Red Empress Cichlid 101: Care, Diet, Tank Size, Tank Mates & More

There is something about a brightly-colored fish swimming around in a tank that makes a room look more alive. Maybe it’s the way they seem to glide effortlessly through the water. Or the way they always seem to be looking around, taking in their surroundings.

Whatever the reason, there’s no denying that having a fish tank in your home can brighten up the place. And one of the most beautiful fish you can put in your tank is the Red Empress Cichlid.

Species Summary

Red Empress Cichlid

Red Empress (Protomelas taeniolatus) is a species of tropical freshwater cichlid belonging to the Cichlidae family. Native to the Rift Valley in Africa, these cichlids are found in Lake Malawi, where they developed local color variations due to their widespread distribution throughout the lake. 

Most specimens are bred in captivity, although very rare fish collected from nature can still be found. This species is perfect for aquarists who want to start with or have little experience keeping alkaline water fish tanks, as they are extremely hardy fish.

Red Empress Cichlid Care Guide

Red Empress Cichlids are relatively easy to care for, but there are a few things you’ll need to keep in mind to ensure your fish are happy and healthy. 

Tank Size

When it comes to choosing a tank size for a Red Empress Cichlid, it’s important to remember that these fish are quite active. They need plenty of space to swim around, so a small tank just won’t do. A good rule of thumb is to choose a tank that’s at least 26 gallons, with dimensions starting at 60″ x 20″ x 15″. The bigger the better, of course, but this is the minimum size you’ll need to provide your fish with a comfortable home.


The Red Empress is a beautiful and peaceful species of Malawi Cichlid. However, they can’t always coexist without problems with other animals because they are not suitable for a typical community tank. The Red Empress should be kept with fish of the same size or larger. Remember that this species tends to be aggressive with similarly shaped and colored fish.

Some good tank mates for the Red Empress include the Venustus and other Nimbochromis, Blood Parrot Cichlid, Ropefish, Pictus Catfish, and other Malawi cichlids. 

Avoid aggressive and larger species that could injure the Red Empress or that will compete directly for food. You should also avoid keeping the Red Empress with Mbunas (smaller rock-dwelling cichlids). 

Same Species Tanks

The Red Empress Cichlid is often kept as a single species in biotope-type aquariums. Moreover, the Red Empress is a great species to be kept in a harem in a well-decorated aquarium. These fish are very active and love to explore their surroundings, so a well-decorated tank will provide them with plenty of entertainment. 

Water Parameters

While they are hardy fish, the Red Empress is highly susceptible to pollutants in the water. As such, it’s important to keep a close eye on water parameters, especially if you live in an area with less-than-pristine water quality.

The perfect temperature for keeping the Red Empress in an aquarium is 75 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit. The ideal pH range is between 7.8 and 8.6, and the hardness should be 10 to 18 degrees dH.

What to Put in Their Tank

If you’re thinking about getting a Red Empress Cichlid (or any other fish, for that matter), you’ll need to know how to set up their tank. This includes having the proper equipment, such as a heater and filter, and knowing what to put in their tank. The heater will maintain a comfortable water temperature for the cichlid, while the filter will help keep the water clean and free of harmful toxins.

When it comes to what to put in the tank, there are a few things to consider. First, you’ll need to provide plenty of hiding places for the fish. This can be achieved with stones, plants, and other decorations. 

The stones will provide several places for each fish to form and protect their territory and use as a hiding place in case of aggression. They also like vertically placed rocks and use one or two flat, smooth stones for spawning. 

Second, you’ll need to make sure there is enough space for the fish to swim around. Third, you’ll need to provide a good source of food for the fish.

If you take the time to set up the tank properly, you’ll be rewarded with a happy and healthy Red Empress Cichlid.

Common Diseases

One of the most common diseases that Red Empress Cichlids can suffer from is Malawi bloat. This is a condition that is caused by poor water quality and a lack of oxygen in the water. If you notice your cichlid becoming bloated, you should immediately check the water quality and make sure that the tank is well-oxygenated. 

Another common disease that Red Empress Cichlids can suffer from is acidosis. This is a condition that is caused by an imbalance of pH in the water. If you notice your cichlid becoming lethargic, you should check the water’s pH and ensure that it is within the optimal range. 

Food and Diet

When it comes to feeding your Red Empress Cichlid, it’s important to give them a diet that is rich in plant material. This species of fish is an omnivore with a tendency to be herbivores, so they will need a diet that reflects that. 

In nature, their diet is similar to Mbunas cichlids and is based on algae, aufwuchs (biofilm), and small invertebrates trapped in rocks. They also act as filters; when plankton is abundant in the water column, it is possible to see them feeding in open waters.

In captivity, the Red Empress Cichlid will do well on a diet of high-quality commercial fish food supplemented with live, fresh, or frozen foods such as spirulina, nori, or fresh vegetables. 

Plus, it’s a good idea to set a regular feeding schedule and to offer only as much food as the fish can consume in a few minutes. These fish are always hungry, and a varied, high-quality diet is essential for them to reach their full potential.


If you’re thinking about getting a Red Empress Cichlid, or any fish for that matter, you’re probably wondering what kind of lifespan you can expect. Generally speaking, if you take good care of your fish and provide your cichlid with a stable environment and healthy diet, they can live a long time – up to 10 years in some cases. However, it’s not uncommon for fish to live only for around 8 years, especially if exposed to less than ideal conditions.


One of the most notable features of the Red Empress Cichlid is its appearance. These fish have an elongated and robust body, with fins that stand out. The anal, dorsal, pectoral, and caudal fins are all quite large and help to provide more aerodynamics for the fish. The back parts of the fins also have spiny rays, which help to deter predators.

Like other cichlids, the Red Empress features two sets of teeth. The first set is in the mouth, and the second set is near the throat. This is an adaptation that helps the fish to better grind up their food.

As the name suggests, the red empress cichlid is mostly red, with beautiful blue, yellow, and brown markings. Younger fish do not display intense colors of red and blue. As they age, they will become darker, but they retain their striking colors throughout their lives.

The red empress cichlid has horizontal lines and oval shapes underneath its color-like body markings. Fish of good quality and in excellent health will have more intense colors.

Adult females display fewer colors than males, and their colors are not as bright or radiant. However, they have the same irregular body markings on their bodies.


They can quickly grow to 6 inches in length with proper care and feeding, making them a stunning addition to any aquarium.

Behavior and Temperament

As tropical fish go, the Red Empress is a low-aggressive variety, but that doesn’t mean they can be kept in a standard community aquarium. These fish have specific water preferences and must be kept in an environment that suits their needs in order to thrive.

Red Empress cichlids are very active animals and occupy all tank levels; however, they tend to stay in caves formed by aquarium decorations.

This is a fish that is known for its strong tendency to be aggressive towards fish of similar shape and color. Like other African cichlids, the Red Empress does best when kept in harems. Keeping them in groups of one male to at least three females is recommended, as they can attack other males of the same species. You will only be able to keep other males together in a high-volume aquarium. The females, however, are relatively peaceful, even when they are spawning.

Some aquarists report that the aggressiveness of this fish increases when it is in inappropriate environments. If you’re considering adding a Red Empress to your aquarium, be sure to do your research to ensure you’re providing them with the best possible home.


This oviparous species is a maternal mouth incubator species; after spawning and fertilization, the mother keeps the eggs in her mouth. They become sexually mature at around 8 to 9 months.

It all starts with the male choosing an area to defend before and during spawning. The male will then choose a flat rock near the bottom of the aquarium and clean it with his mouth. Soon after, he will chase the females to make them follow him to his “nest.”

Using his body with robust, concise movements, he directs a female to the spot, turns up into a near-vertical position, and swings, encouraging the female to stay in the same position with her head close to her anal fin.

The females lay their eggs in a pit that they dig in the sand. After laying about 50 eggs, she takes them by the mouth, stands in the “upright” position again, and moves the male’s anal fin to stimulate him to release sperm and fertilize the eggs inside her mouth.

The female will keep the eggs in her mouth for about 28 days. Once you have the eggs and the spawning event is over, the male will stop guarding the area and go back to swimming outdoors. The female, in turn, will take care of the young.

The fry can be fed with infusoria, brine shrimp, and zooplankton.

Overall, Red Empress Cichlids are easily reproduced fish, where spontaneous reproduction can occur in any domestic aquarium, as long as it is well-cared.

Gender Differences: Male vs Female

Males and females of this species have different coloration. Males are blue and red, while females are gray with dark vertical stripes. This difference is called sexual dimorphism.

Sexual dimorphism is common in many animal species, not just fish. It is usually the result of different roles that males and females play in reproduction. For example, males might be more brightly colored to attract mates, or they might be larger to win fights with other males.

In the case of Red Empress Cichlids, it is thought that the different coloration between males and females helps the species to avoid inbreeding. This is because males and females tend to mate with fish of the same color. 

Red Empress Cichlid Fun facts

● Its scientific name Protomelas comes from the Greek protos = the first + melas, melanos = black.

● Occurring all through Lake Malawi, it belongs to a group commonly known as Peacock cichlids or Haps. Like all peacock cichlids, it has an extraordinary coloration that is only demonstrated after about one to two years of life.

● These animals do well in fresh or brackish water but need excellent filtration and water movement. Water quality will promote the best colors in Red Empress. Without this, they may be left with faded colors.

● The streams that flow into Lake Malawi have high mineral content; as together with evaporation, they result in highly alkaline and mineralized waters. As a result, Lake Malawi is known for its crystal clear waters and stability concerning pH and other chemical components.


Eccles, D.H. and E. Trewavas, 1989. Malawian cichlid fishes: the classification of some haplochromine genera. Lake Fish Movies, West Germany.

Konings, A., 1990. Ad Konings’s book of cichlids and all the other fishes of Lake Malawi. T.F.H. Publications, Inc.

Maréchal, C., 1991. Protomelas. p. 387-393. In J. Daget, J.-P. Gosse, G.G. Teugels and D.F.E. Thys van den Audenaerde (eds.) Check-list of the freshwater fishes of Africa (CLOFFA). ISNB, Brussels; MRAC, Tervuren; and ORSTOM, Paris.

Snoeks, J. and J. Manuel, 2004. The genus Nimbochromis Eccles & Trewavas, 1989. p. 57-85. In Snoeks, J. (ed.) The cichlid diversity of Lake Malawi/Nyasa/Niassa: identification, distribution and taxonomy. Cichlid Press, El Paso, USA.