Red Empress Cichlid [Care Guide] – Size, Breeding, Tank Mates & More

The Red Empress Cichlid is a beautiful freshwater fish that is perfect for any aquarium. Learn how to look after these wonderful fish here.

Quick Facts

In a rush? Check out the quick facts about Red Empress Cichlid below.

Fish Info

Scientific NameProtomelas taeniolatus
Common NamesHaplochromis red empress, Red empress cichlid, spindle hap, red hump eartheater
AppearanceReddish-orange color. Markings in blue, yellow, and brown.
DifficultyThe Red Empress Cichlid is a relatively easy fish to take care of.
DistributionThe red empress cichlid is widely distributed throughout the Africa rift lake area.
LifespanThe average lifespan of a Red Empress Cichlid in captivity is five years.
TemperamentThe red empress cichlid is a relatively peaceful African cichlid.
Keep in Groups ofAt least four, including at least one male and three females.
Tank MatesBlood parrot cichlids, Venustus cichlids, Ropefish, Pictus catfish, Livingston’s cichlids
DietRed empress cichlid are omnivorous fish that feed on algae and invertebrates in the wild.
LengthThe length of a red empress cichlid is about 15 cm.
Sexual DimorphismThe male is significantly bigger than the female and has more brightly colored extended dorsal, anal, and pelvic fins.
Breeding DifficultyRed empress cichlids are not difficult to breed.

Water/Tank Recommendations

Water TypeFreshwater
Water TemperatureThe ideal water temperature for red empress cichlid is 73 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit (the sweet spot is around 77-79 degrees Fahrenheit). In Celsius, this would be 23 to 28 degrees.
Water pHThe ideal water pH for red empress cichlid is 7.5 to 8.5.
Water HardnessThe ideal water hardness for red empress cichlid is around 8 dGH.
Tank sizeThe minimum Recommended Tank Size for Red Empress Cichlid is 75 gallons, and the recommended tank size is 200 gallons.


Whether you’re an experienced aquarist or a beginner just getting started, Red Empress Cichlids are a fish that you should definitely consider.

With their beautiful color and low level of difficulty regarding care requirements, there’s really no reason not to get one!

In this guide, we’ll go over everything you need to know about these fish. From their size and appearance to breeding tips and tank recommendations (there are plenty), this is your one-stop shop for all things Red Empress.

By the time you’re done reading this, Red Empress Cichlid will be on your must-have list! Let’s get started.

About Red Empress Cichlid

The Red Empress Cichlid is a beautiful freshwater fish. This type of cichlid can be found all throughout Africa, living in lakes and rivers with deep waters. They mainly eat algae growing on rocks and other surfaces, but they’ll also consume small invertebrates from time to time as well. The most common variety is red or orange-red colored with blue markings.

Who discovered the red empress cichlid?

The illustrious Dr. Paul Loiselle, a renowned ichthyologist, and fish biologist, detected the red empress cichlid in his late 1980s research of the African Great Lakes region’s cichlids – specifically that of Lake Malawi. This now-famous species is also known as the red hump eartheater.


Red Empress Cichlids are beautiful fish with a lot of vibrant colors. They have a reddish-orange body that’s covered in stripes. The most striking part of the coloration is these stripes, which are blue and yellow and run along the side and belly area.

These colorful markings are more visible when you introduce males to females in your tank.

Like all other types of cichlid fish, Red Empress Cichlids have pointed dorsal fin atop their heads. Their mouths protrude out like an arrowhead as well! This is called prognathism, which gives them a unique look compared to other freshwater species.

Their Length

The average length of Red Empress Cichlids is about 15 cm. However, some can reach lengths up to 17 cm.

This makes them one of the larger cichlid species around!


In the wild, they are thought to live up to ten years, but in captivity, they usually live for around 5 years.

The lifespan of any fish is dependent on several factors, including water quality and diet. Keep your fish happy and healthy by making sure that their habitat is well-maintained.

NOTE: It is reported that these fish can live as long as ten years in the wild. But this is unlikely to happen when you keep them as pets.

Sexual Dimorphism

As we mentioned earlier, the male is larger and much more colorful than the female and has extended dorsal, anal, and pelvic fins.

The females are smaller in size but just as beautiful with their coloring of blue stripes.


Red Empress Cichlids are found throughout the Africa rift lake area. They are abundent in Lake Malawi and its surrounding rivers. They reside along the rocky shores of this lake, filled with soft sandy substrates. Here, they’ll find plenty of places to hide while they look for food.

The waters where these fish live are crystal clear most of the time. Because of their coloration, these fish can be seen easily by predators lurking in these waters too! As a result, hiding is essential if they want to stay safe.

Caring for These Fish

The good thing about Red Empress Cichlids is that they are quite easy to care for. They do well in most freshwater tanks and don’t have many unique requirements.

That said, you should always follow the basic guidelines when it comes to water quality and tank maintenance. These fish can be susceptible to diseases if their habitat isn’t clean enough (like any other species).


In the wild, red empress cichlids eat algae, small fish, and invertebrates. They are omnivores that can thrive on many different foods in captivity as well.

As far as feeding this type of cichlid, you can feed them a standard omnivore diet with high-quality foods like pellet formulas or live food every once in a while (these fish love brine shrimp!).

You should provide several different kinds of food to your fish. This will ensure that you’re meeting all of their nutritional needs and helping them stay healthy!

Some good options include:

  • Algae wafers or flakes
  • Crustaceans (like brine shrimp)
  • Mollusks (such as snails)
  • Frozen meat products like bloodworms and krill

How Often & How Much to Feed Them

Red Empress Cichlids should be fed two to three times a day. Feeding once per day is just not enough if you want them to thrive and stay healthy (especially when they are young).

The recommended feedings for Red Empress Cichlid fish are small amounts of pellets or flakes.

Any leftover food should be removed after the fish have had their fill.

We recommend that you feed them in a separate area of the tank to avoid any aggression or stress during feeding time.

Possible Diseases

The good news is that Red Empress Cichlids are not prone to any specific diseases in high-quality tank conditions. However, they can be prone to skin flukes and parasitic infections when kept in poor water conditions.

In addition, these fish may suffer from swim bladder disease if the water temperature is too high or there’s a lack of oxygen in the tank. To avoid this issue, make sure you perform weekly water changes and keep the filter running at all times.

Keep an eye on the fish to ensure that they are swimming straight. If you notice that your Red Empress Cichlid is starting to swim upsidedown, it’s time to do a water check and potentially add some oxygen back into their tank.

Tank Setup

You should put some effort into planning before you add your Red Empress Cichlid fish into the tank. These are active freshwater aquarium fish that enjoy spending time swimming around the tank throughout the day.

To make sure they have enough exercise and activity, it’s important to create an environment that accommodates their needs. To start, consider decorating your aquarium with plenty of rocks or caves for them to hide in if needed.

Red Empress Cichlids are also very sensitive to substrate composition. This means you must be smart when choosing a substrate material for their habitat. We recommend either sand or gravel substrates as these mimic natural riverbed environments from where they come from naturally in Africa. Avoid fine-grained substrates such as pebble because these can easily get swallowed by your Red Empress cichlid!

Aquarium Size

The recommended aquarium size for Red Empress Cichlid is 75 gallons, and the recommended tank size is 200 gallons.

That seems like a lot of space to accommodate these fish. But these large fish require ample room to swim comfortably.

NOTE: More space is always better, especially when it comes to freshwater fish. The extra room will allow you to add more plants and decor as well. The most ideal method to enjoy a freshwater aquarium is with a bunch of your favorite fish in one big tank!

Water Conditions

The hardest part about caring for Red Empress Cichlids is replicating their natural environment in the wild.

Red empress cichlids do fine with average tropical tank conditions, but you have to replicate these water parameters if you want them to thrive.


The water in the tank should have a pH in the 7.0 to 8.5 range, with a reading towards the lower end of the range being ideal.


The ideal water temperature for red empress cichlid is 73 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit (the sweet spot is around 77-79 degrees Fahrenheit). In Celsius, this would be 23 to 28 degrees.

As with any fish, avoid sudden temperature changes and aim to keep the tank at a relatively stable level of warmth. You will be able to accomplish this by configuring your aquarium with an efficient filtration system and a top-of-the-line heater.


The recommended hardness level for red empress cichlid is 8 dGH.

You’ll want to monitor the hardness level of your tank regularly to make sure you’re close to this figure. A quick test will suffice.


Before you bring these fish into your home, make sure that you have a high-quality filtration system in place. Red Empress Cichlids are very sensitive to ammonia and nitrate levels in the water, so you’ll need an efficient filter system to keep them healthy and comfortable.

We recommend a canister filter with a multi-stage filtration process.

Aquarium Plants

Red Empress Cichlids do well in a planted tank. Not only will plants improve the water quality, but they’ll give your fish places to hide and feel secure.

You can use live or artificial plants with this species. Live tropical aquarium plants are always best if you have the time and resources to care for them (they require more maintenance).

If not, plastic alternatives work just fine too! Red Empress Cichlids won’t damage fake plant material like some other species might.

Plants with broad leaves are ideal. They provide ample shade that helps the fish stay calm in times of stress.

Behavior and Compatibility

Red Empress Cichlids are very active fish and prefer to have a large area of open water to swim in. It’s not uncommon for these fish to spend hours swimming, exploring their environment, and even doing some bottom-dwelling.

These types of cichlids also need plenty of hiding spots as well. This is achievable with rocks, driftwood, and plants that they can rest in if needed.

They work well as community fish when paired with other species that occupy different areas of the tank. They will usually leave others alone unless provoked (due to their protective nature).

How Many to Keep Together

The recommended number of fish to keep together is at least four, including one male and three females. If you want to maximize the coloration of your fish and reduce aggression, add even more males or females.

NOTE: One thing that many aquarists don’t realize about Red Empress Cichlids is that they require a lot of space (both in length and width). This means if you have limited space available for tank size, then adding additional fish might not be an option.


The red empress cichlid is a very peaceful fish that isn’t usually aggressive.

These fish prefer to be in groups of four or more, especially if you plan on keeping them with other species. This is because the presence of others calms their stress levels significantly.

If you keep a single red empress cichlid in an aquarium, it will probably spend most of its time hiding.

Tank Mates

There are lots of fish that can share a habitat with the Red Empress Cichlid. Due to their relatively passive behavior, they work well in community tanks.

However, you should always avoid any aggressive or active fish species that may want to start trouble with your Red Empress Cichlid. This includes fish such as Angelfish and other types of cichlids that are particularly aggressive.

Some good tank mate options for the Empress include:

  • Blood parrot cichlids (this is our favorite)
  • Venustus cichlids
  • Ropefish
  • Pictus catfish
  • Livingston’s cichlids


Red Empress Cichlids are egg layers that can lay hundreds of eggs per spawning event, but often lay around 50.

These fish get more aggressive during breeding, so it’s best to remove them from other species for this period.

Females can get very protective of their nest during the breeding process, so it’s best to move the female and bonded pair away from community fish before they attempt to breed.

These fish are mouth brooders, so the female will keep the eggs in her mouth during the gestation period.

Are Red Empress Cichlid Fish a Good Choice For Your Tank?

The good news is that red empress cichlids are an amazing freshwater fish species that we highly recommend.

They’re very easy to care for, and their unique colors will add a beautiful splash of color to your tank! We think they look especially striking with plants in the background.

Red Empress Cichlid also have quite a bit of potential when it comes to size. This means you won’t be stuck with small or boring fish in your aquarium for years on end. And unlike some other types of cichlids, these don’t get aggressive towards one another either!


The Red Empress Cichlid is a beautiful freshwater fish that can bring life to your tank. Their bright colors and horizontal stripes make them a very attractive addition to any aquarium.

Red Empress Cichlids are relatively easy to care for as well, which makes them a perfect pick for aquarists who are just starting out or don’t have tons of experience with tropical fish yet.


As beautiful and playful as the Red Empress Cichlid is, it does have its flaws. The most notable of these is that they can occasionally be prone to aggression around the wrong tank mates or during breeding.

They are also not always the easiest fish to find. This means you might not see many red empress cichlids at your local pet store!


Red Empress Cichlid fish are a great choice if you’re looking for a pretty and easy-to-care-for freshwater fish. Their low-maintenance care requirements make them an excellent addition to any seasoned aquarist or beginner.

With their combination of beauty and temperament, we think the Red Empress Cichlid is one of the best cichlids out there!

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