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African Cichlids Tank Requirements – Complete Guide

African Cichlids are a relatively hardy species that will adapt to most aquarium conditions. They will accept most foods, including flakes and pellets.

They are also easy to breed if you are prepared for the job. For smaller African cichlid species a minimum 30-gallon tank is recommended, while larger tanks are needed for larger species or many.

The water should be clean and well filtered with good water movement provided by powerheads or pumps. For African cichlids, one of the best things you can do is provide them with caves and rocks to hide in order to mimic their natural habitat.

If they don’t feel safe in the tank they may become aggressive toward other fish, so be sure they have places to hide out when needed.

Live plants can be used if secured well, as they may dig at the roots of plants when defending their territory against other African Cichlids or when spawning.

African Cichlids Tank Size

African cichlids are a very interesting fish to keep in the home aquarium. This is because there are many species of different sizes, colors, shapes, and behavior. These fish also need a lot of space to thrive.

The best choice would be a 55-gallon tank for a group of 10-20 African cichlids. The best aquarium for these fish is a large tank that allows the fish to swim around and still have plenty of room to turn around without bumping into anything.

In a larger tank the water quality can be maintained easier, so choose a large tank so you can ensure that your fish will live for years without any problems.

Water Parameters for African Cichlids

African Cichlid will thrive in water with temperatures between 74-82 °F (23-28 °C). Don’t keep them too cool because they will get sick and eventually die.

Neutral to slightly alkaline water is ideal for these fish, with pH levels ranging between 7.5 – 8.5, depending on the species. Water hardness (dH) should be between 160-320 ppm. They like the water movement to be medium or strong.

Ammonia and nitrite should always be kept at 0 ppm, while the Nitrate level at 10 ppm. There’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to keep this at these levels if you do frequent water changes and good filtration.

So to summarize the above data here is a quick overview:

  • Temperature: 74-82 °F (23-28 °C)
  • Water pH: 7.5 – 8.5
  • Water Hardness (dH): 160-320 ppm
  • Ammonia and Nitrite: 0 ppm
  • Nitrate: 10 ppm

African Cichlid Water Heating

Just like most tropical fish, African cichlids also need a heater to keep their water at the right temperature. They can be kept without a heater in some cases if the tank has good circulation and the air temperature is consistently above 75 °F.

However, unless you live in a tropical climate, I commend installing one or multiple filters in your tank, depending on its size.

You can easily calculate the heating power by the general rule of thumb: 5W of heating/gallon.

African Cichlid Tank Decorations

African Cichlid tanks are typically designed with many decorations so that the fish have places to hide. This is because they are rather territorial and may fight if they have nowhere to escape each other’s line of sight.

To create hiding spots, use rock caves and ledges, driftwood, and pieces of slate or large-grained gravel on the bottom of the tank. Plants make good decorations as well; choose ones that can withstand some nibbling and provide a place for fry to hide until they’re big enough to avoid predators.

African Cichlids Tank Filtration

I would recommend getting a filter rated to double your tank’s biological capacity, so if you have a 75-gallon tank, get a filter rated for 150 gallons. The filter will not only help with keeping the water quality stable but will also help with water flow.

Substrate for African Cichlid Tank

If this is your first time keeping African Cichlids, I would recommend using sandy substrate since sand is better at stabilizing temperature than gravel or other substrates. However, if you decide to use sand then you should be prepared to do frequent water changes since sand is more prone to bacterial blooms than gravel.

Lighting African Cichlids

African cichlids can be kept in a wide range of lighting conditions. As long as your fish get enough light for their daily activities then the lighting shouldn’t be a problem

If you plan on adding plants to your aquarium, then you will want to invest in a light for your aquarium. The lights come in different colors and settings so that you can customize them to whatever color fits your taste best.

Remember that you should only use lights during the day since this is when plants grow and need sunlight to survive.

Minimum Tank Size for African Cichlids

I would recommend a minimum tank size of 30 gallons because the tank will need to have a lot of room for swimming and entertaining. Also, since many African Cichlids are notoriously aggressive, a large space is needed so that they can establish their own territories and not have to fight each other constantly.

Rocks for African Cichlids

The rocks are the most important part of your aquarium. The rocks are placed in the middle of your aquarium, to create a natural habitat for your fish. It gives them a place to rest, hide and breed. The rocks provide shelter from predators and oftentimes, help to keep the aquarium clean by providing an area for detritus to collect on.

The following rocks are popular among hobbyists because they can be used for different things in your tank: congo rocks, large decorative river rocks, basalt rocks, coral base rocks, ceramic rocks, texas holey rocks, and others.

Where Can I Get Rocks for Fish Tanks?

You can buy rocks in most aquarium shops, pet stores, or even big box stores. You can also buy them online, where there is a variety to choose from. Most online sellers offer a large variety of rocks in different shapes and sizes, in a variety of colors.

How Do I Choose The Right Rocks?

Choose rocks that have been collected from the wild rather than being manufactured. Rocks collected from the wild have natural colors and therefore add to the natural environment of your aquarium. Manufactured rocks by comparison tend to be brown in color and give an artificial look to your aquarium!

How To Install the Rocks in Your Tank?

Rocks are generally easy to install; however, it is always best to place them in your tank prior to filling with water! To install them into your tank you will need:

  • A large bucket (to wash and soak them)
  • A strainer (to hold the rocks while you rinse)
  • A sprayer (to rinse off excess water)

Follow these easy steps:

  1. Place one rock into a large bucket and fill it with warm water. Wash the rock clean and allow it to soak for a few hours. Remove the rock from the water and rinse off all excess water.
  2. While your first rock is soaking, soak the next one in the same way.
  3. Once all of your rocks have been soaked, place them in a strainer and rinse them off with fresh water.
  4. Measure how many rocks you will need for your tank using a measuring cup or ruler
  5. Place each rock into your tank one at a time, being careful not to knock them over
  6. Once they are all in place, fill with water until three-quarters of your tank is full
  7. Replace any fake plants or decorations so that they are not on top of the rocks
  8. Add your fish last! Never add any fish while you are filling up your tank with water! This will ensure that you do not introduce any harmful bacteria into the aquarium which can harm or even kill your fish
  9. Once everything is in place, wait for 2-3 weeks before adding any fish to help stabilize water conditions (nitrogen cycle)

Make sure that when you are cleaning the rocks, you do not use any soap. All you need to do is rinse them off and use a soft sponge and brushes to remove any algae and other dirt.

It is also important to leave some room between the rocks for your fish to swim through and find a place that they feel safe in.

What Should I Avoid When Choosing Rocks?

There are certain types of rocks that you should avoid using in an aquarium such as:

  • Limestone – Limestone will dissolve over time, releasing unwanted minerals into the water! This can affect your water quality and even kill your fish!
  • Porous rocks – Rocks such as sandstone, slate, shale, or chert should be avoided because they contain pores that allow water to pass freely through them! This means that these rocks can leach unwanted minerals into the water and cause problems like algae growth and cloudiness.

The right rocks in the right place will allow your fish to feel safe and create a natural habitat for them. Choose rocks that are easy to clean and install as well as rocks that will not affect the quality of the water. The best part is that they will last you for years! You can even use them to create a nice design in your tank!

Final Words

There are over 1500 African Cichlid fish species making them the most numerous family of fishes in Africa. Many of these species are beautiful and popular in the aquarium trade. Their colors and patterns are very diverse.

The tank setup that they need is drastically different than what is needed for most other tropical fish families, but with this guide, now you have all the information you need to start you African cichlids aquarium.

avatar I’m Julia, and I used to work in a fish store for over 5 years. On this blog I help beginners care for their cichlids and share my experience and research on various fishkeeping related topics.

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