Red Empress cichlid: Lifespan, feeding, baby, growth & size

The Red Empress Cichlid is an excellent freshwater fish for aquarists of all levels of experience. For people who want a non aggressive cichlid or an aesthetically pleasing species, they ‘re always one of our first selections. 

But their temperament is not the main reason why that species is loved by so many people. Its beauty is the real draw. 

These are absolutely amazing fish. The bright vibrant colors that gradually change and transition over the length of their bodies are something you need to see personally. 

Researchers have heard from countless owners who say they can’t get enough in looking at some of these fish (even if they’ve been owners for years).

This guide will outline the essentials of care for Red Empress Cichlid. You will learn everything about the species, and how to keep them healthy and happy.


Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Cichliformes
Family: Cichlidae
Genus: Protomelas
P. taeniolatus
Binomial name
Protomelas taeniolatus


The Red Empress Cichlid is a visually striking fish that can give your aquarium a vibrant colour. Scientifically speaking, those fish are called Protomelas taeniolatus. They are however known to aquarists as the Red Empress Cichlid or Spindle Hap. 

Look at these fish in one glance and you’ll understand their colorful name. They are known for their brilliant colors, which can vary considerably from fish to fish. 

Originally hailing from Africa’s Lake Malawi, Red Empress Cichlid has already become a favorite among hobbyists (like their African Cichlid relative).

Although most Cichlids are known for exhibiting aggressive behaviour, Red Empress Cichlids is a unique outlier.

They are relatively docile, and spend their days swimming all over the tank. 

Not only that but it’s easy to take care of those fish. They are hardy and can comfortably live under a variety of conditions. 

Red Empress Cichlids do have their very own unique challenges, but in the end it’s worth the work you’ll put into caring for these fish.

Throughout captivity a Red Empress Cichlid’s average lifespan is 5 years. However, with adequate care it is possible for these fish to live for 7 to 10 years. 

A lot of factors will influence the lifespan of a fish. These include the quality of water, the diet and the environment. This is true of any species, no matter how robust they may be.

Red Empress cichlid Appearance

red empress cichlid

Aesthetics is where Cichlid of the Red Empress really shines. 

Most of the Red Empress Cichlids you see in aquariums, despite the feminine name, are not females. Male fish have the vibrant hues. 

Adult males generally take on a reddish-orange colour. Distinct markings also are relatively common in blue, yellow, and brown. 

There are even some specialty Red Empress fish that have been deliberately bred to achieve the vibrantest possible colour.

If you look closely you can even see on the body weak horizontal lines and irregular oval shapes below their scales.

But what is truly unique about the Red Empress Cichlid is that location-based coloration can vary. 

Fish that live in some parts of Lake Malawi may take on a different pattern of color from what most are used to. 

Red Empress Cichlids are available with shades of gold, blue , orange, and more. Some of those fish even have local names to help people distinguish where the fish originated in the area. 

Sadly, females don’t have the same coloration as adult males do. They are more subdued, assuming a silvery colour. Like males, females have two horizontal lines on their bodies, and some irregular ovals.

Talking of their bodies, these fish have certain characteristics that help to make their profile stand out. First, there are fairly long anal, dorsal, pectoral, and caudal fins. They have an angled shape that helps the wild to swim. 

Every fin has spiny rays, too. They can get quite sharp, helping these predators to ward off the fish. The front of the fins is a little softer to make the water a breeze to navigate. 

The Red Empress, like other Cichlids, has two teeth sets. One is right inside their mouth. The second set is in the throat, further back.

Red empress cichlid size

The average length of the Red Empress Cichlid ranges from 4.5 to 6 inches, which is reasonably large. In the wild, achieving the upper limits of that range is far more common for these fish.

However, fish in captivity tend to remain on the smaller end of the size spectrum. 

Cichlids of the Red Empress typically reach sexual maturity at 8 to 9 months. After that point most of the fish will continue to grow until they reach their full size.

Its growth rate for freshwater fish is fairly average.

Red empress cichlid care

Red Empress Cichlids are generally easy to care for. Although some Cichlid fish are notorious for being a handful, for the Red Empress, that is not the case. They are resilient, non-aggressive and have a flexible diet. 

It would still be important with all that said, that you provide proper care. Red Empress Cichlids need careful attention to reach their full potential.

Here’s some information you need to know about the care of Red Empress Cichlid.

Check out this article on oscar fish

Red empress cichlid tank size

For a single Red Empress Cichlid we recommend a tank size of 75 gallons or more. If the fish is on the smaller side you might be able to get away with 55 gallons but we do not recommend it. 

Although if, space is not a problem and you want to maximize their size, health and happiness instead you should go for a 100-gallon tank. 

If you plan to have more than one Red Empress Cichlid in your tank, you might need more than 200 gallons up. 

Cichlids as a whole are types of fish that require plenty of room to grow. Specifically Red Empress Cichlids are avid swimmers. You may encounter stress and health complications without a sizable tank.

Parameters of water

Red Empress Cichlids require somewhat alkaline water, due to the unique properties of their natural habitat.

The water from which they come is highly mineralised. These fish can tolerate some salt, but you shouldn’t put them in brackish water to the full. 

Water quality is of paramount importance when caring for Red Empress Cichlids while they are hardy. The lake which they come from is surprisingly stable when it comes to water chemistry.

  • Water Temperature: 73 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit
  • pH Levels: 7.7 to 8.6
  • Water Hardness: 5 to 15 dGH

What should you put in your tank? 

Before you introduce Red Empress Cichlids into your tank, you must prepare them for their needs appropriately. 

First, let’s go over filtering and the flow of water. Red Empress cichlids are exposed to much water movement in their natural habitat. The water from which they come is fed by several streams which constantly churn the water. 

Investing in a high-quality pump can ensure constant motion of the water in your take. 

It’s also a must to have powerful filtration systems. These fish are known to produce a considerable amount of waste. If the filters are not enough to keep up with the fish by-products, you run the risk of substantial changes in chemistry.

For your fish this could result in stress and illness. 

Check out this article on Redtail catfish: Lifespan, feeding, growth and diseases

As for the decor, it’s preferable to simulate the fish’s natural environment. Cover a thick layer of fine sand to the bottom of the tank. 

Red Empress Cichlids like to have food sifted through the sand. It is from where most of their protein originates. Large gravel is not conducive to feeding behaviours. Plus, it could hurt the fish physically. 

Fill up the tank with plenty of wood and rocks. The trick is to provide hiding spots for your fish whenever they feel threatened or scared. With in wild, Cichlids of Red Empress usually stick to the part of the lake where the rocks meet the sand.

While enjoying free swimming in the wild these fish are not going to stray too far from the rocks. When predators come around it poses as a potential cover. It is always a good idea to provide that simulated experience within a tank. 

Some vertical rocks and smooth, flat rocks can also be used. If you’d like to breed your fish the latter will come in handy.

Plants are likewise a good option. Red Empress Cichlids will not destroy the vegetation in contrast to other fish. They ‘re also not inclined to dig, so your plants can thrive just fine. 

Whatever you decide to put in your tank, it’s important to ensure there’s plenty of space to swim. Keep the tank’s bottom and middle zones relatively barren so your fish can swim without any obstacles.

You might like this article on Flowerhorn fish

Diseases to be aware

Red Empress Cichlids are not immune to common diseases of the fresh water. The fish can feel Ich. The highly contagious disease causes your fish to get visible white spots. This can prove fatal if left untreated. 

There are many ways to treat Ich. Some aquarists prefer a few days of raising the water temperatures to 86 degrees Fahrenheit.

Others go straight into medicine based on copper. It’s always a good idea to quarantine infected fish as soon as possible, no matter which method you choose. 

In addition to Ich, Red Empress Cichlids may also suffer from common aquarium diseases such as bacterial infections, parasites and infections with fungi.

There is one issue which is not experienced by too many species of freshwater fish. Malawi Bloat is a condition that causes a visibly swollen abdomen, loss of appetite and other distressing symptoms.

It could plague cichlids from Malawi, like the Red Empress. It’s typically caused by a poor diet.

Then what should you feed these fish? Well, we ‘re glad to report that Cichlids of Red Empress are omnivores. In the wild they feed on rock-stuck algae.

The same will be done for fish in captivity, which is why it is important to have rocks in the tank. 

Protein is normally collected through sand sifting. You can feed the flakes that are based on your fish spirulina. Could be fed periodically with protein-rich snacks like krill. 

Red Empress Cichlids tend to over-eat. Providing multiple smaller meals throughout the day is better than delivering huge meals.

Conduct & Temperament. 

Red Empress Cichlids are tranquil for the most part. Wherever possible, they prefer to mind their own business. 

Though these fish may attack others, it is quite uncommon. If you follow our recommendations for the tank and have plenty of hiding spots and plenty of space to swim, you can reduce your chances of aggression significantly.

Red empress Cichlid Tank Mates

The Red Empress Cichlids are not considered a group fish while they are peaceful. Similar species are fairly good. 

Additional Red Empress Cichlids are the best tank mates for those fish. Most aquarists will keep them together with three females in groups of one male. Do not have multiple male fish in one tank. That may result in aggression. 

Other Malawi cichlids can also be kept in the same tank. But make sure your tank is large enough for each fish to have its own space.

  • Blood Parrot Cichlids
  • Livingstoni Cichlids
  • Venustus Cichlids
  • Pictus Catfish
  • Ropefish


Red Empress cichlids are not too difficult to breed. These fish have a long history of captive breeding. They are mouth brooders, just like other Cichlids. It’s quite a fascinating breeding process. 

The male starts the breeding by selecting a clear spot in the sand or a flat rock. Then, until one follows him to the chosen place, he will chase the females. The male will shake off in a vertical position at this point. 

Then the female lays about 40 to 50 eggs and collects them in her mouth. Then the female will collect male sperm for fertilization. 

Red Empress Cichlid eggs take about three to four weeks to hatch. The eggs are kept in the female mouth all throughout the entire gestation period.

Red Empress Cichlids tend to exhibit parenting signs. After they have hatched, the males and females will both guard the young fry. They will guard them until they are ready to swim freely on their own.

In aquarium

Red empress cichlid fish are used in the freshwater home aquarium because of the attractive colors of the male to add variety and colour.

They normally grow to about 15 cm (6 inches) when kept in captivity and should be kept in at least a 55-gallon tank. They prefer a pH of 8.2 and a 26-28 ° C temperature


The Protomelas taeniolatus is usually a quiet fish until breeding time. The male is going to guard quite a large amount of territory at this time and chase away any fish that enters his ‘lair.’

Most of the males are aggressive to one another unless they are in a large area of water. When the breeding time is over, he will allow any fish to enter his territory again and will not protect it.

Concluding Thoughts 

The Red Empress Cichlid is one of our preferred species of freshwater. In our opinion only a handful of other fish can match their beauty. 

They are great fish for keeping in your aquarium too. The Red Empress Cichlid is pretty quiet and will rarely cause trouble in your tank. 

Other things that owners can appreciate are the generous water parameters and hardness. It is always nice to have that peace of mind that knows your fish is not fragile.

Here are few articles you may want to check:

Redtail catfish: Lifespan, feeding, growth and diseases

Clown pleco fish a.k.a Panaqolus maccus complete care



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