Can Cichlids Live With Tetras? Here’s Why They Can’t!

Nov 20, 2021

Can Cichlids Live With Tetras

Some matches are made in heaven. Unfortunately, this isn’t true for cichlids and tetras. Can cichlids live with tetras? No. Are there some tricks you can pull? Maybe. 

Let’s find out!

Can Cichlids Live With Tetras?

No, in most cases, cichlids cannot be kept in the same tank as tetras. Tetras are small fish, and the thing with cichlids is that they’ll try to devour anything they can fit into their mouth. Cichlids and tetras also require somewhat different water parameters to thrive. So, it’s a no-no. 

However, while researching for this piece, I came across a few owners who successfully raised tetras alongside comparatively peaceful cichlids like kribs and rams. But mind you, even the most docile cichlid will get aggressive during mating season. 

And I highly doubt tetras will hold their own when faced against a cichlid’s wrath. 

Now, let’s explore the reasons cichlids and tetras cannot cohabitate together. 

They Need Different pH Levels 

Temperature-wise, cichlids and tetras have pretty similar needs. Cichlids thrive at a temperature range of 78-82°F, whereas water should be about 75-82°F for tetras to be comfortable. 

However, the pH needs are pretty distinct. The pH should clock in somewhere between 7.8-8.5 for cichlids, while tetras need neutral water. So the pH for tetras should fall between 6.8-7.8. 

If your cichlids are exposed to acidic water, it will cause their bodies to produce excess mucus. This happens because of a spike in toxic elements encouraged by acidic aquarium water. And it will also damage their eyes and gills. 

On the other hand, if your tetras are exposed to alkaline water, they will have trouble breathing because of a spike of ammonia in the water. It will also damage the fins and tails, as well as stunt their growth. 

Thus, the difference in pH needs alone is a reason enough not to house cichlids and tetras together. 

Tetras Are Too Small

Tetras are tiny fish. At most, they will grow 3 inches long. On flip side, even dwarf cichlids will grow over 4 inches. And the thing with cichlids is that they’ll try to fit anything they can fit inside their mouths. 

If you mix cichlids with tetras, I’m pretty confident that your tetras will end up becoming a meal for cichlids – the only question is when. 

Cichlids should only be kept together with similarly sized fish that can hold their ground. And tetras are neither the same size as cichlids nor as assertive as the latter. 

So, size-wise, cichlids and tetras aren’t compatible. 

Cichlids Have An Anger Problem

Cichlids are notorious for their wrath. They don’t mind bullying subdued fish to death. As a result, death by injury or bullying are common occurrences in a cichlid’s tank. 

Thus, one has to be super careful when choosing tankmates for cichlids. Once again, they should only be mixed with similarly sized fish that are assertive enough to withstand a cichlid’s anger. 

But tetras are peaceful for most parts. They are social. Of course, they can be aggressive while feeding or mating, but that anger is quite nothing in front of a cichlid’s wrath. 

Cichlids are naturally very territorial. They will guard their ‘territory’ fiercely and are super intolerant of intruders.

Even if your cichlids don’t eat tetras whole, they’ll surely bully the poor fellows relentlessly to the point of death. 

Here’s a YouTube video of a guy adding tetras to an African cichlid tank:

As you can see, the cichlids are inquisitively checking out the tetras. The tetras are schooling together closely out of fear, probably. The guy also talks about a minnow missing from his cichlid tank. 

So, I assume the tetras became tasty live snacks for cichlids in the following days. 

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Can African Cichlids Live With Tetras?

It’s almost next to impossible to keep African cichlids and tetras. So unless you’re okay with your perfectly healthy and young tetras being a source of food for your cichlids, you shouldn’t house the duo together. 

African cichlids grow anywhere between 3 to 8 inches long. So even the smallest African cichlid is bigger than an average tetra. And as I said earlier, African cichlids won’t think twice before devouring anything smaller than them – and in this case, it’s tetras. 

African cichlids should only be housed together with their own kind – and that’s the general practice in the fishkeeping scene. 

I came across a hobbyist on one fish forum who added silver dollar tetras to an African cichlid tank as dither/feeder fish. However, I can’t entirely agree with his practice and wouldn’t recommend doing so to anyone. 

For starters, the pH needs for African cichlids and silver dollars differ pretty drastically. For example, silver dollars thrive in a pH range between 5 and 7, whereas African cichlids require a pH range between 7.5 and 9. 

And I’ve already told you what happens to tetras in alkaline water and African cichlids in acidic water, right? 

Can South American Cichlids Live With Tetras?

Luckily, the pH needs for South American cichlids and tetras overlap. The desired pH range for South American cichlids is between 6 and 7.5, whereas it should clock between 6.8 and 7.8 for tetras. 

Also, South American dwarf cichlids are comparatively a lot more peaceful than their African cousins. Therefore, if you want to add South American cichlids to your tetra tank, you have quite a few options. Some of them are blue ram, Bolivian ram, rainbow kribensis, and keyhole cichlid. 

These small and peaceful cichlids can be housed together with cardinal tetras, provided that there’s ample space in the tank and plenty of hideouts made of rocks, plants, and ornaments. 

The dwarf South American cichlids will still be the alphas of the tank. They will show dominant and territorial behavior from time to time. But you won’t have to worry about your tetras going MIA. 

For regular-sized South American cichlids, you have the option to add silver dollar fish as the latter grows at least 6-8 inches long. I know a few people who use silver dollars as dither fish in South American cichlid tanks. 

Can Oscars And Tetras Live Together? 

oscar fish

Keeping oscars and tetras together is a bad idea. In fact, it’s a deadly idea. Oscars are known for two things – their enormous size and ruthless fury. Oscars are predatory fish that will use their big maws to devour tiny tetras in a jiffy. 

Tetras and oscars are compatible when it comes to water chemistry, but size and temperament are deal-breakers.

A mature oscar can swallow any tetra whole, and they’ll do so if ever given a chance. However, doing so can be risky for both parties. 

If the oscar tries to swallow the tail first, the pointed fin rays can become lodged in the oscar’s mouth. Your tetra will, of course, die, but there’s also a good chance that the oscar will die from choking. 

So, all in all, don’t house oscars and tetras together. 

Can Angelfish And Tetras Live Together?

angelfish

Angelfish cannot be kept alongside smaller tetras like neon tetras and cardinal tetras. However, with big fish like silver dollars, you might have a chance. 

Angelfish are peaceful mostly, but they will attempt to devour anything smaller than them. And they can be incredibly mean when trying to pair off and spawn. 

So, although the temperature and pH needs for angelfish and tetras overlap, you shouldn’t house these two species together. 

How To Keep Cichlids And Tetras Together? 

If you are bent over backward to house cichlids and tetras together, there are some things you can try. But take this information with a pinch of salt, please. We absolutely cannot safeguard your tetras’ well-being. 

One way to raise cichlids and tetras is to add the cichlids into the tetra tank when they’re tiny. This way, there’s a chance that cichlids learn to share the aquarium instead of going bonkers over the territory. 

Another thing you can try is to add plenty of plants and hideouts in the tank so that tetras can take refuge whenever the cichlids are being mean to them. 

With cichlids, it’s critical to add plenty of objects to break the line of sight. For example, adding tall plants or piles of rocks can help the tetras get out of the cichlid’s sight. 

Parting Words: Can Cichlids Live With Tetras?

No, cichlids cannot and should not live with tetras. Cichlids are aggressive fish that should only be placed with their own kind. Poor tetras cannot hold their own against cichlids and will be on the receiving end of endless torture and bullying. They can get eaten too. 

Another reason you shouldn’t keep them together is their different pH needs. Tetras thrive in slightly acidic to neutral waters, while cichlids need alkaline water. Keeping them in the wrong parameters will stunt their growth and shorten their lifespan. 

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rohit gurung author at urbanfishkeeping

About Rohit Gurung

My never-ending love and fascination with Aquascaping started when I received a red-eared turtle for my 10th birthday.

Apart from researching and writing, I spend hours gazing at my 3 turtles. And yeah, I bask alongside them too.