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Red Devil Cichlids – A Complete Guide

These Central American fish are native to the lakes of Nicaragua, Managua and Xiloa. Named Amphilophus labiatus in 1864, this fish is commonly known as the Red Devil Cichlid in the aquarium trade and rightly so because of its devilish features and the aggression of a hellhound.

This is quite a large and aggressive fish that will prove troublesome for new aquarists because of their huge aquarium size requirement and overly aggressive personality. However, Red Devil Cichlids are also known to display playful attitude and have memories of the aquarist.

The Red Devil Cichlid is an invasive species and their size, teeth and intimidating looks make it easy for them to take over an ecosystem full of similar or small sized fish. It was released in the wild in Indonesia and since then has become an invasive species.

Read on to learn more about how to care for these feisty fish and setting up an ideal aquarium for them.

Scientific NameAmphilophus labiatus
OriginCentral America
Size15 Inches long
Aquarium Size55 Gallon for individual and 200 gallon for community
Lifespan10-12 Years
Ease of CareDifficult


These natural predators have the looks to back up claims of them being ferocious beasts. The dorsal and anal fins are quite prominent and have a pointed, swept shape that aids with underwater agility. Their size is matched by their weight, these fish not only look tough but they also weight heavy at 1.2kg.

Their lips are also another prominent feature. They have a rubber-like smoothness and in the wild they are comparatively bigger then they are in captivity. No studies have so far been conducted to determine the reason behind this but scientists speculate that it has something to do with diet.

Behind their lips, they hide monstrous teeth that will rip anything apart. They help these predators to hunt their prey and tear them apart.


Their native habitats in the Nicaraguan Lakes are dark and murky, so their coloration of dark brown or grey helps them camouflage themselves from threats in the wild. Vibrant colors also exist in the wild, but they are more common in aquariums.

In captivity you will spot white, yellow and bright red variants, along with a spotted type with multiple colors. They will have prominent black tipped fins and tails.

Fish Size:

Their average size is around 15 inches. Larger compared to other freshwater fish, they will grow to full length within a matter of 3 years.

Difference between male and female:

The main difference is that of size, females are slightly smaller than males. Other differences include the nuchal hump on the forehead, it becomes visible in the wild only during breeding season, but in captivity it becomes sort of like a permanent feature. The males also have pointed genital papillae.

Life Span

They live for an estimated 10-12 years. The length of their life depends entirely on water parameters and living conditions, just like it does for every other fish.

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Despite their appearance and predatory nature, Red Devil Cichlids are not carnivores. They will eat anything you throw at them, be it meat or vegetables.

It is vital to keep them on a healthy, well balanced diet. Foods like flakes and cichlid pellets are a good start but include live or frozen food in the mix along with some vegetables (they help prevent disease) and your Red Devil Cichlids will live a long and healthy life.

Some of the recommended food items are listed below:

  • Bloodworms
  • Carotene
  • Cichlid Pellets
  • Crickets
  • Earthworms
  • Flakes
  • Krill
  • Nightcrawlers
  • Shrimp
  • Spirulina

They can also be fed mammalian meat, but be wary that mammalian meat is not a part of its natural diet and can lead to intestinal issues and Malawi Bloat. Instead, you can feed your Red Devil Cichlids beef or chicken as a reward only once a week or thrice a month.

They have a heavy food intake requirement, so it is recommended to feed them multiple times a day to keep them well fed and healthy.

Behavior and Temperament

This intimidating fish with large teeth and a body full of fearful features is a force to be reckoned with inside the aquarium. They are predators and hunt for food but they have also been seen hunting for sport and swimming around the tank, chewing on whatever can fit its mouth.

To keep them calm, you need to place them in a large tank with enough room for them to swim around in freely because a small tank will severely elevate their aggression and cause them to attack everything. They are even known to chew on aquarium decorations.

Red Devil Cichlids have a tendency to develop a bond with the aquarist. Swimming where ever he/she goes and often playing tricks to entertain them. This little devil is full of surprises and manages to keep onlookers entertained by putting on shows whenever it is in a good mood.

Aquarium and Water Parameters

The key to keeping your fish healthy is clean water and stable water parameters. These are large fish, which means that they create a lot of waste. For this reason, the aquarist needs to keep a keen eye on tank water conditions and any changes in water parameters.

Regular water changes help eliminate dangerous amounts of ammonia and nitrate levels. A 25-30% water change per week is recommended.

PH Level6.5-7.5
Water Hardness6-25 dGH
Temperature75-79 F

Tank Size:

For a single Red Devil Cichlid, a 55 gallon tank is recommended, for two a 125 gallon tank but for a community a 200 gallon tank is recommended. Large fish need lots of space to swim around freely and claim their territories for breeding and feeding, so a 200 gallon tank should be sufficient for more multiple fish including the Red Devil Cichlid.


It is always best to plan ahead before decorating a fish tank because fish like the Red Devil Cichlids will do their own redecorating once they are inside.

For the substrate, use sand so they do not hurt themselves when they dig around for food or just for fun. Any rocks you place on the substrate should be fastened using fish friendly epoxy or anything else because they like to move them around.

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Firmly fastened rocks and wood should be placed because in the wild they prefer staying in crevices and other hiding spots so they would appreciate that in captivity as well. They are predators but everyone needs a roof to hide their head under.

We would not recommend keeping plants in their aquarium because any plants that make their way in a Red Devil Cichlid tank will find itself either uprooted, shredded, eaten or simply destroyed.

Take care not to overcrowd their tank with decorations because these humongous fish like to swim around freely and that should not be hindered. When you buy them, they will appear small but with time they grow up to 15 inches, so this factor should be considered before setting up a Red Devil Cichlid tank.


When it comes to equipment, an air stone comes in handy because that not only provides flow to water but it provides oxygen to your Red Devil Cichlids. When they are in water with a healthy amount of oxygen, they display vivid and bright colors that are a sight to behold!

A dual filter is recommended, a canister filter paired with a sump setup will do just fine. They are large fish and create a lot of waste after feeding time and when they dig around in the substrate. The filter will help clean that up, along with maintaining a steady water flow.

When it comes to lighting, you can keep normal, moderate ones in the tank.

Do remember to place all your equipment and cords outside the tank. If that’s not possible, we would recommend covering everything up with a rubber protective coating so the Red Devil Cichlid does not chew on your equipment and wiring.

Tank Mates

It is recommended to keep them in a solitary tank or with a mate (they are monogamous) because their aggression and strong jaws mean that nothing is safe with them. As juveniles, Red Devil Cichlids do well with other aggressive fish but as they grow older, they go into full on berserk mode.

Many people keep them alone in tanks or as a pair. However, if you want to keep them in a community or with a number of other Red Devil Cichlids, you will need to invest in a huge tank of at least 200 gallons. Not only that, but you would have to provide enough decoration pieces for them to maintain as their territories, all the while thinking of keeping enough open space for them to swim around in freely. Numerous hiding spots and a large tank will still not guarantee the safety of other fish.

Lastly, these fish are known to even bite their keeper if given a chance so this can give you a clear image of what they will do with their tank mates, both small and large.

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It is quite easy to breed Red Devil Cichlids. They form monogamous pairs after a mating ritual much like other cichlids. The female is chased around the tank by a male and when they are ready, the female lays some 600-700 eggs on a flat rock surface or smooth substrate. Those eggs are fertilized by the male and they will hatch some 3-4 days later.

The breeding process can be sped up in captivity by cranking the temperature up to 77 F and feeding the Red Devil Cichlids protein rich food.

It is recommended to transfer the breeding pair to a breeding tank because their already extreme aggression multiplies tenfold during breeding season. Once the eggs hatch, they will need privacy to raise the fry by moving them to another safe spot inside the tank. The female guards the eggs and fry while the male forms a defensive perimeter around the breeding ground.

Red Devil Cichlid eggs are a translucent hue of green and yellow, when the fry hatch, they feed off the sack and later their parent’s skin. Once they become able to swim around freely, they can be fed food like frozen baby brine shrimp or live food.

Keep one thing in mind that when these babies grow up, they will require lots more space than their two parents because for one fully grown Red Devil, a 55 gallon tank is required.

Common Problems

Like other freshwater fish, Red Devil Cichlids are also prone to common illnesses like:

Hole in the Head Disease:

This can easily be identified by looking at the literal hole in the head of your Red Devil Cichlid. Large cichlids are prone to this disease.

Experts suggest that a nutritional deficiency can also result in this.

Clean water, a healthy and balanced diet and healthy parameters are key to avoiding this issue.


Caused by a parasite, it results in white spots on the body. Something that is easy to treat with over the counter medicine.

This can be remedied by keeping a clean tank and a stress free environment. Stress can be reduced by keeping the tank clean, giving them enough space to swim around freely and hide.

Whenever you add a new substance or fish to your tank, do remember to keep it quarantined just to make sure it does not carry any disease because adding an ill fish to your aquarium can wreak havoc in your aquarium.


Q: Do Red Devil Cichlid have teeth?

They have really sharp teeth that can bite and shred into anything.

Q: Are Midas Cichlids also Red Devil Cichlids?

They share the same aquarium name but they are two completely different fish. The Amphilophus labiatus is the true Red Devil and the Amphilaphus citrinellus is the Midas Cichlid. They differ in size (Midas are smaller) and origin.


These large killing machines require extreme care and vigilance from aquarists. They also require a huge water tank which would obviously need more maintenance.

If you want to opt for Red Devil Cichlids, we would highly advise against keeping them in community tanks unless you have experience with large, aggressive cichlids.

If you want more information regarding other cichlids, visit more of our articles and you will definitely not be disappointed.

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