How To Tell If A Cichlid Is Pregnant? 6 Guaranteed Ways To Know

Aug 15, 2021

How To Tell If A Cichlid Is Pregnant

Image credits: ellnm1 on Flickr under Creative Commons license

Cichlids are my favorite aquarium fish to ever exist. They lend your aquarium that vibrant and colorful saltwater looks without the hassle that tags along in saltwater tanks. But as easy as it sounds on paper, breeding cichlids and taking care of pregnant parties can be pretty daunting for a newbie. 

Is my cichlid pregnant or just bloated? Is it a mouth brooder or substrate brooder? But most importantly, is it even pregnant? How does one know?

Don’t worry – in today’s blog, I’ll walk you through it all – one question at a time. 

How To Tell If A Cichlid Is Pregnant?

When a female cichlid is carrying eggs, her mouth or abdomen area will appear rounder and plump depending on the stage of pregnancy. Likewise, she will develop more intense colors, appear aloof and defensive, and lose her appetite. 

These are the most prominent tell-tale signs of pregnancy in cichlids. Let’s look at them and some more signs in detail below. 

But before that, it’s essential to know the type of cichlid you have. 

Mouthbrooding Cichlids VS Substrate Brooding Cichlids 

african and south american cichlid
Credits: calwhiz and yu-chan chen on Flickr under CC license

Once the eggs are laid, the mouthbrooding cichlid will scoop them into her mouth and incubate them for around 3 weeks. 

Some examples of mouthbrooding cichlids are humphead cichlid, tropheus cichlid, demasoni cichlid, and livingstonii cichlid. 

On the other hand, the substrate brooding cichlid will lay her eggs on a flat surface and tend them until they hatch. Usually, males are tasked with finding the suitable surface for laying eggs. 

Some examples of substrate-laying cichlids are airy cichlids, convict cichlids, and jewel cichlids. 

The signs of pregnancy somewhat differ between mouth brooders and substrate brooders.

Cichlid’s Belly Will Appear Swollen 

Female cichlids develop eggs in their belly – causing the mid regions to appear swollen and rounder. In addition, you can notice the broad side-to-side appearance in the areas near the anal fin. 

Even at first glance, you can see the pregnant cichlid is considerably broader than her male counterparts. In species where the male and female look identical, this usually is the first tip-off. 

Cichlid Will Develop Intense Coloration

When a female cichlid is pregnant, she will develop brighter and more intense coloration. This is an evolutionary trait – signifying the female is ready to mate. 

In substrate brooding cichlids, the female’s color transition is a message for the male to search for a suitable place for eggs. 

Interestingly, males are also known to develop richer color to woo the female. So, during mating season, your tank’s going to look a lot more lively and striking. 

Cichlid Will Act Hide And Act Defensive

A pregnant cichlid will usually keep to herself – hiding in the nooks and crannies of the tank and distancing herself from the usual school. This is especially true for mouthbrooders. 

In the case of substrate brooders, you will see them carefully cleaning and guarding the brooding pit against inquisitive visitors. 

Also, naturally, the matriarchs will become very defensive when caring for their eggs. They will become intolerant of other prying fish and bottom dwellers at this time. 

The females will go out and about only after her fry come of age. 

Cichlid’s Mouth Area Will Get Enlarged And Swollen

mouthbrooding cichlid
Credits: ellenm1 on Flickr under Creative Commons

Mouthbrooding cichlids have a unique throat pouch called the buccal cavity, where they store the eggs once they are fertilized. When the female cichlid has a mouthful of eggs, her throat expands, and she can barely close her mouth fully. 

So, if your female cichlid’s mouth region is considerably swollen, this means she is carrying eggs. If you watch closely and get lucky, you can even see a batch of tiny eggs in the mouth. It’s pretty incredible. 

Cichlid’s Appetite Will Change 

A female cichlid developing eggs inside her body will experience increased appetite. Although her hunger won’t be too palpable, she will try to eat a tad bit more as she needs to replenish energy to carry the eggs. 

Conversely, in the case of a mouthbrooder, once she scoops the eggs inside her mouth, she will fast for the entirety of the holding period, which can last anywhere between 21-28 days. 

As a result, sometimes, the mother may die of starvation, although it’s not too likely. That’s why some owners prefer stripping the eggs and incubating them artificially. 

Cichlid Will Receive Ample Male Attention 

Most males in substrate brooding cichlids are monogamous, while those from mouthbrooding species are known to move from one mate to another. 

Either way, the male will give ample attention to the pregnant female and court her. This involves dancing, flaring of the fins, and shimmying. It’s quite a show!

Males from substrate brooding families are tasked with one more responsibility – creating a suitable nesting pit. You can see him sucking up the substrate through his mouth and spitting it elsewhere to create a flat and leveled area for mating and nesting. 

Once the pit is complete, he will dance and shimmy to coax the female and lead her there.

Whether they come from mouthbrooding or substrate brooding families, Males will act very mean and hostile towards other competing males. The dominant one can even bully weaker males to death! 

Sometimes, it’s easy to mistake a bloated cichlid for a pregnant one. Unfortunately, this once happened to me too. And I learned my lesson the hard way – my supposedly ‘pregnant’ cichlid died of Malawi bloat. 

So, here are a few signs of a bloated cichlid that will hopefully help you tell it apart from pregnant ones. 

You May Also Like:

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4 Signs Of Bloated Cichlids

It’s quite easy to mistake a bloated cichlid for a pregnant one. The apparent signs of a bloated cichlid are appetite loss, increased panting, red marks on the skin, and white, streaky feces. 

Appetite Loss

Unlike a cichlid developing eggs, a bloated cichlid will have a suppressed appetite. So, just like we deter food when bloated, cichlids avoid eating too when they’re not feeling right. 

Increased Panting 

A pregnant cichlid will not experience any changes in her respiratory functions, but a bloated cichlid will pant a lot more than usual. 

They will have a hard time gasping for air. 

Red Marks 

A pregnant cichlid will develop livelier coloration, but a bloated cichlid will develop red marks near the anus and skin. These red patches indicate ulcers. 

However, they only appear in the later stages and indicate that the bloat has started affecting the internal organs. 

White Feces 

A bloated cichlid will often produce white feces shaped as long streaks. A pregnant female may produce more bioload due to her appetite, but the feces will look normal. 

If you’re want to read up on how to effectively cure cichlid bloating, head over here.

How Long Do Cichlids Hold Their Eggs?

A female cichlid will hold eggs in her body for around 6 weeks before laying them. The clutch can contain up to 30 eggs per cycle

In mouthbrooding cichlids, once the eggs are hatched, they’re incubated in the mouth for around 3 weeks.

Even after the eggs hatch, the mother may keep the fry in her mouth for a couple of weeks more until they come of age. 

Do Cichlids Eat Their Fry?

cichlid and her fry
Captions: Ken Schwarz on Flickr under Creative Commons license

Although cichlids are not known to practice intense infanticide like some other fishes do, they sometimes eat their babies. So we cannot rule out the possibility 100%.

That’s why it’s best to raise the fry in a different tank until they are adults or juveniles. 

Can A Cichlid Get Pregnant By Itself?

No, cichlids aren’t known to get pregnant by themselves. However, there are a few anomalies. As per a study published in Royal Society Open Science, a female cichlid hybrid fish reportedly impregnated herself without a male. 

The cichlid did so by mixing eggs and sperm in its own mouth, ejaculating into the water, and sucking up the fluid into the mouth where the eggs were.

The eggs were then reportedly fertilized and yielded healthy offspring. 

How Long Do Cichlid Fry Take To Grow?

Cichlid fry take around 2 years to grow and reach their full potential (between 4 to 10 inches depending on the species). 

However, they reach half of their full potential within 10 to 20 days of hatching. At this point, you can transfer them to the main tank. 

Will Female Cichlids Hold Eggs Even When There Are No Males?

Yes, a female will lay eggs even if there are no males present. Usually, unfertilized eggs are white – in contrast to fertilized yellow eggs. 

Mouthbrooding females will even hold their eggs, which they either swallow or release after a few weeks. 

How To Strip Cichlid Eggs And Fry?

Transfer the holding female into a small container filled with the original tank’s water. Next, gently hold her with your left hand and open her mouth using your fingers. You can also use a bent twisty tie. The fry will then start to come out. Once all the fry are out, put the mother back in her tank. 

If you remove the fry towards the very end of the holding process, the fry will be free swimming and kept in a breeding box or separate tank. However, if you remove them early, you should keep them in an egg tumbler until they are free-swimming. 

Final Words: How To Tell If A Cichlid Is Pregnant?

Pregnant cichlids are quite easy to spot. You can almost always know when they’re holding eggs or developing eggs in their body due to tangible physical signs. 

The belly will get swollen and rounded when the eggs are developing. In addition, the mouth will get distended and plump when the female is holding eggs. She will also develop brighter colors. 

Likewise, a pregnant female will appear more aloof and distant to protect her eggs. She will even get defensive and hostile if there are any intruders!

Happy Reading!

How To Stop Cichlid Aggression – 13 Proven Methods To Try!

Demasoni Cichlid Care Guide | Diet, Habitat, Breeding, Accessories

Livingstonii Cichlids Care Guide | Diet, Habitat, Breeding, Accessories

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.