, filtering small animals (Geophagus), hunting their food by ambush (Nimbochromis), active hunting (peacock bass), and feeding on detritus (Oreochromis).

Understanding these different behaviors is essential to creating a feeding routine in the aquarium that mimics the natural conditions of the place where cichlids live.



Cichlids are fascinating fish, an extremely diverse group, with a very broad diet and varied forms of ingestion. To keep these fish healthy in the aquarium, it is vital to offer a correct and balanced diet for the species in question. Adapt and vary your diet based on the preferences of the cichlid species you are keeping and avoid the common mistakes mentioned here. By promoting natural behavior during feeding, we provide a more natural and beneficial experience for the fish.

We want to know which cichlids you keep and what feeding routine you follow! Leave a comment here in the community and access our other articles to learn everything about fish.