Chocolate Cichlid Care 101: Size, Lifespan, Food, Tank Mates

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For many fishkeepers, the Chocolate Cichlid (Hypselecara temporalis) is a unique looking species to have. Due to their vivid pastel coloration and fairly peaceful temperament, these fish make great choices for your Cichlid tank.

However, it’s still necessary to learn the specific requirements they need before you try your hand at ownership, as Chocolate Cichlids can grow quite large.

To make things easy for you, we are going to cover all the essentials of Chocolate Cichlid care in this guide. By the time you’re done reading it, you’ll be prepared to own some yourself.

Without further ado, let’s get started.

Species Summary

Chocolate Cichlid

The chocolate cichlid also referred to as the Emerald Cichlid, is a large freshwater fish that is found over a wide range in the Amazon River and Oyapock River Basin in South America.

The descriptions of these fish were recorded as far back as at least 100 years ago. They’ve always had a place in the aquarium hobby because of their calm temperament and wide range of compatibility with different species.

In addition to chocolate cichlid, these fish are also intelligent fish. You can even teach your chocolate cichlid to take food out of your hand with some patience and time.

Medium difficult to care for, these fish demand attention, mostly because they need a well established tank.

Scientific Name:Hypselecara temporalis
Common Name:Chocolate Cichlid, Emerald Cichlid
Origin:South America
Care Level:Moderate
Lifespan:8-10 years
Size:12 inches
Temperature:77-84°F (25-29°C)
PH:6.4 – 7.3
Water hardness:1 – 8
Minimum Tank Size:75 gallons

Chocolate Cichlid Size

How big do Chocolate Cichlids get? The full-grown Chocolate Cichlid can grow as large as size 12 inches (30 cm) in length. As one of the large South American cichlids, they need plenty of space to swim and explore in your aquarium.


Male Chocolate Cichlid

The Chocolate Cichlid has earned its common name from its rich red-brown coloration. During its juvenile stage, it has a tan and brown coloration. The coloration of adult fish is primarily brown, but as they grow up, it can be tinted with many different shades, including red, orange, gold, green, and yellow.

In their spawning season, their coloration becomes lighter and bolder with bright red, yellow, and orange shades that show up against a vibrant electric green base.

One of the most striking features of this fish is its large red eyes that stand out against their drab coloration. On the upper body of their bodies, you’ll typically see a prominent black spot, while another less prominent one can be found at the base of the tail.

Adult chocolate cichlids are easier to sex. Mature males will develop a large hump on their heads and be larger than females.

Like many other South American Cichlids and Central American Cichlids that have strong adaptability to the environment, Chocolate Cichlids change their colors with age, diet, or stress. These changes can sometimes happen quickly and dramatically due to environmental stressors like water changes or existing decorations rearrangement in the tank.


How long do Chocolate Cichlids live? The average Chocolate Cichlid lifespan is between 8-10 years in captivity.

Their living conditions can significantly impact the lifespan of fish. Fish that live in an unsuitable environment or are not given the proper diet are subject to shorter than those who receive adequate care and stay committed to maintaining a suitable habitat for them.

Care and Tank Requirements

If you’re looking for an easy fish to keep, the Chocolate Cichlid may not be your first choice, while if you’re looking for a large South American cichlid as the next addition to your cichlid tank, then Chocolate Cichlid is definitely an excellent choice.

Suitable habitat is a must if you want your finned friend to be healthy and happy. The next couple of sections will cover everything you need to know about Chocolate Cichlid care.

Chocolate Cichlid Tank Size

As we’ve mentioned, Chocolate Cichlids can grow quite large (12″). A tank size of at least 75 gallons is recommended for a Chocolate Cichlid. Some aquarists say you can get away with 55 gallons tank, but we disagree.

A 55 gallons aquarium’s dimensions are 48″ x 13″ x 21″ (L x W x H). Can you image a 12″ adult Chocolate Cichlid swimming around in that tank? It’s just small for life. These fish need plenty of swimming room to explore and grow, so a larger tank will make them feel more at home and show off their impressive size.

If you’re planning on keeping a pair of chocolate cichlids or other fish with your Chocolate Cichlid, then be sure to take into account their size as well. Typically, a 125-gallon aquarium would be ideal for these fish.

Water Parameters

The chocolate cichlid tails from slow-moving water, and they can tolerate most water conditions but prefer softer and warmer water. Healthy water parameters are vital for your fish’s well-being. They can lead to health complications and stunted growth, so it is important that you maintain them at just the proper range.

  • Water Temperature: 77-84°F (25-29°C)
  • pH Level: 6.4 – 7.3
  • Water Hardness: 1 – 8

Plants and Decor

Chocolate Cichlid hiding place

Keeping your chocolate cichlid happy and healthy starts with caring for their habitat. It’s important to have the right set up so that they can live in peace, not stress out from everything around them.

You can provide them with a safe and comfortable environment by setting up your tank to mimic their natural habitat.

Although juvenile chocolate cichlids are not substrate diggers, a soft sand substrate with plenty of hiding places created using clay pots, driftwood, and rocky caves is required as these fish are substrate spawners and prefer to sift through it.

Some hardy plants, such as Java Fern, can be used for aesthetically pleasing and as a home for microscopic organisms, which will provide food and shelter to fry. Adult chocolate cichlid does consume some plant matter, but it typically leaves the plants alone. Make sure the plants are well plants rooted. 


Another essential thing to consider is filtration. Chocolate Cichlids are big messy eaters and produce a lot of waste, so you’ll need a powerful filter to keep the water clean.

The canister and HOB filters can do this job, but I’ve found the capacity and simplicity of the FX4 is what really makes it shine. I’ve been running an FX4 continuously for seven years on my 75 gallons tank. The filter is also quiet; you don’t even know it’s on.

Food & Diet

In terms of diet, Chocolate Cichlids are omnivorous and should be fed various foods, including both frozen and live food. 

In the wild, Chocolate Cichlids feed on a variety of items such as algae, small fish, crustaceans, and insects. In the aquarium, you can offer them a diet that consists of flakes, pellets, frozen food (bloodworms, brine shrimp), live food (earthworms, crickets), and plant matter.

High-quality fish pellets or flakes can be used as the foundation of their diet. The New Life Spectrum Thera+A is a good option, as it contains a variety of ingredients to provide balanced nutrition, including high-quality proteins, carbohydrates, essential fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals.

Chocolate Cichlids do grow fast with the right diet, and they tend to eat a lot of food. A common feeding schedule is two per day, and only give them what they can eat in less than a couple of minutes. It’s your job to make sure that they are not overfed.

Chocolate Cichlid Tank Mates

Chocolate Cichlids are fairly easy-going fish for their size. They can be kept in a community aquarium with other similar-sized tanks that enjoy warm, soft water. It’s best to keep them with other peaceful SA/CA cichlids that can handle their water parameters.

Some of possible Chocolate cichlid tank mates:

We’re not done yet! I know that the list feels like it’s ending on an ominous note, but there are plenty more fish for you to try out if they meet some basic qualifications.

Can Chocolate Cichlids and Oscar Live together?

The short answer is yes. Chocolate cichlids and Oscars can live together as long as they are given enough space and hiding place. They are similar sized species and native to the slow-moving rivers in South America. 

Make sure to perform regular water changes if you keep Chocolate cichlids and Oscars together as they will produce a lot of waste. 


Chocolate Cichlid (Hypselecara temporalis) Breeding
Photo: Thomas Cavote

The breeding of Chocolate Cichlids is not difficult. These fish were bred extensively in captivity even before they were found in the wild. These fish are substrate spawners and will use a soft sand substrate to spawn on.

If you plan on breeding chocolate cichlids, it is recommended to keep several juveniles together and let them pair up at their own pace.

When a pair has been formed, they will choose the best spawning site and protect it from all intruders. You can add some flat rocks or an upright piece of slate in the breeding tank as a potential spawning site.

When they are ready, the female will deposit a large number of eggs (over 500 per spawning) in the spawning site while the male follows behind her and fertilizes them.

After then, they become excellent parents, though they are known to eat the eggs when they get stressed or startled. They’ll also take care of any unhatched eggs to prevent fungal growth.

The eggs will hatch in 3-5 days, and the fry will be free swimming in another week. The fry can be fed newly hatched brine shrimp, crushed flake food, or liquid fry food until large enough to eat pellets or flakes.


The Chocolate Cichlid is a readily available Cichlid that you can find in local fish stores or online. The purchase size is usually between 2-4″. They’re not too expensive when you buy them as juveniles, and their price goes up slightly after maturity.

Now It’s Up To You

In conclusion, the Chocolate Cichlid (Hypselecara temporalis) is a beautiful fish that is easy to care for and makes an excellent centerpiece for your community aquarium with its elegant pastel colors. With the right tank size, water parameters, and habitat setup, you can give your Chocolate Cichlid the home they deserve and watch them thrive!

That’s all for now! We hope this article has given you a better understanding of the Chocolate Cichlid and its needs. Be sure to keep these things in mind when setting up your tank. 

As always, if you have any questions or concerns about this guide, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.

Happy fishkeeping!

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Jeff Colt

Jeff Colt

Hello, I'm Jeff- an aquarium enthusiast with over 25 years of experience caring for a wide array of tropical fish, including koi, goldfish bettas, cichlids and more! For me: Aquariums are like jello - there's always room for more!

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