Probably one of the most popular aquarium setups among new aquarists is a cichlid aquarium. This is mostly due to the hardy nature of cichlids and their large availability.

We will try and go over a few helpful hints for those who are planning on putting together a cichlid aquarium.

The first thing to realize is that cichlids grow quite fast relative to other fish. This means that you have to plan ahead. I would say that a 30-gallon aquarium is the minimum for cichlids.

In a 55-gallon aquarium, you can start out with up to about eight fish (assuming that they are small), but as they grow, you will have to decrease their number. Another tough part about cichlids is that they tend to dirty the water quite quickly (I’ll say more about this later). This means that you will either have to do more frequent water changes, or go with a smaller number of fish.

The best bet is to go with a fewer number of fish. This way, you not only avoid more frequent water changes, but also you are planning ahead for the future when they will grow. So, for example, my recommendation is to get two or three oscars, or four African cichlids for a 55-gallon aquarium.

There are too many different types of cichlids for me to list them, but generally you can choose from several varieties of oscars or Africans. These are not too hard to find in aquarium stores.

But be forewarned  spend a lot of time choosing the fish! You should get young fish, maybe one to two inches, which have NO signs of infections, etc.

One way to tell a fish is in good health is to look at its belly and fins. Its belly should not be sunken, but slightly rounded (not too much though). Its fins should not have any frays or splits.

By being picky about the fish, you will ensure the beauty of the fish as they get larger. This may mean waiting a little bit until you find a good pair at the aquarium store, but it is worth it.

Another note is that you want to get fish that are of the same relative size. Try not to buy one small fish, and then another that is twice its size. This can lead to problems since cichlids can be very aggressive and territorial when feeding.

As for feeding, DO NOT OVERFEED. Cichlids will eat almost continuously if you keep feeding them. You don’t want to do this. You should feed them either once or twice a day, and only a moderate amount. This is to preserve the water quality.

Cichlids have a fast digestive tract, and overfeeding will quickly lead to large amounts of ammonia and nitrite in the water which can kill the fish. Water changes should be done religiously every other week. About 20 per cent of the water should be removed using a gravel vacuum. This will remove a lot of the fish waste, and any additional debris that can ruin the water quality.

Commonly, cichlids like to have rocks and plants to hide in, so you will most likely have these in your aquarium. It is important to use the gravel vacuum under these since they are very effective at trapping waste.

The bottom line is that cichlids are quite hardy, but they also require that you keep close attention to the water quality in the aquarium. It is also a good idea to include a little bit of slime coat into the water every once in a while to help keep the protective coating of the fish in good condition. This can be found at almost every aquarium store.

Cichlids are unique in that they grow rather quickly. It is really nice to be able to see your fish grow, but remember that the larger they are, the more frequently you must clean the water.