Red Empress Cichlid Care: Top 10 Things You Should Know

Red Empress Cichlid Aquarium Pet | Fishkeeping Adventure

If you are looking for ornamental fish for your home or office, Red Empress can be an excellent choice. These fish species are beautifully coloured, which makes them a spectacle to behold!

The Red Empress Cichlids are exceptionally beautiful and have unique body patterns and colours. Many people may think the name ‘Red Empress’ is female beauty-oriented; unfortunately, that is not the case.

Contrary to expectations, Cichlid’s males have vibrant colour shades, while the females have duller colours.

This specie of Cichlid is easy to care for and will thrive in the right environment. Nonetheless, you cannot care for your fish if you do not have enough knowledge.  

Before you introduce these Cichlids to your aquarium, there are 10 things you need to know about them.

Overview Of Red Empress Cichlid

Species Overview

COMMON NAMES: Haplochromis Red, Empress, Red Empress Cichlid,  Super Red Empress, Spindle Hap,

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Protomelas taeniolatus, Trewavas

ADULT SIZES:  4.5- 7 inches

LIFE EXPECTANCY:  5 years or longer


Family: Cichlidae
Origin: East Africa
Social: Relatively peaceful for a cichlid, more aggressive when spawning
Tank Level: Mid-bottom    
Tank Size: 55 Gallons or larger
Diet: Omnivore
Breeding: Mouthbrooder
Care: Easy
pH: 7.7–8.6
Hardness: 5-15dGH
Temperature: 73–82°F (23–28°C)

The red empress cichlids (also known as Spindle Hap) are an undemanding Cichlidae fish species from Malawi, Mozambique, and Tanzania. These fish are popularly known for their dazzling colours.

The fish has several colour variations, and it is easy to differentiate them from the females. However, young males look much like females but turn orange as they mature.

 Below are some notable characteristics of this Cichlid species:

1. Appearance

The elegance of these Cichlids is outstanding. Amazingly, these Cichlids’ colouration may vary depending on which part of Malawi they originate from.

The colors of this type of fish range from red, orange, blue, silver, and many more. Both sexes of these fish bodies have uneven egg-shaped contours and two horizontal lines.

In their natural habitat, their long angle-shaped fins aid their swimming. The fish’s sharply pointed fins have spiny rays that help them defend themselves from predators.

 Additionally, the soft front part of the fish’s fin helps them manoeuvre.

Most fish species have teeth, although their functions differ. Cichlids have two pairs of teeth, inside the mouth and throat.

2. Size

The Spindle Hap is large since its average length is 4.5-7 inches. How long they grow depends on whether they are in the wild or captivity.

In captivity, their sizes tend to be smaller and in the range of 4 inches, while in the wild, they achieve the optimum length of 7 inches. We can therefore conclude that, given ample space to live, the Spindle Hap will grow to its optimum length.

The Spindle Hap tends to grow large; therefore, so you should buy your cubs from reputable dealers who will recommend the number of cubs suitable for your tank.

3. Behaviour and Temperament          

The Cichlids have a peaceful temperament, although they may not be good community fish. They have territorial characteristics and tend to be aggressive to their tank mates.

If you want to introduce a tank mate, getting fish of the same species or one whose temperament is at par is advisable. You can also reduce the chances of aggression by ensuring the tank is big and installing many hiding places.

4. Lifespan

Protomelas taeniolatus lives for 5years, but you can extend their lifespan for 7-10 years by providing favourable conditions and care. All species need great care irrespective of their hardiness.

Therefore, check your fish’s environment, diet and water quality if you want your fish to live longer. 

These fish are born from freshwater, and their growth rate is average. The females achieve sexual maturity at approximately nine months but, like most fish, will continue to grow until they attain their full size.

5. Habitat

The Spindle Hap is endemic to Lake Malawi. They live in sediment-free rocky habitats and shallow water less than 10 meters deep. Males occupy the spawning site on top of rocks and tend to be territorial throughout the year. On the other hand, the mouth-brooding females like to hide among the rocks.

 If you want to give these fish stress-free life in captivity, ensure that you provide an almost similar environment in the tank set-up.

6. Tank Requirements

You will likely encounter occasional challenges when keeping pets, but keeping the beautiful Spindle Hap is worth the hassle. They are easy to manage and care for because they are docile, hardy and can adapt to various foods.

It is important to note that proper care is the recipe for the Cichlid to attain its full potential. Therefore, your task is to ensure you give your fish the best!

Here is what you need to know when caring for your Spindle Hap.

a) Tank set-up

The first step to successfully set up your tank is to focus on and prioritize the needs of your fish species: their growth, swimming, and breeding needs. With the fish’s needs in mind, you are more likely to get it right.

b) Tank size

Since the Spindle Hap grows to a large size, your tank should be large enough to accommodate their growing sizes. Ideally, the tank should be between 55-75 gallons.

Fifty-five gallons tanks to house smaller-sized cichlids and 75 for larger ones.

 If you have ample space and want to keep a school of cichlids, a 250 gallons tank will serve the purpose. Additionally, the 250-gallon tank will provide much room for decorations and hiding spots.

These cichlids are very active, and they like swimming. They will likely get sick or even die from stress-related problems if they do not have enough space to swim around.

c) Water Parameters

  • Temperatures

The hardy Spindle can survive in several water conditions. The ideal water temperatures range for these beauties is 75°F and 82°F (24-28°C).

In order to achieve the correct temperatures, ensure your watt-rated heater is sufficient for your tank size. More giant tanks of 100 and above gallons may require two heaters.

You will likely need two heaters if you have a larger tank (150 gallons +).

  • Alkalinity

An alkaline environment is also favourable. It is advisable to test water alkalinity before introducing your fish.

The ideal range for an alkaline climate would be 160-320 ppm. The best water pH for these cichlids is 7.7 to 8.6.

You should avoid lower pH numbers because it strains the oxygen supply for the cichlids. Insufficient oxygen supply over a long time may cause stress and poor health for the fish.

  • Hardness

 Considering that these fish come from a habitat of highly mineralized water, they can survive in slightly salty water. However, depending on the waste produced, the tank size and the number of fish, you can change the water at least once a week to ensure a balanced environment.

Their ideal water hardness is 5 to 15 dGH.

d) Tank Contents

Ornamental fish species have different tank needs. Therefore, every fish keeper must put the needs of the specific fish first before introducing them to the tank.

No one wants to live in an environment full of waste, and fish are no exception. The cichlids will need a clean tank devoid of garbage to live healthily.

Hence, you will need to install a filtration system before you add any kidding into the tank. The filtration system will help remove ammonia toxins from fish waste, clean water debris, and supply fresh air for the fish to breathe.

Buying a powerful filtration pump from the start will lower the possibility of having dull sickly fish now and then.

The Cichlid’s natural habitat provides them with an ideal environment and survival conditions, so you should strive to mimic the same. These Cichlids like hiding in the rocks when they feel threatened.

You should, therefore, set up plenty of rock caves and wood in the tank to provide your fish with hiding spots. A mix of different types of rocks, both smooth, flat and upright, are suitable for the tank.

The soft will rocks come in handy when the fish start breeding.

These cichlids like to suck up food from the sand. Fill the tank with sufficient sand substrate and give them a natural habitat-like feeling when they hunt for food.

The idea is to make them live as happily and healthy as possible.

Cichlids are not destructive. If you intend to put plants in the tank, rest assured that your plants are safe.

Whatever you do, ensure that the plants are not in the way of the fish swimming lifestyle. Here are two suggestions of indestructible plants that will best suit your Cichlid’s aquarium:

  • Java Fern Plant

Java fern is a popular plant among aquarists. It is also a floating plant.

You also do not have to plant it in the substrate; instead, attach it to a wood block, and the fish will dot uproot or destroy it. Its water parameters, light and other conditions closely match those the fish enjoy.

This plant will make the fish feel more at home in their tank.

  • Hornwort Plant

Hornwort is beginner friendly and is not hard to care for. It is also hardy and can survive in various water conditions.

This plant does not need panting in the substrate. The taste of the hornwort plant is not pleasant to the cichlids, so they will not eat it.

e) Tank Mates

You should be careful when choosing tank mates for your Spindle Hap. We recommend that you add them to a community tank with fish similar in size and temperament.

Keeping them in duos will reduce hostility and encourage breeding. However, tending more than two males together will only aggravate hostility.

Due to their semi-aggressive nature, the preferred tank mates would be the other African cichlids. Alternatively, you can find other compatible tank mates from South America.

 Some of the ideal tank mates include:

7. How To Breed A Spindle Hap Cichlid

Breeding Red Empress Cichlids requires keen preparation but is exciting and not too complicated. All you need to do is ensure that the fish environment is conducive, provide enough food, and there is clean water.

Many fish farms have been breeding cichlids in water tanks for a long time. Breeding requires two fish, so if you are interested in producing them, you should keep them in pairs.

Males are responsible for initiating the breeding process. They find breeding rocks and then pursue females directing them to chosen spots.

The females, who are mouth brooders, will lay eggs (40-50 eggs) and put them in their mouths for protection. Once the male fertilizes the eggs, they will have to wait for 3-4 weeks for the eggs to hatch.

Overcrowding cichlids in one tank (especially males) is not advisable since they can be stressed and get aggressive to each other. You should also provide an abundance of rocky caves for your fish to hide during spawning.

Successful breeding depends on how well you prepare the tank for breeding. Here are some tips for your successful set-up:

  1. Prepare a large tank to accommodate the breeding pairs. A 75 and above gallons tank will be ideal for breeding, depending on the number of fish inside.
  2.  Equip your water tank with a water filter with a UV sterilizer and one that can put up your tap water with high levels of nitrate and phosphate. The water filter will help to protect the fish eggs against harsh tap water chemicals.
  3. Introduce spawning material such as sand or peat moss. If you have growing pants, then avoid introducing sand and find alternatives.

Remember that females feel safe in hiding spots during spawning and introduce enough rocks.

Spindle Hap Cichlid males and females work hand in hand to protect the fry from after hatching. They do this until the fry learns to swim.

Once the Spindle Cichlid fry has learnt how to swim on its own and no longer needs parental care, they grow very fast. Most Cichlids reach their full maturity at approximate 8 to 9 months.

At maturity, you will realize that they will start gaining and intensifying more and more as they continue growing.

8. Nutrition And Diet

Spindle Hap Cichlids are omnivores that mainly feed on algae scrapped from rock surfaces. They also feed on plankton when available.

Algae grow on rocks and are a good source of nutrients. The stones in the tank will provide surfaces for algae to grow, thus supplying your fish with more nutrients.

These fish love food. With their heavy feeding characteristic in mind, make sure not to fall into their greedy trap.

Otherwise, they will get fat, making it difficult for them to spawn, which is not appealing. Instead, feed the young cichlids 3-4 times a day and reduce the rates as they grow older.

Remember that food residue will make the water dirty, so it is wise to feed them with portions they can finish in one minute.

It is vital to observe the nutrients you feed your fish for them to live a longer, healthy and happy life. Both natural and artificial nutrients will work just fine for the fish.

Frozen live food is still a good option if you want to go for artificial nutrition. You can easily find brands that deal specifically with Cichlids food if you are searching for one.

As explained earlier, balancing the fish nutrients is essential, especially protein nutrients. Cichlids have long intestines, and digesting proteins may be a little challenging.

Do not forget to feed them with vitamins. Just like in humans, vitamins will help diseases.

Types of food that the Spindle Hap Cichlid can eat:

  • Pellets or flakes: These foods are readily available in the market. Some dealers even produce foods specifically for the cichlids.

The decision to either give flakes or pellets solely depends on your preference. You may decide to go for pellets or flakes, or even both.

  • Homemade food: Algae in the natural habitat serve as a vegetable for the fish the same way we have broccoli, cucumbers, lettuce, cabbage, and fish as a vegetable delicacy in the artificial world.

Whichever way you prepare the algae, chopped and live, or blended and frozen into cubes, your fish is to enjoy it.

  • Spirulina: This food stands in for the natural fish vegetable algae. Feed your fish with spirulina sparingly because feeding too much of it will cause black spots on their body.

An interval of 2 times a week would be enough.

  • Meat: Cichlids do not have excellent protein digestion, so use meat sparingly.

The Cichlids will eat just about anything at any time; ensure that you only feed them the recommended food and at the correct intervals.

9. Common Diseases, Treatment And Prevention

  • Diseases

Spindle Hap Cichlids are prone to similar diseases as their fellow fresh fish. Ich is one fatal and highly contagious disease common in these fish.

Once the fish contracts the disease, its body develops black spots. You should treat the Ich disease as soon as possible to avoid death.

Other conditions likely to affect your fish include bacterial, fungal, and parasitic infections.

There is one more uncommon disease that few freshwaters like Spindle Hap cichlids catch. This poor diet disease is Malawi bloat.

The condition depicts symptoms such as loss of appetite, noticeably swollen stomach, loss of appetite and discomfort in fish.

  • Treatment

You can treat Itch in the following ways:

  1. Raise water temperatures. Some aquarists raise the water temperatures to a high of 86 degrees Fahrenheit for several days.
  2. Use copper-based medicine.
  3. As you treat the fish, the bottom line is that you must quarantine the ill fish; otherwise, it will infect the whole school in the tank.
  • Prevention

Changes in the aquarium can cause many diseases to your fish. Therefore, it is essential to keep checking the water parameters to ensure your fish stay healthy and content.

Prevention is better than cure. Suppose you are planning on adding plants and fish to your aquarium.

In that case, we recommend you quarantine them first and protect your fish from contracting the illness.

10. Buying A Spindle Hap Cichlid

Spindle Hap cichlids shopping is more or less like purchasing a used automobile. The process can be daunting, especially if you do not know where to start.

Here, we have a list of some things to put into perspective when buying from a dealer or fish farmer:

• Make sure you are buying from a reputable merchant. What do we mean by a reputable merchant?

A good reputation simply means that the seller can offer good customer service and has a return policy. Additionally, the seller should be able to respond to questions concerning the fish should any issues arise.

• Make sure that the dealer stocks a variety of Spindle Haps available for sale. It would also be advantageous if they stock other species of cichlids as well.

Reliable quantities are an assurance of getting more when the time comes when you need tank mates for your Cichlid. In addition, check for a variety of sizes so that you keep your options open for when something does not work out-especially given that these ornamental fish can get expensive with time.

It is advisable to compare several dealers to get the best deal and quality. However, it is crucial to know upfront that the fish prices depend on the intensity of colouration and sizes.

The price will be higher if you choose a large male with intense colours than you will for smaller females.

Bottom Line

In conclusion, the Red Empress Cichlid is an excellent fish to add to your tank. If you are a beginner, you have all the information you need to keep the Cichlid so that nothing can stop you.

We assure you that choosing the Spindle Hap cichlid for your aquarium will be a great decisio. Go for Spindle Hap Cichlid and enjoy this aquatic animal’s beauty!


Edwin is a passionate fishkeeper since he was a kid. He loves caring for the fish and sharing his ideas about fishkeeping with family and friends. He is the owner of Fishkeeping Adventure.

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