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Setting Up A Cichlid Fish Tank

Updated on February 17, 2015

Setting Up a Cichlid Fish Tank

The most important consideration before setting up a cichlid fish tank is location, location, location. Once it's full of water it's going nowhere so you need to get it right first time. Does the space you have allocated for it allow for filter tubes or lighting cables behind it. Do you have a direct pathway to the garden for waste water disposal? Is there lots of passing traffic that will startle the fish? Doorways and hallways are not ideal. Placing your aquarium in direct sunlight will invite algae trouble as it grows like wildfire. Give it some thought and save all sorts of problems later.

The image here is of our own 5ft tank with Lake Malawi Cichlids in residence.

The Cichlid Jacuzzi

Would you like an under-gravel jet system that keeps the water and waste on the move rather than settling on the bottom of the cichlid tank. If you think this is a good idea it needs to be in-place before the gravel or sand. A system of pipes with several outlets and a small water pump attached to it will keep the water flowing in the lower levels of the tank. This has the effect of not allowing as much waste to settle on the gravel which in turn will be picked up by the main aquarium filter as the water passes through it. Ultimately your cichlid aquarium will have a much cleaner appearance.

How do you choose which substrate to place in your cichlid fish tank? Your cichlids may prefer sand for cleaning their gills or would they perfer gravel to dig through and move about the tank? Yes they like to move sand, gravel, plants and anything else that's not nailed down.. Gravel is also easier when it comes to cleaning and filtration.

Cichlid Substrate - My recommendations

The aquarium substrate you decide upon for your tank is a matter of personal taste. I would always urge to go for a more natural color rather than some of these fancy pinks and blues. The only exception I would consider is black for use with white ocean rock. The main consideration for recommending a natural colour is that when you are showing off your pride and joy to your friends tons of fish waste will be sticking out like a sore thumb on a white or pink substrate.

Whateve substrate you decide upon I cannot stress enough that you wash it thoroughly until the water runs crystal clear. This will cut down on the wear and tear on your filter as the small particals of grit floating in the water will have adverse effect on the filter mechanisms.

With cichlids in particular I personally opted for a fine sand to use a substrate. The little Frontosa in my tank liked to dig and bury themselves at night beneath the rocks where larger fish could not get to them.

Listed below are a few recommendations you might like to consider.

Setting Up Your Cichlid Tank - The Video

A great little video showing how to set up a cichlid tank. Many thanks to Wendi@Luvbeags for all the work she put into this video.

African Cichlid Hide and Seek

While setting up a cichlid fish tank you should bear in mind that cichlids like to hide and therefore you need to provide hidey-holes for them. I always found ocean rock to be good for this but be careful when stacking it up. Do you want any of those novelty air decorations that release a stream of bubbles into the water? The fish are not fussed; it's purely a personal decision. Some cichlids are diggers. The young Frontosa (small black & white at the bottom of this picture) that we had in our tank spring to mind. If it's light enough to be moved the cichlids will move it. They also can decimate plants so be very careful when choosing plants if you decide to include them or there are some reasonable plastic plants if you prefer.

Cichlids Rock!

As you can see from the picture at the top of this page I personally use large ocean rocks or Texas Holy Rock which can be stacked up and re organised with every cleaning of the tank. This allows for the interuption of the territories being developed by the fish which can make them more aggressive as they are territorial in the wild and this also provides lots of places for the fish to hide.

Lightening Up Your Cichlids Life

Your use of light should also be given careful thought. Do you need to promote plant growth or is just the best display of fish colour important to you. Each consideration has a different requirement. You will need either a daylight tube or a white light tube as each has different properties. The plus side here is that most aquariums come with lighting in place and you will only need to replace the tubes once a year as recommended. In the event that your aquarium does not come with light fittings as standard I would recommend an external aquarium light fixture, but be sure to get the right size.

Some tank owners prefer to simulate moonlight during the evening which produces a very soothing aquatic display as shown. This would require an ultraviolet tube and probably an extra set of light fittings. In addition there are now a wide variety of smaller waterproof light fittings with which to create all sort of lighting effects within the inside of the aquarium. I have picked out a few below but again the choice is yours.

Cichlids In The Deep Stuff

The final important step of setting up your cichlid fish tank is to let it cycle. This allows the friendly bacteria to develop that are required to break down the fish waste that will prepare the water for its new inhabitants. Putting a lot of fish into a newly filled tank usually proves fatal for some if not all of your colourful pets. It is advisable to let the tank stand for a couple of weeks before putting fish in and then only adding on or two every couple of days so as the waste load on the filter system does not suddenly shoot through the roof.

New Cichlid Aquarium Treatments.

As a matter of course I have always treated all my aqauriums with AquaSafe Water Conditioner whenever I carry out a water change. One cap of solution to every 10 litres of tap water. This helps to neutralize chlorine, choramines and metals which can be found in normal tap water and which will harm your fish.

The other products listed below will help your new aquarium with the cycling process by giving it a kick start.

Further information on keeping Cichlids.

Whatever fish you decide to keep I would always urge you to read up and find out everything you can before hand. This always saves time and usually your pets life. There are a great many books on the subject of keeping Cichlids on various well known websites and you should have no trouble in finding one to meet your needs.

Do you love Cichlids? Tell us about your aquarium.

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    • profile image

      Fishguy21 3 years ago

      My tank is a 215 gallon I love all my fish .

    • profile image

      Fishguy21 3 years ago

      I love my tank I have a 215 gallon and I have a green terror ,4 oscars Pleco Pictus cat ,jack Dempsey ,convict ,and an african cichlid I love them they like to hide I clean my water every weekend and you need at least two power filters of at least 150 gallons I just love my fish.

    • listprofits profile image

      listprofits 4 years ago

      Great intro to cichlids.

    • ceejaycmarshall profile image

      ceejaycmarshall 5 years ago

      Greatttt lens! I do love cichlids! My Bolivian Ram lives as a solitary cichlid at the moment in one of our tanks, but I am going to add another less aggressive dwarf to be his friend soon. He has a frog, a crab, ghost shrimp, two snails, two bettas, an albino cory, an algae eater, and a few guppies for friends already. My Jeweled cichilid and Firemouth live together in another tank but are almost raised enough that we will be trading them in for some babies again soon!

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      anonymous 6 years ago

      There are different kinds of water plants that can be used for aquatic design depending on your style and artistic imagination. You can use a plant named Hemianthus callitrichodes or otherwise known as "HC" for covering the landscape. For having a a different background color aside from green, Ludwigia Arcuata is a good choice. For designing a mountain like scenic view, Dwarf Haigrass or Elocharis acicularis may be a good choice. Again, it lies on your own preferences and artistic mind.

      fish tanks

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      nealberk 6 years ago

      I do agree with you about gravel. Cichlids will put it where they want to- which will probably not be where you wanted it to be. I had a pair of convicts totally strip half the tank of gravel and place it on the front of the tank making it nearly impossible to see the fish.

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      r2fish 6 years ago

      I really enjoyed reading your lens. It was full of great information. Thank you

    • hotbrain profile image

      hotbrain 6 years ago from Tacoma, WA

      Excellent lens. Squidoo angel blessed! :)