Setting Up Our African Cichlid Aquarium
Beginning our African Cichlid Adventure
When we first started setting up our African cichlid aquarium, my husband and I did a lot of research. We weren't sure at first what fish we wanted, but as we started to collect images of ideal fish, we were drawn over and over again to African cichlids (specifically, from the rift lake region). With their beautiful color, fierce attitude, and intelligence, that's what we settled on.
We invested in a 32 gallon fish tank, and began the process of selecting rocks, substrate, and plants. We were on our way!
Below I outline some of the choices we made, and how they've worked out for us. It's been two years, and the tank is still doing great!
All photos taken by author.
Have You Ever Had an Aquarium?
Above are a few of our beautiful African cichlids. They are intelligent, colorful, and friendly fish, and we love having them around!
Our Aquarium - A beautiful addition to our home
I was so excited to pick out a new aquarium- but which one to choose? We wanted to display our aquarium prominently in our family room area, so I searched for one that would match our brown sofa and black wood coffee table and TV stand.
This stand, shown below, was what we ended up going with. We especially love the bow front- I can't recommend it enough! It's elegant, and makes the aquarium a gorgeous decoration and conversation topic in our home.
This is the bow-front aquarium we picked out. I love the hidden latch in the front that opens up for convenient storage underneath. Ours is in dark brown, though the black is also nice.
Our Aquarium Setup
My husband and I put a great deal of time and effort into setting up our aquarium. Below, check out what we chose for our tank's substrate and plants.
The Scoop on Substrate - What we use in the bottom of our aquarium
Gravel, sand, rocks, broken shells- there are lots of options for the substrate (bottom layer) of the aquarium. While our former aquarium had gravel, we went a different direction for our African cichlid aquarium.
First, our water is hard and basic, but not basic enough for the fish we wanted to have. So we needed a substrate the would be helpful in making our water more basic. In reading about fish preferences, we found that Lake Malawi cichlids generally have a sandy substrate in their home environment. As very active fish, they like to dig and move sand to create their perfect atmosphere. Lastly, we had never had sand before, so we wanted to try it out. We found aragonite- a special sand that also helps keep the pH higher.
One word of caution, though- it is different to clean gravel versus sand. You have to be more careful when using a siphon to clean it, so if you're a lazy cleaner this wouldn't be the substrate for you.
Plant Life - True or false?
Luke and I debated about whether or not to have real plants in the new aquarium. In the end, we decided on fake plants, for the sake of our budget. It's nice to have plants that you know will always look nice and won't need to be replaced or trimmed.
However, we have had real plants in the past. I especially like bamboo, because it is a low maintenance plant and the leaves are gorgeous. There are many different varieties of bamboo, and you can even purchase plants that are woven and grow in braids or spirals.
This is similar to one of the plants in our aquarium. We love how they curl upwards!
I love the long leaf plant dÃ©cor. This would be useful to cover any plastic tubing from a heater or filter.
Our Friendly Fish Family - The Unexpected Guests
Without trying to, we ended up successfully mating our cichlids! Our fairy cichlid recently hatched out a school of fry, and they are so adorable! You can see them in the above picture.
Luke was able to hook up a small box to the top of the aquarium, keeping them safe while they grow. Pretty soon though, we'll have to move them so that they don't start fighting too much.
Selecting a Breeder Box - The best fit for your tank
When we found out that the fairy cichlid was carrying around babies, we made a quick trip to the store to buy a breeder box that she'd be safe in. We knew the other cichlids were hoping for a chance for some live sushi, so we had to act fast.
Below are some breeder boxes. If you're ever interested in breeding fish, or if you have a male and female of a similar species in the same tank, I'd highly recommend having one of these on hand. We weren't expecting to have fry, but this box worked great for us when we did!
These boxes are also excellent to have on hand in case you get a sick fish that you'd want to quarantine, or if one of your fish is getting too aggressive and needs a "time out."
This breeding box has an air pump and air tubes connected with it, and can hang OUTSIDE of the aquarium, saving you precious room on the inside! It's also ideal for quarantining a fish.
This a simple breeding box that will get the job done well.
Some other African Cichlid Aquariums
This is a beautiful video of an African cichlid tank that someone uploaded to YouTube. The colors are gorgeous! Maybe this would be a nice next-step for us when the 36 gallon aquarium feels too small.
This YouTube video is an excellent demonstration of how gorgeous the colors of African cichlids are. This tank is quite a bit bigger than ours, and as such holds many more fish. Check it out! It's a very relaxing video.