Beginner-Friendly Jewel Cichlid Care: A Step-by-Step Guide

Jewel cichlid (Hemichromis bimaculatus) is a cichlid that became famous due to its beauty and aggressiveness. Of course, jewel cichlid is aggressive if it is kept together with guppies and danio. But in case when cichlid has tank mates of corresponding size and temper it’s no way a troublesome fish. The only exception is its spawning period, but who can consider a fish protecting its eggs an aggressive one?

Habitat in the wild

The jewel cichlid, also known as the African Jewel Cichlid or Hemichromis bimaculatus, belongs to the family Cichlidae. The Cichlidae family is a diverse group of freshwater fish found in various regions around the world, including Africa, Central and South America, and some parts of Asia.

Cichlids are well-known for their vibrant colors, unique behaviors, and fascinating breeding patterns. They come in various shapes and sizes, and their behaviors can range from peaceful to highly territorial and aggressive, depending on the species.

Jewel cichlid inhabits in West Africa from South Guinea to central Liberia and can be seen mainly in the rivers where it swims in the middle and bottom waters. The jewel cichlid feeds on juveniles, small fish, insects and spineless species. They are commonly found in slow-moving or stagnant waters, such as lakes, rivers, streams, and flooded areas like swamps and marshes. These habitats often have dense vegetation and submerged structures like logs and roots.

In their natural environment, jewel cichlids prefer warm waters with temperatures ranging from 24°C to 30°C (75°F to 86°F). The pH level of the water in their habitat typically ranges from slightly acidic to neutral (pH 6.0 to 7.5), and they are often found in waters with moderate hardness. It’s important to note that the water conditions and parameters can vary depending on the specific location in West Africa where they are found.

Hemichromis lifalili (jewel cichlid) vs Hemichromis bimaculatus (blood-red jewel cichlid)

Two close fish types are often described by this name – more famous Hemichromis lifalili and another one is Hemichromis bimaculatus. They are two different species of cichlids from the Hemichromis genus.

While they share some similarities, they also have distinct differences in their appearance and behavior.

  1. Hemichromis lifalili (Lifalili Cichlid or blood-red jewel cichlid):
  • Origin: Hemichromis lifalili is native to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, particularly in the region around the Lifalili River.
  • Size: Lifalili Cichlids are relatively smaller, reaching about 3 to 4 inches (7.5 to 10 centimeters) in length.
  • Coloration: These cichlids have a bright red or orange-red base color with iridescent blue scales on the upper body and fins. They also display black markings and spots on the body and fins.
  • Behavior: Lifalili Cichlids are known for being relatively peaceful compared to other Hemichromis species. However, they can still exhibit some territorial behaviors during breeding.
  1. Hemichromis bimaculatus (Jewel Cichlid):
  • Origin: Hemichromis bimaculatus, also known as the Jewel Cichlid, is native to West Africa, including regions in Nigeria, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.
  • Size: Jewel Cichlids are slightly larger than Lifalili Cichlids, growing to around 5 to 6 inches (12 to 15 centimeters) in length.
  • Coloration: Jewel Cichlids are known for their vibrant colors, which include shades of red, blue, green, and black. They often have two distinct black spots, one on the base of the caudal fin and one on the operculum (gill cover).
  • Behavior: Jewel Cichlids are more aggressive and territorial compared to Lifalili Cichlids, especially during breeding and when defending their territories.

Both species are popular choices among aquarium enthusiasts due to their striking appearance, but it’s essential to consider their behaviors and territorial tendencies when keeping them in a community aquarium. Providing adequate space, hiding spots, and compatible tank mates can help reduce aggression and promote a more harmonious environment for both species.



From the fish name it’s already clear that fish is a beautiful one. The body color is red that varies up to bright purple when the fish is exited or during its spawning period. There are greenish spots scattered around the body with a black spot in the middle.


How big do jewel cichlids get?

Jewel cichlid max size is about 13-15 cm (5-6 шт), which is rather long one for a cichlid. This size measurement typically includes the full length of the fish, from the tip of the nose to the end of the tail fin. Keep in mind that individual fish may vary in size, and some jewel cichlids may reach the upper end of this size range, while others may stay slightly smaller.


How long do jewel cichlids live?

Jewel Cichlids (Hemichromis bimaculatus) have an average lifespan of around 5 to 8 years when kept in captivity with proper care. As with any living creature, the actual lifespan can vary depending on factors such as diet, water quality, tank conditions, genetics, and overall care provided by the aquarium owner.

Scientific NameHemichromis bimaculatus
Common NamesJewel Cichlid, African Jewel Cichlid
OriginWest Africa (Nigeria, Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, etc.)
SizeUp to 5-6 inches (12-15 cm) in length
Lifespan5-8 years (can vary with proper care)
ColorationVibrant and iridescent with red, blue, green, and black hues
TemperamentModerately aggressive and territorial
DietOmnivorous, eats both live and prepared foods
Preferred WaterTemperature: 24°C to 30°C (75°F to 86°F)
ParameterspH: 6.0 to 7.5, moderate hardness
Aquarium SizeAt least 30 gallons for a pair or small community
Tank SetupPlenty of hiding spots, rocks, driftwood, and vegetation
BreedingMouthbrooders, females carry eggs and fry in their mouths
CompatibilityCan be aggressive towards other tankmates
Difficulty LevelIntermediate

Difficulties in keeping

In general jewel cichlid care isn’t difficult. The thing is that amateurs often buy this fish because of its bright color and they keep it together with small fishes in a community tank. In its turn jewel cichlid eventually extirpates all the small fishes in a tank.

This fish is recommended for African cichlid fans or for the aquarists which know exactly what kind of cichlid is this one.

Care and keeping in a tank

Tank size

The minimum recommended tank size for a pair of jewel cichlids or a small community of these fish is around 30 gallons (113 liters), since jewel cichlid is a territory-dependent fish and an aggressive one. Providing this amount of space allows them to establish territories and reduce potential aggression. A lot of covers, flowerpots, caves, tubes, snags and other places where the fish likes hiding are required in the tank.

Jewel cichlids can be territorial and aggressive, especially during breeding and spawning. Having enough space and providing suitable hiding spots and territories within the tank can help minimize conflicts between fish.

If you plan to keep a larger group or multiple pairs of jewel cichlids, you should consider a larger tank to accommodate their territorial nature and avoid overcrowding. As a general guideline, adding 10 gallons (38 liters) of tank space per additional pair of jewel cichlids is a reasonable approach.

Tank decor

Sandy bottom is preferable because the cichlid likes digging it and the water becomes muddy. Clean water is important for jewel cichlid just as it is for all African cichlids. Taking into account the diet and its habit to dig the bottom it’s better to use an external filter. Also frequent water renew and bottom siphonage are needed.

This cichlid isn’t good with plants, because they dig them out and damage leaves. It’s preferable to put stiff leaved types of greenery in the tank. Something like Anubias and big plants in flowerpots.The fish prefers hard water but not harder then 12 dGH, however they adapt well to rather hard water.

Water parameters

Maintaining proper water parameters is crucial for the health and well-being of jewel cichlids. While they can adapt to a range of conditions, it’s best to provide them with stable and suitable water parameters to ensure their optimal growth and behavior. Here are the recommended water parameters:

  1. Temperature: 24°C to 30°C (75°F to 86°F) – They prefer slightly warmer water within this range.
  2. pH Level: 6.0 to 7.5 – Jewel Cichlids can tolerate slightly acidic to neutral water conditions.
  3. Hardness: Moderate to slightly hard – A general hardness (GH) level between 5 to 15 dGH is appropriate.
  4. Ammonia, Nitrite, and Nitrate: 0 ppm – Ammonia and nitrite should be kept at 0 ppm as they are toxic to fish. Nitrate levels should be kept as low as possible, ideally below 20 ppm.
  5. Filtration and Water Quality: Jewel Cichlids are sensitive to poor water quality, so a good filtration system is essential to maintain clean and healthy water. Regular water changes, at least 25% every 1 to 2 weeks, can help keep the water parameters in check.
  6. Tank Size: A minimum tank size of 30 gallons is recommended for a pair of Jewel Cichlids. If you plan to keep them with other tank mates, a larger tank with adequate hiding spots is essential to minimize aggression.

Regularly test the water parameters using appropriate aquarium test kits to ensure that they remain within the recommended ranges. By providing stable and appropriate water conditions, you can help your jewel cichlids thrive and live a healthy and happy life in the aquarium.


Jewel cichlid gladly eats all types of feed, but to get the maximum of its color it’s desirable to feed the fish with live feed: blood worm, tubifex, white worms, fish frames etc. – this isn’t a full list of what this cichlid can feed on. Plant feed can be added to the diet – lettuce leaves or feed with spirulina addition. This helps provide fiber and other essential nutrients.

Look for pellets or flakes specifically formulated for cichlids, as they contain essential nutrients and vitamins needed for their growth and overall health. These can be a staple food in their diet.

Tank mates

This type of cichlid fish is famous for its aggressiveness and territory-dependent temper, especially during spawning period. The jewel cichlid is kept in couples, however partners have to chose each other themselves from the group of juveniles. Avoid keeping small fish, especially ones that may be mistaken as food, as Jewel Cichlids may view them as prey and potentially harm or eat them.

Here are some suitable tank mate options to consider:

  1. Robust Cichlids: Some other medium-sized and similarly robust cichlid species may work well as tank mates. Examples include other peaceful or semi-aggressive African cichlids like some species of the African Rift Lake cichlids. In large tanks it’s possible to add some other tank mates such as african cichlids – african butterfly peacock, lionhead cichlid, aulonocara, kribensis and oher mbunas.
  2. Bottom Dwellers: Bottom-dwelling fish that inhabit different regions of the aquarium can be compatible with red jewel cichlids. Some good options include Corydoras catfish, Bristlenose plecos, or other non-aggressive catfish species.
  3. Peaceful Schooling Fish: Peaceful schooling fish that stay in the middle and upper regions of the tank can be good companions. Consider species like tetras, danios, and some types of barbs (like tiger barb).
  4. Larger Characins: Some larger characin species like buenos aires tetras or congo tetras may be suitable tank mates, as they can tolerate the occasional aggressive behavior from the jewel cichlids.

Gender differences: male vs female

It’s very difficult to see between jewel cichlid male and female. It’s considered that the female is smaller in size and it has more roundish abdomen. Sadly, there’s no easy and precise way to define the gender.

However, as they reach maturity, some differences become more apparent:

  1. Size: In general, male tend to be slightly larger than females. Males may have a more elongated and robust body compared to the females.
  2. Coloration: When it comes to coloration, male and female often exhibit differences. Mature males tend to have more vibrant and intense colors, especially during breeding or when displaying their dominance. They may display more reds and blues in their pattern.
  3. Fins: The fins of male may be more pointed and elongated, especially the dorsal and anal fins. In contrast, female fins might be more rounded.
  4. Black Spots: The black spot or “eye spot” on the side of the body is a common characteristic. In males, the black spot is usually larger and more prominent than in females.
  5. Behavior: During the breeding season, males often become more territorial and aggressive. They may display elaborate courtship behaviors and establish territories to attract females for spawning.

While these differences can be helpful in identifying the sex of mature jewel cichlids, it’s not always foolproof. In some cases, the differences may be subtle or vary depending on the individual fish. The most reliable way to identify the sex of jewel cichlids is to observe their behaviors during the breeding season or to look for physical characteristics as mentioned above in sexually mature individuals.


Jewel cichlid is a monogamous fish, so once it has chosen its mate, the fish will breed only with it. The problem is to find a female (it’s difficult to be distinguished from a male) and the one that will suit the male, otherwise they will kill each other.

These cichlids are very aggressive to each other if their mate doesn’t suit them. First, when you put the couple mates together it’s very important to watch how they behave. Otherwise, you may find one of the fishes with damaged fins, injured or dead.

If the couple mates match each other, male prepares to spawn and its color becomes more bright. In this case, it’s crucial to watch the female since the male may kill her if she’s not ready for spawning. The female lays up to 500 eggs on a surface purified in advance. Sometimes cichlid breeds inside a flowerpot, but more often on a flat and smooth stone.

Ich fry appears in 2 days and the parents take care of it. Female gathers ich fry and hides it somewhere else till the time the fry eats all content from its umbilical vesicle and starts swimming.

This will happen in about three days from the time the ich fry appears. The male will guard the juveniles and create some kind of perimeter which no fish will be allowed to cross. The female will also participate.

The juveniles gladly feed on brine shrimp eggs, but the juveniles grow with rather different pattern and they eat each other. They have to be sorted. The parents will watch the juveniles till they become about 1 cm long and then they leave them.