Can You Keep Red Tail Shark with Cichlids?

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As a semi-aggressive fish, the Red Tail Shark isn’t exactly qualified to live with any fish species. But you can make it work, so long as you pick its tank mates carefully.

The same goes for cichlids, which are notorious for their territorial and aggressive tendencies.

That being said, you may have seen that cichlids rank as compatible tank mates for cichlids and you may have wondered why that is.

After all, both the Red Tail and cichlids share the same inclination towards territorial violence, so you would assume they won’t work together. But that’s exactly what makes them compatible.

The Red Tail shark is a bully that likes to poke at smaller and calmer fish. So, it’s never a good idea to pair it with guppies, bettas, goldfish, or other fluffy and friendly fish.

But there are 2 things that will keep your Red Tail’s temperament in check: a compact fish school and an aggressive fish specimen. Cichlids qualify.

Since both fish are aggressive and territorial, they will do their best to avoid each other. After some back and forth, of course.

This doesn’t mean that all you have to do is throw them into the tank and wait for the situation to stabilize on its own.

You still need to consider some preparations to lower the risk of violence. So, let’s get into the essential details!

Can You Keep Red Tail Shark with African Cichlids?

Yes, you can keep Red Tail sharks with African cichlids, in theory. There are some things to focus on when bringing them together, though.

These include:

Sharing the Same Space

Red Tails are bottom-dwellers, so they will spend most of their time near the substrate, searching for food and roaming their territory. And Red Tails have quite an extensive territory.

One Red Tail male can cover around 90 gallons of water which is enormous, considering the fish’s size (up to 6 inches). It’s not to say that that’s the Red Tail’s tank size requirement, but that the fish can claim an entire 90-gallon tank’s substrate as its territory.

African cichlids are rock dwellers, which automatically qualifies them as semi-bottom-dwellers too. Cichlids will often bury themselves in the substrate, unearth plants, dig around the rocks, and search for food around their habitat.

This means that their territory will overlap with that of the Red Tail. In this case, some territorial violence is bound to happen.

To solve the issue, make sure both species have sufficient room and plenty of hiding spots. Some occasional fighting won’t mind them too much if they have a safe space to retreat to.

Difference in Temperaments

There’s a fine balance you’ll need to achieve when pairing Red Tails with African cichlids.

On one hand, Red Tails are very energetic and inquisitive fish that love to bully and chase other tank inhabitants around. This applies to both large and small fish; the Red Tail will bully them all if possible.

So, it’s not uncommon for a mature Red Tail to chase your smaller cichlids, especially if you only have 2-3 of them.

This can stress the cichlids, especially since they share the same swimming space as the Red Tails (tank’s lower region), and they’re often bound to stumble upon each other.

On the other hand, you need a larger group of cichlids to keep them calmer and healthier, at least 6, I would say. In this case, the reverse may happen; the cichlids may attack the Red Tail, especially if they’re larger.

After all, African cichlids can grow up to 12 inches in optimal conditions, which is double than the Red Tail’s maximum size. The cichlids may even kill and eat the Red Tail in some cases.

So, you need to approach the situation more carefully. I suggest keeping around 5-6 cichlids and choosing a cichlid species that’s calmer and more non-combative.

The cichlid group will easily repel the Red Tail if the latter becomes too pushy without hurting it in the process.

The Familiarity Process

Red Tails and cichlids aren’t exactly the ideal tank mates, given their antagonistic personalities. There are several ways to mitigate their aggression, from keeping the fish well-fed to securing the ideal tank layout.

But I would say that the most reliable method here is allowing the fish to familiarize themselves with each other’s presence.

This is best done when they are still young and ‘testing the waters’ to understand the boundaries and dynamics between each other.

I suggest introducing Red Tails and cichlids into their environment roughly at the same time, while they are still juveniles.

This will allow them to accommodate to each other’s presence, learn the other species’ habits, and find their place in the system.

Always Account for Chaos

Sometimes, the 2 species will never get along, no matter what you do. That’s because all fish are different with varying personalities, so they might not all play by the same rules.

Some Red Tail might not be intimidated by the presence of the cichlid group and get into fights more often. This can lead to injuries, fish stress, and environmental damage. At this point, removing the Red Tail from the tank may be the better option.

The reverse may also be true. The Red Tail minds its own business, but one or more cichlids may display overly aggressive and territorial behavior, potentially attacking and killing the shark.

My point is that you can never know for sure how the fish will reach in each other’s presence. This is even truer with 2 volatile species like cichlids and Red Tail sharks.

So, always be on your toes and assess your fish’s social dynamics to make sure everything remains within the charts.

Cichlids Compatible with Red Tail Shark

When looking for compatible cichlids for your Red Tail shark, I would say you have 2 things to consider: the cichlids’ aggression and their size.

What you want is to find semi-aggressive, medium-sized cichlids that won’t pose too much threat to your Red Tail. This will make sure they will keep to themselves and won’t bother the shark too much.

Some good options include Lemon Jake, Blue Neon, Ruby Red Peacock, Deepwater Hap, Grant’s Peacock, Red Cap, and several others.

These cichlids are calm enough not to bother the Red Tail but aggressive enough to not be bullied into oblivion by the more energetic and inquisitive shark.

It is the perfect combination. It also doesn’t hurt that these species vary in size between 5 and 8 inches. So, they will match the Red Tail’s size, decreasing the risk of any of the fish seeing the other as prey.

Obviously, you still need to provide the cichlids with the ideal setup to minimize their aggression.

All cichlids have the potential to become aggressive and extremely territorial when kept in poor conditions or starving.

Cichlids to Avoid Keeping with Red Tail Shark

Here, we will include overly aggressive or large cichlids that could kill your Red Tail. The most noticeable ones include Green Terror, Jack Dempsey, Red Devil, Blue Acara, Dovii, Umbee, and many others.

As you can tell, there are more overly aggressive cichlid species than semi-aggressive ones, so be careful.

Many of these extremely aggressive cichlids won’t even display territorial behavior but also grow way larger than your Red Tail. The Dovii cichlid, for instance, can grow up to 29 inches, Umbee can reach 24 inches, and Butterikoferi can get to 16 inches.

These cichlids already qualify as natural predators for your Red Tail, especially since they are particularly aggressive and predatorial in nature.

Smaller, 10-12-inch cichlids won’t do either if they complement their more modest size with an overblown temperament. The Red Devil only grows up to 12 inches, the same as the Sieve cichlid and the Green Guapote.

This doesn’t really help since they are extremely aggressive and territorial, so they will still be a risk to your Red Tail’s life.

Keeping Red Tail Sharks with Cichlids

I know that many people recommend Red Tail Sharks and cichlids as compatible tank mates, but you should never take their relationship for granted.

These are 2 volatile and unpredictable fish species that could turn on each other even if they are compatible on paper.

That being said, there are some reliable measures you can take to prevent any problems between your fish.

These include:

Water Conditions

Both cichlids and Red Tails are pretty sensitive about their water conditions. Cichlids, especially, require pretty much pristine water parameters to remain healthy and calm. Poor water conditions will stress them out, causing them to become more aggressive than usual.

The same applies to the Red Tail. When it comes to water parameter requirements, Red Tails and cichlids might not always be compatible.

For instance, they share the same water temperatures. Red Tails need a water temperature between 72 and 79 F, while African cichlids are more comfortable around 74-80 F.

The problem typically relates to pH since Red Tails demand pH values around 6.0 to 8.0, while African cichlids need 8.0 to 9.0. This difference can create some problems along the way, but you can manage the situation.

Just monitor the fish’s pH regularly and intervene if they show any symptoms of discomfort or stress.

When it comes to water quality, I would say that Red Tails and cichlids make for perfect tank mates. Cichlids are notoriously messy fish that require weekly water changes, while Red Tails act as the maintenance crew.

The Red Tail shark gets much of its food from its environment, scrapping algae and organic matter off of rocks.

This feeding behavior will minimize the accumulation of dead matter and algae that could diminish the water’s oxygen levels and boost ammonia.

Obviously, the Red Tail’s feeding activity won’t remove the need for a filter and having a strict tank maintenance routine. But it sure helps.

Tank Size

In my opinion, the tank’s size is where it’s at. Both cichlids and Red Tails require a lot of space to remain comfortable and calm and scratch that territorial itch that’s bugging them constantly.

One adult Red Tail demands at least 55 gallons of space. This seems like a lot for a 6-inch-long fish, but it makes sense. The Red Tail may be small, but its ego is huge. Only a 55-gallon tank can contain it.

Cichlids also need their fair share of space, but this generally depends on the species. Smaller cichlids can get along with 30 gallons per group of 5-6 specimens.

But we’re talking about 3-inch-long cichlids, which already don’t really qualify for ideal tank mates for your Red Tail.

They are too small and may become victims of bullying. Or the Red Tail may straight up eat them.

Larger cichlids, revolving around 6-8 inches, demand more space. A group of 5-6 cichlids measuring up to 8 inches in size would most likely require a 75-gallon environment for themselves.

You can make it work with less, but it depends on the species and their tank layout.

I suggest deciding on your favorite cichlid species and going from there. As a general rule, one 8-inch cichlid requires around 30 gallons of water, but you can’t keep one cichlid.

Any other subsequent cichlid added into the tank demands an extra space equal to their size times 2. So, if you’re adding another 8-inch cichlid, you need to increase the tank’s size by at least 16 inches. The 30-gallon tank will turn into a 45-gallon+ one.

Then you add the Red Tail’s space requirements into the mix, and you’ll end up with a tank size requirement in the neighborhood of 125 gallons.

This should be enough for one Red Tail and a group of 5-6 8-inch-long cichlids. But don’t take this recommendation for granted since it might not fit your situation, depending on the species of cichlids.

Some cichlids demand more space even if they’re smaller than 8 inches, purely due to their more aggressive behavior. So, you have that to consider as well.

Food and Diet

A hungry cichlid is a dangerous cichlid. The same goes for the Red Tail. Fortunately, feeding them shouldn’t be too difficult since they aren’t too picky about their meals.

The main difference between the 2 species rests in their feeding frequency.

Cichlids have faster metabolic rates and poop more frequent. Needless to say, they need to eat more often too. The type of food their favor depends on their diet.

Some cichlids are herbivorous, others are carnivorous predators, and some are herbivorous. However, most will consume a varied, omnivorous-based diet consisting of veggies, spirulina, live food, and nutritious homemade fish food if you have the time for it.

You should feed adult cichlids small portions of food 3-4 times per day. Don’t feed these fish more than they can eat within 30 seconds or so.

Any more than that can lead to overfeeding, which will cause digestive problems and poison the environment. Or you can feed them 2-3 times per day in portions they can consume within 1-2 minutes at most.

A higher feeding frequency will keep your cichlids calmer and less competitive, which is great news for your Red Tail.

Red Tails are also omnivorous, but they will rely on their environment to get much of their nutrition. For this reason, you should only feed Red Tails once every 2 days.

They don’t need more than that to remain satisfied, especially since they’re living with cichlids, which are rather messy eaters.

Food leftovers are always guaranteed in a cichlid tank, and your Red Tail won’t mind picking them up.

That being said, you always need to assess the Red Tail’s behavior. If it seems too aggressive and jittery, it may be hungry.

Feel free to increase its feeding frequency to make sure the situation doesn’t degenerate.

The Number of Fish

This is an important point. Cichlids can live alone in theory, but they will be more aggressive and territorial.

One of the ways to lower their aggression is found in numbers. Increase the number of cichlids, and they will remain calmer due to the social pressure forcing them to abide by specific hierarchical regulations.

Cichlids will constantly interact with each other, playing and fighting occasionally, which helps them consume their energy.

This will keep them happier and calmer, as they have no incentive to fight or chase other fish nearing their territory like the Red Tail.

The Red Tail, on the other hand, functions differently. Keeping 2 Red Tail males in the same environment would be suicide. You most likely require at least 100 gallons of water only to house 2 Red Tails without any cichlid.

And even that might not suffice since the 2 males can still get into life-or-death fights over territory or simply out of excess testosterone.

Fortunately, Red Tails are happier when living alone, so you don’t need to have several of them. Unless you want to, but you will do it at your own risk.

In conclusion, ensure enough space for one Red Tail and at least 6 cichlids, preferably more.

African cichlids, for instance, actually thrive when being overstocked, compared to other fish. The problem in that scenario is that the tank water will degrade fast. Cichlids are already messy fish by default.

Overstocking them is bound to increase that problem tenfold.

So, you should perform weekly water changes of 10% of the total volume to prevent ammonia buildup and keep water parameters stable.

The good thing is that the Red Tail will also contribute to the cleaning process.

How to Stop Red Tail Shark from Bullying?

There are several ways to control your Red Tail’s behavior, but don’t expect any bulletproof measure.

Here’s what you can try:

  • Ensure adequate space – This is the go-to strategy for keeping your Red Tail calmer overall. So long as your Red Tail has sufficient space, it won’t mind the presence of other fish that much.
  • Get aggressive cichlids – Not too aggressive not to hurt or kill your Red Tails, but aggressive enough to discourage the shark from testing them. The Red Tail has a bully mentality and will try to harass weaker and shier fish. A group of territorial and bonded cichlids will stand its ground and repel the Red Tail’s bullying attempts.
  • Have only one Red Tail – I understand the appeal of having several Red Tails, but you have to resist it. Red Tails are not familiarized with the concept of teamwork. You will probably need at least 100 gallons of water to accommodate 2 Red Tails, and that doesn’t guarantee violence-free cohabitation.

Conclusion

Red Tails and cichlids will bump heads, no matter how much you try to prevent that. It’s okay because this will allow the fish to regulate their behaviors.

They will test each other’s limits and understand what flies and what doesn’t.

So long as you provide all fish with sufficient space and create a tank layout with plenty of hiding spots, there’s nothing to worry about.

That being said, always monitor your fish’s dynamics to make sure the situation remains under control.

avatar 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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