Set-up & Care for the African Cichlid - Pisces Pet Emporium

Are you looking for the vivid colors of a marine aquarium, with the maintenance and care of a freshwater aquarium? Well, an African cichlid tank may be just what you are looking for! Active and tough as nails, cichlid tanks are often overlooked by anyone new to the hobby. African cichlid tanks are bright, interesting and a great choice for beginners. 

About the African Cichlid

African cichlids are found in Lake Malawi, Lake Victoria, and lake Tanganyika. These lakes are all found in the continent of Africa, south of the equator. Each lake is home to its own varying species of African cichlids. Behavior, care level, size and aggression can vary between species, make sure to do some research or ask us about what cichlids may be right for you. We will spare you from the details of the different species between lakes, however if you are interested i reading more, click hereIn general, they will grow 4-8 inches in length and can live up to 10 years. 

Setting Up Your Tank

Cichlids require a lot of space, plain and simple. Due to the territorial nature of the cichlid, you should always go with the biggest tank you can afford or have room for but no less than 55 gallons. Because cichlids are mid-low level swimmers, you will want a lower tank with a larger footprint over a tall tank. Your rock arrangement and decor is important for a healthy cichlid tank, as you want to emulate their natural environment. Depending on your species, you may want rocks with lots of holes and crevasses, or you may need more open-water. Ask your local fish distributor about what rock formation is right for your fish. All African cichlid tanks should be equipped with the appropriate sand substrate (Pisces recommends: Caribsea African Cichlid Mix)

Water Requirements

In addition to your large tank, you will also need to get strong filtration. Overstocking your cichlid tank is beneficial, as it keeps down aggression in your fish. However, the more fish, the more waste is produced! You want to have 8-10X your tank size filtered per hour. As an example, if you have a 75 gallon African cichlid tank, you will want a canister or sump filter capable of filtering at least 600 gallons per hour. African cichlids demand a higher pH level, between 7.5 - 9.00 is generally ideal. You can achieve this pH level by using crush coral or aragonite substrate (found in the African Chichlid Mix). If you do not have these, you can supplement your water with Seachem Alkaline Buffer & Acid Buffer. When used to together, you can target a very specific pH level in your aquarium. Maintain a constant temperature between 75 - 80 Fahrenheit.  


When you are feeding your cichlid tank, it is important to not overfeed or underfeed. Over feeding will cause excess waste in a tank that already needs very high filtration and good water quality. African cichlids will thrive on appropriate pellet or flake food from your local pet shop, Pisces Recommends: Peters Cichlid Flakes. Peter's Cichlid Flakes contain salmon protein, which is believed to reduce aggression in cichlids, resulting in a more peaceful aquarium. Watching your cichlids have a feeding frenzy is one of the most enjoyable parts of having African cichlids. Only feed your fish as much food as they will eat within 30 seconds. 

Water Changes 

As with most aquariums, small & consistent water changes are the key to a successful tank. A 15% water change 2 times per week is ideal, however once a week will suffice. This is extra important for an African cichlid aquarium besides the fact that they have high waste output and will help keep down your ammonia levels, it will also give you a more peaceful tank. Pheromones in the water will raise the aggression of your cichlids. By constantly cycling the water, your pheromone levels in the water will drop and stay low! Remember to treat your water with dechlorinating conditioner. 

 Appropriate Tank Mates 

Cichlids do best living with other cichlids. With the aggressive, territorial and belligerent nature of the African cichlid, they are undoubtedly the frat boys of the aquarium hobby. Other fish living with the African cichlids must be able to thrive with the same water parameters. Below is a list of generally compatible tank mates with African cichlids:

  • Giant Danio
  • African Red-Eye tetra
  • Most species of catfish
  • Plecos
  • Clown Loach
  • Red-Tail Shark

Always make sure you have enough room in your tank for the addition of extra fish!

Any other questions about African cichlids? Talk to one of our aquarium specialists or shoot us a message on Facebook! 

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