Starry Night Cichlid: Care, Tank Mates, Breeding & Diet

Common Name(s)Starry Night Cichlid
Scientific NameParatilapia Polleni
Temperature76-82°F (24-28°C)
Size10-12 inches
Minimum Tank Size120 gallons per pair
Food & DietCarnivorous diet
Lifespan13 years
Water pH8.0-8.5
Tank MatesAs territorial and aggressive fish, tank mates should be selected with careful consideration.
BreedingBreeding pair will build a cave nest, laying up to 1000 eggs.
DiseaseSusceptible to whitespot at lower temperatures.
Starry Night Cichlid (Paratilapia polleni)

Starry Night Cichlid Facts

  • Starry Night Cichlids are endangered and feared to be extinct in their native environment due to habitat destruction. They are also challenged by non-native species in their habitat.
  • Starry Night Cichlids are carnivorous fish. They wait for smaller fish to come to them, and then they swallow them whole.
  • Starry Night Cichlids are very territorial fish, especially when they are ready to spawn.
  • There are both large and small spotted forms available.
  • This fish is known as the ‘Marakely’ in Madagascar. This means “black fish.”
  • Starry Night Cichlids are a favorite among public aquarium displays due to their beautiful coloration.

Starry Night Cichlid Care

Starry Night Cichlid (Paratilapia Polleni) is a beautiful African Cichlid species that originate from Madagascar. It is a dark colored fish with silver-blue speckles that covers their entire body. These patterns on their body resembles a night full of stars, hence their name Starry Night Cichlid. In the wild, this pattern allows them to blend in with their surroundings. Since they are able camouflage with their environment, the smaller fish do not notice the Starry Night Cichlid in their midst. When the smaller fish gets close enough, they are swallowed whole. Their bodies are shaped like a Perch, and their dorsal fins often have yellow and white coloration.

Starry Night Cichlids come in two known variations. One has smaller spots, and the other variety has larger spots. The variety with the smaller spots are known as Paratilapia Polleni. The variety with larger spots are known as Paratilapia Polleni “Bleekeri.” Some have suggested that the Bleekeri variety should be considered to be a different species. However, under the current scientific classification, both varieties are considered Paratilapia Polleni.

Both varieties can be taken care of in the same way. There are no known differences regarding their care requirements. They are quite similar, and they will hybridize. However, considering the fact that the wild population is not abundant, preserving the wild strain is the better.

Food & Diet

Starry Night Cichlids are carnivorous fish and they are described as piscivores. Piscivores are animals with diets that consist of mainly fish. In the wild, Starry Night Cichlids will ambush their prey, and swallow them whole when they come close enough. In captivity, they will hunt for their food in the same with if you feed them live fish. However, they do not need live fish to survive.

They will accept various types live fish food, such as worms and shrimp. They will most likely accept other types of fish food such as frozen fish and other seafood as well. They may even accept pellets, depending on the fish.

Keep in mind that feeding live feeder fish can pose risks, such as introducing disease. This is especially true if the feeder fish are not healthy.

Tank Setup

Starry Night Cichlids require a minimum tank of 120 gallons for a pair. This is due to their large size. If they are placed into a smaller aquarium it could limit their growth. If you are wanting to keep more than one pair of Starry Night Cichlids, it would be wise to double the size you would need for just the pair. A pair of Starry Night Cichlids will claim a territory of roughly 3 feet of the aquarium length.

When you are dealing with an aquarium this large, you will want to automate as many of the cleaning tasks as you can. Starry Night Cichlids will move gravel around to build nests, and if at all possible, the aquarium filter should be placed on the outside of the tank so that they do not get exposed and nibbled on. Starry Night Cichlids love flowing water, and you will want to make sure that you have a powerful enough filter to mimic the rivers of their natural environment.

Substrate should be gravel, with larger rocks placed around in cave-like structures. This mimics their natural environment, and will make them feel more secure. It is important if you are keeping more than a pair of Starry Night Cichlids together, you will want to arrange the rocks or hardscape in a way that will limit the fish from being able to see each other. You can also try to create territories within your tank for them. This will help limit aggression.

When choosing rocks and aquascaping your aquarium for your Starry Night Cichlids, be sure to choose rocks that are smooth enough that they do not potentially scrape or damage your Starry Night Cichlids. When placing plant decor, you will want to place it around the tank sparingly. You will notice that in their nest building and rearranging, they will pull up plants as well as the substrate.

Tank lighting is not necessarily an issue for a Starry Night Cichlid tank, as they prefer a sparsely planted tank.

Size & Lifespan

At full maturity, the Starry Night Cichlid can grow anywhere from 10 inches up to 12 inches. They can live up to 13 years when cared for properly.

Growth Rate

If well kept, and in the proper sized aquarium, you will be able to observe your Starry Night Cichlid growing at a rate of 3 to 4 inches per year. Starry Night Cichlids reach their full maturity at 3 years old.

Tankmates & Aggression

It is not a good idea to pair your Starry Night Cichlids with other fish, as they are territorial and aggressive. They are particularly aggressive when spawning. However, they have been known to tolerate other fish if they do not go into their territory. It is never a good idea to put smaller fish in their tank, as they will be eaten. You may have a higher chance of success when trying to house it with other Cichlids that are roughly the same size. This way, if they do get aggressive towards one another, they won’t get too injured.

Starry Night Cichlids are often chosen for public aquariums as they are a beautiful fish that display interesting behaviors. Large public aquariums will often have other species of fish in with their Starry Night Cichlids since they can provide them with adequate space.

Are Starry Night Cichlid and Oscar Fish Compatible?

It is not advisable to house Starry Night Cichlids and Oscars together. They require different water parameters, and since both fish are aggressive they may end up fighting to the death. This could also be due to the Oscar fish looking similar to Starry Night Cichlids.

Starry Night – Madagascar Cichlid – Care Guide

Starry Night Cichlid Breeding

Starry Night Cichlids can be tricky to breed. To get a good breeding pair, you first need to raise a group of juvenile Starry Night Cichlids until they mature and pair off on their own. You will not have success if you are just introducing a male and female together at random.

Dedicated breeding tanks are a must if you are planning on breeding Starry Night Cichlids. The breeding pair will spend most of their time building their cave nest. You will notice them moving around the substrate, gravel, and even some decor. Once the breeding pair is ready, and they have gotten their nest just right, the female will lay her eggs on the substrate. The female Starry Night Cichlid can lay up to 1000 eggs.  Once the eggs are in place, the male will come along and fertilize them.

The female Starry Night Cichlid will then spend her time guarding her eggs until they hatch. The male will spend most of his time guarding the territory since the female will not tolerate the male around her while she is tending to her eggs.

The eggs will hatch at around 48 hours old, and they will remain there in the spawning nest until they become free swimming at around 6 to 7 days old. Once they are free swimming, the Starry Night Cichlid fry can accept small foods such as brine shrimp. Once the eggs have hatched, the pair will continue to guard the fry until they become big enough to fend for themselves. You will want to make sure that you are feeding your adult pair enough so that they don’t go after their own fry.

This parental care can continue for up to 3 to 4 weeks. The fry will be safe to house together until they start becoming territorial towards each other. This will occur at some time in between the ages of 2 to 10 months, so you will want to monitor your Starry Night Cichlid fry for problems.

A newly spawning pair of Starry Night Cichlids may not have a successful spawn which turns into fry for a few reasons, but they will eventually figure it out in time. Sometimes the male will become a little aggressive towards the female in the absence of other fish to bully. If this happens, simply place a divider in the tank so that they do not fight with each other, and so that the female can continue to care for her brood.

How to Distinguish Males From Females

Starry Night Cichlids are easier to tell males from females once they have reached full maturity. The male Starry Night Cichlids tend to be larger than the females, and they have a distinctive bump on their forehead. Males tend to have wider banding on their fins as well as longer anal and dorsal fins.