How to set up a tank for cichlids

If you've been intrigued by those beautifully colorful fish called Cichlids at your local fish store, you're not alone. This intelligent species has been a favorite of hobbyists for years. There are a number of popular species coming from various parts of the world, such as North America (Texas Cichlid, Jack Dempsey), South America (Discus, Green Terror, Oscars, Angelfish), Central America (Firemouth, Convict Cichlid, Managuensis, Red Devil) and Africa. However, the size, habits and aggressive personalities of Cichlids make them incompatible with most community fish. Do they require their own unique setup. Here are a few basics to help you get started.

Tank Conditions

Water Quality: pH varies as some require very soft water (Angelfish and Discus for example) and some very hard (Africans). A pH of 8.2 is optimum, as it replicates the near-alkaline lake they originate from. pH can range from 6.5 to 8.5, so it’s important to research your species. To help you adjust your water parameters, testing with a good quality testing kit is recommended.
Water Temperature: 76º to 84ºF
Stocking: The more the better. Because they are extremely territorial, having just a few in a large tank can cause aggression. More fish help prevent established territory.

Tank Equipment

Filtration: Cichlids produce a lot of waste, more so than the average freshwater tropical fish. So robust filtration is required to ensure good water quality. Tip: 10-15 times the tank volume per hour.
Example: A 55-gallon tank would require a 550gph filter. Canister filtration is a good choice.

Lighting: Fluorescent or LED lighting can be used; however, LED is preferred because it won’t add extra, unwanted heat to the aquarium. And consider more intense lighting to highlight the Cichlid’s intense colors.

Décor: An environment with lots of rocks and a sand substrate closely replicates the natural Cichlid habitat. It also gives them a place to dwell and protect offspring.
Live Plants: Research your species as some Cichlids are aggressive towards plants (Oscars, Dempseys), while others do well in a planted tank (Angels, Discus, Frontosas).

Tank Size: Cichlids grow to a large size, so the bigger the tank the better.

Substrate: The bottom of the environment should be sand. Some Cichlid species will ingest a small amount to aid in digestion, while others use the sand bed to build their nest. Larger Cichlids like Oscars are fine with gravel.

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