African Cichlids Tank Requirements – The Full Guide

MosAfrican Cichlids are one of the most common species used for lifeful and colorful aquariums in order to delight our sight. As their name indicates, they belong to the Cichlidae family, and they can be found mostly in the African lakes (like Lake Malawi, Lake Victoria or Lake Tanganyika).

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There are other cichlid species found in South America and Asia, but in this article, we are focusing mostly on African cichlids. Before you buy them, you should know they come in hundreds of different species and colors.

They are very active fish, which makes them really good swimmers. Though, there is a really important thing we need to know before buying them: not all type of species is suitable for your aquarium since some species are aggressive and not all species are indicated to be kept together in aquariums since fights might occur.

African Cichlids Tank Size

According to their species, the size of cichlids can be between 3 and 8 inches, so before buying an aquarium, you should do some research on the type of species you will host.

The ideal tank for one single fish is between 30 and 50 gallons (from the smallest of the species to the largest), then extra 3 gallons for every cichlid you want to add. Anyway, the bigger the tank, the more fish they can host. Besides this, a larger tank will increase the swimming space and reduce aggressivity.

African Cichlids Water

If you want to create a natural-like environment for your cichlids, you should consider that American species prefer a range of 6-8 pH, while their cousins from Africa prefer a range of 7.8-8.6 pH. When setting up a tank, you may also check the carbonate hardness and general hardness.

As dissolved carbon dioxide reacts with the magnesium and calcium in the water, it might affect the hardness and alter the water pH. So, the ideal carbonate hardness should not go over 120ppm.

African Cichlids Heating

American cichlids are tropical fish and they prefer a temperature of 72°-86°F, while the African cichlids are happy in a temperature of 78°-82°F. You should always use a thermometer to monitor the water and any possible fluctuations.

For bigger African species, it is also indicated to invest in a tank with glass heater protection to obtain and maintain the right temperature.

African Cichlids Filtration

We should keep in mind that the cichlids tank water should always be moving, as cichlids are very active fish, and they love water currents. This is why a filter is highly recommended for this solid purpose.

Species from rivers and lakes will highly appreciate filters or air pumps that will create a stronger current. You do not really need any special equipment (just a great filter and a heater that will adjust in the right size tank).

Cichlids produce a lot of waste. This is why good filtration is required to assure water quality (10 times the tank volume/hour). For example, a 50 gallons tank requires a 500gph filter.

It is important to constantly keep the filter active in your tank, as cichlids will not survive more than two days without an air pump. Do not turn it off during the night, as the filter plays an important role to your fish’s health, and it helps aerate your tank water.

Also, take into consideration replacing the filter media every month, and frequently rinse the filter housing from algae rests. Under gravel filters are not usually recommended, as they need a larger grain size, and as cichlids are natural diggers, this would imply your constant need to look for any exposed areas.

African Cichlids Lighting

Compared to other tropical species, the African cichlids originate from deep murky waters. In order to understand what right kind of light you need to provide your tank with, you must first find out which particular lake your cichlid comes from and where they originate from.

Lake Victoria is the darkest of the three lakes. This is because it has shallow waters, which are sensitive to climate change and the growth of algae. On the other hand, Lake Malawi has more varied lighting conditions. It has fewer plants, and its floors are made up of both sand and rock.

Lake murkiness usually comes from sediments and algae. So, in aquariums, the lighting can be replaced by fluorescent light tubes and by adding plants (even floating plants, such as duckweed).

Lighting in aquariums is essential in order to bring out the wonderful colors of your cichlids. Even if some people use fluorescent bulbs, it is not very recommended. Fluorescent tubes are considered to be more efficient than incandescent bulbs.

As they both provide heat, as well as lighting, bulbs may also change the water chemistry. If the water conditions change too much, this might make your cichlids vulnerable to affections or diseases.

The fluorescent tubes should be active for at least 8 hours per day, as it stimulates the growth of plants, which provides oxygen for your cichlids and are a food source. The tubes must be changed every year, because if the light begins to fade, it will affect the whole tank habitat.

In conclusion, lighting is essential to ensure the survival of both cichlids and plants in the tank, it creates oxygen and also removes dangerous chemicals such as nitrates. If you maintain the proper lighting, your African cichlids will live a happy life and will grow to their full potential.

African Cichlids Substrate

The aquarium substrate is the base level in every aquarium and has numerous purposes. They can keep in place the whole decor, as well as the living or plastic plants. Cichlids have a natural tendency of digging for food or simply to rest at the bottom of the tank, so the best substrates for them is gravel or sand of finer and silty nature.

As African cichlids usually live in hard alkaline water, you will need a sand substrate that will not cause unpredictable changes in your tank, such as changing the pH. So, I highly recommend having a thicker substrate layer because thinner layers will be easily disturbed (the layer should be at least 1-2 inches thick).

Aragonite sand or crushed corals are highly appreciated by cichlids (besides maintaining the proper pH of 8.2 and the mineral composition and alkalines). Some corals also have small pebbles, which are cichlids friendly, making the swim and digging more fun.

Gravel makes the aquarium look more attractive, but when adding it into the tank, you should consider choosing gravel which is not rough or sharp, as cichlids might cut themselves when digging or hiding.

When cleaning the water tank, try to clean only the visible waste from the gravel substrate. When it comes to sand, in order to not disturb the sand layer, it is better to be fully replaced.

African Cichlids Rocks

Rocks are ideal for tanks, as cichlids are active swimmers, and they like to hide everywhere. Besides that, knowing that some species are aggressive, they use rocks in order to mark their territory, either as a shelter or a place for laying eggs.

So, you will need a lot of big rocks in your cichlid’s aquarium. But before adding them, you should make sure they are not sharp-edged or contain any algae. As a matter of fact, only clean rocks should be put in the aquarium (they can be rinsed or boiled for 20 minutes before adding them).

The rocks placement is also very important: place the big rocks first, gently swinging them to make sure they are stable, then add the smaller rocks around them. The rocks should be placed in the middle of the tank right into the substrate (do not place them near the glass walls of the tanks, as the tank might crack due to weight).

You can buy rocks from the pet store, or you may even collect them yourself from riverbeds, seashores or even from your garden.


Cichlids are perfect for your home aquariums, thanks to their beautiful colors and active lifestyle. African cichlids are known to be aggressive, however, pet stores usually sell species that are less or non-aggressive.

Since African cichlids are rock-dwellers and active swimmers, make sure you provide the perfect conditions for them in the tank, adding plants and rocks, as well as providing them with sand and gravel to rest or dig into.

Try to maintain the correct water temperature of 78°-82°F. Do not forget about the constant water movement and currents and the proper lighting in order to keep your cichlids happy. It should not be hard looking up after cichlids, this is why they are among the most popular aquarium fish in the planet, making them a perfect decoration that brightens any room.

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