When Do Cichlids Get Their Color? 4 Reasons Your Cichlid Isn’t Showing Colors

Oct 19, 2021

When Do Cichlids Get Their Color

Credits: Fredlyfish4 (Creative Commons license)

The answer to ‘when do cichlids get their color’ is as ambiguous as it gets. If this hobby has taught me anything, it’s having patience. Some of my cichlids take on bright colors right off the bat, while some take their sweet time.

So in this blog, let me share what I know on the subject from my own experience and hours of research!

When Do Cichlids Get Their Color?

In general, cichlids start developing their colors within the first few weeks of hatching. Next, they take anywhere between 4-6 months or 1-2 years to reach final coloration, depending on the species. 

As generic as the answer sounds, it all boils down to the species and genetics. For instance, yellow labs are born yellow. But, on the other hand, peacocks are known to be late bloomers. 

Usually, the dominant male develops the colors the brightest and fastest. Also, male cichlids sport brighter and more intense colors during the mating season. 

Unfortunately, there’s a good chance that the subdominant males never really reach their true color potential. But there’s an interesting twist! Keep reading the article to find it. 

Sometimes, when there’s no female in the tank, the males do not morph into richer hues during the mating season.

When Do Male Peacock Cichlids Get Their Color?

peacock cichlid
Credits: Mike Vallee (Creative Commons license)

Peacock cichlids start developing coloration when they’re about an inch and a half long. They will then take 6-8 months to achieve the final colors. The dominant male will often be the first one to color up first.

I even came across a hobbyist whose peacocks took two long years to attain their final colors on one forum.

When Do Baby Cichlids Get Their Color?

Baby cichlids can get their actual coloration as early as a few days old. This is the case for electric yellow labs that sport signature yellow coloration even as hatchlings. However, on the other hand, zebra fry can take around 3-5 months to reach their true color potential. 

So, there’s no one rule etched in stone. It differs from species to species. 

When Do Flavescent Peacock Cichlids Get Their Color?

Flavescent peacock cichlids start developing their colors at around 1.5 inches. They then color up quite intensely in the next 8-9 months.

When Do Red Jewel Cichlids Get Their Color?

Jewel cichlids transform from dull olive color to a fiery red shade only during the breeding season. And like most African cichlids, they get ready to breed once they’re about 4-6 months of age. 

When getting ready for breeding, a jewel cichlid’s head and stomach turn intense red, and the gill plates and scales sparkle like turquoise jewels. On top of that, all the fins are edged red and sparkle profusely with blue-green spots.

Now, let’s read up on this impressive piece of information I teased you about earlier. 

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Male Cichlids Can Become Colorful WIthin Few Minutes 

Frontosa cichlid
Credits: Matt Frahm (Creative Commons license)

Yes, you read that right. Subdominant male can quickly transform from drab and dull colors to colorful shades within a couple of minutes once he notices that the competition is no longer around. This exciting finding was discovered by researchers from Stanford University. 

The subdominant male will quickly become dominant and display dramatic changes in both body coloration and behavior. For this, the low-ranking male goes through rapid metamorphosis. 

This new transformation signals to other residents of the tank that he’s the alpha male now. And naturally, the top fish will now vigorously defend his newly won breeding grounds. 

So, what does this finding signify? It tells us that fish aren’t run-of-the-mill mindless creatures that just instinctively swim in search of food and partners. This research is solid evidence that changes in social status can trigger molecular and cellular changes in the brain! 

Does Substrate Affect Cichlid’s Colors?

It’s the general consensus that substrate does play a pivotal role in determining a fish’s colors. For example, it’s believed that light substrates result in bright colors. Conversely, darker substrates lend dark, rich colors. 

Reportedly, the choice of substrate can cause morphological color change within the fish’s chromatophore cells. Whatever that means! 

However, take this information with a grain of salt. To be honest, I didn’t find any trace of scientific evidence supporting or refuting this claim. However, upon research, I found an overwhelming number of hobbyists on different forums who swear by this ‘fact.’ 

Why Is My Cichlid Changing Colors? 

Cichlid losing or changing colors is more common than we think. These developmental changes can be short-term – triggered by the environment, breeding, and other stimuli. On the contrary, some changes are long-term – inflicted by injuries or ontogenetic changes. While most factors are within our control, not all of them are. 

So, let’s have a look at what they are! 

Dominant Male Hormone 

All fish release hormones into the water, but the dominant male tops the list. These hormones are then picked up by the receptors of other subdominant males. As a result, their growth is stunted, and they don’t achieve their true color potential.

And this is why it’s super important to conduct regular water changes. It just doesn’t remove toxic buildups like ammonia and nitrite but also hormones that hinder the growth of other fish.

Ontogenetic (Developmental Changes)

Developmental changes are one of the most common reasons behind your cichlid’s color morphs. Not all species retain the sample color from birth through adulthood. The color changes can be subtle or dramatic depending on the species. 

For instance, peacocks take on drastically different colors as adults. Whereas most mbuna males will retain bright colors right from the start to end. 

Kennyi cichlids are blue when young but transform into bright shades of yellow. 

Stress 

Cichlids are capable of experiencing a wide range of feelings, and unfortunately, stress is one of them. According to research by a Stanford scientist, continuous production of high levels of the stress hormone cortisol prevents male cichlids from developing bright colors, extra muscles, and fully mature sexual organs. 

Interestingly, when a male cichlid assumes that he’s won the battle, he undergoes a rapid metamorphosis – developing vibrant colors and chunky muscles.

Sickness 

We are often inadequately informed about potential diseases and health complications in cichlids. If everything in your tank looks good, but still your fish is losing colors, it could be a telltale sign that you have a sick fish. 

For instance, the white spots on a cichlid’s body could signify ich. In contrast, reddish or bluish spots could be a sign of an internal injury. 

How To Help Cichlids Get Vibrant Colors? 

There’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to helping your cichlids achieve vibrant colors. However, you can determine their environment, the tank’s occupants, sex ratio, species mix, and aggression levels – factors that directly influence the cichlid’s coloration. 

Always make sure the tank is spacious, so your fish gets enough exercise to grow well. Also, be mindful of the sex ratio and the number of residents in the tank to avoid exposing your cichlid to unsolicited stress. 

And you can take help with color-enhancing food as well, but don’t forget to read up on the ingredients list. Choosing the right kind of color-enhancing food is a hit or miss. It’s pretty easy to fall for a marketing gimmick. 

Here’s a link to a pellet brand I buy for my cichlids:

These pellets are made with entirely natural and premium ingredients that bring out the best colors. 

Final Words: When Do Cichlids Get Their Colors?

So, that’s a wrap. Sorry if you were looking for a specific, surefire answer – but there isn’t one. Besides genetics and species, external factors like diet, environment, and stress level also play crucial roles in determining the coloration timeline. 

Some cichlids are born colorful, while some take a couple of years to develop final colors. 

Happy Reading! 🙂

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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.