Once you have determined what species of cichlids you want, you will have to go and purchase them. Buy them all at the same time. You can't purchase a few now and then a few more later because they will fight when you add the new fish. If you've already bought some and you're reading this now, it's not the end of the world, you can follow the steps in the "resolving cichlid fighting" section and follow those tips, perhaps you can get the peace back in your tank!
Assuming that you tank is already cycled, here is how to make sure you're picking healthy fish:
- Choose fish that are all close to the same size. Smaller ones tend to get picked on more easily then large ones.
- Look for active swimming fish. Don't choose a fish that is floating at the top or sitting on the bottom. He should be swimming with the others actively in the tank and responding to your movements.
- Make sure the fins are not frayed or torn to badly. Slightly tattered fins are very normal and occur all the time due to mini spats between fish. A tear or two is not a concern but if the fish fins are very torn or stuck to the body don't buy that fish.
- Look for other obvious physical signs of sickness such a fuzz or white spots. Cichlids are prone to any other fish disease that tropical fish can get. A common cichlid disease is called Malawi Bloat. It is characterized by a fatter fish because of abdominal swelling. There may be red steaks on the fish body and an increased breathing rate which you can plainly notice.
Don't buy these fish, although Malawi Bloat a treatable disease, it's not something you want to take home and introduce to your existing aquarium fish. Also, the stress of being captured and transported home from the pet store can further weaker the immune system and kill the fish to cause the disease to worsen and spread to your other inhabitants.