Can You Keep Oscar With African Cichlids? It Can Be Costly!

Nov 25, 2021

Can You Keep Oscar With African Cichlids

Both oscars and African cichlids have big personalities. They like to be the center of attraction, the alpha leader, wherever they go. So, is it a good idea to keep them together? Is it possible to keep an oscar with African cichlids?

Can You Keep Oscar With African Cichlids?

No, you cannot keep oscars with African cichlids. For starters, they come from two different corners of the world and need entirely different water parameters. Second, both oscars and African cichlids are aggressive fish. At least one party will be relentlessly bullied, which can lead to grave injuries and even death. 

On some forums, I came across a few owners who kept oscars with African cichlids. However, they ended up removing the oscar shortly because it was getting picked on brutally by the fierce African cichlids. 

If you’re still not convinced, let’s look at the reasons they aren’t destined to be together in detail below:

They Need Different Water Parameters 

ParameterAfrican CichlidsOscars
Temperature 78-82°F 74-81°F
pH 7.5-9 6.8-7.2
General Hardness 160-200 ppm 70-140 ppm
Carbonate Hardness 120-140 ppm 80-100 ppm
Ammonia 0-0.25 ppm 0-0.25 ppm
Nitrite 0 ppm 0 ppm
Nitrate Below 20 ppm Below 20 ppm

As evident from the table, you can see that most water parameters overlap. However, there’s one exception – the pH range. 

Oscars come from the Amazonian basins, where the water is soft and acidic. On the other hand, African cichlids need hard and alkaline water.

And it goes without saying, but you should not place any fish in water with unsuitable pH values. Your fish won’t die immediately but will lead a poor and painful life and eventually succumb to illness. 

Let me explain further. 

If the water is too alkaline for an oscar, it will dissolve the protective mucus layer that covers the fish and make it susceptible to infections. The poor fish will also have trouble breathing and sustain wounds on the fins and tail.

On the other hand, if the water’s too acidic for African cichlids, it can chemically burn their skin. As a result, your fish will experience hyperplasia (thickening of gills and skin) and eye damage. They will also produce excess mucus as a defense mechanism. 

Hard water fluctuates the pH value frequently. And African cichlids, who live in hard water, are naturally resilient to pH changes. However, your oscars, who prefer stable and soft water, will have difficulty adjusting to fluctuating pH. 

I hope it’s clear now. The point is your fish will suffer and eventually die if they’re constantly exposed to wrong pH levels. 

They Will Fight To Death 

Anger is a major factor at play when it comes to housing oscars with African cichlids. African cichlids are notorious for their anger problem. They will show no mercy towards your oscars. In the worst-case scenario, they will bully your oscars to death. 

Oscars are no saints either. They, too, have quite a reputation for being hostile bullies. Growing over 12 inches long, if given a chance, they will indeed injure an African cichlid. 

But although oscars do get pretty big and assertive, fast-moving African cichlids can quickly swoop in, attack the oscar, and swim away before the oscar even has a chance to retaliate. 

And if you pair multiple African cichlids with an oscar fish, there’s a good chance that they will take turns bullying the oscar. 

I dug through some forums, so you don’t have to, and it just echoed my beliefs. 

One hobbyist shared that his oscar fish got constantly picked on, and he was forced to place the fish in a new tank. Likewise, another user commented that his oscar fell prey to the mbunas. 

However, the tables did turn on a few occasions. A fellow hobbyist shared that his oscar actually killed his African cichlid! Oscars are carnivores with strong predatory instincts. I believe the victim, in this case, was a small African cichlid.

Now, let’s explore some more reasons why oscars and African cichlids aren’t meant to be together. 

Is There Anyway To Keep Oscars With African Cichlids?

While researching for this blog, I came across a blogger who shared tips on how to keep oscars and African cichlids together. Unfortunately, the web is littered with misinformation that can potentially cost your fish’s life. 

While it may be tempting to pull a few tricks here and there to keep them together, just know that it’s simply isn’t ethical to go against nature! 

So, let me debunk those myths. 

Your Oscars Will Eat Your African Cichlids 

It was suggested to raise oscars and African cichlids together from the start. While this may seem like a good idea, remember that oscars grow pretty big and fast-growing over an inch per month in the first year. 

And since oscars have a big appetite for a meaty diet, there’s a good chance that they will try to devour your juvenile African cichlids.

At such a young age, your African cichlids neither have the capacity nor the confidence to hold their own against an imposing giant like oscar! 

Your Fish Will Suffer In Wrong pH Range 

It was recommended to use the drip acclimatization method to introduce oscars or the African cichlids to different water parameters. On paper, this might seem like a plausible idea, but let me tell you why it isn’t. 

African cichlids thrive in hard water, which is rich in calcium and has a higher pH level. And the thing with hard water is that the pH will shift regularly. 

Now, your African cichlids are accustomed to this pH shift and won’t experience any problem. But your oscars, who come from the soft and acidic water of Amazon, will find it tremendously challenging to adapt to constantly changing pH. 

I have already touched on the subject of what happens if the water’s too alkaline or too acidic. 

So, if you drip acclimatize your fish, things may be ok at first, but the fish will suffer in the long run and have their lives shortened. No acclimatization method can cover up for wrong pH levels. 

Recommended Readings!

Oscar Fish With Goldfish? Don’t Make This Mistake!

Do Oscars Have Teeth? Related To Piranhas?

Can Oscars Live In Cold Water? How Long?

Suitable Tankmates For African Cichlids

Credits: Beckie (CC license)

When choosing tankmates for your African cichlids, don’t forget to consider factors like water parameters, size, temperament, and the potential amount of bioload. Catfish are my favorites to add to a cichlid tank. That’s because since they look so different from cichlids, the latter don’t perceive them as a threat to their social hierarchy. 

Here’s a list of suitable tankmates for African cichlids:

  • Clown loaches
  • Upside down catfish 
  • Leopard Bushfish
  • Rainbow fish 
  • Plecostomus 
  • Siamese algae eaters 

Clown Loaches 

  • Care Level: Moderate
  • Maximum Size: 4.5 inches (12 cm)
  • Temperature: 72-86°F (22-30°C)
  • pH: 6.0 to 7.5

Clown loaches are semi-aggressive fish that can assertively hold their ground against feisty cichlids. These fish love to hide around a lot. So, they will seldom cross paths with your African cichlids. 

Make sure to add plenty of hiding places like rocks and caves in the tank. Your loaches will definitely appreciate the gesture. 

Plecostomus  

  • Care Level: Very easy
  • Maximum Size: 24 inches (60 cm)
  • Temperature: 72-78°F (22-26°C)
  • pH: 6.5 to 7.5

Plecos can be the perfect additions to your African cichlid tank. They quietly lurk at the bottom and nibble on algae. However, we recommend adding plecos only after they reach a certain size so your cichlids cannot bully them. 

Given that plecos spend considerable time at the base, they won’t interfere with your territorial cichlids and offer them plenty of swimming area. 

Also, note that plecos can grow massive. On some occasions, they can reach 24 inches long! So, only commit to getting a pleco if you can commit to providing a bigger aquarium. 

Rainbow Fish 

  • Care Level: Very easy
  • Maximum Size: Up to 4 inches (10 cm)
  • Temperature: 72-77°F (22-25°C)
  • pH: 7.0 to 8.0

Rainbow fish will add beautiful colors to your African cichlid tank. But you need to ensure the fish are of appropriate size before introducing them to cichlids. 

Small rainbow fish will quite easily become tasty snacks for African cichlids.

As for big rainbow fish, your cichlids will leave them alone for most parts. 

Upside Down Catfish 

  • Care Level: Easy
  • Maximum Size: 10 inches (25 cm)
  • Temperature: 75-82°F (24-28°C)
  • pH range: 7.5-9

As the moniker suggests, you can often catch upside-down catfish swimming upside down! They make excellent tankmates for African cichlids because they seldom get on their way. 

This fish likes to hide around a lot. So, don’t forget to add plenty of decors and hideouts.

Leopard Bushfish

  • Care Level: Moderate
  • Maximum Size: 7 inches (17 cm)
  • Temperature: 73-82°F (22-28°C)
  • pH: 6.0-7.5

Leopard bushfish, well, look like leopards! And that’s not the only similarity they share with the fierce cats. Leopard bushfish are just as aggressive too. 

And this is why they make excellent tankmates to add in an African cichlid tank. They’re able to stand their ground when faced with a cichlid’s wrath. 

Siamese Algae Eaters

  • Care Level: Easy
  • Maximum Size: 6 inches (15 cm)
  • Temperature: 75-79 °F (23-26 °C)
  • pH: 6.5 to 7.0

Siamese algae eaters are a tad bit smaller than African cichlids, but they usually ignore each other’s presence in the tank. 

People often mistake flying fox fish for Siamese algae eaters since they look pretty identical. But remember, Siamese algae eaters don’t have the flaps at the corner of the mouth that’s present in flying fox fish. 

Like catfish, these fish are bottom dwellers and bottom feeders. Therefore, they seldom come in contact with your cichlids, who prefer swimming in the middle and top regions. 

As the name suggests, these fish also have a knack for eating algae. Thus, they’ll definitely save you some elbow grease. 

Suitable Tankmates For Oscars

Electric blue jack dempsey
Credits: PINKE (CC license)

When choosing tankmates for oscars, the most important thing to consider is their size. Oscars grow big, and they’re primarily carnivores. Therefore, you shouldn’t add small fish that can be oscar’s next meal. Likewise, adding equally big means a sizable bioload every day, which makes cleaning a hassle. 

Here’s a list of suitable tankmates for oscars:

  • Other oscars 
  • Jack dempseys 
  • Green terror cichlids 
  • Severum cichlids 
  • Firemouth cichlids 
  • Black convict cichlids 

Other Oscars

The best tankmates for oscars are hands down, other oscars. A species-only tank is the best way to experience oscars’ quirks and intelligence.

However, you will need a massive tank to house oscars. The ideal tank size for a single oscar is 75 gallons. And you should at least add 30 gallons extra for each additional fish. So, that’s a huge commitment. 

Jack Dempseys 

  • Care Level: Moderate
  • Maximum Size: 8 inches (20 cm)
  • Temperature: 72–86°F (22-30°C)
  • pH: 6.0 to 7.0

Jack dempseys are almost the same size as oscars and share a similar temperament, too. Therefore, you should keep a close eye on the tank when you first introduce these fish. Raising them together from a young age can definitely help. 

Green Terror Cichlids 

  • Care Level: Moderate
  • Maximum Size: 12 inches (30 cm)
  • Temperature: 68–75°F (20–24°C)
  • pH: 6.5 to 8.0

Green terror cichlids are just as terrifying as their name suggests. They’re one of few fish that can go head-to-head with an oscar. Since both fish grow quite large and can hold their own against each other, they make great tank mates. 

Just make sure the tank is big enough to comfortably accommodate both species. 

Severum Cichlids 

  • Care Level: Moderate
  • Maximum Size: 12 inches (30 cm)
  • Temperature: 75–84°F (24–29°C)
  • pH: 6.0 to 7.5

Severums are a semi-aggressive, Central American species that are often kept in community cichlid tanks. As long as the tank is big and features plenty of hiding spaces, severums and oscars can cohabitate peacefully. 

However, some hobbyists on forums shared that their severums are incredibly territorial and will bend over backward to not share space with others. So I guess it all boils down to the fish’s personality. 

Firemouth Cichlids 

  • Care Level: Moderate
  • Maximum Size: 7 inches (17 cm)
  • Temperature: 75–86°F (23–30°C)
  • pH: 6.5 to 8.0

Firemouth cichlids are just as aggressive as oscar fish. Therefore, they can often cancel out each other’s aggression. These fish are closely related to convict cichlids. So, now you know where their anger comes from. 

If you’re planning to add firemouths, note that they should at least be kept in a group of 4 to spread out the aggression. 

Convict Cichlids 

  • Care Level: Moderate
  • Maximum Size: 5 inches (12 cm)
  • Temperature: 68 to 77°F (20 to 25°C)
  • pH: 6.5 to 8.0

Convict cichlids are as fierce as they come. But that’s not the reason why they’re named convicts. Instead, it’s due to their iconic black stripes that look like a prisoner’s uniform. 

Convicts make great tank mates for oscars because they’re assertive enough to hold their ground against even a big oscar fish. However, once again, you should at least add 4 of them in a tank to cancel out the aggression. 

Final Words: Can You Keep Oscar With African Cichlids?

To sum it up, no, keeping oscar with African cichlids is a bad idea. 

These fish come from entirely different corners of the world and need significantly different water parameters to thrive. 

While African cichlids need hard and alkaline water, oscars prefer soft and acidic water. And as you already know, exposing any fish to an incorrect environment will only spell trouble. 

Temperament-wise, too, African cichlids and oscars together won’t fare well. They will lock horns at every chance they get. 

Recommended Readings!

Are Oscar Fish Aggressive? Or Just Misunderstood?

How Long Does An Oscar Fish Live? 21 Years?

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.