close map

Commonly Asked Questions

Appears in Georgia Aquarium's:
  • River Scout

Range / Habitat

  • Cichlids comprise a large family of freshwater fishes occurring in tropical and subtropical waters of Africa, Central and South America, as well as parts of Jordan, Iran, India and Sri Lanka.
  • Lake Tanganyika is the largest lake on the African continent and the second largest lake, by volume, in the entire world.  It is part of an extensive chain of lakes sprawling across the geologically active East African Rift Valley.  It forms the border between Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and also has coastline in Burundi and Zambia. This is the longest freshwater lake in the world at 420 miles (677 km) long, and the second deepest (after Lake Baikal), reaching depths well over 4,500 feet (1371 m). 
  • Lake Tanganyika is not only enormous, but it is also one of the world’s most biologically diverse bodies of water with over 400 species of fish, including 250 species from the cichlid family alone.  Many of these fish are endemic to Lake Tanganyika, which means they are found nowhere else on the planet.

Physical Characteristics

  • Cichlids exhibit a wide range of body shapes. The most common form is ovate and somewhat laterally compressed, but some species are strongly compressed and cylindrical or elongated.
  • The size of individuals varies by species; cichlids currently on exhibit in the Lake Tanganyika habitat generally range from about 1.5 inches (4 cm) up to 6 inches (15 cm).
  • The family Cichlidae is noted for the profusion of bright colors and color patterns found among different species.

Diet / Feeding

  • Cichlids exhibit a great diversity of feeding adaptations and food types: phytoplankton, zooplankton, benthic algae, higher plants, insects, mollusks, fish scales and fins, fish eggs and larvae, among others.
  • Specialization of the jaws and dentition has allowed cichlid species to feed on a variety of food types. For example, Neolamprologus tretocephalus feeds on small mollusks, and N. brevis prefers planktonic microorganisms.

Conservation Status

  • Neolamprologus tretocephalus - “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List.
  • Neolamprologus brevis - “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List.
  • Cyprichromis leptosoma - “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List.
  • Neolamprologus leleupi - “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List.
  • Julidochromis marlieri - “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List.

Additional Information

  • The correct pronunciation of cichlid is “sick-lid.”
  • Since the 19th century, the cichlids of Africa have been the subject of investigations by scientists studying the process of how different species evolve.
  • Many African cichlids are mouth brooders. The female holds the fertilized eggs and the growing young in her mouth until there is no longer enough space to accommodate them. She does not eat during this time.
  • Other species lay their eggs in a prepared area on the bottom and guard and maintain the eggs for up to three months. 
  • Unlike many of the rock-dwelling species of Lake Tanganyika, Cyprichromis leptosoma is an active swimmer and prefers open water, where it feeds primarily on zooplankton.  The striking color pattern of blues and yellows is quite variable from one section of the lake to another.       
  • Julidochromis merlieri, Neolamprologus tretocephalus and N. leleupi are examples of cichlids that spend most of their time near to rock cover, and breed in small caves and crevices. N. leleupi is typically a peaceful species that, during breeding season, becomes extremely aggressive toward rivals.  
  • Neolamprologus brevis has a clever breeding strategy.  It uses an empty snail shell as a nest.  The female buries the shell until only the opening is exposed.  She displays in front of the shell to attract a mate.  After the eggs are laid inside the shell, the male fertilizes them and departs.  The female then cares for the brood on her own. 
  • Other Neolamprogus species will form harems, with a large male gathering “gardens” of shell-dwelling females. Males that are too small to gather shells will lurk around an established harem, impersonating a female, in order to find a mate.


The Cichlid Fishes of the Great Lakes of Africa, Fryer, G. and Iles,T.D.
The Cichlid Fishes, Barlow, George W.
African Cichlids of Lakes Malawi and Tanganyika, Axelrod, Herbert R. and Burgess, Warren E.