Cichlid Fish Aquarium Size

When it comes to keeping African Cichlids you want to make sure that you have an aquarium that is big enough for the fish. A basic 20 gallon/~75 liter tank is not quite big enough to successfully keep your fish. While I have read that a 25 gallon/~95 liter tank is sufficient, I would not go with anything less then 29 gallons/~110 liters. The first cichlid tank I setup over 20 years ago was a 30 gallon/~113 liter flat back hexagon tank.

In addition to the amount of water your aquarium holds, you will also want to think about the dimensions of your aquarium. Most African Cichlids are middle and bottom swimmers, so a wider tank is often more appealing to the eye then a tank with more vertical dimensions simply because the top of a tall tank will have very little activity in it. This is not to say that a taller tank won’t work, it’s just not as interesting to watch once you have fish. As long as you have a rectangle that is wider horizontally then it is high vertically you should be good visually. A wider aquarium is also easier to aquascape to a more natural environment than a taller aquarium.

Supporting Your Aquarium

While some people may use common household tables and furniture to support their smaller fish tanks, a proper fish tank stand is a necessity when keeping an African Cichlid Aquarium. Most African Cichlid tanks keep Mbuna(pronounced um-boo-na) which means “Rockfish” in the language of the Tonga people in the area of Lake Malawi, one of the African Rift Lakes that African Cichlids come from.
As may have become obvious, to keep your fish in a natural environment, your African Cichlids are going to need a lot of rocks and while you can buy light man-made rocks, they are expensive and don’t offer a lot diversity when it comes to shapes and sizes. It’s less expensive, and more fun to dig up rocks from your backyard or garden and use those to aquascape your aquarium.
For this one reason alone, you need to invest in a stand made to handle the weight of your fish tank.

Getting Your Water Right

Unlike a basic beginner aquarium setup, African Cichlids have some unique needs when it comes to the water they live in. African Cichlids come from the Rift Lakes of Africa which are formed where the African and Madagascar Tectonic Plates meet. The meeting of these two plates created a rift or tear in the African continent and a number of freshwater lakes were formed. African Cichlids that are kept in aquariums are almost exclusively found in Lake Malawi, Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika. The most popular African Cichlids kept by hobbyists come from Lake Malawi and as noted above are Mbuna.
Be cautious before adding fish to your aquarium. While you can add fish after just 24 hours of setting up your tank with water for Tetras, Goldfish and other tropical species, it takes an aquarium 4 to 6 weeks to completely cycle. African Cichlid tanks should cycle for a minimum of 5 to 7 days or longer, in my opinion before you add fish. Before adding your fish, it is important that you test the water for the toxins Ammonia and Nitrites.
Because of the location (equatorial) and causes of the lakes, the water is warm and has a high pH naturally. At the deepest depths of Lake Malawi the temperature is 72° F and averages in the 78° to 84° F range are ideal. Additionally the pH levels are higher then most freshwater fish tanks with an ideal range of between 8.0 & 8.4. As is common with all freshwater tanks, you want your Ammonia at 0ppm along with Nitrites and Nitrates within acceptable ranges.
You can use chemicals to maintain your pH but a simpler and easier way is to buy a substrate when aquascaping your aquarium that will help to keep the pH high enough for your African Cichlids. You will also need to invest in a good heater for your tank as well, so that your water temperature remains in the right range, particularly if you don’t live in the desert southwest U.S. like I do.

Filtration, Filtration, Filtration

Last and certainly not least is the filtering of your water to keep it clear and healthy for your fish. African Cichlids can be very territorial, aggressive and they are known for digging up the aquarium substrate and moving it around to their liking.
One of the best ways to keep aggression and territorial behaviors down with African Cichlids is to overload or crowd your aquarium. There are a couple of rules when stocking a freshwater tank, the most common is 1 inch of fish per net gallon and another is 1 fish per net gallon. This works well with Tetras and with Cichlids, but if you want to keep aggressive behavior from your Cichlids to a minimum, you need to double the standards so you will want 1.5 to 2 fish per gallon. Of course doubling the standard means you need to filter (or turn your aquarium water over) twice as often.
Because African Cichlids are notorious diggers of the aquarium substrate, you do not want to use an under gravel filter as they will just render it useless in a day or two.
Basically, if you have a 55 gallon tank, you want a filter or filters that will turn the equivalent of a 110 gallon tank. Not only will this double filtration keep your African Cichlids happy, colorful and active, it will provide crystal clear water that has the right balance. The only downside is that your filtration medium has to be purchased twice as often, but that is a small price to pay for a clean, healthy, clear African Cichlid aquarium full of happy fish. Remember you cannot over filter am aquarium!
Next Post »