Do Cichlids Need A Heater? What Temperature Is Too Low For Them?

Oct 31, 2021

Do cichlids need a heater

The water in African rift lakes and Amazonian river basins has super stable parameters, whether its temperature, pH, or general hardness. Therefore, cichlids don’t take too well to incorrect water chemistry or sudden changes. So, do cichlids need a heater, or room temperature water will do?

Let’s find out. 

Do Cichlids Need A Heater? 

Yes, absolutely. Cichlids need a heater. They are tropical freshwater fish from the tropics. Thus, they cannot survive in cold water. Furthermore, lower temperature invites a host of complications ranging from compromised immunity to lethargy. Therefore, you need to invest in a sturdy, reliable heater for your cichlids. 

At room temperature, the average water temperature is 68°F (28°C), slightly lower than most cichlids need to thrive. Therefore, you need to install a heater to raise the temperature. 

 Suppose you live very close to your cichlid’s natural habitat. In that case, you may get away sans a heater, but we strongly recommend against it. 

An aquarium heater is simply indispensable when it comes to setting up a tank. 

And don’t pinch pennies when investing in a heater. A poorly made heater comes with several risks ranging from sudden exploding to electrocution. 

Now, let’s have a quick look at the ideal water temperature for different types of cichlids. 

Do African Cichlids Need A Heater?

Yes, African cichlids need a heater like any other fish. The water’s temperature should be maintained around 75-85°F (23-29°). These fish do not tolerate sudden temperature fluctuations too well. 

So, if you are supposed to increase or decrease the temperature, do it gradually over a period. 

Correct Water Temperature Range For Cichlids 

Type of Cichlids Temperature in °F Temperature in °C

African Cichlids75-85°F23-29°C
Central American Cichlids75-80°F23-26°C
Asian Cichlids68-84°F20-29°C

The temperatures mentioned above reflect the minimum and maximum warmth the respective cichlids can tolerate. It’s always wise to achieve a number that falls somewhere between the range. 

That being said, you should prioritize maintaining a stable temperature at all times instead of fixating on achieving a golden number. 

What’s The Lowest Temperature Possible For African Cichlids? 

The lowest possible temperature for African cichlids is 75°F (23°C). If they are consistently exposed to anything lower than this, they will become sick over time – slowly but surely. 

What Happens If The Water Is Too Cold For Cichlids?

Cichlids are tropical fish and aren’t accustomed to cold water parameters. If the water is too cold for their liking, it will weaken their immunity, make them passive, stress them out and ultimately invite many health complications. 

Cichlids are cold-blooded fish, which means they rely on their surroundings for heat. That’s why you mustn’t expose them to cold water for a prolonged period. 

However, if the water is cold to begin with, you mustn’t raise the temperature immediately or suddenly, as this can shock your fish. 

Take the help of your in-tank heater or a light source to raise the temperature slowly. But don’t do both of these things together. 

What Happens If The Water Is Too Hot For Cichlids? 

Achieving the proper water temperature is tricky. On top of that, fish are pretty vulnerable to temperature shocks. They don’t embrace sudden changes. So, if the water becomes too hot, the oxygen levels will drop, and your fish will suffocate. 

The ideal water temperature for most freshwater fish clocks is between 75-80°F (24-27°C). 

Hot water forces your fish to retreat at the bottom of the tank. The reason behind this is enthralling. 

Hot water releases oxygen quite faster than cool water. And hot water has a lower density than cold water, meaning it will rise to the top. 

And in response, your fish will lay at the bottom of the tank where the water is colder and relatively more oxygenated. 

If your cichlids are consistently exposed to hot water, they will die for sure either by suffocation or by a secondary complication brought upon by the hot temperature. 

However, it doesn’t mean you should lower the temperature abruptly and immediately – this should be a gradual process. 

Don’t use ice cubes or ice packs. Your fish won’t take them too well. Instead, rely on air conditioners or fans to gradually but surely lower the water’s temperature. 

Should You Leave The Aquarium Heater On All The Time? 

Yes, you should leave the aquarium heater on at all times. On a few blogs, I read that you should use it during winter, but that’s a dangerous thing to do. Today, most aquarium heaters come with an internal thermostat that turns the heat off after reaching the desired temperature. 

In other words, when the temperature is less than ideal, the tank heater will automatically turn on to heat the water. And when the temperature reaches the preset temperature, the heater shuts off automatically. 

So, you need not worry about the water overheating or your fish boiling. 

A heater is directly tied to your fish’s well-being. Its absence can be potentially fatal.

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6 Types Of Heaters To Choose From

  • HOB heaters
  • Submersible heaters
  • In-line heaters
  • Substrate heaters
  • In-sump heaters 
  • In-filter heaters

HOB heaters 

Hang-on-back (HOB) heaters are some of the cheapest heaters available to us. Almost all tanks come equipped with a HOB heater to help new hobbyists maintain the correct water parameters. 

These heaters hang from the top edge of the tank and feature a glass tube with a heater element inside. 

Keep in mind that HOB heaters are dangerous for brackish or marine tanks as salt can enter the tube and corrode it. 

Submersible heaters

Like you have guessed by the name, submersible heaters can be fully immersed in the water and are more effective than a HOB heater. 

These heaters are usually attached to the rear of the tank with the help of a suction clip. 

With submersible heaters, you have to be careful that the heater isn’t too close to the gravel since thermal conductivity between gravel and water and causes the heater’s glass to crack. 

In-line heaters 

In-line heaters are self-contained external heaters but are located on or along a part of the outer pipe. 

These types of heaters need a water pump to pass water through them. 

The water is first drawn from the aquarium through a tube or pipe, then passes through the heater, and warm water is returned to the aquarium.

Substrate heaters

I think substrate heaters are the most uncommon ones in the hobby. It includes a grid or coil of wire in an insulator buried beneath the substrate or gravel. 

In these heaters, the wire itself is the heating element, and when you turn it on, the wire becomes hot and heats the gravel. Next, the heat warms up the water. 

These heaters are beneficial for planted tanks where gravel has to act as an insulator. However, for a fish tank, it’s a no-no. 

In-sump heaters 

Basically, in-sump heaters are submersible heaters installed in the water tank of the trickle filter, not the tank itself. 

This kind of configuration allows better safety for the fish by minimizing the risks of aquarium heaters. 

In-filter heaters 

Some filters come with a built-in heating element. These heaters warm the water passing through the filter and transfer the heated and purified water to the tank. 

And since these heaters are integrated with the filter, they are called in-filter heaters. 

Heater Size And Capacity Guide 

Tank SizeHeat
Increase by 5°C
Increase by 9°F
Heat
Increase by 10°C
Increase by 18°F
Heat
Increase by 15°C
Increase by 27°F
5 Gallon/20 Litre 25 watts50 watts75 watts
10 Gallon/40 Litre50 watts75 watts75 watts
20 Gallon/75 Litre 50 watts75 watts150 watts
25 Gallon/100 Litre75 watts100 watts200 watts
40 Gallon/150 Litre 100 watts150 watts300 watts
50 Gallon/200 Litre 150 watts200 watts400 watts
55 Gallon/250 Litre 165 watts275 watts440 watts
60 Gallon/272 Litre 180 watts300 watts480 watts
65 Gallon/295 Litre 200 watts250 watts 500 watts
75 Gallon/300 Litre 250 watts300 watts600 watts
90 Gallon/340 Litre 270 watts450 watts720 watts
125 Gallon/473 Litre375 watts625 watts1000 watts
150 Gallon/567 Litre 450 watts750 watts1200 watts

What’s The Best Heater For Cichlids? 

I recently bought a heater from the much-loved and fan-favorite Fluval E series, and I’m absolutely loving it. At this price point, I think only a handful of heaters (or not) can compete with the Fluval E Electronic heater

It’s available in capacities ranging from 50 watts to 300 watts. I currently use a 200-watts variant for my 65-gallon tank. 

Here’s an Amazon link if you are interested:

Let’s have a brief look at all the bells and whistles this heater boasts of. 

Dual temperature sensors offer extra reliability so that you can get accurate and real-time water temperatures at all time
Features safety shut off and integrated fish guard to ensure the well-being of your fish
5-year limited warranty 
Features system that changes display color if the set temperature differs +/- 1°C or +/- 2°F (green = safe zone, red = high, blue = low)
Precision temperature control enables increments (+ or -) of 0.5 degrees 

What I like the best about this heater is the heater guard, a protective plastic cage around the heater. This prevents your cichlid from wedging itself and getting stuck behind the heater. Yes, I actually have had fish die this way. 

I also like the auto-cut function that turns off the system automatically if there’s anything wrong with the heater. 

The only con I can think of is that you’ll need two of these if you have a bigger tank. 

If you have a bigger tank, this one by Hygger is also super decent and offers excellent value for money. I’ve been using a Hygger 800W Submersible Heater for my 125-gallon tank for a couple of years now and haven’t run into any problems yet. 

Here’s an Amazon link if you want to have a look:

Here’s a quick glance at its most stand-out features:

3-digit digital display that is accurate to 0.1° F
A double temperature probe that saves the single temperature probe from being damaged due to overheating 
Automatically remembers the temperature when used after a power failure
An intelligent thermostat that prevents the water from overheating 

Final Words: Do Cichlids Need A Heater?

Yes, cichlids, like any other fish, need a heater. Cichlids are tropical freshwater fish. They aren’t too big on cold water. Also, they’re cold-blooded, meaning they depend on their environment for heat. So, you must install a sturdy and safe heater for your cichlid’s tank. 

If the water is too cold, it will compromise the cichlid’s immunity, causing stress and lethargy, and eventually making the fish sick. On the other hand, if the water is too hot, your pet cichlid will die from suffocation. 

Thus, it’s critical and life-saving to get the water temperature right and maintain it at all times. 

Relevant Readings

How Often Do Angelfish Lay Eggs? Breeding Guide With Pictures

How Many Cichlids In A 75-Gallon Tank? Mbunas, Peacocks And South American

Why Is My Oscar Fish Lying On Its Side? 7 Possible Reasons Why!

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.