Checkerboard Cichlid Care Guide: Diet, Tank Mates, Diseases, Breeding & More

Updated: December 17, 2022

The checkerboard cichlid is a beautiful and unique freshwater fish that is sure to stand out in your aquarium.

This fish is relatively peaceful and easy to care for, making it a great choice for beginner aquarists.

However, there are a few things you need to know before you get one of these fish. In this guide, we will teach you everything you need to know about checkerboard cichlid care.

Species overview

The checkerboard cichlid (scientific name: Amphilophus citrinellus) is a freshwater fish that’s native to rivers in Central America. These fish are mostly found in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, although they have been spotted in other countries in the region as well.

They prefer slow-moving rivers with a lot of vegetation and hiding places. This is something to keep in mind when setting up their tank as they’ll want plenty of places to hide and feel safe.

Checkerboard cichlids are omnivores and in the wild, they eat a diet of plants, small invertebrates, and other fish.

These fish are known for being quite peaceful and are a good choice for community tanks. They can get along with other fish that are similar in size and temperament.


Checkerboard Cichlid

The first thing you’ll notice about this fish is their unique coloration. As their name implies, they have a black and white checkerboard pattern that covers their entire body.

This pattern is made up of large black spots that are spread out evenly on their white body. The spots on the dorsal side of the fish are a bit bigger than those on their ventral side.

The Checkerboard Cichlid is a relatively small fish, only reaching about four inches at full size.

Their fins are all fairly standard in terms of size and shape. The dorsal fin is tall and starts about two-thirds of the way back on their body.

The anal and caudal fins are both forked and the pectoral fins are relatively small.

Checkerboard Cichlids have a small mouth that is filled with sharp teeth. They also have a protruding lower jaw that gives them a bit of an underbite.


The typical Checkerboard Cichlid lifespan is around 10 years. However, there are some reports of these fish living up to 20 years in captivity!

Again, the level of care they receive will play a big role in how long they live. These fish are also quite sensitive to changes in water parameters. So, if you have a sudden spike or drop in pH or temperature, it could cause them a lot of stress which could shorten their lifespan.


Checkerboard cichlids can grow to be about 4.5 to 5.5 inches long. These fish are relatively small, which is why they are a good choice for smaller aquariums.


Tank Size

The recommended tank size for a Checkerboard Cichlid is at least 50 gallons. If you’re looking for a smaller freshwater fish, this is not the fish for you.

If you want to keep two Checkerboard Cichlids in the same tank you’ll want to add at least another 50 gallons to that minimum number if you want them to thrive.

Another reason why you need to provide enough space is for the sake of enrichment and comfort. These fish like to roam and will often run gentle but steady laps around your tank. Giving them a little bit of extra space can go a long way in making sure they can comfortably turn around in the tank.

Water Parameters

The Checkerboard Cichlid is a freshwater fish that is native to the African Rift Lake region. In the wild, they inhabit water with a high mineral content.

To replicate this in the home aquarium, you will need to maintain alkalinity and hardness levels within the following parameters.

  • Water Temperature: 72 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit
  • pH Levels: 7.8 to 8.6
  • Water Hardness: 10 to 20 dGH
  • Alkalinity Levels: 4 to 6 dKH

What To Put In Their Tank

When it comes to setting up the interior of their tank there are a few key things you’ll want to remember.

The first is that these fish love to dig. They’ll do it during the day and at night which means your substrate can easily get uprooted. Because of this, we recommend going with something soft like sand.

The second thing you need to take into account is that these fish like to have a lot of hiding spots. Driftwood, rocks, and caves should all be included in their habitat.

Plants are a little trickier since Checkerboard Cichlids will nibble on them from time to time. If you want to go this route we recommend something that can handle a little abuse (like Hornwort or Java Fern).

Common Diseases

The Checkerboard Cichlid is a very hearty and disease-resistant fish. They’re not immune to sickness, of course, but they’re definitely not as susceptible to illness as some other freshwater species.

The vast majority of illnesses that these fish experience are the usual freshwater culprits. Ich is the most common, but various other infections and parasites can strike too.

Be on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary so you can act fast. White spots, scars, cuts, or a change in behavior are all causes for concern. Even a disease that isn’t very severe can progress into something serious if left untreated.

When you notice something it’s important to act fast. Consult your vet and begin treatment immediately. The sooner you act, the higher the chance is that your fish will recover.

Of course, the best way to keep the risk of disease low is by simply keeping the tank in great shape. Not providing clean, high-quality water conditions will significantly increase the chance of your fish getting sick.

Behavior & Temperament

Checkerboard cichlids have a reputation of being aggressive, but that’s not always the case. In the wild, they can be quite territorial. But when they’re kept in captivity, they typically don’t act out as much.

Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. If you’re keeping checkerboard cichlids with other fish that are similar in size, shape, and color, there’s a good chance they will become aggressive. They may even start to attack their own reflection if they see it in the glass of the aquarium!

For the most part, these fish are peaceful. But, they can be nippy. So, it’s important to choose tank mates carefully. They do best with fish that are larger than them and can hold their own in a fight.

When it comes to their temperament, checkerboard cichlids are relatively calm. They’re not as active as some other fish, but they’re not couch potatoes either. They’ll often hang out near the bottom of the tank, but they’re not afraid to swim around and explore their environment.

Tank Mates

The checkerboard cichlid is a beautiful and unique fish. It’s not the easiest cichlid to keep, but it’s worth the effort.

This fish is best kept in a species only tank. They can be territorial and aggressive towards other fish. If you must keep them with other fish, choose tank mates that are of similar size and aggression level.

Some compatible checkerboard cichlid tank mates include:


The Checkerboard Cichlid is a beautiful fish that’s fairly easy to breed in captivity. These fish are mouthbrooders, which means that the female will carry the eggs and fry in her mouth until they’re ready to be released.

Before you start the breeding process, you need to set up a suitable tank. These fish need plenty of space to move around and establish their territories. A minimum tank size of 50 gallons is recommended.

The next step is to find a pair of Checkerboard Cichlids. These fish are polygamous, so a single male can mate with multiple females. If you can’t find a male and female pair, you can buy a group of juveniles and let them pair off on their own.

When you have your fish, it’s time to set up the tank. These fish need plenty of hiding places and rocks to establish their territories. You should also add some plants to the tank. The best option is live plants, but fake plants will work in a pinch.

The last thing you need to do is adjust the water parameters. Checkerboard Cichlids prefer neutral to slightly alkaline water. The temperature should be between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Once the tank is set up, you can introduce your Checkerboard Cichlids. Give them a week or two to settle in and establish their territories. Then, it’s time to start the breeding process.

The female will lay her eggs in a cave or other hiding place. Once she’s laid the eggs, the male will fertilize them. Then, the female will pick up the eggs in her mouth and carry them around until they hatch. This process can take up to three weeks.

Once the fry have hatched, the female will continue to carry them around in her mouth for another week or two. After that, they’ll be released into the tank.

The fry are extremely small when they’re first released, so they’ll need to be fed very small foods. Baby brine shrimp or micro worms are a good option. You should also add some live plants to the tank. The fry will nibble on the plants for food.

As the fry grow, you can start to add larger foods to their diet. Once they’re big enough, you can move them to your main tank.


Checkerboard Cichlids are a great fish for anyone who wants to add a little bit of personality to their tank. They’re not the easiest fish to care for, but they’re definitely not the hardest either.

With some time and patience, you can definitely succeed in keeping these fish happy and healthy.

Overall, we think they’re a great choice for anyone who’s looking to add something a little different to their tank.