How to Set up an African Cichlid Aquarium

Setting up an aquarium for African Cichlids requires the use of buffers and salt additives for healthy fish and enhanced colors. Rockery helps reduce aggression.

African Cichlids are known for their beautiful colors and hardiness but their aggressive nature causes many aquarium owners to steer away from keeping a cichlid aquarium. With research into their compatibility and providing an environment to reduce aggression, an African Cichlid aquarium can be beautiful and entertaining.

Aquarium Size and Decorations for African Cichlids

The minimum size for an African cichlid tank would be at least 48 gallons with a length of at least four feet for the larger species. For smaller cichlids and shell dwellers, they can be kept in an aquarium of no less than a 33 gallons. African Cichlids need lots of room so a large aquarium is highly recommended.

Adding rockery to the aquarium is a must for African Cichlids in order to provide hiding places. This will help reduce aggression and enable the fish to establish their territories. The rocks should be piled on top of each other to form caves. In addition, some cichlids prefer to spawn in caves. Cichlids also need a clear area for swimming.

AQUA KT Aquarium Ruins Ancient Greek Leaning Vase Rock Broken Barrel Fish Hiding Cave for Cichlid Betta Marine Freshwater Fish Tank Decoration
Great African Cichlids Decor that can be bought online

Clay flowerpots also provide hiding places and driftwood can provide some shelter. Many African Cichlids like to dig in the gravel so don’t be surprised if they start to excavate pits, re-arrange the gravel or dig up plants.

If plants are desired, use Java Fern or Java because they are sturdy and can tolerate the water conditions needed for African Cichlids.

Water Conditions

The water PH value needed for African Cichlids is situated in the higher range. When using a PH test kit, the water will turn blue.

  • Lake Malawi PH levels: between 7 and 8.5
  • Lake Tanganyika PH levels: between 7 and 9
  • Lake Victoria PH levels: between 7 and 8.5
  • DH levels for all lakes: between 10 and 20

In order to maintain high PH levels, coral gravel must be used as a substrate. Using African Lake buffers and salt additives is recommended. They can be bought at most aquarium stores. These buffers also add extra minerals to the water, which also help keep the cichlids healthy.

Some African Cichlids can adapt and live in the range of 7 to 8 on the PH scale but some also need that extra degree. The exact reading for each species can be discovered through research. It is very important to not do an abrupt change in PH. This can cause stress in the fish and weaken their immune system, therefore opening them up to disease.

The aquarium water temperature for African Cichlids should be between 70 and 84 degrees with the ideal reading at 78 degrees Fahrenheit. Higher water temperatures can increase the metabolism of the fish and affects the immune system, as well as stimulates aggression in cichlids. Cooler temperatures will cause less aggression, but it should never be below 70 degrees.

It is important to have good filtration in the aquarium because African Cichlids produce a lot of waste material. Water changes of 15% to 25% must be done on a weekly basis in order to keep the tank clean. Try to use a filter that is recommended for a larger aquarium size.

Many Cichlid tanks have two filter systems. One could be a submerged canister type and another filter could be one that hangs over the back of the aquarium. Do not use under gravel filters in an African Cichlid tank. Most cichlids like to dig in the substrate and this disrupts the operation of the filter

Adding Buffers and Salt to the Tank

Buying buffers and salt additives from the local pet store could be expensive, especially for large aquariums. There are cheaper methods of conditioning the aquarium using materials purchased from grocery stores or drug stores.

  • Bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) can be used to raise the PH of the water.
  • Pickling salt or non-iodized rock salt can be used to adjust the salt content in the water. It is extremely important to not use iodized salt, which is found in table salt.
  • Epsom salts can be used to raise the DH level for water hardness.

Always add extremely small amounts of these substances and test each time.

A good rule for keeping African Cichlids is to pay attention to the size and try not to mix cichlids from different lakes.


2 Responses

  1. I have a 150 gallon mostly African cichlids tank. U have to be careful because of aggression issues. With the correct combo. They are beautiful and interesting. Touch the glass. They will follow u around. Not run and hide. Great for my nieces.

    Now for a favorite of mine is an African catfish. …synodontis angelicus. Black with snow white dots and small lines all over. Love them

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