Red Terror Cichlid Care 101: Size, Tank Mates, Food & More

Red Terror Cichlid

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Introducing a red terror cichlid can wreak havoc in an otherwise peaceful tank. 

As the name suggests, this terrifying and aggressive breed is known to be an invasive fish that will attack its tankmates and proceed to eat them for lunch. But despite their villainous reputation, red terror cichlids are popular pets that bring life and color to an aquarium. 

Indeed, this exotic breed can be a beautiful addition to your household. What’s more, these fish have a fascinating personality and a long past which spans millions of years. But first, let’s get into the basics. 

Red Terror Cichlid Profile

Female Mesoheros Festae
Photo: kooky_cichlids

Red terror cichlids are large species of fish with broad bodies when viewed from the top. Although known as red terror cichlids, only the adult females sport a flaming-red hue. 

However, young male and female red terrors appear identical during the first year of their life-cycle. Once they reach maturity, their sexual dysmorphia becomes more prominent, and fishkeepers can easily differentiate the two based on their colors. What’s more, male red terrors are heftier than females and can grow up to 20 inches.

How Long Do Red Terror Cichlids Live?

Red terror cichlids have a long lifespan and can live up to 15 years under optimal conditions in captivity. Even in the wild, Red terror cichlids seem to do well and can live up to 12 years. 

Appearance & Sexing

Also known as Mesoheros Festae, red terror cichlids are tropical fish native to South America. This colorful fish is identifiable by its intense colors, which becomes even more vivid in females that are ready to breed.

Although young red terror cichlids are virtually identical in appearance, there are slight differences in the colors of males and females when they reach adulthood. That said, it is best to wait for the fish to grow to about four or five inches before bringing it home. 

Male Vs. Female True Red Terror Cichlid

Once the male red terror reaches about five inches in size, it begins revealing its true colors. That said, most male red terrors have a turquoise-green body and blue spots around the dorsal, caudal, and anal fins. Moreover, a “nuchal” hump will appear on the head as the male nears its breeding period.

On the other hand, female red terrors don the signature flaming and vibrant orange-red color. In addition, vertical, black stripes run along its body and in front of its dorsal fins to provide a fierce look. 

It is also worth noting that both males and females have a false eyespot on their backs. Unlike false red terror cichlids that exhibit a similar false eyespot on the center of their backs, this mark is slightly off-center in true red terrors.

Red Terror Cichlid Size And Growth Rate

It becomes much easier to tell their sex once red terrors are about five to seven inches. Generally, it takes a fish in a tank about one year to reach seven inches in length. 

After the one-year mark, you can expect a growth of one inch every year until the cichlid reaches its maximum size. However, remember that the full grown males are far larger than the females and may grow up to 18 or 20 inches in captivity. And while females may peak at a max size of 12 inches, they are considered the stronger sex. 

Red Terror Cichlid Care

Tank size

Considering how red terrors grow to gigantic sizes, the recommended tank size for one fish would be about 180 gallons. Also, make sure that the aquarium has a length of at least 84 inches, especially if you are planning to bring in a pair or introduce tankmates. 

Water Parameters

In the wild, these freshwater fish are found in aggressive and warm waters. That said, fishkeepers must ensure that the water parameters in the aquarium mimic the conditions of its native tropics. 

For starters, you should use a heater to maintain a temperature that hovers between 77 and 84 degrees Fahrenheit. Additionally, you will need a water circulation pump or blower to create a strong current. 

Given their gigantic sizes, red terrors prove to be messy pets that create waste rapidly. Needless to say, you must add an intense mechanical and biological filtration system, coupling it with regular water changes. It is crucial that you check the water parameters frequently, ensuring that the pH level remains between six to eight. 

Setting Up The Rest Of Their Tank

Female red terror cichlids will require a smooth substrate of rocks or slate, where they can lay eggs. However, you can also place a mix of sand, pebbles, and gravel as the base. 

These fish are found in shallow and murky waters in the wild, so they are not fussy about lighting. In fact, you can add rocks and caves to provide dark hiding spaces. Floating plants are also a great way to provide shade and emulate its dim natural environment. 

And if you plan on adding vegetation to the aquarium bed, ensure that they are securely affixed as red terrors are diggers that enjoy uprooting aquatic plants. 

Potential Diseases

Red Terrors are aggressive fish that often get into fights that result in injuries. However, lone Red Terrors in the tank that look stressed may be suffering from internal parasites. 

Food & Diet

For a Red Terror’s staple food, fishkeepers can choose from a variety of high-quality cichlid pellets available on the market. You can also bring variety to the diet by adding live or frozen ghost shrimp, mealworms, earthworms, Daphnia, bloodworms, and so on. 

Red Terror Cichlid Tank Mates

While there is always a risk, some aquarists recommend putting a red terror with other fish who share the same temperament. These include Oscar, Flowerhorn, and green terror cichlids.


Red terrors will not hesitate to unleash their terror on tankmates and sink their teeth into other fish. However, if you are adamant about keeping a pair, consider bringing home a shoal of young fish and waiting for two to pair up.


Notorious for its aggression and well-loved for its colors, red terror cichlids are a unique and relatively low-maintenance breed. However, they don’t get along with most cichlids, including their own, and may even bite the hand that feeds them. 

But don’t worry. All you need to do is refer to this beginner’s guide to red terror cichlids, and taking care of one won’t seem so terrifying anymore. 

Happy fish keeping!

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Jeff Colt

Jeff Colt

Hello, I'm Jeff- an aquarium enthusiast with over ten 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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