What are the right cichlid species for you? If you’re new to these fish, you probably have no idea how to answer that. Even if you’re a seasoned cichlidophile, the answer may not be as straightforward as you think.
How do I answer that question? I do it pragmatically. If you’re like most cichlid keepers (and like me), you don’t have an unlimited budget. That means you have financial limitations on what fish you can keep. If you’re keeping such behemoths as Cichla ocellaris or Parachromis dovii, you’re going to need a really large tank. Large aquariums aren’t cheap nor is the equipment needed to maintain them. As tanks and fish increase in size, so do the filtration needs.
What about physical space for the tank? Don’t forget that the larger the tank the more space needed. The inability to house a large tank also means you shouldn’t keep large fish. Note that I say shouldn’t. Some hobbyists keep really large species in tanks that are way too small for them. In my opinion, they shouldn’t. That little 2″ cichlid that you bought at the LFS may quickly out grow the tank you have. You may be limited by space, which means you may not have anywhere to put a larger tank even if you wanted/needed to.
Also, larger species typically cost more money per fish, on average. By limiting your fish buying options to what your LFS has in stock, you avoid expensive shipping costs. If you want some very specific species that your LFS neither carries nor is willing to special order for you, then your options expand exponentially. However, fish shipping costs can be high depending on the vendor you choose, the amount of fish you order, and the size of the fish you order.
So far, I’ve considered primarily economics in the question. How about preference? Some cichlidophiles prefer dwarf species like me. Some like really aggressive fish, while others prefer more mild mannered cichlids. Some aquarists like cichlids species that are rare and hard to find in the hobby. Some prefer really colorful fish, while others are more interested in behavior.
How much do you know about cichlids? How broad is your species knowledge? Some species are more difficult to keep than others because they require pretty stringent water parameters. Many cichlids simply can not be housed together for a variety of reasons (e.g., different diets, different water parameters, aggression, predation).
Selecting the right cichlid(s) really comes down to what you’re looking for in the species that you want and the limitations that you have. Limitations could be financial (i.e., limited budget), physical (i.e., little physical tank space), intellectual (i.e., your cichlid keeping knowledge), etc.
Think it through. As you consider your options, please review your space, your budget, fish availability, and other factors. Once you identify what you CAN keep, then try to find the cichlid that is right for you.