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Tank Mates for Lionhead Cichlids

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The lionhead cichlid goes by several names, including the blockhead cichlid and the buffalo cichlid. All these common names refer to the hump on the fish's head, which is more pronounced in males. Like many cichlids, these fish have a reputation for aggression and need carefully chosen tank mates.


Medium to large catfish can share a tank with lionhead cichlids. Robust, river-dwelling catfish prefer the same tank parameters as lionheads. Some of the river-dwelling members of the Synodontis genus easily fit this bill. For example, S. brichardi comes from the same rivers as the lionhead cichlid and can comfortably share an aquarium with these fish. Medium-size plecos might also make good tank mates.

Schooling Fish

Some larger mid-water schooling fish can also make acceptable tank mates for lionhead cichlids. This includes larger, river-dwelling barbs and tetras. For example, the Alestiid tetras, which includes Distichodus characin, can hold their own in an aquarium alongside lionhead cichlids. Again, the key is to include species that prefer river conditions and that are robust enough to handle the cichlid's aggression. Very small tetras like the neon tetra might wind up as snacks.

Other Cichlids

You should try to keep lionhead cichlids with other members of the cichlid family only in aquariums larger than 30 gallons. In general, you do not want to mix cichlids from different areas, for a number of reasons. Most of the cichlids in Africa come from the Rift Valley lakes, to the point that when an aquarium hobbyist says "African cichlid," it is understood to mean these cichlids. However, West African cichlids like lionheads prefer soft, acidic water, unlike the hard, alkaline water preferred by Rift Valley cichlids. If you want to keep these fish with other cichlids, stick to similarly-sized West African species—those about 4 to 7 inches long.


Lionhead cichlids can get very aggressive with their own species. A male-female pair will usually get along fine. However, keeping more than a single pair of these cichlids will usually result in fights. You may be able to pull this off in an aquarium bigger than 30 gallons, but keep an eye on your fish. You will need to watch for signs of aggression if you keep more than a pair of these cichlids.