Comprehensive Guide to Red Devil Cichlid: Size, Care, Tank Mates, and Lifespan

Author: Hasty Fish

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Red Devil Cichlid

These charismatic fish are notable not just for their striking hues but also for their expressive behavior, intelligence, and adaptability. However, they do require a certain level of expertise to care for properly, given their aggressive nature and specific habitat needs.

As we delve into the captivating life of the Red Devil Cichlid, we will explore all the nuances that make this species unique.

From understanding their size and potential growth to providing the optimal care conditions for health and vitality, this comprehensive guide will equip you with the knowledge to create the perfect underwater haven for your Red Devil Cichlid.

Let’s begin our journey into the colorful world of these amazing aquatic creatures!

Red Devil Cichlid Stats
OriginCentral America
Lifespan10-12 years
TemperamentHighly Aggressive
Size15 inches
Minimum Tank Size55 gallons
Ease of CareHard
Water Temperature75°F to 79°F (24-26°C)
Water Hardness6-25 dGH

Red Devil Cichlid Species Summary

The Red Devil Cichlid (Amphilophus labiatus) is a captivating aquatic species famous for its vibrant personality and engaging demeanor.

These intriguing creatures have earned a devoted following among fish enthusiasts, as they are known to form connections with their caregivers, even showcasing displays for their owners and ardently begging for food, much like man’s best friend.

However, potential owners be forewarned. The Red Devil Cichlids may not be suitable for the timid or inexperienced, with their name echoing their fiery temperament.

These aquatic characters exhibit a marked propensity for aggression, which extends not only to other aquatic species but also manifests in a penchant for destruction, employing their teeth to devastating effect.

Initially categorized under the genus Cichlasoma, these robust fish were later assigned to their distinct genus, given that their unique characteristics deviated considerably from the description of Cichlasoma labiatum.

Irrespective of their scientific classification, Red Devils are undeniably a delightful addition to any aquarium. Despite the challenges associated with their management, their striking physical allure, coupled with their entertaining antics, make them a rewarding species to keep.

The Red Devil’s Natural Habitat

Amphilophus labiatus

Tracing their origin back to the waters of Nicaragua, Red Devil Cichlids predominantly inhabit Lake Nicaragua, Lake Managua, and Lake Xiloa.

The Red Devil Cichlid, preferring the expansiveness of open waters, often resides amongst rocks and logs. These structures not only offer them a strategic advantage when hunting but also provide quick refuge in times of threat.

In their native habitat, they face the risk of predation from the formidable bull shark. However, within the safety of your home aquarium, the tables turn, and the Red Devil Cichlid takes on the role of the predator, putting other resident fish at risk.

This predatory instinct extends to areas where the Red Devil Cichlid has been introduced into non-native ecosystems. An instance of this can be seen in Indonesia, where they were introduced into the lakes of Java, Papua, and Sulawesi. Today, they are recognized as an invasive species in these waters.


Generally, with adequate care and ideal conditions, Red Devils have a relatively long lifespan of 10 to 12 years in captivity.

However, cases of exceptional longevity exceeding the average have been reported, provided the fish are maintained in optimal conditions, with the quality of water and living conditions playing a significant role in their lifespan.

Appearance, Colors, & Markings

One of the distinguishing features of the Red Devil Cichlids is their robust build, which adds to their imposing presence. Their dorsal and anal fins exhibit a distinct pointed shape and are notably pronounced, creating a “swept” silhouette that enables swift and agile movement through the water.

Their coloration provides an expansive spectrum of shades. In the wild, they typically exhibit tones of brown or gray, which blend seamlessly with the dark, murky waters of their native Nicaraguan lakes, providing an invaluable defense mechanism during threats.

However, the palette extends to more vibrant hues, with some showcasing colors of white, yellow, and radiant red. These color variations are predominantly seen in captivity, although some are found in the wild as well.

Notably, the Red Devil Cichlids also come in spotted patterns, flaunting a medley of colors. Black-tipped fins and tails are a common sight as well.

Another striking feature is their thick, rubbery lips. The lips are generally smaller in captive specimens than their wild counterparts, possibly influenced by dietary factors, although definitive research remains to be done. The lip color varies, with orange being common, but instances of black have been noted.

The formidable dental apparatus of the Red Devil Cichlids deserves special mention. Their large, powerful teeth, combined with a strong jawline, render them potent predators, whether in their natural habitat or in captivity.

Fun Fact: While the Red Devil Cichlid and the Midas Cichlid are two different species, they appear strikingly similar at first glance and often lead to instances of mistaken identity.


The Red Devil Cichlids boast an impressive size, with adults typically measuring around 15 inches in length. This considerable size makes them a standout species among other freshwater aquarium inhabitants. Males generally surpass females in size, with most reaching their full length by the age of 3.

It’s important to remember that this size requires ample space; small tanks can stunt their growth and lead to health issues.

And the fact is several factors can influence the growth of a Red Devil Cichlid. These include the quality of their diet, the size and condition of their habitat, and their overall health. A balanced diet rich in protein will fuel their growth, while a spacious, clean tank ensures they have room to grow and reduces stress, which could otherwise hinder their development.

Red Devil Cichlid Care

Red Devil Cichlid Tank Setup

Red Devils, with their robust and enduring nature, are relatively simple for seasoned aquarists to tend to. However, novices might find them a challenging choice. These aquatic creatures can adapt to various water conditions, but to truly thrive, they require specific care. Here is an essential guide to ensuring their health and longevity.

1. Optimum Tank Size

A fundamental query for every prospective owner is, “How much space does a fully grown 15-inch Red Devil Cichlid require?” For a single fish, you’ll need a minimum of 55 gallons.

And if you intend to host a breeding pair, that calls for an upgrade to a tank of at least 125 gallons. For an aquarium accommodating multiple fish, consider a tank with a capacity of 200 gallons or more.

Bear in mind that Red Devil Cichlids need ample room for movement. Being keen swimmers, they will swiftly outgrow restrictive tanks as they mature.

2. Ideal Water Parameters

A crucial part of Red Devil Cichlid care revolves around maintaining optimal water conditions. While there is a small degree of flexibility, sticking to the following is vital to prevent health issues and stunted growth:

  • Water temperature: 75°F to 79°F (24-26°C)
  • Water hardness: 6 to 25 dGH
  • pH level: 6.5 to 7.5

Regular tank maintenance is pivotal to the health of your Red Devil Cichlid. A weekly water change of about 25 to 30% will help maintain the water quality, remove waste materials, and control the levels of ammonia and nitrates.

3. What To Put In Their Tank

The initial setup of a Red Devil Cichlid tank demands a thorough preparation. These fish are renowned for their habit of modifying their surroundings. Without proper planning, they can quickly make a mess of their environment and wreak havoc on your tank’s aesthetics.

The tank substrate should consist of fine sand, given that these fish are natural diggers. Gravel or rough substrates may cause harm.

Plants are generally a no-go for Red Devil Cichlid tanks. These creatures are infamous for tearing apart any greenery in their reach, not to mention their tendency to uproot aquatic plants during their digging escapades.

Instead, provide an abundance of hiding places using rocks and wood. In their natural habitat, these fish frequent crevices for easy concealment during danger. They display the same behavior in aquariums, making it essential to offer them plenty of hiding spots.

Ensure any rocks are securely placed within the substrate to prevent toppling. For smaller rocks, consider anchoring them to the tank using fish-safe epoxy.

For filtration, a dual setup using a traditional canister filter combined with a sump system is a good idea. Aim for moderate water movement within the tank. Highly oxygenated water benefits these fish, so you’ll also want to add airstones to your tank setup.

Lastly, ensure to protect all the exposed equipment to prevent damage either to the gear or to the fish, given that, like many aggressive species, Red Devil Cichlids might take it upon themselves to attack visible equipment.

4. Common Red Devil Cichlid Diseases: What To Look Out For

While no diseases are exclusive to Red Devils, they can contract illnesses prevalent in freshwater fish.

Ich, a highly contagious condition that can be fatal if left untreated, is a common issue. Treat Ich by elevating the tank temperature to approximately 86 degrees Fahrenheit for around three days or by using copper-based medications.

Red Devil Cichlids are also prone to the ‘hole-in-the-head’ disease, also known as Head and Lateral Line Disease, which results in noticeable pits on the head and face. This ailment is usually linked to nutrient deficiencies and poor water quality.

You can prevent many of these diseases and keep your Red Devil cichlid healthy by ensuring an appropriate diet for your fish and keeping up with regular tank maintenance that includes frequent water changes. Furthermore, it is best to quarantine any newly added fish, invertebrates, and plants before introducing them to your existing tank to lower the risk of spreading disease.

Food & Diet

Freshwater Red Devil Cichlid

One significant advantage of Red Devil Cichlids is their wide dietary acceptance. And despite their aggressive behavior suggesting otherwise, these fish are omnivores. Also, these fish eat a lot and are known to have a hearty appetite, necessitating multiple daily feeding times to fulfill their dietary requirements.

You’ll want to feed them a balanced diet comprising both dry and live food. A foundational diet of fish flakes and high-quality Cichlid pellets can be complemented with krill, earthworms, bloodworms, crickets, and spirulina-based food. Variety ensures your fish receive all the necessary nutrients and vitamins.

Exercise caution with mammal meats such as chicken and beef, which aren’t a part of their natural diet. Excessive consumption can lead to intestinal issues, so use these as occasional treats rather than staple food.

Behavior & Temperament

In the realm of aquatic pets, Red Devils hold a particular charm with their vibrant personalities and high energy levels. These fish develop a distinct consciousness of their owners, offering a unique interactive experience. However, their sociability has limits – they are known for their hostility towards other fish, including those of the same species.

Underneath their engaging exterior, Red Devil Cichlids harbor an intense territorial instinct, often confronting other fish in their vicinity. Further enhancing their destructive capacity, these fish are notorious for attempting to damage anything within reach of their mouths.

Between bouts of territorial disputes and destructive endeavors, Red Devil Cichlids are avid swimmers, requiring ample space for exploration. It’s best to keep the central area of the tank relatively uncluttered to allow unrestricted movement.

An important note to remember is that the size and quality of their environment can significantly affect their behavior. Inadequate space can escalate their aggressive tendencies, making them more volatile. Conversely, a spacious, well-equipped habitat can moderate their aggressiveness, leading to calmer conduct.

Red Devil Cichlid Ideal Tank Mates

Equipped with potent jaws and sharp teeth, these fish can inflict significant damage. They’re known to dismantle aquarium equipment, charge into tank walls, and viciously attack their fellow tank inhabitants.

So embracing the idea of owning a Red Devil Cichlid essentially means settling for a one-fish tank. In fact, owing to their combative nature, these fish are usually kept in solitude. While cohabitation with other fish is possible, it requires careful planning from an early stage.

Young Red Devil Cichlids, raised alongside their kin, usually display less aggression. However, this friendship often wanes as they mature, resulting in territorial disputes over shared tank space.

A large, massive tank offering ample territory for each resident might lessen their hostility, but it doesn’t guarantee safety for the tank mates. Many aquarists frequently recount instances of Red Devil Cichlids harming or killing their tank companions.

However, if you’re determined to attempt a community tank, consider Jaguar cichlids, Jack Dempsey cichlids, and Oscars as potential tank mates, given they are roughly the same size and have a comparable temperament that can hold their own.

A silver lining to their otherwise aggressive disposition is the monogamous nature of Red Devil Cichlids. In most instances, they can cohabitate peacefully in pairs, indicating potential for male and female companionship within the tank.

Breeding Red Devil Cichlids

Red Devil Cichlid Fry

Red Devil Cichlids, despite their aggressive demeanor, have a surprisingly tender side when it comes to breeding. They have been successfully bred in captivity for a long time, making the process relatively straightforward, even for novice breeders.

Their monogamous nature helps bypass several common breeding challenges, as males and females take joint responsibility for protecting their young until they can fend for themselves.

1. Setting the Stage for Breeding

Initiating the breeding process calls for simulating the naturally warm waters of their breeding season. Raise the tank temperature to around 77 degrees Fahrenheit and provide plenty of nutrient-rich foods, such as bloodworms, to encourage breeding.

When the female Red Devil is ready to lay eggs, she will seek out a flat rock or inclined substrate. As the owner, you can facilitate this by constructing a subtle hill or introducing driftwood into the tank.

2. From Egg to Fish: The Breeding Journey

Female Red Devil Cichlids are prolific layers, depositing between 600 and 700 eggs at a time. These eggs, translucent with a yellowish-orange hue, typically hatch within 3 to 4 days.

Post-hatching, the male and female fish might relocate the tiny fry to another part of the tank for safety reasons. At times, the male might even excavate a pit for better protection against predators. After a further 5 to 7 days, the fry should be able to swim independently.

Spotting Gender Differences in Red Devil Cichlids

While males and females bear a strong resemblance, there are subtle distinctions between them.

A male Red Devil cichlid often displays a pronounced forehead hump or nuchal hump, especially in captivity. In their natural habitat, this hump typically becomes noticeable only during the breeding season. Males also tend to be slightly larger and have pointed genital papillae.

A closer look at the anal, dorsal, and pelvic fins reveals further differentiation – males possess more pointed fins, whereas females’ fins are blunter.

Comparing the vent (a dual-purpose opening for both excretion and reproduction) and the anus can provide further clues. In males, these two are usually of the same size, while in females, the vent is noticeably larger.

The orientation of the ‘tube’ also varies between the sexes. While the male Red Devil Cichlid’s tube points straight and downward, the female’s egg tube extends backward.

Wrapping Up

In conclusion, the Red Devil Cichlid presents a unique proposition for aquarists, bringing a mix of vibrant personality, impressive size, and striking appearance.

Navigating their aggressive nature and specific needs can be a challenging yet rewarding journey. Understanding their behaviors, setting up an ideal habitat, ensuring an optimal diet, and making appropriate companionship choices can significantly enhance their longevity and overall health.

While they might not be the best choice for a novice aquarist or a community tank, their monogamous breeding habits and robust nature make them a fascinating choice for experienced hobbyists. Each aspect of their care – from tank setup and diet to health management and breeding – requires attention and dedication.

I hope this comprehensive guide serves as a valuable resource in your Red Devil Cichlid care journey, helping you understand these fiery fish better. Enjoy the captivating experience of owning one of these unique creatures, and here’s to happy fishkeeping!

Frequently Asked Questions about Red Devil Cichlids

Q1: How big do Red Devil Cichlids get?

A: Red Devil Cichlids can reach a sizable length of up to 15 inches when fully mature. This makes them one of the larger freshwater fish species and explains their need for ample space in the aquarium.

Q2. How long do Red Devil Cichlids live?

A: With proper care and a well-maintained environment, Red Devil Cichlids can live for approximately 10 to 12 years in captivity. Some have been reported to live even longer with optimal care.

Q3. Are Red Devil Cichlids aggressive?

A: Yes, Red Devil Cichlids are known for their aggressive and territorial nature. They can often be observed fighting with other fish or even damaging aquarium decorations and equipment.

Q4. Can Red Devil Cichlids live with other fish?

A: Due to their aggressive behavior, they are typically kept alone or in pairs with other Red Devil Cichlids (a male and a female). They can potentially cohabitate with larger fish species of a similar temperament, but there’s always a risk of conflict due to their territorial nature.

Q5. How do you breed Red Devil Cichlids?

A: Breeding Red Devil Cichlids involves mimicking their natural breeding conditions, such as raising the tank temperature to around 77 degrees Fahrenheit. Females lay their eggs on flat rocks or inclined substrates, and both parents protect the eggs and fry until they can swim independently.

Q6: What do Red Devil Cichlids eat?

A: Red Devil Cichlids are omnivorous, with a diet that can include high-quality Cichlid pellets, fish flakes, and live or frozen food like krill, bloodworms, and earthworms. You’ll want to offer them a varied diet to ensure they receive all the necessary nutrients.