Cichlids span a range of body sizes, from species as small as 2.5 cm (0.98 in) in length (eg, female Neolamprologus multifasciatus) for the larger species approaching 1 meter (3.3 feet) in length (eg Boulengerochromis and Cichla). As a group, cichlids exhibit a similar diversity of body shapes, ranging from strongly laterally compressed species (such Altolamprologus.
Pterophyllum, and Symphysodon) to species that are cylindrical and highly elongate (such Julidochromis Cyprichromis leptosoma, Teleogramma, Teleocichla, Crenicichla, and Gobiocichla). Generally, however, cichlids tend to be of medium size, ovate in shape and slightly laterally compressed, and generally similar to the North American sunfishes in morphology, behavior, and ecology.
Many cichlids, particularly tilapia, are important food fishes, while others are valued game fish (eg Cichla species). The family also includes many familiar aquarium fish, including the angelfish, Oscar, and discussion. Cichlids have the largest number of endangered species among vertebrate families, most in the haplochromine group.
Cichlids are well known for having evolved rapidly into a large number of species that are closely related but morphologically diverse in large lakes, particularly Tanganyika, Victoria, Malawi, and Edward. Their diversity in the African Great Lakes is important for the study of speciation in evolution. Many cichlids that have been introduced into waters outside of their natural range have become nuisance, such as tilapia in the southern United States.
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