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Jewel Cichlid – Habitat, Care, Feeding, Tank Mates, Breeding

Jewel cichlids (Hemichromis bimaculatus) are a special group of cichlid fish that come from Africa. Their distinctive feature is the bright, fluorescent colors on their bodies and attractive appearance.

They are certainly amongst the most popular fish species for home tank owners, but keeping them can prove to be a challenge. Despite their attractive appearance, their aggressive behavior can prove too much for beginners.

The appeal for these fish is understandable. There are many tank owners who crave to own this fish species. But, managing them effectively can be especially challenging due to their behavior, which can be aggressive sometimes.

These fish are known for being very territorial, as they will establish their own space in the tank. However, if managed properly and if given enough space, this fish can be a jewel. I would not recommend this fish for beginners strictly, although you can still own it very well with some research.

In this article, I’ll give you everything you need to know about jewel cichlids. We’ll talk about their behavior, their breeding, tank mates, food and diet, their tank requirements, and how you should set up the tank. Let’s get started.

Natural Habitat

The hemichromis bimaculatus, or more commonly known as jewel cichlids, are a fish species that come from the cichlid family. As such, they are more keen on tropical conditions. They are perhaps one of the most well-known fish species to come out of Africa. Sometimes, these fish are also called the African jewelfish.

You will find these fish naturally in Africa, more specifically, in rivers, streams, and lakes. They are a freshwater species that like to swim around their habitat actively and even pursue other fish in order to achieve dominance in the habitat. But, in their natural environment, that can be easier said than done. They are often up against larger fish species, which is why they tend to be especially aggressive.

Most likely, you will find them near or on the bottom of muddy rivers and streams. They are bottom feeders, feeding on everything they might find on or around the bottom of the lake or river. Note that the temperatures, especially water temperatures in these areas tend to go above 75 degrees Fahrenheit most of the time, which you will have to replicate in your tank.

Knowing the natural habitat of these fish makes it easier for us to understand the fish and set up the tank appropriately.

Fish Tank Requirements

So now that we know the natural habitat better, we can try and create a tank environment for the jewel cichlid better. One thing you must know is that these fish will grow to about 12 inches in size, so you’ll have to adjust your tank accordingly. This dictates that you should have at least a 40-gallon tank for a single jewel cichlid, and significantly larger if you have several.

That’s partly due to their aggressive behavior as they get territorial, but partly, it’s also due to their active swimming nature. Jewel cichlids are known for being an active fish, as they go around the tank and even try and dig out the accessories in the substrate.

Another thing to keep in mind when setting up the tank is that you’ll need a powerful filtration system. As the fish are active, they also produce quite a lot of waste, and that’s made worse by the fact that these fish are bottom feeders. A canister filter will help you keep better care for these fish. You might also want to consider a heater to heat up the water.

When setting up the tank, you mustn’t forget about the tank decorations, such as plants, accessories, and especially caves for hiding. And that’s even more important if you’re intending to breed these fish – you’ll need to provide a cave. Also, make sure that you have plenty of rocks and plants if you have other fish in the tank. You can create a natural barrier that will prevent aggression against other fish.

Sandy substrate is the best option for African cichlids. That’s because these fish will like to dig out the plants and dig into the substrate, so in order not to hurt them, sand is the best option.

Water Conditions

You’ll need to prepare the tank and keep proper maintenance of the water conditions regularly if you’ll want to keep your cichlids healthy. The changes in water conditions can cause your fish to become stressed, especially if the conditions are not in the desired ranges for these fish.

These fish are tropical fish. This means a warm environment, freshwater tank, neutral PH, and a hardness of up to 12DGH. The water temperatures should be between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. You might even increase the temperatures when you’re breeding these fish. More about breeding later on.

We’ve already discussed the importance of having a proper canister filter for the tank. But proper and regular water maintenance is just as important for these fish. You’ll want to check out the ammonia levels at least once a week. High ammonia levels can cause the stress levels to shoot up, causing these fish to potentially catch diseases and pass away.

You don’t need fancy lighting for these fish, although they do prefer to have moderate lighting in their tank. Standard lighting options will do well, although you might want to consider putting the tank in natural light. But if you do opt for a lighting system, choose something that offers moderate lighting that’s not too weak or powerful.

Diet and Feeding Schedule

Jewel cichlids are omnivores. This means that they are likely to consume just about anything you put into the water. They’ll happily snack on pellets, flakes, live food, frozen foods, and maybe even veggies on occasion.

The diet can be a very important aspect if you intend to keep these fish for breeding. The majority of the diet can be represented by pellets and flakes, but you will certainly have to supplement these foods with live, frozen foods, and vegetables. The pellets and flakes you use should certainly be of a very high quality, though – preferably, they should be full of nutrients such as protein.

As for the live food options, you can try with the usual options when it comes to live foods. These include brine shrimp, bloodworms, white worms, and even tubifex. You can always consider feeding them frozen and dried foods that are easily accessible in pet stores.

You can always add veggies to the diet. Adding vegetables such as spirulina or lettuce leaves allows you to provide your fish with the needed nutrients, but also keep a great variety in their diet. In any case, you’ll have to make sure that you provide them with a varied diet.

Tank Mates

Now, onto perhaps the most important aspect of keeping these fish – their tank mates and how to keep them with other fish. As these fish tend to be quite aggressive and territorial, the tank mate options are slimmed down significantly.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t keep them with other fish. Many owners have already reported great success with keeping these fish with African cichlids, as well as with some tetra species. However, you’ll have to keep in mind that separating these fish will work best if you want to keep them together peacefully and ensure they don’t get aggressive.

If you decide to keep them with other fish, the most important thing is that the tank is large enough to accommodate the fish, and more. For the cichlids, you’ll need at least 40 gallons for one fish. And if you add more fish to the equation, then you’ll need 100 gallons or even more.

Another measure that you can take is to create a natural barrier with rocks and plants to prevent aggression. You can do that by adding plenty of vegetation, rocks, and other accessories into the tank that will create a natural barrier between the fish.

Breeding

Jewel cichlids tend to be monogamous fish. You’ll do well to breed these fish if you put a male and a female together into the tank. That should be fairly simple, as the male will actively seek out a female and breed.

However, it might be tough to distinguish the two sexes. One thing that will tell you which fish are females is that the females tend to be fatter and more rounded than males.

As for breeding, you’ll notice that the male will turn more colorful once it’s ready for breeding. In any case, keep a close eye on the male during the breeding. It might try to actively hunt down the female, and fights might ensue. The females might get hurt.

Raise the temperature slightly when you’re intending to breed the fish. When they breed, the female will then lay about 500 eggs on rocks and smooth areas of your tank. After 2-4 days, the eggs will hatch. The parents will actively protect the eggs and will also take care of the fry.

Conclusion

A jewel cichlid can be a colorful addition to your tank. Keeping these fish in the same tank might be problematic, as they can get aggressive towards other fish and might start to fight other fish. Hopefully, you now know how to keep good care of jewel cichlids.

avatar I’m Julia, and I used to work in a fish store for over 5 years. On this blog I help beginners care for their cichlids and share my experience and research on various fishkeeping related topics.

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