What’s the Best Cichlids Water Temp?

by | Blog, Cichlids, Freshwater Fish

The best cichlids’ water temp is one that reflects their natural biotope. Cichlids are from Africa and South America, where the waters are warm and toasty. In order to create the ideal environment for our cichlid friends, we’ll want to match the water temperature as closely as possible to that of their native environment. Stability of cichlids’ water temperature is key. If the water gets too cold for tropical fish, their immune system slows down and makes them vulnerable to disease and parasites. Tank temperatures can fluctuate throughout the day/night, so an aquarium heater is essential!


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What’s the best cichlids water temp?

The proper temperature for cichlids is between 74-82°F.

Remember that degrees can vary according to the type of cichlid you have, and whether it comes from South America (slightly more mild, but still very warm!) or Africa.

African cichlids live in a fairly warm environment in their native habitat, and African cichlid tank at home should reflect that.

African cichlids are a tropical freshwater fish that need a stable water temperature; You definitely need a heater if you’re going to replicate the natural environment that this fish needs! A heater will keep the water temperature stable and protect the fish’s metabolism. If the water gets too cold, you’ll see slower fry growth and less spawning, and the color of your fish may change. These are indications that the tank isn’t at the correct ambient temperature.

Maybe you don’t care about the color of your fish, but you should care about the fish’s well-being. After all, they rely on you to keep their aquarium water healthy.

Personally, I wouldn’t be keeping African cichlids at a temperature any lower than 76-78°F.

Perch Discus

Perch Cichlid Discus Photo by WikiImages on Pixabay

NOTE: Please remember that the ideal temperature for cichlids depends on the type of cichlid you have! Remember to use the correct temperature for the specific type of cichlid you’re purchasing.

One clever “hack” to safeguard cichlids’ temperature is to place two heaters in your cichlid’s tank, each at half strength. That way, if one of the heaters fails (which does happen!) the tank will cool off much more slowly, buying you time to notice the problem and fix it before your fish can be significantly affected.

How cold can African cichlids tolerate?

Not very. The lower the temperature gets, the more stress it causes African cichlids and their immune system. An African cichlid was made for warmer waters (between 72-82°F, depending on the type) and since this isn’t the ambient water temperature for most standing tank water, you need a heater to replicate it. You could maybe “get away with” 70-72°F, but your fish will be slower, more likely to develop ich, and generally less happy.

The more extreme the low temperature is, the more likely you are to experience die-offs. 🙁

Other factors can come into play when it comes to cichlids’ cold tolerance and ability to bounce back from unintended temperature fluctuations, such as water chemistry. For example, one study found that non-native cichlids did not survive the return to ambient temperature from a lower temperature when the water salinity was high. Water temperatures are definitely a crucial factor for these fish, but there are other aspects of replicating their natural habitat that are interrelated and affect how African cichlids will respond.

The more stress placed on an African cichlid (or any fish for that matter), the less likely they’ll be able to rebound well from temperature changes.

FUN FACT: Researchers have recently identified that the Chameleon cichlid (Cichlasoma dimerus, also called “chanchita”) has an extremely high cold tolerance relative to other cichlids. If you want to nerd out on that with me, you can check it out here.

Blue Cichlid

African Cichlid (Cobalt) Photo by Kevin McIver on Pixabay

What happens when the water is too cold for cichlids?

If water becomes too cold for cichlid fish, they will start to (literally) slow down. Their metabolism slows, their immune system slows, and they might appear sluggish or lethargic. They’re more likely to develop health problems such as ich or parasites, and they won’t eat very well.

TIP: If you had a heater failure and are trying to get your tank temp back up, do this slowly in increments! No sudden changes, remember? And only feed the fish according to how much they eat, as otherwise the uneaten food will pollute the tank.

If you have young fish (called fry) then their growth will be very slow in cold temperature water. And if you want to breed your cichlids, good luck with that: Breeding is nearly impossible when the temperature is too low.

Should I leave the aquarium heater on all the time?

The short answer is: Probably. The full answer is that it depends on where you live and your general aquarium set up. The goal here isn’t how often the heater is turned on or off, but rather, it’s to maintain an ideal aquarium water temperature that your African cichlids need in order to stay alive and healthy.

The best aquarium heaters have calibrated thermostats, such as Tronic heaters. This means that the heater will run until it reaches the specified temp, and then will turn off. Similarly, it’ll kick back on when the water starts to cool off and drop below that number. This prevents sudden changes and maintains the warmer water temperature cichlids need. Heaters are always important, but particularly so in winter months.

I like the method of having two aquarium heaters both at half-power, because it’s a safeguard against drastic water changes if your single heater were to fail overnight.

TIP: It’s a good idea to place heaters inside a plastic “cage” so that fish don’t end up burning themselves on it accidentally.


Can cichlids survive cold water?

Nope, nope, and nope. Cichlids are native to Africa and South America and their toasty, balmy water temperatures. The ideal water temperature for these fish are the high 70’s (°F) and the colder it gets, the less healthy they becomes. If you’re allergic to aquarium heaters and want to have cold water only, then you should check out other species more suited to cold water temperatures. But as for the cichlids, their ideal environment is a summery 74-82°F.

Orange Cichlid

It might have a terminal mouth, but this is no goldfish! It’s an African Cichlid (Orange Blotch Zebra) | Photo by Modman on Pixabay

Do cichlids like warm water? What temp is too hot for African cichlids?

Yes, cichlids love warm water! Most cichlids that you buy for your home aquarium originate from Africa, such as Lake Tanganyika and Lake Malawi, which are places with warm air and water temps.

You can have too much of a good thing, though, and while I don’t know what the exact die-off point is for these fish, I’ve known of people who experienced cichlid health problems or die-offs above 88-90°F. The temp that’s too hot for African cichlids is 88°F. The best temperature is 74-82°F.

If the temperature becomes too hot, then the fish will likely appear agitated or hyperactive, often displaying aggressive behaviors. To cool down a tank that’s become too hot:


  • Turn fans on and point them towards the tank, blowing across the surface of the water.
  • Keep the tank out of direct sunlight.

  • Turn off any lights in or around the aquarium.

  • Some people will float an ice pack, but if you do this, be careful to 1) Monitor the temperature so that it doesn’t drop too quickly, and 2) Ensure that it is clean and not introducing potential pathogens to the environment.

For a deep dive into water temperatures for African cichlids in particular (remember, they’re different than South American cichlids!) check out the video below:


The best water temp for cichlids is between 74-82°F and this is the optimum range to keep them healthy and happy. You really don’t want these fish to be in environments lower than 72°F or higher than 88°F (c’mon, it’s too hot even for us! 🙂 Using aquarium heaters for these fish is a must, especially in colder climates. Avoid big temperature fluctuations and monitor your fish’s behavior for any changes that might indicate your aquarium thermostat and/or heater isn’t working properly:

  • Sluggishness, lethargy, not swimming or appearing to “rest” all the time, and inactivity can be signs of water getting too cold for the cichlids.
  • Ich, parasites, and disease can also be a sign of the water getting too cold, as it lowers their immune system.
  • Hyperactivity, aggression, and hovering near the surface to breathe can be behavioral signs of the water getting too hot.

Redundancy is good thing here, because it creates safeguards against unexpected surprises like waking up to die-off. Use the two-heater hack, check your water parameters often, and use more than one tool to monitor the water temp. Your cichlids will thank you for it!



To say that I’m obsessed with all things saltwater is a bit of an understatement. Aquarium Passion has served freshwater and saltwater aquarium hobbyists for over 10 years, and I'm committed to keeping the information accurate and free. My post-bac certification in Sustainability informs my writing about aquarium conservation efforts. When I'm not writing at AP, I'm out in the ocean or researching weird fish.


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