Red Empress Cichlid Care, Tank Setup, Breeding and More!

Featured Image – Red Empress Cichlid
Dr. Mollie Newton
Published by Dr. Mollie Newton PHD| Senior Editor
Last updated: June 16, 2024
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Seeking to jazz up your freshwater aquarium with some dazzling colors? Think about the captivating Red Empress Cichlid. This brilliantly vibrant freshwater fish, known as the Red Empress, stands as a favorite among aquarium enthusiasts everywhere.

Quick Summary

  • The Red Empress Cichlid (Protomelas taeniolatus) is a colorful freshwater fish native to Lake Malawi, Africa.
  • The Red Empress Cichlid is a vibrant and captivating freshwater fish popular among aquarium enthusiasts worldwide.
  • Their lifespan can reach up to 10 years with proper care, influenced by factors like diet and water quality.


The red empress cichlid (Protomelas taeniolatus) is a fascinating and gorgeous fish found in Lake Malawi, Africa. It is endemic to the rocky shores and sandy bottoms of the lake, making it well adapted to its natural habitat. These vibrant fish thrive in warm, alkaline water conditions that are characteristic of Lake Malawi.

Being part of the diverse cichlid family, the red empress cichlid showcases the remarkable range of this group across Africa. However, it is particularly known for its striking red coloration and unique behavior.

In the wild, red empress cichlid can be observed near the bottom of Lake Malawi as it navigates rocky surroundings. Their vibrant hues stand out against the sandy substrate, creating a captivating sight for those fortunate enough to witness them in their natural habitat.


The lifespan of red empress cichlid can reach up to 10 years with proper care. Several factors, such as diet and water quality, can influence their lifespan. Females generally have longer lifespans compared to males. To ensure a healthy and long life for your red empress cichlid, it is important to regularly monitor their health and provide a suitable environment.


Malawi Red Empress Cichlid near the substrate
Malawi Red Empress Cichlid Near The Substrate

The red empress cichlid is a visually striking species. Males of the red empress cichlid sport vibrant red coloration on both their bodies and fins, making them stand out in any aquarium. In contrast, females have a more subdued appearance with a silver or grayish hue, which allows them to blend into their surroundings.

Both males and females have elongated bodies that feature a slightly arched back shape…

Both males and females have elongated bodies that feature a slightly arched back shape, giving them an elegant look. Prominent lips and large eyes are characteristic features of the red empress cichlid, adding to their unique appearance.

The most noticeable difference between male and female red empress cichlids lies in their coloration. While males display vivid red hues, females opt for a more understated palette. Another distinguishing factor is the shape of their mouths. Male red empress cichlids tend to have larger mouths compared to females, which aids in courtship rituals and territorial displays.


Adult males of this species can grow to impressive lengths of 6 inches (15 cm) or even more. On the other hand, females tend to be slightly smaller, usually reaching around 4 inches (10 cm). However, it’s worth noting that the growth rate of red empress cichlids can vary based on their environmental conditions.

Red Empress Cichlid Care

The Red Empress Cichlid, also known as empress cichlid, requires specific care to thrive in your aquarium. Here are some essential tips to ensure the well-being of these vibrant fish.

Tank Size

The tank size of Red Empress Cichlids is an important consideration when it comes to their care. These fish need a spacious, large tank, that allows them to establish territories and feel secure. For a single Red Empress Cichlid, at least 75 gallon tank size is recommended.

The more space they have, the happier and healthier they will be. Providing a larger tank also allows for better water quality and reduces the risk of aggression between fish. So, when setting up a tank for Red Empress Cichlids, make sure to provide them with ample space to thrive.

Water Temperature

Maintain the water temperature between 76°F to 82°F (24°C to 28°C) for the comfort of your empress cichlids. Use an aquarium heater and thermometer to monitor and adjust the temperature accordingly.

pH Level

Regularly test the water using a reliable pH testing kit and ensure the pH level is within the range of 7.8 to 8.6. Make necessary adjustments using appropriate products available at pet stores to maintain optimal water conditions.

Substrate and Decorations

Choose a substrate that mimics their natural habitat, such as sand or fine gravel. Adding rocks, driftwood, and live plants can create a visually appealing environment while providing additional hiding places for your Red Empress Cichlid.

Water Changes

Although red empress cichlids are hardy fish, you need to perform regular partial water changes to maintain optimal water quality. This helps remove accumulated waste and replenishes essential minerals for healthier empress cichlids.

Common Possible Diseases of Red Empress Cichlid

Cichlids, and other fish including the red empress cichlid, are susceptible to various diseases. It is important for fish owners to be aware of these common ailments and take necessary precautions to keep their aquatic pets healthy.

  • Ichthyophthirius multifiliis (Ich) is a prevalent disease that can affect cichlids. This parasitic infection manifests as small white spots on the fish’s body, fins, and gills. Prompt treatment is essential to prevent the spread of this contagious disease.
  • Bacterial infections can occur if water conditions are not adequately maintained. Poor water quality and lack of cleanliness create an environment conducive to bacterial growth. Regular observation and maintenance routines, such as regular water changes and filter cleaning, help prevent bacterial infections.
  • Parasitic infections like flukes and worms may also afflict red empress cichlids. Flukes are tiny flatworms that attach themselves to the fish’s skin or gills, causing irritation and discomfort. Worms can invade the digestive system of the fish, leading to digestive issues. Proper quarantine procedures for new fish additions and regular monitoring can help detect these parasites early on.

Food & Diet

Fish Food
Fish Food

Red empress cichlids have an omnivorous diet, which means they eat both plant matter and protein-rich foods. To ensure their health and well-being, it is important to provide them with a balanced diet that replicates their natural habitat.

  1. Variety of Foods: Offer a variety of high-quality pellets, flakes, and frozen/live foods to meet the nutritional needs of red empress cichlids. This ensures they receive a diverse range of nutrients.
  2. Supplement with Fresh Vegetables: In addition to commercial foods, supplement their diet with fresh vegetables like spinach or peas. These vegetables provide essential vitamins and minerals necessary for their overall health.
  3. Feeding Schedule: Red empress cichlids should be fed small amounts multiple times a day to prevent overeating. This feeding schedule mimics their natural feeding habits in the wild and helps maintain optimal health.

Variety of Foods

Red empress cichlids have specific dietary needs that must be met in order to maintain their health and well-being. To ensure they receive a diverse range of nutrients, it is important to offer a variety of high-quality pellets, flakes, and frozen/live foods. This will provide them with the necessary vitamins and minerals they need to thrive.

Supplement with Fresh Vegetables

In addition to commercial foods, it is also beneficial to supplement their diet with fresh vegetables. Vegetables like spinach or peas are excellent choices as they provide essential nutrients that are necessary for their overall health. These vegetables can be offered as a treat or mixed into their regular food to add variety and increase nutritional value.

Feeding Schedule

When it comes to feeding red empress cichlids, it is important to establish a feeding schedule that mimics their natural feeding habits. Rather than feeding them a large amount of food all at once, it is best to feed them small amounts multiple times a day. This helps prevent overeating and ensures that they are receiving the proper amount of food to maintain optimal health.

Behavior & Temperament

Red empress cichlids are generally peaceful fish, but they can become territorial during breeding periods. They are active swimmers and enjoy exploring their environment. However, if the tank becomes overcrowded or they feel threatened, they may exhibit aggressive behavior towards their own tankmates.


To ensure a harmonious tank environment, it is recommended to keep red empress cichlids in groups. Being social species, they benefit from the companionship of their own kind. This helps alleviate aggression and provides a more natural setting for these beautiful fish.

Red Empress Cichlid Tank Mates

Different Varieties of African Cichlids Swimming
Different Varieties of African Cichlids Swimming

When considering tank mates for Red Empress Cichlids, it is important to choose species that are compatible with their behavior and habitat requirements. Red Empress Cichlids are generally peaceful and can be kept with other non-aggressive fish of similar size. Here are some suitable tank mates for Red Empress Cichlids:

  1. Peacock Cichlids: Peacock Cichlids are known for their vibrant colors and peaceful nature, making them excellent companions for Red Empress Cichlids.
  2. Bristlenose Plecos: These small and hardy plecos make great tank mates for Red Empress Cichlids. They help to keep the tank clean by consuming algae and are generally peaceful.
  3. Synodontis Catfish: Synodontis Catfish are bottom-dwelling fish that can coexist peacefully with Red Empress Cichlids. They add diversity to the tank and help with algae control.
  4. Rainbowfish: Rainbowfish are active and colorful fish that can thrive alongside Red Empress Cichlids. They are generally peaceful and can add a lively touch to the aquarium.
  5. African Tetras: Species like Congo Tetras and African Tigerfish can be suitable tank mates for Red Empress Cichlids. They are active swimmers and can coexist peacefully in a well-maintained aquarium.


It is important to note that tank mates should be chosen carefully, considering factors such as size, temperament, and water parameters. Always monitor the behavior of all fish in the tank and be prepared to make adjustments if any aggression or compatibility issues arise.

Breeding Red Empress Cichlids

Breeding red empress can be an exciting and rewarding experience for fish enthusiasts. These vibrant and colorful fish are native to Lake Malawi in East Africa and are known for their striking appearance and fascinating behaviors. If you’re interested in breeding red empress, there are a few key factors to consider.

Creating the Right Environment

Firstly, it’s important to create the right environment for breeding. Red empress cichlids prefer spacious tanks with plenty of hiding spots, such as rocks or caves. Providing a suitable substrate, such as sand or fine gravel, is also essential for their natural behavior. Maintaining the water temperature between 76-82°F (24-28°C) and a pH level of 7.8-8.6 will help create optimal conditions for breeding.

Selecting Breeding Pairs

When it comes to selecting breeding pairs, it’s best to choose between healthy fish and mature individuals. Red empress cichlids are sexually dimorphic, meaning that males and females have distinct physical differences.

Males usually display brighter colors and longer fins…

Males usually display brighter colors and longer fins, while females are slightly smaller and have less vibrant coloration. Introducing a compatible pair into the breeding tank will increase the chances of successful breeding.

Providing a Suitable Spawning Site

To encourage spawning, it’s recommended to provide the red empress cichlids with a suitable spawning site. This can be achieved by adding flat rock, rocks or ceramic tiles to the tank. The female will lay her eggs on these surfaces, and the male will fertilize them. After spawning, it’s important to remove the female from the tank to prevent aggression from the male.

Here’s a cool video of Red Empress breeding behavior…

Red Empress in Breeding Display

Caring for the Fry

Once the eggs are fertilized, they will typically hatch within 3-5 days. At this stage, it’s crucial to provide adequate care for the fry. Feeding them with high-quality, finely crushed food such as baby brine shrimp or powdered fry food will support their growth and development. Regular water changes and maintaining optimal water parameters will also contribute to their well-being.

Where To Get Red Empress Cichlids?

If you are looking to buy Red Empress fish, there are several options available to you. One of the most convenient ways to purchase these fish is through online retailers.

Many reputable fish suppliers have websites where you can browse their selection of Red Empress and place an order for delivery. This allows you to choose from a wide range of options and have the fish delivered directly to your door.

Additionally, you may also be able to find Red Empress fish at local pet stores or aquarium shops. These establishments often carry a variety of fish species and can provide you with expert advice on caring for your new Red Empress.

It is always recommended to do some research and choose a reliable source when purchasing fish to ensure their health and well-being.

Frequently Asked Questions

How big does a red empress cichlid get?

The Red Empress cichlid (Protomelas taeniolatus) typically grows to a size of about 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) in length. However, factors such as diet, water quality, and tank size can influence growth rate and overall size of these freshwater fish.

Are Red Empress cichlids aggressive?

Red Empress cichlids are generally considered to be moderately aggressive compared to some other cichlid species. While they may exhibit territorial behavior, their aggression can vary based on individual temperament and tank conditions. Providing ample hiding spots and proper tankmates can help manage their behavior.

Is a red empress a hap or peacock?

The Red Empress cichlid (Protomelas taeniolatus) belongs to the group of fish known as “haps,” short for Haplochromine cichlids. They are not classified as “peacock” cichlids, which belong to the Aulonocara genus. Red Empress cichlids showcase distinct characteristics and coloration that set them apart from both haps and peacocks.

Is a Red Empress cichlid a hap?

Yes, the Red Empress cichlid (Protomelas taeniolatus) is classified as a haplochromine cichlid, often referred to as a “hap.” This group of cichlids includes various species that are known for their vibrant colors, diverse behaviors, and unique characteristics.

How can you tell a male red empress from a female?

Male and female Red Empress cichlids exhibit pronounced sexual dimorphism. Males typically display vibrant and intense colors, along with elongated dorsal and anal fins. Females, on the other hand, tend to have duller colors and shorter fins. Additionally, mature males may have a hump on their forehead. These distinctive physical traits make it relatively easy to differentiate between male and female Red Empress cichlids.

Featured Image – Photo by and (c)2006 Derek Ramsey (Ram-Man), CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons
(1) Cedricguppy – Loury cédric, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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