How to Set up tank for African Cichlid Tank

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African Cichlids are an extremely diverse family of tropical fish, and if you are planning to make your aquarium colorful, surely go for these fish. These fish are from family Cichlidae which includes other fish like ram cichlids, firemouth, green terror, angelfish, and discus. There are around 1500 species in the family, and almost every species is uniquely colored, making them one of the most desirable aquarium fish. They are also larger and more aggressive than other tropical fish like tetras, guppies, gouramis, etc. They also require more experienced fish keepers to be handled by. Almost all species of Cichlids are found in Lake Malawi, Lake Tanganyika, and Lake Victoria, the three great lakes of Africa.

These fish usually live around eight years in an aquarium with suitable conditions. They are very active fish and crave food almost all the time. They might trick you into believing that they are hungry but make sure that they are not overfed. Another thing that you should consider is their aggressive behavior. To reduce fighting and deaths of weaker fish, make sure that there is plenty of hiding place in your aquarium. The size of these fish can vary from 3 to 8 inches according to various species.

In this article, I will teach you all the basics of how to set up a tank for your African cichlid. I will also provide you some protips along the way, which will be very beneficial for the beginner aquarist. So, read the full article.

Choosing Correct Fish Tank And Accessories For African Cichlids.

The first mistake newbie aquarist make they attempt to set up tank for their African cichlid is they choose a fish tank, and it’s accessories with a random guess. You must do a brief study of the nature of fish, it’s a natural environment, and space it needs before setting up tanks and accessories.

Picking Your Cichlid Tank

The first step to set up a tank for African Cichlid is obviously to choose the appropriate tank. Cichlids are not specifically schooling fish, but they do prefer living in a community rather than alone. A 50 gallons aquarium might be suitable for 6 to 8 small sized cichlids. Note that the size of the tankless will be aggressive. Also, a little provocation can lead this fish to jump out of the tank, so make sure your tank has a lid. They also do well with live plants around them. Since they are originally found in rivers, they don’t mind water flow in the tank.

Never put your cichlid on confined space. I have seen many people keeping their fish on a small plastic bowl. If the Cichlid tank is congested and lacks space, then they will become sick and eventually die.

Do Cichlids Need A Filter?

Cichlids produce a lot of waste, a lot more than your usual tropical fish. This is because they eat a lot. Hence, a filter is a must for this fish. If you are thinking about inserting an air pump also, I recommend not to. Instead, go for a live plant that will give oxygen by photosynthesis.

The more fish that you put in your tank, the dirtier it is going to be. So, you will need a robust filter. For a 50 gallons tank, a filter of 300gph will be appropriate. The simple rule of thumb is to use a filter with a GPH (Gallon Per Hours) four times greater than the size of your thank. For instance, a 10-gallon tank will need 40 GPH filter.

Do Cichlids Need A Heater?

Cichlids are tropical fish, so they obviously need a heater in cold weather. The proper tank temperature for cichlids is 24 to 30 C. You cannot naturally maintain such temperature, so a water heater is required. A 100 Watt heater will be sufficient to maintain such temperature. Temperature fluctuation might be fatal to the fish; hence heater must be used in summertime also.

The temperature should be ideal. If the temperature is too low, it gets diseases if the temperature is too high, your fish aging process will fasten up. To easily monitor the temperature, I suggest you buy the heater and a thermostat.

Adding Substrate/Gravel And Plants

For smaller cichlids, sand is mostly preferred substrate. They consume sand to aid their digestive system. Yes, you read it right! Fish do consume sand to help out with digestion. For bigger Cichlids like Oscar gravel is fine. But gravel can be dangerous, so I personally don’t recommend using it. Also, you must make hiding spaces in your tank, as we discussed earlier. For this, caves using large stones are preferred. This will prevent smaller and weaker fish from being attacked by stronger ones. Sand is also used by some cichlids to build a nest.

Lighting For Cichlids

Unless you have a planted aquarium, cichlids don’t need light. As long as they see their food, they’re good. To be honest, lighting is mostly for our benefit, not theirs. This is the case with most aquarium fish. Cichlids are known to adjust in room light.

We are halfway to set up a tank for you, African Cichlid. The next step is to set up all the above-mentioned equipment together.

How To Setup Your African Cichlid Aquarium And Accessories?

You don’t just bring the aquarium from the store and add water and fish. Adding fish to your aquarium requires a careful procedure.

Preparing And Placing Your Aquarium.

After you bring the tank to your home, clean it gently. Then choose a proper destination. Keep into consideration the points mentioned below when choosing where to place your tank:

  • Don’t put your tank under direct sunlight.
  • Keeping the tank near the window is also not preferred since wind might fluctuate the temperature.
  • Feng Shui suggests that the tank should not be placed in a bedroom or kitchen.
  • Place the tank against the wall for support.

Adding Substrate

Before adding a substrate, it must be rinsed properly. Using soap while rinsing substrate is not recommended. Then place the sand or gravel gently at the bottom of the tank and distribute it equally.

If you are planning to add a real plant on your aquarium, then I suggest you add the gravel at least up to two inches. This thickness of gravel may vary depending upon plant to plant, but the general thickness of gravel is two-inch.

Adding Decorations And Plants

Then add decorations like stone cave and plants. After doing all this, add fresh water to your aquarium. Plants often get nibbled in your aquarium, so you must choose them wisely. Experts highly recommend Java fern, Anubias, and Amazon sword. After doing all this, finally, add water. While adding water, we recommend placing a clean plate on the top of the gravel, then pouring water on the top of it slowly. This will make sure that your decorations are not ruined.

Install Filter And Heater

Filter and heater must be submerged totally inside the water. Set the heater to an appropriate temperature before installing it. Make sure the water circulation is proper, and the current is not too hard. The most heater comes with suction cups to attach it inside the glass of the aquarium. Since you have to monitor your temperature often, place the thermometer from where you can easily take the readings.

Perform A Nitrogen Cycle

After you have added water and equipment, your tank might seem ready for fish, but it is not. You will need to wait patiently until your tank is cycled properly. This cycle is called the nitrogen cycle. Cycling the tank means building up the bacteria bed in your biological filter. First, your filter will grow bacteria that convert ammonia into nitrites. Then nitrite is converted to nitrate by other bacteria. Nitrate is also toxic to your fish but only in a large amount. So, water must be changed frequently before adding fish. A nitrogen cycle is usually done for one to two weeks. Finally, your fish ready to have their new home.

How To Choose A Healthy Cichlid?

It is important to choose your fish carefully by taking some time. Remember these points while choosing a healthy fish:

  • Do not pick a cichlid that is stationary for a long time.
  • Look out for white spots or ich.
  • Avoid fish with rot fin or rot tail.
  • Don’t buy fish that seem frightened and are hiding.
  • Pick playful ones. One way to pick playful fish is to move your finger around the tank and see which of them follows.
  • Decolored fish must also be avoided.
  • Avoid characters like dropsy, bloating, cloudy eyes, etc.

Introducing Your Fish To Its New Tank.

The seller will give you fish in transparent plastic bags. Don’t just open the bag and place the fish in the tank; rather, let the bag along with the fish float at the top of the tank. This will match the temperature of the water in the bag with the aquarium. This is good for your fish and will help it adjust properly. Also, the water in the bag must not be poured in the tank. Instead, use a net to pick the fish and drop it inside the tank. Finally, your fish is ready.

My Tips For Beginners

  • If you are a newbie aquarist, then I suggest going for Oscars, flowerhorns, convict cichlid, Bolivian ram, or kribensis cichlid.
  •  If you plan to keep your fish in a healthy condition, make sure you are financially stable because the electricity bill might shock you.
  • Always start with a small number of cichlids. Some four to five cichlids for a 40-gallon tank will be good.
  • Always keep your water clean. Make sure your filter is always running as these fish produce a lot of bioloads.
  • Regularly check on them for symptoms like ich, bloating, Hexamita, swim bladder disorder, etc.
  • To prevent bullying and reduce stress among weak fish, build stone caves.

Things To Remember

  •  Keep these fish in open space (large tank). If you confine your African Clichid on a narrow tank, the fish will not be healthy.
  • Filter and heater are mandatory. The filter is responsible for cleaning the water, and the heater is responsible for keeping the temperature ideal. Without these two factors, your fish won’t survive even for a week.
  • Frequent water change (10% every week) is advisable. This method is key to your good fish health.
  •  Their diet ranges from vegetables to meat; make sure you buy fresh frozen food from the market.
  • Sand, as a substrate, is perfect. Sand is more natural and cleaner than gravel.

Things To Avoid

  • Aggressive cichlids mustn’t be kept together with calm ones.
  • Using gravel as a substrate must be avoided. Gravel is comparatively dirty and not a natural replacement substrate for African Cichlid.
  • The pH value of water must not be lower than 7.


I think I have included everything that you need to know to set up a tank for African Cichlid. Make sure you have read everything carefully and follow the steps. If you feel I have missed anything, feels free to comment. Also, which is your favorite cichlid? Comment Below!!


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