There are more than 1,700 known species of cichlid with more being found each year. There is an estimate that there are between 2,000 and 3,000 different species in total!
Vivid, vibrant, and varied, cichlids species include angelfish, Oscars, discus, green terror, yellow lab, firemouth, blood red parrot, humphead, and convict.
The lifespan of many wild cichlids is unknown. However, in aquaria they are relatively long-lived, about 10 years on average. Several can reach up to 20 years in captivity, suggesting that at least some cichlids have considerably long lifespans.
Cichlids span a wide range of body sizes, from species as small as 2.5 cm (0.98 in) in length to much larger species approaching 1 m (3.3 ft) in length.
As a group, cichlids exhibit a similar diversity of body shapes, ranging from strongly laterally compressed species to species that are cylindrical and highly elongated. Generally, however, cichlids tend to be of medium size, ovate in shape, and slightly laterally compressed.
Although typically a freshwater species, one cichlid species can be found in the Salton Sea of California, where salinity levels are higher than that of the ocean!
They are most diverse in Africa and South America. Africa alone is estimated to host at least 1,600 species. Central America and Mexico have about 120 species, as far north as the Rio Grande in southern Texas.
Cichlids are particularly well known for having evolved rapidly into a large number of closely related but morphologically diverse species within large lakes, particularly Tanganyika, Victoria, Malawi, and Edward.
Activity can be diurnal or nocturnal, depending on the species. Many maintain and defend feeding territories, as well as breeding territories.
Cichlids can be herbivorous, feeding on algae and plants; carnivorous, preying on small animals, other fishes, and insect larvae; or detritivores, eating all types of organic material. The species are very specific in habitat choice: some live only among the rocks, others in open water, others along sandy beaches. They have evolved behaviors and tooth structures to live this way.
Cichlids are able to communicate by various means: visual, acoustic, chemical and tactile.
Cichlids mate either monogamously or polygamously. The mating system of a given cichlid species is not consistently associated with its brooding system.
All cichlids have some form of parental care for their eggs and fry. That parental care may come in the form of guarding the eggs and fry or it may come in the form of mouthbrooding. Mouthbrooding is the care given by some groups of animals to their offspring by holding them in the mouth of the parent for extended periods of time.
Their bright colors and distinctive patterns make them valuable in the aquarium trade.
The most common species in hobbyist aquaria is Pterophyllum scalare from the Amazon River basin in tropical South America, known in the trade as the “angelfish”.
Lake Malawi is home to more species of fish than any other lake, including about 1000 species of cichlids.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists a total of 156 cichlid species as vulnerable, 40 as endangered, and 69 ascritically endangered. 6 species are now thought to be extinct in the wild.
Although cichlids are mostly small- to medium-sized, many are notable as food and game fishes. With few thick rib bones and tasty flesh, artisan fishing is not uncommon in Central America and South America, as well as areas surrounding the African rift lakes.