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Pike Cichlid (Crenicichla): Complete Care Guides, Tank Mates, FAQs

pike cichlid
<a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Crenicichla_punctata.jpg">Cláudio D. Timm</a>, <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0">CC BY 2.0</a>, via Wikimedia Commons

If you’re considering adding a pike cichlid to your fish family, you’re in for a real treat. This species, scientifically known as Crenicichla, has a broad spectrum of vibrant colors and a fascinating natural history. Part of the Cichlidae family, the pike cichlid is related to other popular fish like Oscars and Angelfish. But before we dive further, you might be asking, “How rare is this aquatic beauty?”

Well, the pike cichlid isn’t extraordinarily rare, but it does hold a unique charm for specialized aquarists. Within this captivating genus are over 90 species, but some are more popular than others. Particularly, species like Crenicichla lugubris and Crenicichla compressiceps often make their way into home aquariums.

So, where can you find pike cichlids in the wild? Native to the freshwater rivers and streams of South America, these fish have specific habitat needs. While some lean towards being bottom-dwellers, others occupy the mid-depths of their aquatic homes. As for their diet, they are primarily carnivorous, with a preference for live or frozen foods like shrimp and small fish. Their behavior tends to be on the aggressive side, making them less suitable for community tanks.

On to some quick stats—most pike cichlids measure between 4 to 18 inches in length and have a lifespan of 8-12 years when kept in optimal conditions. Speaking of conditions, they thrive in water temperatures between 72-82°F and a pH level between 6.5 and 7.5.

Now, let’s dig into some fun facts. Did you know that the Crenicichla lugubris, also known as the “Pike Monster,” can grow up to 18 inches? And some species even have specialized jaw structures for crushing shells—an uncommon feature within the Cichlidae family.

In terms of their historical context, pike cichlids were scientifically described in the early 19th century. Their striking appearance and territorial nature have long been subjects of interest, both for home aquarists and scientific research.

So, if you’re keen on adding a pike cichlid to your aquarium, understanding their specific care needs, temperament, and natural habitat will go a long way in ensuring that these fascinating fish not only survive but thrive in their new home.

pike cichlid
Cláudio D. Timm, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Key Information

When it comes to the world of Pike Cichlids, one thing is for sure—variety is the spice of life. With over 90 species under its belt, each offering different colors, body shapes, and temperaments, the Pike Cichlid genus (Crenicichla) offers a fascinating array of choices for aquarium enthusiasts. Whether it’s the attention-grabbing Crenicichla lugubris or the more subtle Crenicichla compressiceps, you’re in for a delightful, and sometimes challenging, experience.

PriceRanges from $20 to $100 depending on species and size
Common NamesPike Cichlids, Rocket Cichlids, Water Wolves
VariantsOver 90 species including Crenicichla lugubris, Crenicichla compressiceps, and Crenicichla saxatilis
Ideal Tank SizeMinimum of 55 gallons for smaller species, up to 200+ gallons for larger species
Water ParametersTemperature: 72-82°F, pH Level: 6.5 – 7.5
Lifespan8-12 years in captivity
Full Size4 to 18 inches, depending on species
Natural EnvironmentFreshwater rivers and streams in South America
BehaviorAggressive and territorial
Habitat PreferenceBottom to mid-dwellers, depending on the species
Aquarium DecorationRocks, driftwood, and plants for hiding spots and territories
Ideal Tank MatesOther robust cichlids, some types of catfish, Plecostomus
Fish to AvoidSmall, timid fish, and other aggressive species that might compete for territory
Best Foods/DietCarnivorous; prefers live or frozen foods like shrimp, small fish, and insects
DiseaseSusceptible to Ichthyophthirius multifiliis (Ich), skin flukes, and bacterial infections
Sex-SwitchNot applicable; Pike Cichlids do not undergo sex-switching
Gender DifferencesMales often larger and more vividly colored than females
Care LevelModerate to high; not recommended for beginners
Breeding LevelModerate; requires a large tank, specific water conditions, and close monitoring

Ideal Tank Mates

When setting up a tank for your pike cichlid, choosing the ideal tank mates is a crucial part of the process. Due to their aggressive and territorial nature, pike cichlids are not the easiest fish to pair with others. That being said, there are some types of fish that can coexist fairly well with them. These are generally species that are robust enough to hold their own, both in terms of size and temperament. They should also have similar water and environmental requirements to the pike cichlid to ensure a harmonious aquatic setting. Here are 15 ideal tank mates that can make a wonderful addition to a pike cichlid aquarium:

Severum Cichlid

Severums are relatively peaceful cichlids that tend to occupy the middle layer of the tank. They’re large enough not to be considered prey by the pike cichlid and have similar water requirements, making them suitable tank mates.

Jack Dempsey Cichlid

Another member of the cichlid family, the Jack Dempsey, is robust and can hold its own against the territorial pike cichlid. They share similar diets, which also makes feeding easier.

Green Terror

Despite their intimidating name, Green Terrors can get along reasonably well with pike cichlids. Both species are territorial and prefer similar water conditions, so setting up distinct territories within the tank can help prevent conflicts.


Oscars are one of the few cichlids large enough to not feel threatened by a pike cichlid. Their similar water requirements and carnivorous diets make them suitable tank mates.


Known commonly as “Plecos,” these fish are bottom-dwellers that tend to stay out of the pike cichlid’s way. They’re also helpful in keeping the tank clean.

Texas Cichlid

The Texas Cichlid is a robust fish with a temperament similar to that of the pike cichlid, making them a good match. Their water parameters and diet are also similar.

Jaguar Cichlid

Jaguar Cichlids are large, aggressive, and can hold their own. If your tank is large enough to accommodate multiple territories, this could be a suitable match.

Clown Loach

Clown loaches are bottom-dwellers that usually stay out of the way of more aggressive fish. Their bright colors also add a splash of vibrancy to your aquarium.

Bristlenose Pleco

Smaller than the common Plecostomus, the Bristlenose Pleco is another fish that will generally keep to itself and help keep your tank clean.

Firemouth Cichlid

Firemouths are smaller cichlids but are quite capable of holding their own. They prefer similar water parameters, making them a good choice for a community tank with a pike cichlid.

African Leaf Fish

The African Leaf Fish is a unique and attractive fish that generally keeps to itself and is not a threat to the pike cichlid.

Convict Cichlid

Although smaller than the pike cichlid, Convict Cichlids are feisty enough to defend themselves and can coexist well if the tank is spacious.

Silver Dollar Fish

These fish are fast swimmers and usually hang out in the mid-level of the aquarium, away from the bottom-dwelling pike cichlid.

Blood Parrot Cichlid

A hybrid cichlid, the Blood Parrot, is large enough to share a tank with a pike cichlid. They’re less aggressive and can coexist if given enough space.

Red-Tail Shark

Though not a fish for beginners, the Red-Tail Shark is a bottom-dweller that can coexist with a pike cichlid in a large, well-structured aquarium.

Before introducing any of these fish into your aquarium, it’s essential to carefully monitor their interactions with the pike cichlid, especially in the beginning, to ensure a peaceful and stress-free environment for all.


If you’re thinking about getting a pike cichlid for your aquarium, you may have a few inquiries. While we’ve covered much of the basic care and compatibility options for this unique species, there are likely specific queries you still have. Below, you’ll find a collection of frequently asked questions about pike cichlids, offering in-depth information on various aspects that haven’t been discussed yet.

What is the mating behavior of pike cichlids?

Mating behaviors can vary among different pike cichlid species, but generally, the male will display brighter colors and perform a series of displays to attract a female. Once the female is interested, they will often choose a flat surface on which to lay eggs. The male then fertilizes these eggs and both parents may take turns guarding them.

How do pike cichlids communicate with each other?

Pike cichlids, like many other fish species, use a variety of methods to communicate including color changes, postural displays, and fin movements. These can be used to establish territory, attract mates, or even show submission or aggression.

Are pike cichlids good for biotope aquariums?

Yes, pike cichlids are often used in South American biotope aquariums, which aim to replicate a specific natural environment. They add an authentic touch to such settings, and their behavior is fascinating to observe in an environment that mimics their natural habitat.

Can pike cichlids coexist with live plants?

While pike cichlids are generally not known to be avid plant-eaters, their aggressive digging and territorial behaviors can disrupt or uproot live plants. If you’re keen on having plants, opt for hardy varieties and secure them well.

Do pike cichlids change color?

Yes, many pike cichlids have the ability to slightly change their coloration based on their mood, health, or environmental factors. For instance, their colors may become more vivid during mating or more subdued when stressed.

Is it true that pike cichlids have teeth?

Indeed, pike cichlids have well-developed teeth that they primarily use for catching and eating prey in the wild. It’s part of what earns them their “water wolf” nickname.

What are some unique challenges when keeping pike cichlids?

One challenge is that they are particularly sensitive to changes in water quality. Therefore, meticulous attention must be paid to the tank’s filtration and cleanliness. Additionally, their territorial and aggressive nature makes them challenging to pair with other fish and requires a carefully planned aquarium setup.

Are there any specific lighting needs?

Pike cichlids don’t have any unique lighting requirements, but a moderate level of lighting will help simulate their natural environment and encourage natural behaviors.

How do pike cichlids handle transportation?

Pike cichlids are relatively hardy, but like all fish, they are stressed by transportation. It’s crucial to maintain stable water parameters and temperature during the journey and to acclimate them carefully upon arrival.

Do pike cichlids have any specific substrate preferences?

While pike cichlids are not overly fussy about their substrate, they do appreciate a finer-grained substrate that allows them to sift through for food as they would in their natural habitat. Sand or fine gravel works well.

Is it easy to differentiate between juvenile and adult pike cichlids?

Differentiating between juvenile and adult pike cichlids can sometimes be challenging, as their colors and patterns evolve as they mature. Generally, adults will be more vividly colored and larger than juveniles.

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A long-time freshwater fish enthusiast with a passion for sharing knowledge about this fascinating hobby. Over the years, Michelle has dedicated countless hours to studying, learning, and experiencing firsthand the joys and challenges of fish-keeping.

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