Starry Night Cichlid (Paratilapia polleni) Species Profile: Care, Tank Size, Food & Tank Mates

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Keeping Stary Night Cichlid as a pet is one of the most enthralling adventures an aquarist can embark on. These fish look striking and gorgeous, making them great additions to any aquarium. 

Unfortunately, like most Madagascar’s cichlids, the Stary Night Cichlid is now considered to be nearly endangered due to habitat loss and overfishing. As a result, Stary Night cichlids are becoming increasingly rare in the wild. 

Today, the Stary Night cichlid can sometimes be found in pet stores, and a few captive breeding programs are working to preserve this species. 

If you’re lucky enough to find a Stary Night cichlid for sale, there are a few things you’ll need to know before you bring one home. This guide will bring you everything about their care. It covers all essential aspects, like tank size, lifespan, appearance, ideal food, etc. 

Species summary

The Starry night cichlid (Paratilapia polleni), sometimes referred to as polleni cichlid and black diamond cichlid, is a medium-sized species native to Madagascar and it has a widespread distribution on the island.

This fish can be found in many rivers and associated streams in northern Madagascar, including the environs of the Andapa town, where most individuals are captured for the aquarium trade.

This cichlid belongs to the Paratilapia genus, which currently has two recognized species – P. polleni and P. toddi.

But now, P. polleni is probably the only known member of this genus because its congener, P. toddi, endemic to the African mainland, is unlikely to belong to this genus. 

It is named after a Dutch naturalist and merchant Francois Pollen, who collected this species when he visited Madagascar with his fellow Dutch naturalist and explorer, Douwe Casparus Van Dam.  

Paratilapia was previously fallen into two species — P. bleekeri and P. polleni. There is some debate among scientists as to whether these two fish are actually two separate species. The primary difference between the two is the size and frequency of spots on their body.

P. bleekeri typically has larger and more frequent spots, while P. polleni has smaller and less frequent spots. Furthermore, Bleekeri is larger, making them different from polleni. However, there is still much research to be done in order to definitively determine whether or not these two fish are actually two separate species.

Scientific Name:Paratilapia polleni
Common Name:Starry night cichlid, black diamond cichlid, polleni cichlid
Origin:Madagascar, Africa
Size:11 inches (28 cm)
pH:6.2 – 7.6
Temperature:62 – 82 °F (17-28°C) (the sweet spot is around 72-80°F)
KH: 8 – 25°H
Minimum tank size:75 gallons


Starry night cichlid (Paratilapia polleni)
Photo: Nathan Burgess

The Starry night cichlid looks incredibly beautiful, making it a favored fish among freshwater aquarists. It is a laterally compressed, full-bodied fish, resembling a perch-type species in shape. Adult and subadult dominant Paratilapia polleni have dark coloration, covered with beautiful speckles. 

These iridescent spots shift from golden to blue based on their movement and angle of light. Their eyes are bright yellow. In captivity, males P.Polleni develop a nuchal hump, a layer of fat above the eyes. 

Also, males have a more rounded head shape, more extended and sharper pelvic fins, and straight edges of anal and dorsal fins. On the other hand, the female starry night cichlid is said to be more beautiful in its coloration patterns and has round edges of anal and dorsal fins. 

Starry Night Cichlid Max Size

The maximum size of male Starry Night Cichlid (P. Polleni) is almost 11 inches (28 cm), with females typically maxing out at 5 inches (13 cm). It’s a fast-growing fish, so it is easy to reach its maximum size in a short period. Starry Night Cichlids typically reach sexual maturity at 3 -5 inches (8 – 12 cm).

Their size can be influenced by various factors, such as diet and water quality. Like any other species, starry night cichlids that are well-fed and live in high-quality water conditions can grow slightly fast than those that don’t.


The average Starry Night Cichlid lifespan is roughly 5 – 8 years when given proper care.

Like their full-grown size, many factors will influence their lifespan. These include water quality, diet, and tank mates. In addition, like any other captive-bred species, their genetics also play a significant role in how long they will live and how big they will get. 

Starry Night Cichlid Care

In their natural habit, P. polleni is a very adaptable cichlid. It can be found in a wide variety of habitats with different water parameters. It has been recorded at altitudes of up to 1500m, where the water temperature can drop as low as 12°C, and in hot springs, the water temperature can reach 40°C, and the water chemistry is also very alkaline.

However, the black diamond cichlid also occurs in acidic blackwater streams, some specimens even being found in slightly brackish waters. These creatures are primarily hardy and unfussy. 

While they don’t have many requirements, fishkeepers still have to provide the essentials to create a suitable habitat. Here’re a few starry night cichlid care guidelines that you should be mindful of. 

Tank Size

Since P.Polleni has modest adult size, a minimum of a 75-gallon (48″ x 18″ x 21″) tank is enough to keep a compatible pair of Starry Night Cichlid, and it is recommended to opt for a larger tank as these species are territorial. 

A group of youngsters can be placed in a smaller tank but eventually require rehoming into larger quarters as they grow. 

Water Parameters

These species are found in different environmental conditions, ranging from freshwater to lightly salty, making them adaptable to different aquarium conditions. Partial and regular water changes should be carried out to maintain water quality.

Stick to the below-mentioned water parameters to replicate the natural habitat of P. Polleni.

  • pH: 6.5 to 8.0
  • Water Temperature: 62 – 82 °F (17-28°C) (the sweet spot is around 72-80°F)
  • Hardness: 8-25°H
  • Ammonia: 0 ppm
  • Nitrite: 0 ppm
  • Nitrate: <30 ppm

Plants and Substrate

The aquarium space should be filled with a substrate of small rounded gravel or sand to make it look natural. 

Creating sheltered areas with bogwood and rocks in the tank where starry night cichlid can hide is necessary. Make sure these should be secured as these species can move decor around.

Live plants can be used to provide hiding places and reduce stress levels. Starry night cichlids are not known to eat plants, but they might uproot them during their excavating activities.

You may add blue moonlight to the aquarium to observe their twilight antics. 


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Starry night cichlids are mainly omnivorous species, sometimes feeding on small fish in the wild. In captivity, they readily accept a variety of foods, and there’s no need to feed live fish. 

A quality cichlid pellet is a great staple that we highly recommend. However, you’ll definitely want to diversify the diet with a variety of foods. 

Adding in some protein-rich snacks like brine shrimp, bloodworms prawns, Mysis shrimp, krill, and lancefish is a great way to provide some additional enrichment if you want to boost your fish’s color. But don’t overdo it.

Don’t forget to also give them vegetables like blanched spinach, zucchini, and cucumber. Cichlids love foraging through things, so adding in some vegetables will definitely be appreciated.

These species are crepuscular by nature, so it is recommended to feed at least once after the main lights are switched off. 

Starry Night Cichlid Tank Mates

Starry Night Cichlid Tank Mates

They are relatively peaceful towards other robust cichlid but are intolerant of their kind, especially in an aquarium that is smaller than 75 gallons. It is best to keep this fish single or as an established bonded pair.

However, unlike Central American cichlids, these fish tend to be difficult to pair up. Males frequently kill females.

If you have a large tank, you can place them with various other Madagascar species. Since they are territorial, they should be kept with only large and similarly aggressive species. 

Depending on your tank size and temperament of the fish, here are some possible Starry Night Cichlid tank mates:


As biparental substrate spawners, Starry Night Cichlids have been bred in captivity for years.

To improve the chance of breeding, it’s best to keep a group of juveniles and allow them to pair off naturally. Of course, this is the most challenging part as males tend to be quite aggressive towards each other and females.

The male is ready to breed at 3 -5 inches. A bonded pair should be kept in a separate breeding tank as they will become highly aggressive and will most likely not tolerate other tank mates during the breeding time.

You will notice an elaborate courtship ritual between the pair, which might even last for days. The male will show intense dark coloration and display unique behavior toward the female. 

After successful mating, they will dig a pit in the substrate where the female may lay up to 1000 eggs. The eggs will be attached by fine filaments, which will form long strings of spawn. These strings make it easier for the female to guard them while the male guards the perimeter of the territory. The strings may coil into a tangled mass when the female fans the eggs.

Depending on temperature and pH, these eggs will hatch in around 48 hours. The fry will be free swimming a week later, and they are easy to raise on newly hatched brine shrimp or commercial foods designed for fry.

Final Thoughts

That’s all about Starry Night Cichlid care. We hope our guide will help you to successfully keep these stunning fish in your aquarium. Starry night cichlids are absolutely breathtaking, but they do require some work to maintain. With the right setup and care, they can be a beautiful addition to any aquarium. 

They are not fussy; However, what you should keep in mind is their territorial nature. Starry Night Cichlids will defend their tank with their life, so it’s important to provide them with plenty of space and appropriate tank mates. 

Thanks for reading, and good luck!

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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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