Do Cichlid Bites Hurt (And Do They Have Teeth)?

Sticking your hand in a Cichlid tank is unavoidable especially when you do your cleaning, rearranging, or plant trimming. Since these animals are known to be aggressive, it’s normal to feel anxious about getting bitten.

Do Cichlids Have Teeth?

Some Cichlids don’t have the mouth and teeth structure to inflict injury to a human hand. But others do. There have been instances of chomping on the hand of its owners and drawing blood.

But because all Cichlids have teeth, there’s a need to be cautious depending on what type of Cichlid you have. These teeth differ in size and location in the mouth depending on the fish’s diet:

  • Algae scrapers have stout jaws and small teeth that are efficient for grazing algae off of rocks
  • Carnivores and piscivores— or those that eat smaller fish and snails— have longer fangs with which they latch onto their moving meal.

The latter is, of course, the bigger threat.

But although all Cichlids have teeth, the real question is will they bite you? Generally, the more aggressive and larger Cichlids are the most likely to attack a human hand moving in the aquarium. Some of these include the Red Devil, the Dovii (or Wolf Cichlid), the Jaguar, the Midas, and the Hoga. 

Central American Cichlids are more likely to bite than Africans. Let’s just say they’re the type to bite the hand that feeds them.

Even Blood Parrots and Convicts can become aggressive. There have been reported incidents of attacks on humans. However, their mouths aren’t big enough or their teeth sharp enough to really cause anything other than a peck on human skin.

Another interesting fact is that while Cichlids have teeth, they have no tongues. They taste with their teeth instead.

Do Cichlid Bites Hurt?

Those sharp teeth are complemented by the speed by which a Cichlid attacks. One moment, it’s at the other end of the aquarium, and the next it’s darted towards your hand with its mouth open.

Cichlid bites may hurt if they are the kind that has larger teeth or has a feeding style that likes to pull chunks out of their food. Some bites by smaller Cichlids actually tickle. Bigger Cichlids may draw blood akin to scraping the back of your hand on cement.

The larger the Cichlid, the longer the fang, the more likely they are to scratch or slice skin. A speedy attack may catch you unaware. The most common areas of Cichlid bite marks are the knuckles, fingers, and the back of the hand.

Do Cichlid Bites Hurt (And Do They Have Teeth)?
Do Cichlid Bites Hurt (And Do They Have Teeth)?

Moreover, Cichlids don’t have any rabies, venom, or other diseases that can infect open wounds. The extent of the worst reported damage doesn’t go beyond a skin wound, not enough to send the victim to the emergency room. The worst of Cichlid-caused lacerations, though bleeding, can be treated right at home.

Why Would Cichlids Bite?

Cichlid personalities will dictate whether they will attack you or not. There are instances when docile Cichlids can become aggressive towards you even if you’ve had it for so long. Here are the reasons why:

Reason #1: They’re breeding

The most common reason why any Cichlid attacks is because they’re protecting their right to mate or they’re protecting their eggs. 

Cichlids can be aggressive while they’re trying to mate. This is the stage when the fish are circling each other, the female starts to lay eggs, the male fertilizes them, and she gathers the eggs into her mouth for mouthbrooding.

During this process, Cichlids hate interruption. They would chase away intruders including other fish and your hand just so they can complete the process.

Reason #2: You’ve entered their territory

Cichlids are very territorial, especially the alpha (or strongest) one. You’ll notice which one this is by observing which fish has the brightest colors. You try to rearrange some rocks, close dug-up holes, or simply clean the aquarium and they’re all over your hand all of a sudden.

Some Cichlids don’t like the intrusion and would defend their territory. As the dominant fish in the tank, they feel like their superiority or position is challenged when something happens that’s beyond their control.

Cichlids dig for several reasons (as we discuss in the post “3 Reasons Why Cichlids Dig Holes“), that’s why they don’t want anybody rearranging their sand, gravel, rocks, and plants.

Reason #3: They’re scared

They say a good defense is a good offense. Cichlids surely know about this as they attack hands approaching their claimed territory. They’re actually scared or stressed, as evidenced by them hiding or swimming quickly away.

Some may even hide in decor and take a peek to see if the threat has disappeared before they come out again.

How To Avoid Getting Bitten By Cichlids

So what should we do? We’ve listed down some things we have proven helpful in avoiding the wrath of angry fish.

Tip #1: Avoid it altogether

If the threat of being bitten is looming, it would be wise to avoid putting your hand in there. Some circumstances may be unavoidable. But there are many instances when, instead of your hand, you can use something else.

For example, if you simply want to fix uneven substrate that your Cichlid has dug, use a long-handled fishnet to “rake” the sand or gravel back into place. You can also use clean tongs to move or retrieve rocks and dead leaves.

Algae can be scrubbed by a sponge with a handle or a magnetic remover. You can also buy a python hose for your water changes.

How To Avoid Getting Bitten By Cichlids
How To Avoid Getting Bitten By Cichlids

Tip #2: Keep your fish calm

Wiggling your hand in front of an angry Cichlid will surely entice them to attack. Predators are enticed by the chase, so acting like a matador in a bull arena will get you a bad reaction.

Keep your fish calm by avoiding jerky movements. It also helps if you have plants that they can hide behind during a water change.

Also, make sure your Cichlids have been fed properly before you do a water change. Having a full belly keeps them calmer than if they were hungry. The water change would also be more efficient as you can clean out uneaten food from the feeding session.

Tip #3: Try a temporary divider

Send your breeding or angry Cichlid to one corner by attaching a tank divider to your aquarium. You can do this while you clean one side of the tank and then switch so you can do the other.

Other fish keepers who have big tanks put a divider to separate a new Cichlid parent and her fry from the rest of the tank. It will prevent the Cichlid from attacking you or other fish. It will also keep the fry safe.

If you are interested in learning more about your fish behavior, check out the links below:


Cichlid-caused bites that lead to bleeding are rare. They would rather hide than attack you.

But just like any responsible owner, you’d want to be cautious of touching your fish, their eggs, or their fry especially if the fish have long fangs that can hurt you. Be aware of when your Cichlids are becoming extra aggressive for one reason or another, and take precautions.

Lastly, the personality of your fish will dictate whether or not it will attack you. Some people have aggressive Cichlids but have never experienced getting nipped.

Recent Posts