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Red Empress Cichlid Care: A Detailed Guide  

Red Empress Cichlid Care: A Detailed Guide  

A standout choice for freshwater fish enthusiasts is the vibrant Red Empress Cichlid. Native to Lake Malawi in Africa, these stunning fish exhibit an impressive array of colors and have a peaceful nature, setting them apart from other cichlids.

They are not only known for their captivating beauty but also earn high marks for being relatively easy to care for compared with other tropical species.

To care for Red Empress Cichlids you’ll need to maintain a spacious tank and stable water conditions, provide a balanced diet, and offer suitable hiding places for their overall health and happiness.

In this guide, we will explore everything you need to know to ensure the best care for your Red Empress Cichlid.

Red Empress Cichlid Overview & Natural Habitat

  • Common name: Red Empress Cichlid
  • Scientific name: Protomelas taeniolatus
  • Care level: Easy
  • Size: 4.5-6 inches /11.43-15.24cm
  • Lifespan: 5 years
  • Temperament: Peaceful 
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Group size: One male to 3 females
  • Minimum tank size: 75-gallon (284-liter)
  • Water temperature: 73-82°F (22.7-27.7°C)
  • Water pH levels: 7-8.5
  • Water hardness: 8-12 dGH

The Red Empress Cichlid, scientifically known as Protomelas taeniolatus, originates from the east African region of Lake Malawi. This freshwater habitat is one of the largest lakes in the world.

Its warm waters offer an ecosystem that is highly conducive to nurturing cichlids like our vibrant Red Empress. The lake setting characterized by rocky substrates interspersed with sandy regions makes it an ideal natural home for these beautiful fish species.

Despite their vibrant appearance, Red Empress Cichlids inhabit the somewhat murky waters of the lake’s deeper regions, where light penetration is limited. They prefer dwelling near large rocks or caves that provide ample cover from potential predators while also giving them plenty of space to hunt for small crustaceans and algae which make up most of their diet.

Red Empress Cichlid Appearance & Size

This fish showcases a striking appearance with vibrant hues. Its body is typically slender and elongated. Its dorsal and anal fins have a pointed shape, and its long pelvic fins have a similar appearance. The fins also have spiny rays that serve as protection against potential predators.

They can grow between 4.5 and 6 inches in length, making them a moderate-sized cichlid species. They reach maturity around 8 to 9 months old.

Interestingly, coloration can vary based on locations around Lake Malawi where they’re found; golds might turn into blues or oranges may intensify into deeper reds depending upon specific regions they originate from.

Difference Between Males & Females

Male fish are known for their vibrant reddish-orange colors, which make them stand out in the aquarium. They have distinct markings in blue, yellow, and brown, with a large fin on their dorsal side that extends backward. 

In contrast, females have a more subdued appearance. They typically have a silvery color with two horizontal lines and irregular ovals on their bodies. 

The difference in coloration and markings between males and females is one of the key ways to distinguish between them.

Average Lifespan

In captivity, these fish have an average lifespan of 5 years, but with proper care, they can live up to 7-10 years. Providing a healthy diet, maintaining good water quality, and creating a suitable environment for them will contribute to their longevity.

Red Empress Cichlid Care & Tank Setup

Red Empress Cichlids are beautiful fish, and keeping them healthy and beautiful in their environment is very important. Even though they’re one of the easier fish species to care for, they still have specific needs.

Tank Size

For optimal well-being, a 100-gallon tank (379-liter) is recommended, although a 75-gallon tank (284-liter) is also suitable at a very minimum. 

If you’re considering multiple Cichlids, upgrading to a 200-gallon (757-liter) tank is wise to prevent stress and overcrowding. Anything less than that will not allow adequate space for them to grow. 

Tank Maintenance

Tank maintenance is important for all fish, and Red Empress Cichlids are no different. Cleaning the fish tank and performing a 20% water change weekly will keep the water healthy and enjoyable for your fish. A good quality filter that creates movement in the tank will make a Red Empress Cichlid feel at home as it replicates the movement in the lake while also filtering the water for health purposes. 

Water Parameters

  • Water temperature: 73-82°F (22.7-27.7°C)
  • Water pH levels: 7-8.5
  • Water hardness: 8-12 dGH

This species of fish prefers warmer water tanks of 73-82°F (22.7-27.7°C), the sweet spot being around 76°F (24.4°F). These ranges mimic their natural environment in Lake Malawi.

The ideal pH should be in the range of 7.5 to 8.5, as they require slightly alkaline water. In Lake Malawi, there are a lot of minerals in the water but not as much salt, which is why a freshwater aquarium with an alkaline pH is best.

Maintain moderate to slightly hard water for these Cichlids, ideally with a hardness level of around 8-12 dGH.

What To Put In The Tank

Establishing an appropriate and comfortable living environment is paramount when caring for Red Empress Cichlids. To promote their overall health and vitality, it is important to closely mimic the conditions of their natural habitat.


The best substrate you can provide for these fish is a sandy base supplemented with rocks and gravel. Place the rocks on the tank’s outside edges and leave a sandy, soft middle for them to sift through when they look for food. An overly rocky substrate can injure your fish, but this blend allows them to feel at home. 


Creating a paradise includes finding the correct balance of decorations that won’t obstruct their swimming space. Instead of large decorations like castles, opt for some rocks in different shapes and sizes. This will allow your Cichlids plenty of space to swim while also giving them a place to hide if needed. 

Ideal Plants

Red Empress Cichlids love swimming through plants, so add plenty of plants to your tank. If you can opt for real plants over plastic ones, they’ll work to clean waste in the tank and keep the water in good condition. Some great plants to consider for your tank include:

Since these Cichlids like to dig for food in the sand, it’s a good idea to plant the vegetation on the rocky edges of the tank so they can still enjoy the soft sand in the middle of the tank. 

Personality & Behavior

Red Empress Cichlids are known for their gentle and peaceful personalities. Unlike other aggressive cichlid species, they tend to be relatively docile and get along well with other community fish.

They are social creatures that thrive in a group environment, so it’s recommended to keep them in groups of one male to three or more females.

In terms of behavior, they are active swimmers who enjoy exploring their tank and interacting with their surroundings. You may notice them become territorial during breeding season or when establishing dominance within the group.

They also display fascinating parental behavior, as they are mouthbrooders who care for their young fry by holding them in their mouths until they can swim on their own. 

Ideal Tank Mates

Due to their relatively passive nature, these fish work well in community tanks.

Tank mates that you may want to consider keeping them with are other African haplochromine cichlids like Utaka cichlids and peacocks, or even South American species like Blood Parrot Cichlids and Pictus Catfish.

They also get along well with non-aggressive fish like Bristlenose Plecos and Rainbowfish.

When selecting tank mates, consider their size and temperament compatibility with Red Empress Cichlids.

Tank Mates To Avoid

It’s best to avoid aggressive or territorial fish that could intimidate or harm your Cichlids. This includes species like Mbuna cichlids and other highly aggressive African cichlids. Additionally, avoid introducing fish much smaller than your Red Empress, as they might end up on the menu.

Food & Diet

Red Empress Cichlids are omnivores and have specific dietary requirements to ensure their health and well-being. It is important to provide them with a balanced diet that includes a variety of food sources.

Some suitable foods to feed your fish include: 

  • Spirulina flakes
  • Krill
  • Algae
  • Blanched lettuce and spinach
  • Bloodworms
  • Brine shrimp

It’s crucial not to overfeed them as they can easily overeat. Overfeeding can lead to issues such as obesity and digestive problems.

Experts suggest feeding small portions 3-4 times a day rather than one large meal. This mimics their natural grazing behavior in the wild and helps maintain good health.

Providing high-quality cichlid pellets along with supplements like bloodworms or brine shrimp will help keep your fish healthy and thriving. 

Keep in mind these Cichlids like to dig through the sand to look for uneaten scraps, so they’ll likely eat a bit of what you feed your other fish. 

Breeding Red Empress Cichlid

If you want to breed your Red Empress Cichlid, you should invest in another aquarium to house them. Breeding fish requires a lot of space and is something you should consider if you plan on placing male and female Red Empress Cichlids in a tank together. If you don’t want to breed them, consider only getting one to supplement the other species in your tank. 

Breeding is not difficult but it’s essential to give them a breeding tank, as they can become aggressive toward other fish during this time. The tank will need sand and rocks to give them space to breed. 

The Red Empress Cichlid is a mouthbreeder, which means they house the eggs in their mouths and hold them there for a while after they hatch and develop a little. This is common for African Cichlids and is a very interesting phenomenon to view.

A female will drop her eggs and pick them up in her mouth, and the male Red Empress Cichlid fertilizes them while in the female’s mouth. 

After the Red Empress Cichlids are hatched, the parents will protect them until they can swim, making things easy for an aquarium owner. The Red Empress Cichlid breeding process differs from that of other species, and they are one of the easiest species to breed. 

Common Health Issues

When caring for a Red Empress Cichlid, taking note of its appearance and behavior is important in monitoring its overall health. All fish can take a while to feel at home in their new tank, but after a few hours, they should feel like their normal selves again. 

Signs of Illness or Stress in Red Empress Cichlid

As a freshwater fish, many known illnesses can cause harm to your Red Empress Cichlid. Many can be avoided by following the care suggestions outlined in this article. 

However, there’s still a possibility your fish can become sick, and knowing the signs and symptoms can save their life if caught soon enough. 

Common signs of stress and illness can include:

  • Gasping at the surface
  • Loss of appetite
  • Strange swimming
  • Loss of color
  • Lethargy
  • Missing scales and fin erosion (common in bacterial and parasitic infections) 
  • White spot disease (Ich Disease) 

One notable disease common in Cichlids is Malawi Bloat, which is caused by a parasitic or bacterial infection. Symptoms include:

  • Loss of appetite 
  • White feces 
  • Bloated abdomen 
  • Rapid breathing 

Catching it early on is critical to saving your Cichlid. It’s always a good idea to quarantine infected fish as soon as possible to prevent the spread of the disease.

Like all illnesses, speaking to a knowledgeable vet will allow you to treat symptoms effectively before they worsen. Always do your research and know that it’s always better to be safe than sorry. One sick fish can easily infect your whole aquarium, becoming a sad and expensive loss.

Are Red Empress Cichlids Right For You?

Red Empress Cichlids are easy to care for and can make great additions to your aquarium if you’re looking for a peaceful and docile fish. They are known for their non-aggressive nature, which sets them apart from other cichlid species.

With an average size of 4.5 to 6 inches, they don’t require an overly large tank. A minimum tank size of 75 gallons is recommended for a single Red Empress Cichlid to ensure they have enough space to swim comfortably.

Overall, they can be an excellent choice if you’re seeking peaceful and colorful freshwater fish that are relatively easy to care for. Just remember to provide them with the right tank conditions and suitable companions if keeping them in a community tank.

Red Empress Cichlid FAQs

Are Red Empress cichlids aggressive?

Red Empress Cichlids are relatively docile and non-aggressive compared to other cichlid species. While they may display some territorial behavior, it is usually not overly aggressive towards tank mates.

What is the rarest type of cichlid?

While opinions may vary, one of the rarer types of cichlids is the Blue Head or “Super Red” Empress Cichlid (Protomelas taeniolatus). Its striking coloration and scarcity make it highly sought after by enthusiasts.

What is the largest African cichlid?

The largest African cichlid species commonly kept in aquariums is the Frontosa Cichlid (Cyphotilapia frontosa), which can reach lengths of up to 14 inches (36 cm) or more when fully grown.

What is the longest-living cichlid?

With proper care, Red Empress Cichlids can live up to 7-10 years in captivity, although their average lifespan is around 5 years. Factors such as water quality, diet, and overall health can influence their longevity.

Wrapping Up

Caring for Red Empress Cichlids can be a rewarding experience. With their peaceful nature and adaptability, they can thrive in various aquarium setups.

You’ll be captivated by their stunning appearance, ability to thrive in diverse water conditions, and impressive hardiness.

By maintaining suitable tank conditions and providing proper nutrition, you can enjoy these vibrant cichlids for years to come

I’m Elle, the founder of FishHQ. I created this website to share knowledge, tips, and inspiration for beginner hobbyists to help them create a healthy, happy, and vibrant environment for their fish to thrive. Read more...