The Red Devil cichlid is a freshwater fish species that is being seen more often in pet stores. They are not picky when it comes to water parameters and their intense colors draw the eye.
Red Devil cichlids avoid hiding places, preferring to stay out in the open where they can watch all activity around their aquarium.
And if you are lucky enough to get a pair the breeding process is fascinating to watch. Let’s dive into what makes this such a popular fish for cichlid keepers.
What is a Red Devil Cichlid?
Red Devil cichlids are found in Nicaraguan lakes in Central America. Unlike other species of fish they are endemic (meaning they are found nowhere else in the world) to Lake Nicaragua and Lake Managua. They live alongside Jaguar cichlids, Umbee cichlids, and other aggressive fish that are even larger.
There is also another cichlid that is sometimes sold as the Red Devil: Amphilophus citrinellus. It is better known as the Midas Cichlid. While it is a close relative of true Red Devil cichlids the Midas cichlid is a bulkier freshwater fish.
Midas cichlids also have a much larger nuchal hump on their heads, similar to a Flowerhorn Cichlid. Since the two species will either fight or interbreed it is best to keep them separate from each other.
Like other large Central American cichlids Red Devils are feisty fish. They may bully other fish because they are quite territorial and have sharp teeth. Red Devil cichlids also enjoy dig and often make a mess of any aquascaping.
That said, they are personable, bright red fish with a striking appearance that will live for several years if well cared for. Red Devil cichlids are also hardy and will even recognize their owners.
- Common Names: Red Devil Cichlid, Red Devil Fish
- Scientific Name: Amphilophus labiatus (and sometimes A. citrinellus)
- Natural Habitat: Nicaraguan lakes in Central America (Lake Nicaragua and Lake Managua)
- Red Devil Fish Size: 15 inches
- Aquarium Size: 75+ Gallons
- Temperament: Aggressive Fish
- Ease of Care: Easy to Moderate
Red Devil Cichlid Tank Size and Setup
A single fish that is full grown with no tank mate needs at least 75 gallons of space. A juvenile Red Devil cichlid will live in an aquarium as small as 20 gallons. But even when young they will stress out their tank mates with aggressive behavior.
Some websites suggest 55 gallons as a minimum for adults. But these are large fish that will grow larger than 12 inches. Since a 55 gallon tank is 12 inches wide, you need a tank setup that allows your full grown Red Devil fish to turn around.
That said, a massive tank is not required unless you want to keep a Red Devil with other fish. If you want a community tank with other cichlids then you will need an even larger tank setup since all of these fish are territorial.
If the setup is a small tank then the largest and most aggressive fish will claim the entire tank. The smaller fish will then end up being bullied to death even if they are the same species.
Aquarium Plants and Substrate
Another complication to setting up a Red Devil cichlid tank is that these fish enjoy redecorating. Like almost all large cichlids the Red Devil will push the substrate around.
And they will uproot plants, using their mouths to pluck them up and leaving them to float in the water column. Even lead weights won’t be heavy enough to keep aquatic plants in place.
Your best option is to use epiphytic plants like Java Fern or Anubias. Epiphytes are plants that grow attached to hard surfaces like driftwood and rocks instead of rooted in the gravel. These plants also have leaves tough enough to resist even aggressive cichlids with big teeth.
Fine sand can be used in a Red Devil cichlid aquarium as long as you accept that most of it will end up in large piles. Your Devil cichlid will try and dig through it all the way to the aquarium glass.
Red Devil Cichlid Water Conditions
Like other fish from Central America (such as Platies and Convict Cichlids) the Red Devil cichlid prefers neutral to alkaline water conditions (pH 7.0-8.5+).
The General Hardness (GH) should be around 10 to 15 degrees GH. You should use sedimentary and igneous rocks as decorations in the fish tank to buffer the water towards alkalinity.
A water temperature of 73-79° F is ideal for a Red Devil cichlid. Any warmer or cooler will cause them stress.
Feeding Red Devil Cichlids
Red Devil fish eat pretty much anything small enough to fit in their mouths. As carnivores they feed on insect larvae, snails, small fish, worms, shrimp, and other animals in the wild.
Red Devil cichlids born in captivity are not at all picky, though. They eat fish flakes, cichlid pellets, and other prepared foods as well.
Just be sure to choose formulas that use animal protein as a foundation – fish meal, krill powder, salmon, squid, etc. If you see corn, soy, wheat, or potato starch in the first two ingredients it is better to choose a different blend for your Red Devil cichlids.
Should I Offer Live Foods?
A balanced diet does not need to include live food since you can buy just about any live food in frozen form. Some aquarists offer feeder fish to their Red Devil cichlids.
But I don’t recommend doing this unless you raise your feeder fish. Store-bought feeder fish are kept in dirty, crowded conditions and are loaded with parasites. These sick fish pass on their germs to anything that eats them.
The occasional cricket, earthworm, or other treat is a welcome addition to a Red Devil cichlid’s diet, however.
Red Devil Cichlid Tank Mates
The best Red Devil cichlid tank mates are fish that are aggressive as well. Larger cichlids that will defend themselves are the best choice. Most other large Central American cichlids at full length are a match for a Red Devils fish.
Some species to consider include the Jaguar Cichlid (Parachromis managuensis), the Jack Dempsey (Rocio octofasciata), and the Quetzal Cichlid (Vieja melanurus). Even the smaller Convict cichlids (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) have enough of an aggressive nature to survive.
If you want a few non-aggressive freshwater fish then choose species that are fast moving and swim in the middle to upper water column. These dither fish add activity and color to the tank.
Just make sure your tank size is spacious enough to give them room to flee if your Red cichlid is feeling more aggressive than usual. Larger dither fish are ideal, including Giant Danios (Devario aequipinnatus), Silver Dollar Fish, and Tinfoil Barbs (Barbonymus schwanenfeldii).
But what if you already have a Red Devil cichlid and want to add new fish? Changing the decorations in a large tank with cichlids will reset their pecking order.
I recommend doing this when adding a new fish to an established tank since it will be bullied by the other fish. Just be aware that you might see fighting in all of your other fish when doing so, as this video demonstrates:
Breeding Red Devil Cichlids
Adding other Red Devil cichlids is the first major challenge you need to overcome because these fish have an aggressive nature. But it is the way you will witness the caregiving behavior that cichlids provide their young after they lay eggs.
One way to get a breeding pair is to keep several younger Red Devils together in a spacious tank. As they reach sexual maturity a pair will form. At this point you will need to remove the other cichlids because the pair will start attacking them.
You can also set up a divider and allow a pair to share a tank and get used to one another. But this method should be tried with caution. Once you introduce them they may fight right away. Always introduce the male to the female’s side of the tank since he is much larger than she is.
Like most cichlids Red Devil pairs will choose a flat rock or other hard surface to deposit their eggs. Once laid the pair will defend the eggs and fry so it is best to remove every fish from the tank. Even your fingers may be bitten when cleaning the aquarium. Which may draw blood; Red Devil cichlid teeth are not small.
Red Devils are a challenge to keep if you enjoy community tanks. These fish are notorious bullies and need a lot of space to claim. But if you have the patience to deal with their aggression? Then you will find the Red Devil cichlid to be a hardy pet that will give years of enjoyment.
More Frequently Asked Questions About Red Devil Cichlids
If both fish are the same size the best way is to compare the dorsal and anal fins. A male Red Devil cichlid will have more pointed fins than a female Red Devil. He will also have an enlarged nuchal hump on his forehead.
Red Devils do live up to their name as they are one of the more aggressive cichlid species out there. Since Red Devils grow very large even one fish may do a lot of damage to its tank mates.
Keeping one fish by itself is often a good idea. If the tank is smaller than 90 gallons then the Red Devil may even kill any fish you try adding to the aquarium. In a large tank setup you may have more luck keeping Red Devils with other freshwater fish.