Geophagus Cichlid – Species Profile & Care Guide

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The Geophagus cichlid has all the characteristics of a unique fish species that most aquarists don’t see coming.

This cichlid has 2 primary features that render it unique in its genre: the bottom-feeding behavior and its peaceful temperament.

Cichlids are generally territorial and aggressive, with some species taking these qualities to their extremes.

Some cichlids are extremely violent and will fight anything swimming in their vicinity, including members of their own species. Or, should we say, especially them.

The problem is that not all aquarists like the violent temperament of cichlids, and this is where the Geophagus cichlid comes in.

This is probably the coolest cichlid you can find, as it displays no territorial behavior, and you can pair it with any fish species. Including smaller ones like guppies, tetras, Corydoras, and even plecos.

This would be a sacrilege with regular cichlids since they are known to kill and eat smaller fish, given the opportunity.

So, if you’ve set your eyes on the Geophagus cichlid, let’s see how to craft the perfect tank setup for them.

Geophagus Cichlid Requirements

This cichlid requires some specific living conditions that shouldn’t be too hard to meet.

The essential ones include:

Tank Size

The Geophagus cichlid is a rather large fish, capable of growing up to 12 inches under the right conditions. The Geophagus needs at least 55 gallons of space to remain safe, comfortable, and healthy as a full-grown adult.

This cichlid will patrol its environment quite thoroughly in search of food, so it needs its space to do so.

The extra space is also useful when forming community tanks, which are perfectly possible with the Geophagus. This cichlid won’t mind the presence of other fish, not even those sharing the same living space.

This means that plecos are not out of the question, despite displaying the same bottom-feeding and substrate-lurking behavior as the cichlid.

Neither of these fish is territorial, so they should get along just fine.

Just make sure they all have sufficient space since overcrowding and tight tanks will stress your fish and affect their health long-term.

Water Parameters

As tropical fish, the Geophagus cichlid prefers water temperatures revolving around 76 to 84 F. In the wild, they will remain comfortable in even higher temperatures, up to 88 F.

This temperature range is ideal for the cichlid since it boosts the effectiveness of its digestive and immune systems.

The pH should remain between 6.0 and 8.0, with water hardness between 5 to 19.

Regarding the cichlid’s water quality, the higher, the better. All cichlids require crystal clear water conditions, and the Geophagus is no exception.

Ammonia and nitrite buildup can affect the fish’s health and kill it fairly quickly. Even smaller amounts of ammonia can cause severe health problems and render the fish unable to function properly.

Fortunately, the cichlid itself will contribute to keeping the tank cleaner thanks to its scavenging behavior, but you should rely on that alone.

The cichlid demands stable water parameters, which means regular maintenance, water changes, and occasional substrate vacuuming are necessary.


The substrate is more important for the Geophagus cichlid than other fish. After all, this is a bottom-dwelling fish that likes to bury itself in the substrate constantly.

So, to get this out of the way from the get-go, avoid bare-bottom tanks. It’s fairly obvious why, but I had to mention it anyway.

Then comes the real tough choice – sand or gravel? River rocks and rocky substrates are out of the question since they are not compatible with the cichlid’s behavior.

Most aquarists use either fine sand or gravel consisting of smaller particles. Preferably small enough for the cichlid to have a mouthful of them, which will do quite a lot.

That’s because this is how the cichlid’s typical feeding behavior looks like. The Geophagus cichlid will often take mouthfuls of substrate, keep the edible and spit out the surplus.

This behavior is incompatible with a large-grain substrate, consisting of rocks and particles too large for the cichlid to take in its mouth. So, I would recommend sand above everything else.

I guess finer gravel is also good, but I would say avoid it if you can. The cichlid may choke on the slightly larger particles or ingest them and experience compaction as a result. It doesn’t happen very often, but it’s a risk worth noting.

You won’t have this problem with sand, especially since it mimics the cichlid’s natural substrate layout.

Sand is also easier to clean since all the food residues and fish waste will remain on the surface.

Now, there’s another interesting aspect about sand that we should discuss here. That’s the concept of anaerobic pockets. Anaerobic pockets tend to form underneath sandy substrates and consist of bacterial cultures developing in literal pocket-like holes.

These microorganisms will consume nitrate and eliminate nitrogen gas that would usually dissipate in the water. But, because the bacteria is trapped, the nitrogen will also get trapped in the pocket.

Disturbing the pocket will release all that accumulated gas in the tank, which can kill your fish almost instantly.

In theory, anaerobic pockets aren’t a problem in a Geophagus tank since the cichlid will constantly disturb the substrate, preventing the formation of pockets in the first place.

However, having a larger tank may render the cichlid incapable of covering the entire surface, so gas pockets can still form.

I recommend stirring up the substrate occasionally with a stick or something to prevent the formation of pockets.


Avoid rooted plants for obvious reasons. The Geophagus cichlid will do everything in its power to unearth them, and they will succeed, no matter how strong the plant is.

Instead, you should opt for plant variations infused in rocks, driftwood, and other tank decorations. These won’t be impacted by your cichlid’s burying behavior.

Floating plants are also a good option, seeing how Geophagus cichlids almost never leave the substrate. They might swim in the middle area of the tank occasionally, but not enough to pose a risk to your plants.

They are also quite gentile in their movement, so you won’t have to worry that they’ll destroy the plants by mistake.

And finally, despite being omnivorous, Geophagus cichlids don’t eat live plants. They would rather stick to screening the substrate in the hope of finding food residues to enjoy.


A filter is absolutely necessary, given that the Geophagus is a cichlid, after all. So, it tends to be messy both due to its highly active immune system and its feeding behavior.

The filter will come in handy this time since it keeps the water cleaner and ensures better oxygenation. It’s also useful for preventing dangerous ammonia buildup since this can be an issue in community setups that also contain cichlids.

The heater is probably even more useful, seeing how the Geophagus requires warmer waters than most tank fish. While this species is highly resilient, you don’t want to subject it to temperature fluctuations.

Such an environment will cause the fish to experience health problems due to its immune system being affected by the temperature variations.

Make sure that the filtration system isn’t too powerful. The cichlid won’t appreciate the stronger water currents.

Geophagus Cichlid Feeding and Diet

As an omnivorous cichlid, this one can consume a variety of foods and is generally not pretentious about its food choices.

It will eat whatever it will find in its habitat, which is typical behavior for any bottom-dwelling scavenger. Naturally, you shouldn’t rely on the cichlid’s scavenging abilities to satisfy its appetite.

It’s critical to supplement its diet with sinking pellets and flakes that will ensure optimal nutrient intake. Live food and veggies are also welcome, so consider food options like bloodworms, brine shrimp, daphnia, squash, spirulina, and zucchini, among others.

These will boost the cichlid’s growth, improve its life quality, and brighten its coloring considerably.

Feeding the Geophagus in a community tank is even easier since the cichlid will graze the substrate constantly, picking up all the food residues escaping other fish. This means it won’t require feeding as often.

Even so, provide your cichlid with some sinking pellets twice per day to make sure the fish is full and satisfied.

Make sure you don’t overfeed it since cichlids are notorious for having rather slow and faulty digestive systems.

They will quickly experience digestive problems when overfed, fed improper food, or due to colder waters.

Geophagus Cichlid Tank Mates

Fortunately, Geophagus cichlids are very friendly towards most tank fish. They won’t bother other species primarily because they tend not to share the same space.

That being said, these cichlids do have their angry moments occasionally. When choosing their most compatible tank mates, consider the following:

  • Food competition – Geophagus cichlids will inhabit the tank’s lower areas near the substrate. This means that whatever food you throw in their direction will most likely be picked by other fish along the way. This could cause your cichlid(s) to starve and experience vitamin or mineral deficiencies as a result. To prevent that, first, feed the rest of the population and then throw in the cichlid’s food. Since they’re already full, the other fish won’t bother with it.
  • Some territorial behavior – Geophagus cichlids don’t mind sharing their space with other fish. That being said, they may exhibit some territorial behavior if they lack enough space. So, invest in a larger tank that would provide all fish with the necessary space to stay out of each other’s way.
  • Breeding aggression – Geophagus cichlids tend to be more aggressive during the mating phase. Remember that if you’re set on housing a pair of cichlids with other fish.
  • Avoid aggressive species – Geophagus cichlids are peaceful in nature, so they don’t fare well against more aggressive fish. The latter can bully or even hurt your cichlids, stressing them out and potentially injuring them. Consider equally peaceful and docile fish, preferably smaller than the cichlids.
  • Tank layout – I advise considering a rocky tank setup with various decorations to provide several hiding spots. These will benefit both the cichlid and any other fish that might need some safe spaces occasionally. They will also keep your Geophagus cichlid happy and mentally active since this is a smart and inquisitive fish by nature.

You should also avoid pairing the Geophagus with dwarf shrimp or other small crustaceans since the cichlid will turn them into food fast. Otherwise, everything is fair game, provided you consider my already mentioned points.

Geophagus Cichlid Diseases and Treatment

The Geophagus cichlid is mostly prone to digestive problems due to poor water conditions, inadequate temperature, and swallowing things it’s not supposed to.

Your cichlid will let you know of the issue via visible behavioral changes. The fish may refuse food, experience low levels of energy, and swim less.

It may also become bloated due to compaction, which is a potentially deadly condition.

Otherwise, look out for parasites or problems like swim bladder disease and bacterial infections, which can affect your cichlid at times.

The most common ways of infection are related to poor water conditions, unstable temperatures, or contaminated tank equipment or decorations.

These will drop the cichlid’s immune system, leaving it vulnerable to all of the bacteria and parasites that already lurk in the tank water.

If your cichlid shows signs of disease, consider:

  • Quarantining the fish to give you time to diagnose the condition and protect the other fish
  • Add salt to boost the cichlid’s natural healing abilities and promote the healthy production of mucus
  • Ensure optimal water conditions by cleaning the tank and performing daily partial water changes
  • Keep the fish in a stress-free environment
  • Use medication according to the fish’s condition and a vet’s recommendations

Your cichlid should show visible improvements within the first 3-4 days of treatment, depending on how severe the condition is and how effective the treatment is.

However, I recommend keeping the cichlid in a quarantine state for at least 2 weeks to make sure the fish is out of harm’s way.

If your cichlid doesn’t show any improvement by that point, you might need to consider euthanasia. This is a way more viable option than moving the sick fish back into the tank and risking an epidemic.

How Do Geophagus Cichlid Breed?

The Geophagus cichlid ranks as a mouthbreeder, with both the male and the female caring for the eggs and the resulting fry after hatching.

The breeding process is pretty straightforward. The male will court the female to state its intentions and then will dig shallow holes into the substrate.

This will signal the female that the nest is ready and invite it to lay the eggs. The male will fertilize them, after which either the male or the female will grab the eggs in their mouth.

It takes approximately 3 days for the eggs to hatch, during which the cichlid holding them will refrain from eating.

The resulting fry will still use their parent’s mouth as a safe space, coming out to eat and investigate their environment, then going back in.

Soon, they will be too large to do so, at which point they will become independent.

When it comes to breeding the Geophagus cichlid, keep in mind the following:

  • Increased aggression – The cichlid will become way more aggressive during the mating phase. That aggression may increase by a few notes during the several days it takes for the eggs to hatch. So, you should check your fish’s dynamics since the Geophagus can be quite snappy during this time. Its behavior should return to normal once the mating phase completes. That being said, the cichlid holding the eggs and the fry may remain overly protective for a while.
  • Breeding difficulties – The Geophagus cichlid can breed in captivity, but don’t expect too much from them. Many breeding attempts fail either because the fertilization is unsuccessful or because the cichlids won’t initiate the ritual, to begin with. These fish aren’t exactly thrilled to breed in captivity, but it can work.
  • Protect the fry – One of the cichlid parents will keep the fry in their mouth until they are large enough to become independent. But this doesn’t guarantee their safety in all circumstances. Other fish may eat the fry if they see them, especially since they’re tiny at first. To prevent that, consider moving the female cichlid and the fry into a nursing tank until the fry grow enough to take care of themselves.

How Big do Geophagus Cichlids Get?

The Geophagus cichlid can grow up to 12 inches under the right conditions. These include optimal water quality, stable parameters, higher temperatures, proper diet, peaceful tank mates, and a natural-looking environment.

The goal is to provide your cichlid with the best living conditions to keep it calm, healthy, and happy in the long run.

Doing so will boost its growth rate, maximum size, and natural coloring.

How Long do Geophagus Cichlid Live?

The Geophagus cichlid will live approximately 5-6 years on average. It can sometimes live longer, depending on its environmental conditions and quality of care.

Are Geophagus Cichlids Aggressive?

No, Geophagus cichlids are not typically aggressive.

With that said, the cichlid may become aggressive in cases such as:

  • When lacking food – Starvation can send any fish into food-related aggression. Keep your cichlid full and satisfied, and it will remain peaceful and friendly.
  • When mating – The mating phase is a sensitive period in the cichlid’s life. It’s not uncommon for the Geophagus to become extremely aggressive and defensive toward other fish. I advise observing your cichlids’ behavior during this time to make sure that the violence doesn’t get out of hand.
  • When overstockedOverstocking your fish is bound to rub them the wrong way. Despite being generally peaceful, cichlids may react violently when overcrowded and lacking sufficient space. Make sure your Geophagus cichlids have sufficient space to remain calm and peaceful, and you can dodge that bullet.

Other than that, Geophagus cichlids make for great additions to most community tanks.

Are Geophagus Cichlids Good for Beginners?

Geophagus cichlids rank as intermediate when it comes to caring level difficulty. From a social perspective, Geophagus cichlids are every aquarist’s wet dream.

They are easy to handle, friendly, and will adapt to pretty much any community fish setting.

The difficulty comes in the form of long-term maintenance. Since these are cichlids, they require pristine water conditions, stable parameters, and a bottom-dweller-specific layout.

So, have a thick substrate and perform regular substrate cleaning to keep your cichlids on the top of their game.


Geophagus cichlids make for exhilarating tank fish thanks to their neon-infused look, predatorial vibe, and peaceful demeanor.

You now know the essentials regarding its maintenance requirements, so get yourself a Geophagus cichlid and thank me later.

Author Image Fabian
I’m Fabian, aquarium fish breeder and founder of this website. I’ve been keeping fish, since I was a kid. On this blog, I share a lot of information about the aquarium hobby and various fish species that I like. Please leave a comment if you have any question.
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