Red Devil Cichlid (Amphilophus labiatus): Ultimate Care Guide

The Red Devil Cichlid (Amphilophus labiatus) is a type of Central American Cichlid, and they are endemic to Lake Managua and Lake Nicaragua in Central America.

In wild specimens, the coloration of this species can range from grey to greyish-green. Though some pink, red, or orange colorations do also exist. Black pigmentation in bands around the body are also common.  Some specimens have also been observed to have enlarged lips. This seems to be a result of diet however as this feature does not appear on red devil cichlids raised in captivity.

Red devil cichlids have been known to grow to approximately 16 inches in captivity and will reach their full length in about the first three years of their 13 year-long lifespans.

Red devil cichlids receive their name due to the fact they are an extremely aggressive species and require a very large tank in order to exist in relative peace with other fish. Their large teeth and fierce bite make them dangerous to others in the tank. They are so fierce that they have been known to ram the glass of tanks, break heaters and other equipment by smashing into them, and even bite their owners.

That being said, one of the main selling points of this fish is that they tend to be very “owner conscious”.  Red devil cichlids can very quickly form an attachment to their owners and will actually “play” with them in a manner similar to other pets. They have sometimes been known to beg for food, follow their owner around, put on displays, and generally engage in playful behavior. They will even respond to the owner when feeding them or cleaning the tank.

Red devil cichlids are known as an invasive species in particular regions. For example, they were originally introduced to hobbyists in Indonesia as an ornamental fish. Unfortunately, it was released into the waterways by hobbyists, and they’ve established themselves in the area.

Red Devil Cichlid (Amphilophus labiatus)
Red Devil Cichlid (Amphilophus labiatus)

Red Devil Cichlid Care

Red devil cichlids are a hardy species and can survive in a wide variety of conditions. However, to get the best out of them there are certain specific conditions that you should aim for. As far as temperature goes the water should be kept somewhere between 75 and 79 degrees Fahrenheit.

Water pH should be maintained between 6.5 and 7.5. While water hardness should be 6 to 25 gDH.

Food and Diet

Red devil cichlids are an extremely omnivorous species. They will feed on just about anything they can get into their mouths, ranging from frozen to live meat to plant-based material. However to make sure your fish are healthy it is best to give them a diverse diet. Possible foods are bloodworms, frozen shrimp, crustaceans, artificial and live foods. Plant flakes can be added occasionally as well, just to keep things interesting for your fish. Though be advised not to feed them mammalian meat, as you can do with other species of cichlids.Too much can cause intestinal problems, though the occasional treat is all right.

Tank Size

To properly keep a red devil cichlid, you will need a tank size of at least 55 gallons. If you plan to have a breeding pair you will need to get a much larger 125-gallon tank to accommodate them. For a multi-fish tank, you will have to invest in a tank of at least 200 gallons to give the fish the amount of personal space that they need.

Tank Setup

The setup of your tank is very important with this species. These fish are prone to moving around and wreaking havoc on their environment so it is best to be prepared for this. Red devil cichlids are diggers by nature so fine sand is the best choice for the bottom of your tank. Gravel or pebbles will only hurt and damage your fish.

It is best to not include plants since these fish will likely shred all the foliage around them if they don’t just dig them up. Instead, provide your fish with lots of rocks and pieces of driftwood for them to use as shelter and hiding places. Make sure to either use larger rocks or secure smaller rocks to the bottom of the tank in some manner to prevent the fish from moving them around.

For equipment, it is best to use dual-filters, however, if you can’t then pair a traditional canister filter with a sump set. Make sure that you protect the equipment in your tank as these fish are known to attack exposed machinery. In the interests of protecting your equipment, and your fish, be sure to keep them covered and safe or external to the tank.

Air stones are also highly recommended to keep the water in your tank oxygenated. Red devils thrive in highly oxygenated water and the airstones will help keep their colors vibrant.

Breeding Red Devil Cichlid

Breeding of this species in captivity has been done for a long time and is relatively easy for beginners. Red devils have a monogamous nature which allays several common breeding problems.

First, you need to attempt to simulate the natural warm water breeding environment of their habitat by turning the water in the tank to 77 degrees Fahrenheit. Be sure to then prepare them by feeding them a lot of nutrient-rich foods (bloodworms are a good choice). Help the process along by creating a subtle hill or introducing a piece of driftwood into the tank for the female to use. Otherwise, she will prepare a space herself around a flat rock or inclined substrate.

Females will lay between 600-700 eggs per breeding session. They will hatch after 3-5 days at which point the parents will move the fry to a secluded area of the tank and watch over them. Sometimes the male will dig a hole in the substrate of the tank to provide cover for the young fry. After another 7-10 days the fry will be able to swim around on their own.

Common Diseases

A common problem with  Red devil cichlid is obesity caused by overeating. This can cause a deterioration in their organ function so it is very important to monitor what the fish eats. Avoid this by keeping the portion sizes small and consistent. Generally, they should be fed bits of food small enough for them to finish in under three minutes three times a day. Doing this will also reduce the amount of organic waste you have to deal with in your aquarium.

The Red devil cichlid is a tough species and is not susceptible to any specific disease unique to them. However, they are still susceptible to the normal diseases you can find in any fish species. Of special note are Ich, Hole-in-the-head disease, and fish dropsy.

Ich is a stress-related disease caused by parasites. You can recognize it by tiny white dots scattering over the fish’s body. It is contagious but very easy to treat with over-the-counter medications. Just remember to quarantine infected fish first. Ich can also be a result of poor water conditions, so check ammonia, temperature, and pH balance conditions for your tank to make sure they are in an acceptable range.

Red devil cichlids are also known to be vulnerable to “Hole-in-the-Head” disease. Also known as head and lateral line disease. This causes visible pits to form on the head and face. It is suspected that this is caused by nutrient deficiencies combined with poor water quality. So it is recommended to change 25% to 30% of the tank’s water each week.

Fish dropsy is a typical fish disease caused by bacterial infection of the kidneys. The condition causes fluid retention in the kidneys, causing the fish to take on a bloated appearance. You can treat this with antibiotics and proper care. Be sure to monitor your ammonia and nitrate levels in the tank carefully to make sure they are at proper levels.

Red Devil Cichlid Tank Mates

Red devil cichlids are a hyper-aggressive species of fish. So if you decide to have one it will be a one fish tank. It is possible to have multiple red devil cichlids in a tank if they are young and raised together, however as they get older they will become more and more aggressive towards one another and you will have to move them. The exception to this is with mated pairs as these fish are a monogamous species. So it is not a problem to keep a male and a bonded female together in the same tank.

If you absolutely have to have more than one fish in the tank with a red devil cichlid you will need a very big tank (about 200 gallons AT LEAST!!) filled with rocks and places to hide to allow for them to have their space and territory. Even then, don’t be surprised to come home and find that the red devil has been beating up or even killed  one of the other fish in the tank. Red devils are known to aggressively attack fish even much larger than them and even go after the smaller shark species. They will bite their owner if given the chance and their teeth are razor sharp and cut deep.

Some people have asked if red devil cichlids can be tankmates with species like Jack Dempseys, oscars, flowerhorns, and the like and the answer is still a resounding no. Any fish you place in the tank with them that is not their mate will be a potential target for attack. So if you plan to have multiple species of fish you had best set up more than one aquarium.

If you feel you absolutely must have another type of fish in with them make sure it is an equally large species that can defend itself. Anything that the red devil can fit into its mouth is a potential source of food. Including any other fish you place in the tank. In order for a fish to survive with them as neighbors, it has to be big enough to stand up to them.

Jaguar cichlids can be a good choice as they grow to about the same size and are strong fighters in their own right. Jaguar cichlids tend to target smaller fish and invertebrates, so it is unlikely they will pick a fight directly, but they will be able to defend themselves when the red devil inevitably does.  Which is both a plus and a minus. It can be hard to keep both though as jaguar cichlids require different water needs compared to the red devil.  Needing a higher pH balance and lower hardness.

Oscar cichlid can work as well in a large enough tank. Oscars are mid-to-bottom level swimmers while red devils prefer to wander around the bottom, which lessens the chances of them getting in each other’s way. The oscar is also big enough to handle the aggression.

Jack Dempseys can work as well. Named after the famous boxer these fish are infamous fighters in their own right and also grow to a size comparable to that of the red devil. They are notorious for their anger and don’t usually get along well with others, but they can tolerate being in a tank with other fish as long as you don’t have any other Jack Dempsey males in the tank with them. As with the red devil, having a large tank with lots of caves and rocks to serve as natural barriers is key.

Red rainbowfish are one of the few fish species that are possibly more outright violent than the red devil. They’re carnivorous and have razor-sharp teeth and will absolutely consume any other fish in the tank that is not big enough or mean enough to take them on. Often fighting even other large fish to the death.

Lastly, Flowerhorns can also potentially work for the same reasons as the other fish above. They are fast and violent fish who will not tolerate being bullied by the red devil.

It is important to keep in mind that it is very unlikely to stop fighting in the tank with these species. These are simply the species with the best chance of surviving. It is still highly recommended to keep your red devils in a solo tank.

Where to Find Red Devil Cichlid for Sale?

You can find red devils both online and in common stores. Juveniles are priced moderately, but adults that are in good condition and ready for breeding will cost you more.

Red Devil Cichlid vs Midas Cichlid

Red Devil Cichlid (Amphilophus labiatus) and Midas Cichlid (Amphilophus citrinellus) are very similar fish that often confused for one another. Since both fish look similar in appearance, originate from the same region, and are from the same Amphilophus genus, this is understandable. In fact, both species share the common name “Red Devil Cichlid,” making the distinction between the two species quite difficult. However, they are in fact two different species, and it is possible to tell the difference between the two. In general, Midas Cichlid are slightly smaller than Red Devil Cichlid. Midas Cichlid reach 10-14 inches in size. They have a less elongated body shape, flat lips, and shorter mouth. Another less obvious distinction between the two species is their origin. They are endemic to different regions within Central America.