I have kept many different cichlids over the years, and this large and large and diverse family of fish is my favorite! Included are the freshwater angelfish, discus, Jack Dempseys, Red Devils, Convicts, Oscars, Jewelfish, Ramirezis, Apistogamas, Kribensis, Tilapia, and the incredibly diverse cichlids of the African Lakes Tanganyika, Malawi, Victoria and Edward.
Native populations of cichlids range widely throughout Central and South America, the Caribbean, Africa, with some genera represented in India, and Sri Lanka. Populations occurring elsewhere (i.e. Europe, Australia, Asia, and North America), were introduced.
Saltwater enthusiasts will no doubt recognize the similarities between this family of freshwater fish and their saltwater cousins, the Damselfish and Wrasses – all within the subfamily Labroidei. I find the Dottybacks to be very cichlid-like as well, both in terms of appearance and behavior, and would not be surprised revisions are made to current classifications to reflect this at some point.
Cichlids demonstrate many fascinating behaviors. Chief among them are the highly evolved breeding behaviors which typify this family. Both parents guard the eggs and fry until they can fend for themselves. In some species, colonies collectively guard the young, and in others the older siblings and other “kin” help guard the young as well. There are also “mouth-brooding” species in which the mouth of a parent serves as egg incubator, nursery and fry refuge.
To say that Cichlids have a reputation for being aggressive may be an understatement. Even angelfish, which have a reputation for being peaceful, are less than angelic and can be quite brutal when pairing off, and fearless when protecting their spawning sites, eggs and their young. This relatively slow-moving fish is also capable of bursts of speed, out-pacing fish small enough to fit in its mouth (which is larger than one might think), and sucking it in head-first, so care should be taken when considering their tank mates. Many others in this family are just generally belligerent, requiring large aquariums and tolerating only the sturdiest of tank mates. That said, few display aquariums are more fascinating than a thoughtfully-planned cichlid aquarium!