Jewel Cichlid in aquarium

Jewel Cichlid Care: Types, Tank Setup, Diet, And More

The Jewel cichlid is a beautiful freshwater fish that gets a lot of aquarist attention but sometimes not for the right reasons. They’re an aggressive species so it is important that fishkeepers know what they’re doing if they want to keep this species.

While their aggressive behavior is definitely something to be aware of, it shouldn’t stop you from considering this fish species completely. We recommend this fish for experienced aquarists who want a gorgeous and entertaining fish.

In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about Jewel cichlid care, including appearance, lifespan, feeding, breeding, tank set-up and more.

Recommended Jewel Cichlid Care Items:

Jewel Cichlid Overview

The Jewel cichlid’s scientific name is Hemichromis bimaculatus. In pet stores, this fish can be found with a wide range of common names including the African Jewelfish, Blue Jewel, Green Jewel, Jewel fish, etc. This species is part of the cichlid family. 

These fish originate from west Africa, primarily in small freshwater bodies such as lakes, rivers, and streams. This is important because this is the kind of environment you’ll be trying to replicate when setting up their tank.

In pet stores, their coloration can be lackluster, but with proper feeding and a suitable aquarium, their colors will become vibrant. 

They’e a hardy species that can tolerate a range of water conditions. However, if you’re interested in breeding them, you will have to get a little more specific with slightly acidic water and an elevated tank temperature.

They’re an aggressive species and the aggressive behavior really picks up when it comes to breeding. They’re easy eaters so you can be successful with lots of different food types.

Jewel Cichlid Appearance

Jewel cichlids are beautiful. They come in a number of colorful variations, but the red Jewel cichlid is the most common.

These fish have a bright red or orange body with small light blue-green spots all over their bodies. The same colors are also on their fin, but they tend to be more striped.

Another color variation is the Blue Jewel. These fish have a dark blue or turquoise body with the same blue-green dots. 

Jewel cichlid with blue spots

Jewel Cichlids have narrow, pointy bodies. When they’re younger, you might notice a little bump at the beginning of their back. This tends to go away as they get older.

How long do Jewel Cichlids live?

The average Jewel cichlid lifespan is roughly 5 years. Their lifespan is influenced by their stress and quality of care. 

Less stressed fish in proper habitats tend to live longer. However, Jewel Cichlids have an additional complication in managing their aggression. High levels of aggression are related to higher numbers of fights in their tank, which will increase their stress levels.

Significant stress will shorten the lifespan of your Jewel cichlid, so it is important to try to manage their aggression, and subsequently stress, levels. 

How big do Jewel Cichlids get?

The average Jewel cichlid size is about 6 inches in captivity. In the wild, they can grow to one foot in length.

Jewel Cichlid Temperament

Jewel cichlids have a reputation for being aggressive fish. Most cichlids have a little bit of a reputation for aggression, such as the Electric Blue Acara. Although we don’t typically play up the aggression of fish, Jewel cichlids deserve this title, especially under certain circumstances.

However, their aggression doesn’t mean they’re impossible to keep. It does mean that you will want to be cautious and learn as much as you can about this fish’s needs so you don’t have a community tank slaughter situation. 

Here are some important things to remember about their aggression and territoriality:

  • Mating is the most aggressive time for them
  • Provide a large enough tank so they can have their own space – this will help reduce confrontations.
  • Jewel cichlids are fin nippers if they’re aggravated or hungry.
  • Jewel cichlids will dig and root around in the substrate looking for food (this is common for cichlids, generally)

Jewel Cichlid Care

Jewel cichlids are hardy aquarium fish. However, you need to know what you’re doing. Our guide covers their ideal habitat, including tank, breeding, filtration, and more.

Jewel Cichlid Habitat

When planning the ideal Jewel Cichlid tank, it is recommended to try to recreate their natural environment. This principle works well when designing tanks and making sure your fish are eating correctly. Recreate their natural environment for best results. 

In the freshwater bodies of water of west Africa where this species originates, the Jewel Cichlid is used to sandy substrates for easy digging, rocks and wood that mimic the river, stream, and lake bottoms, and plenty of nooks and crannies where the Jewel Cichlids can stake their territory.

What is the best tank for a Jewel Cichlid?

Tank size is important for your Jewel cichlids.

30-gallon tanks are often recommended as the minimum for a pair. However, if you can swing it, a 40-gallon tank will provide extra room to help your fish be more comfortable and less stressed.

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How many Jewel Cichlid can go in my tank?

If you want to keep multiple Jewel cichlids in the same tank, plan on adding 10 gallons per additional Jewel to play it safe. 

Our recommendations are as follows:

  • 2 Jewel Cichlids: 40 gallons
  • 3 Jewel Cichlids: 50 gallons
  • 4 Jewel Cichlids: 60 gallons
  • 5 Jewel Cichlids: 70 gallons

We prefer to play it safe when it comes to the health and safety of our fish so our recommendations are conservative. If you’re an experienced aquarist who knows your fish well, feel free to experiment with caution.

Water Conditions

Jewel Cichlids are hardy fish. However, you need to watch their water conditions carefully. Failing to stay within these guidelines can result in health issues and increased stress levels, which can trigger more aggression, which in turn will trigger more stress.

Jewel Cichlids are used to warm tropical water in the wild. They need water that is roughly neutral: not too hard and not too soft. Water hardness should not exceed 12 dGH.

Additionally, it is important to keep their tank clean. The sandy substrate is more challenging to keep clean than other forms of substrate so make sure you have a good filter in your set-up. 

Here are the ideal Jewel Cichlid water conditions:

  • Water temperature: 75°F and 80°F
  • pH levels: 6.5 to 7.5
  • Water hardness: Neutral-soft range (do not exceed 12 dGH)

In order to maintain stable water conditions, we recommend testing weekly with this Water kit. It is the only consistent way to understand what is happening in your tank.

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Do not add Jewel Cichlids to uncycled tanks. They are not good candidates for cycling. The nitrogen cycle needs to be finished in your tank before adding any inhabitants.

Additionally, keep an eye on the pH in your tank. If you need help lowering the pH, check out our pH lowering guide

Lastly, you can consider adding a wavemaker for some light flow to your water. This helps keep water conditions cleaner too, as waste and debris is kicked up to your filter intake.

What to put in their tank

Substrate

Definitely add a sandy substrate to the tank. Jewel Cichlids love to root around and explore with their mouths, so anything rougher will likely scratch them up.

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Filtration

Jewel Cichlids need their water to be pretty clean, and they can get pretty sizeable, so you will want to have decent external filtration in place. Depending on aquarium set-up, we would recommend either a HOB or canister filter option.

Decorations

Jewel Cichlids live in natural habitats like the streams, rivers, and lakes of west Africa. They’re used to lots of natural hiding spaces constructed of tangled roots, fallen tree limbs, and rocks. Use this as your decorating inspiration. We recommend large rocks and driftwood to create a lot of potential territories in your tank.

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Plants

Because of their natural environment, Jewel Cichlids are used to live plants. However, they’re also cichlids and are famous for their rooting behavior, which means that you will need to stake down your plants, or be ok with the occasional uprooting. We recommend plants like the Java Fern or Amazon Swords which are a little bit tougher and more durable.

Live plants also remove nitrates from your water, which keeps your water parameters in better shape and lessens the chance of an algae bloom.

Jewel Cichlid Potential diseases

Important notice: we are not veterinarians at Aquarium Friend so the information below should be used for general awareness only. If you are concerned about the health of your fish, consult a fish health professional immediately.

Jewel Cichlids don’t have any species-specific diseases. However, you will still need to keep an eye on common freshwater fish illnesses such as ich and swim bladder disease. We recommend adding any new fish to a quarantine tank before adding them to an established tank

The most common issue for freshwater fish is Ich. It can be a little tricky to diagnose in Jewel Cichlids because ich presents with small white dots which can be mixed up with this species’ natural coloration if you’re not looking closely. 

Ich is often  caused by stress. Given its aggressive tendencies, the Jewel Cichlid is especially prone to stress so you will need to be as proactive in stress reduction as possible. The best cure is prevention, so maintain stable water conditions and provide your fish with a healthy diet. However, if you do get caught with an infection, there are lots of over-the-counter medications that can address Ich.

A responsible part of fish ownership is providing a peaceful and pain-free death for your fish when you can, so make sure to research your fish euthanization options if the time comes.

Jewel Cichlid Feeding 

Jewel cichlids are omnivores and will eat flake food, pellets, and live food. They’re not picky fish, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble managing their diet.

This is good news because they can get cranky when they are hungry. And, as you might guess, when they’re cranky, their aggression will increase, so keeping them properly fed is one way to reduce aggression. Additionally, If you feed a variety of flakes, live food, and pellets, you will notice more vibrant colors in your fish, making it a win-win outcome for feeding them correctly.

What should you feed a Jewel Cichlid?

Provide a balanced diet to keep them as healthy as possible. We suggest a mix of flakes or pellets and a couple days of live food each week.

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For live food, frozen brine shrimp or bloodworms are good choices. Don’t feed live foods exclusively though; they’re omnivores and need a balanced diet. Feeding live foods a couple of times each week is the max.

Jewel Cichlid Tank Mates

This is where the rubber meets the road, or the fish meets the water, on keeping Jewel Cichlids. There are reports of Jewel cichlids in community tanks, both with other cichlids, and even some kinds of tetras.

But in our opinion, you’re asking for trouble if you go this route. We don’t recommend this fish for community tanks. The risk of them killing their tank mates is simply too high and there are too many reports from aquarists of Jewel Cichlid-led slaughters.

However, you can keep Jewel cichlids with their own kind. They’re lively, active fish and will be highly entertaining a species-only tank. Just make sure it is large enough for all of its inhabitants.

Are Jewel Cichlid fin nippers?

Yes, Jewel Cichlids are avid fin-nippers, especially when hungry. It is like a hobby for them, The longer the fins on the victim, the better. Therefore, we absolutely don’t recommend long-finned tank mates.

Jewel Cichlid Breeding

Although this species is complicated from an aggression perspective, breeding Jewel Cichlids is pretty easy. Jewel Cichlids form monogamous bonds with each other and stay together as couples even after their fry are hatched. They’re about as monogamous as you can get for a fish.

How to Sex Jewel Cichlids

Like many species, male Jewel Cichlids have deeper and more vibrant coloring than female Jewel Cichlid. This coloration becomes more intense when breeding is occurring.

Beyond the coloration difference, it can be a little difficult to tell the sexes apart so it is advised to keep a close eye on the fish behavior in order to understand the bonded pairs.

The Breeding Process

If you have multiple cichlids in your tank, separate the bonded pair of Jewel Cichlids at mating time. Use a dedicated breeding tank, or separate them with a tank divider. Jewel Cichlids are most aggressive when they are breeding so this is critical for avoiding unnecessary fights and death.

To help encourage the breeding process, raise the water temperature a few degrees. When the male is getting close to being ready, his colors will become more vibrant. 

Before laying her eggs, you might see the female looking around the bottom of the tank for a suitable location. The ideal spot is a large rock with a flat surface. Once she is ready, she will lay eggs on the chosen rock. The male will then fertilize the eggs.

After the eggs are fertilized, they will take 2 and 4 days to hatch. After hatching, the parents will keep a close eye on their young and defend them aggressively if needed. They’re extremely dedicated parents and will stop at nothing to protect the fry, so it is best to keep them separate unless you want confrontations.

 Jewel Cichlid FAQs

Are jewel cichlids aggressive?

Yes, Jewel Cichlids are aggressive. The aggressive tendencies are most pronounced during breeding and when they’re underfed. They’re also aggressive in tanks that are too crowded. Because of this, they’re not good candidates for community tanks and do better in species tanks.

Do jewel cichlids have teeth?

Yes, Jewel Cichlids have teeth and they will bite, so be careful when cleaning the tank!

How fast do jewel cichlids grow?

Jewel Cichlids are fast growers. Fry can reach almost an inch in length in about one month from hatching. On average, you can expect your Jewel Cichlid to reach adult size (about six inches) in about two or three years.

Can jewel cichlids live with Oscars?

Combining Jewel Cichlids and Oscars might work when the fish are juveniles. However, both species are aggressive so we do not recommend putting these two species together in the same tank.

How much do Jewel cichlids cost?

Prices range for Jewel Cichlids, ranging from about $8 – $30 per fish, depending on the size and color.

Why is my jewel cichlid turning black?

If your jewel cichlid is turning black, there is likely an issue with water parameters. Check your water conditions. Prioritize water changes until conditions are stabilized. Black spots are often signs of ammonia burns, meaning your tank is not processing the fish’s waste. If ammonia is too high, it means some component of your nitrogen cycle is off, as your tank is not able to convert it properly.

Conclusion

Now that you’ve learned just about all there is to know when it comes to caring for Jewel Cichlids, you should be able to decide for yourself if they’re a good fit for your aquarium.

Jewel Cichlids are beautiful and energetic freshwater fish. However, they’re aggressive, especially around breeding, so they’re not suitable for community tanks. They’re also infamous fin nippers, which means they’re best housed with other jewel cichlids. 

If you can accommodate their need for space, occasional bites while cleaning the tank, and keep stable water conditions for them, they make beautiful focal points in species tanks. They’re also easy to breed so they’re a good species to try your luck with if you’re interested in freshwater fish breeding.

What has been your experience with Jewel Cichlids? Do you find the benefits of this species outweigh the aggression?

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