Cichlid fish are a colorful, popular freshwater family of fish. Their natural native habitats are primarily in Africa, South America, and Central America. Cichlid fish are known for their vibrant color and aggressive personality. Their eye-catching colors and dynamic, active tank behavior makes them popular aquarium fish. Because of their large size and territorial behavior, cichlids require larger tanks than, say, nano fish. Still, there are a few that can be accommodated in a 29 gallon tank. I’ve put together the best cichlids for a 29 gallon tank for you, and some considerations for you to keep in mind while stocking a tank of this size.
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2. How Many Cichlids Can I Put In A 29 Gallon Tank?
How many fish you can stock in any tank depends on the size, temperament, and needs of the individual species.
Let’s start with size: You’ve probably heard the “1 inch of fish per gallon” guideline, and if you’ve read this blog, you know that I don’t recommend it. That is to say, I don’t recommend it as a way to stock a tank (more on that in a moment). But if you’re applying it to strictly size, a 29 gallon fish tank could house 5 to 7 small cichlids.
Aaaand that is where it ends when it comes to that guideline, because there are several other factors to take into account too. Namely, temperament (more aggressive fish may need more space), age (new fish from the store are usually juveniles who will grow larger), species-specific needs (for example, angelfish require tanks with more vertical height to accommodate them), and bioload. For example, goldfish require a larger tank than the “1in/1gal” guideline because they have a very high bioload, which pollutes the tank very quickly.
Some cichlids grow to be quite large. Don’t just choose based on what’s in person at the shop, as they’ll grow; Instead, research the individual species ahead of time.
While there are certainly dwarf cichlids that can live in a 29 or 30 gallon tank, I actually recommend upgrading to a 55 gallon tank if possible. It’s a better size for cichlids.
3. Best Setup For Cichlids In A 29-Gallon Tank: Our Recommendations
There are dozens and dozens of potential tank configurations for a 29 gallon cichlid tank. For the species I’ve listed below, be aware that these fish can’t be housed all together interchangeably. They need to be part of a carefully planned cichlid tank. If the species tolerates it, you can keep two as a pair, and add a few other carefully selected fish that do well with cichlids, such as a single Siamese algae eater or a small school of clown loaches.
a. African Cichlids
1. Lemon Cichlid (Neolamprologus leleupi)
Lemon cichlids are a common aquarium fish known for vibrant yellow coloration. Their active behavior in the tank also makes them a popular choice for hobbyists. These fish like spending time in the cracks and rocky caves. A lemon cichlid can grow 3-4 inches in captivity (8 to 10 cm).
This fish is not a picky eater, and lives on an omnivorous diet that includes pellets, frozen fish feed, and flakes.
2. Julie Cichlid (Julidochromis)
Julie cichlids are famous for their sensational black-and-white geometrical patterns and cigar-like body shape. This cichlid loves spending time inside and around rocks. They prefer to protect their offspring and, like most cichlids, are territorial. Add a generous amount of aquatic plants to provide hangout spots and good cover for your Jualies.
3. Ocellated Shell Dweller (Lamprologus Ocellatus)
Shell dwellers are among the smallest known cichlids, clocking in at 1–2 inches (2.5–5 cm). As the name suggests, this cichlid prefers to breed and spend time in empty shells (usually snail shells) instead of rocks and caves. They are much-beloved in the hobby because they are sooo protective of their shell that they’ll even bury it! What’s more, they may bury surrounding shells to prevent other fish from moving in. 😛
As such. Ocellated shell dwellers love to dig the substrate, so you should use sand as a substrate if you’re keeping them. Similarly, plants that don’t require substrate (Java ferns, floating aquatic plants, etc) are a good idea here as that way the shell dwellers won’t dig them up.
4. Fairy Cichlid (Neolamprologus Brichardi)
The Fairy Cichlid was the first African cichlid introduced to aquarists. Their stunning and astonishing appearance and relatively peaceful conduct make them a popular choice for fishkeepers.
These cichlids can grow up to 5 inches, and don’t have any special care requirements. They can thrive in a 29 gallon tank and are a good choice for a tank of this size, for both new and advanced aquarists.
5. Rainbow Kribs (Kribensis)
Rainbow kribs are a well-known and much loved species of cichlids, and they are truly gorgeous to behold. I love the look of this fish. They have bold black and white stripes that run the length of their body, with large, almost neon splashes of yellow and pink from face to abdomen. Both fins are tipped with orange and yellow, resembling fire, with black spots.
Rainbow kribs are among my top choice for a 29 gallon tank, and not only are they stunning to look at, but they’re easy to care for and are the rare peaceful community cichlid!! You can even keep them with dither fish like little barbs, danios, and guppies. Amazing.
b. South American Cichlids
1. German Blue Ram (Mikrogeophagus ramirezi)
German Blue Ram is another dwarf cichlid with a remarkable color scheme and patterns. It has black markings on the body, a yellow head, and red eyes. In addition, the speckling on the body and fins catches instant attention.
Unlike rainbow kribs, they are picky about their tank mates and will need to be carefully accommodated, as they’re sensitive to water parameters and fluctuations. German blue rams are not a beginner fish. Suitable tank mates include discus, sterbai catfish, and cardinal tetras.
2. Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosus)
The Bolivian ram is an underrated dwarf cichlid. Their size (3 inches) makes them a perfect fit for a 29-gallon tank. Unlike German blue rams, Bolivian rams can live in cooler temperatures of 73-78F. They’re a fairly peaceful fish, and do well with peaceful schooling fish like cory catfish and livebearers.
3. Golden Dwarf Cichlid (Nannacara anomala)
Golden dwarf cichlids are great beginner fish, and an excellent choice if you’re new to cichlids. They’re very hardy, easy to keep, and reasonably easy to breed. They’re super peaceful, with the exception of females when it comes to protecting fry (best to have a separate tank for this if possible).
Fun fact: The mother fish actually uses body language to communicate with fry. Neat, right?
4. Lyretail Checkerboard Cichlids (Dicrossus filamentosus)
Lyretail checkerboard cichlids (also known as “chessboard cichlids”) get their name from the chess-like patterns on their bodies.They do require specific water parameters to thrive in a fish tank, and live in soft water with a lower pH. You can put catappa leaves and driftwood to naturally acidify the water of the aquarium.
They’re a shy fish that need lots of hiding spots, and a planted tank. While they’re definitely a good option for a 29 gallon tank, they’re not always easy to find (mostly because they’re not easy to breed).
5. Dwarf Cichlids (Apistogramma)
Apistogramma are available in a wide variety of colors and patterns, and they’re a good choice for a 29 gallon tank – Although some can be territorial, so tank mates will need to be chosen wisely. They need slightly warm water temperatures (82°F), and like hanging out at the bottom of the tank.
Cockatoo cichlids are a popular apistogramma in the aquarium hobby, as they have a tall, colorful, spiky dorsal fin that looks very much like a cockatoo’s feathers!
4. Other Options For 29 Gallon Tank/30 Gallon Tank
These tank sizes fall under the “medium” category in the aquarium hobby. 29 gallon tanks can accommodate a few dwarf cichlids, and even a couple of medium-sized ones. Other options for configurations include mbuna cichlids (4 only), rainbowfish (5 to 7), and electric yellow labs (6 to 8).
Be aware that cichlids are aggressive, and won’t hesitate to eat smaller, more peaceful fish like tetras. Choose wisely when stocking your tank. This is also a time when fish forums are VERY useful, especially if you don’t have a local aquarium store nearby. You’re likely to find experienced fishkeepers who can help you determine safe configurations based on the species you want to keep.
a. What Cichlids Can Go In A 30-Gallon Tank?
Because this is only 1 gallon larger than a 29 gallon tank, a 30 gallon tank can house all of the species on this list. Just remember that cichlids are territorial and each species has their own needs. You can keep dwarf cichlids, electric yellow labs (6 to 8), peacock cichlids (4 to 6 fish), and angelfish in a 30-gallon tank.
b. Can An Oscar Grow In A 29-Gallon Tank?
Technically yes, an oscar can grow temporarily in a 29 gallon tank, but it will need to be moved to a minimum 55 gallon tank in order to be healthy. They grow up to 12 inches in length. For every new Oscar added, you’ll need 20 to 30 gallons more. For example, if you’re planning to keep 4 Oscars, you’ll need a 120-gallon tank.
c. How Long Does a Cichlid Take To Grow?
The growth and size of cichlid fish depend on the species, as well as water quality, water parameters, and diet. On average, most species of cichlids reach maximum size within 1 to 3 years of age. Some species of cichlids take more or less time to reach maximum size.
For example, dwarf cichlids reach full size within a year – But discus can take 3 years to reach full size.
I strongly recommend paying attention to extensive care while they’re juveniles, to ensure healthy growth. Clean, stable water, and a balanced diet are key here.
d. What Is A Good Tank Size For African Cichlids?
The true answer to this question is that it depends on the species. For example, yellow lab cichlids can live in a 29 gallon tank (although 40 or 50 gallons is better for them). Most African cichlids grow to be pretty large, and need at least a 55 or 75 gallon tank.
Again, you can remember the “1in/1gal” guideline:
4 to 6 inches: 45-gallon tank.
8 inches: 55 gallon tank
..and so on
BUT remember that that’s not the way to stock a tank: Bioload, temperament, and individual species requirements are all part what determines tank size.
A fish tank of 29 gallons can only hold a small community of dwarf cichlids. The exact number of fish to keep in this size tank depends on the size and type of the cichlids. Many species of cichlids grow large and demand more space to thrive. Many African (Lemon cichlids, julidochromis, ocellated shell dweller, and fairy cichlid) and South American (German blue ram, bolivian ram, golden dwarf cichlids and lyretail checkerboard cichlids) cichlids are small enough to fit and thrive in a 29-gallon tank. That said, I do recommend going with a larger tank (55 gallons) if you want to keep cichlids. It’s better and healthier for the fish.