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Red Terror Cichlid Care, Tank Setup, Breeding & More

Featured Image by u/WarStrategy

Red terror cichlid or harlequin cichlid is undoubtedly a bright and large fish that are highly territorial. These fish from the cichlid family are highly in demand for their vibrant color and look great when petted in a tank.

Red terror cichlids are inhabitants of the West of South America from the Rio Esmeraldas river. Growing up to 13-18 inches long, these fish are highly territorial and aggressive. They are best cared for in a 180-gallon tank with sand and gravel substrate and rock decoration.

Species Overview

Level of CareVery easy
AppearanceRed body with black vertical stripes
Life Expectancy15-20 years
Size13-18 inches
Tank Size180 gallons
Tank EnvironmentHarsh water with plant and rock decoration
Tank MatesAggressive and large

Red terror cichlids, also known as Amphilophus Festae, are among the most vibrant cichlid family members. Red terror cichlids or Harlequin cichlids are identical in their names.

These colorful fish are the inhabitants of the tributaries and rivers of West and South America. Mostly, they are found in the Rio Esmeraldas river of Ecuador. Also, they are sometimes found in Singapore.

Usually, these prefer to live in a strong water flow, and they are quite easy swimmers near the middle or bottom of the water.

Though they are pretty and vibrant, they exhibit a very aggressive attitude. In the wild atmosphere, these cichlids go hunting on the edge of the river, where they opt for preying.

This cichlids species is big enough as the males grow up to 18-inches, and females usually extend up to 13-inches. Also, they are long-lived.



Female full-grown red terror cichlids usually come with vertical black stripes and small sparkling blue spots on their body. At the same time, they come in a reddish-orange color, which lets you find them at ease in the aquarium.

In contrast, the males come with turquoise green bodies with orange and blue spots on their tail.

Females during breeding conditions show a much brighter color. On the other hand, the males tend to fade as soon as they get bigger and older. As the males become three years old, they grow a nuchal hump on their forehead.


Terror cichlids are quite a fast grower. Full-grown females can grow up to 13-inches. On the other hand, adult males are going to grow up to 18-inches.

They usually grow up to 7-9 inches in the first year of their birth. After that, their growth slows up to 1-inch per year as they reach their ultimate height. Thus, a large tank with proper care will offer them enough nutrition for faster growth.

Behavior & Temperament

When it comes to the temperament of red terror cichlids, they are undoubtedly aggressive as they are much territory-dependent. Their very name denotes their attitude.

Especially when it comes to the breeding season, the females become hyper-aggressive. In case they do not like their male partner, they will simply kill them.

Also, make sure you are not keeping them with peaceful and small fish as they are too aggressive and will prey on them.


The terror cichlids usually live up to 15 years. And if proper care is served, they are going to live as long as 20 years.

Tank Requirements

When it comes to offering the proper care to your red terror cichlid, make sure you start with a good size tank.

As these cichlids get much bigger in length, you need to give them enough space for living. Also, they are aggressive enough, so you need to pick a bigger tank for them.

The tank decoration also needs to be top-notch while caring for your stunning red terror cichlids. For these Festae specimens, a substrate with sand or gravel will be ideal.

Also, they will prefer a well-enough plantation and a rocky cave in the fish tank, along with driftwoods.

These cichlids are pretty messy. So, make sure you do not have a substrate that is much deeper than a quarter-inch, as it can damage the water quality.

The large full-grown ones usually produce a high amount of bio-load. Thus, you need to have a powerful filtration unit equipped in your aquarium.

Besides, for these fish, the water temperature needs to be relatively high. You can even consider a heater for maintaining the warmth of the tank water.

Do you know that these are very sensitive toward water quality fluctuation? So, make sure to test the water condition often to offer them a proper healthy aquatic atmosphere.

Tank Setup

For better growth and development of red terror cichlids, you need to ensure that you are delivering them an adequate amount of care. And so, you need to ensure the right tank environment is set up for your cichlids. Here, have a look.

They usually require 180 gallons tank size for enough space to roam around.

For the substrate, you can pick sand and small pebbles or mix gravel.

Consider caves and driftwood, along with rocks, to give them adequate space for hiding and playing.

Well-anchored planting will be much more suitable for a red terror cichlid

These cichlids like to dig enough. So, you need to have live plants securely affixed to the substrate.

Add proper filtration rate to the tank as they are pretty messy. An intense mechanical and biological filtration is needed for these cichlids’ proper care.

Maintain the water temperature between 77-84 ℉.

The pH level of the water should be maintained within 6-8.

Tank Mates

Red terror cichlids are inarguably aggressive. Thus, you need to be very careful while picking a tank mate for these large cichlids. If you are looking to make a community tank, it is better to keep them with other large and aggressive fish.

You can mix a variety of species to control and reduce aggressiveness in the tank. But make sure your tank has enough filtration rate. Following are the tank mates, which are perfect:

Food & Diet

Though red terror cichlids are aggressive, feeding them is not much difficult.

In the wild environment, these cichlids usually fed on small crustaceans, insects, and fish, as they are known to be prey fish.

Also, other fish’ fries are going to be great for feeding. You can offer them high-quality cichlid pellets as a staple food.

But always remember to maintain a variety in their diet. You can also feed themm with crickets, mealworms, earthworms, etc.

Do you know they can easily eat other protein-packed foods like chicken livers and beef hearts? Doesn’t it sound intriguing?

However, while feeding the cichlids, provide them with large meals two times a day. Make sure you are offering them enough food, which will last for five minutes or more.

Also, you can encourage their natural behavior by feeding them with ghost shrimps and feeder fish on an occasional period.

Red Terror Cichlid Care

When it comes to caring, you need to offer your terror cichlids a proper amount of care so that they can grow healthy and dazzle brightly.

While keeping these in your tank, try to create an environment that mimics their natural habitat.

These fish prefer to have consistent water parameters. Hence, offer them clean water with efficient biological filtration.

Perform water changes every two weeks or one month so that your red terror cichlids can thrive well in clean and fresh water. Give them enough swimming space in the aquarium. Make sure it is not overcrowded.

Breeding Guidelines

Do you know breeding is relatively easy in the case of red terror cichlids? Yes, you heard that right! But make sure you are offering them enough care during the breeding period.

They become sexually mature as they reach up to 3-4 inches long before they start showcasing bright colors.

So, when the breeding season arrives, the female counterparts start to look juvenile. On the other hand, the males start losing their black barring and become faded light-colored.

To offer them enough care during breeding, make sure you know that they are searching for their compatible mate. So, keeping them in a group will help, as they will be able to choose their partners.

In case you forcefully try to pair up two fish, they can end up risking their lives fighting. The females become hyper-aggressive during the breeding season. So, they can even kill a male cichlid if she finds him weaker and non-compatible.

If you notice that two red terror cichlids are pairing for breeding, you should move them to a separate tank to prevent any aggression.

To trigger their spawning, ensure a suitable temperature of the tank water. You need to raise the water to 78.8-82.4 ℉. Also, reduce the water harshness to 7.0 pH.

Give the females ample space for laying eggs. Offer them caves and rocks to make them feel safe and secure.

The female terror cichlid will lay about 100 eggs, which will take approximately 4 days to hatch.

Fries’ Care

Caring for red terror cichlid fries is much fun. Do you want to know why? Well, parent fish create small depressions in the substrate, where the babies live until they grow enough to survive independently. During this time, the parents will guard their babies like a soldier. How cute, isn’t it?

But you also need to make sure that the youngsters are not getting eaten by other large fish in the tank. And that is why it is vital to ensure that you keep the fries and their parents in a nursery tank to make them feel safe.

It would be best if you fed the fries with a protein-rich diet. You can offer them nauplii and brine shrimps. However, as soon as they grow, you need to provide them with larger foods to ensure their better growth.

Where to Buy?

Are you thinking of keeping red terror cichlids in your tank? Well, finding them will not be a big task as you can easily get them in any local aquarist store.

But these are quite rare in availability. So, you can look for any hobbyist shop or order the fish from an online dealer.

End Thoughts

So, when it comes to adding some vibrant tank mates to your aquarium, nothing can be greater than red terror cichlids. Especially if you love big and colorful fish, then these are going to be perfect pets.

But make sure you are not getting spellbound by their innocent-looking face. These fish are very aggressive. So, you need to be careful enough while keeping them in a community tank.