African Cichlid Tank - How to Create the Ideal Environment

image of African cichlid tank

Part of the fun (and challenge) of keeping African Cichlids is knowing how to set up a proper tank environment for your fish to thrive and be admired. A well-designed African Cichlid Tank must — at minimum — take into account tank size, water temperature and pH, and more. This article offers some of the most essential tips to get you up and running.

Tank Size

Most African Cichlids originate from giant lakes in Africa, where thousands of species are known to exist. At full maturity, an African Cichlid, such as the Frontosa, can reach up to 13 inches in length, which translates in tank size to a minimum of 55-75 gallons for most cichlids and 175+ gallons for the Frontosa. While a 55 gallon aquarium is most common for the hobby, cichlids like to swim back and forth so a long tank proportion is best for open swimming space - especially for Peacocks, Haps and the majestic Frontosa. Now, if you are keeping Mbunas a taller tank proportion works well for these teritorial guys that like to stay close to their marked spot in the rocks and you can provide them with a nice stack of rocks with the taller tank.

Keep this size in mind when shopping for a new tank, as it's much easier to buy a tank that's big enough for your fish to grow into rather than the hassle of rehoming them later on. Also keep in mind that some African Cichlids can be aggressive, so it's best to group similar species together in the same tank. Additionally, a larger volume of water will keep the water chemistry more stable and help decrease water change frequency.

We recommend a 40-50% weekly water change. Pro tip: when doing your water change, be sure to unplug your heaters. They will crack if they run unsubmerged....ask us how we know...yep, been there. 

Water Temperature

A successful African Cichlid tank has just as much to do with the water as it does the fish. Ideal water temperatures for cichlids fall in the nice and balmy range of 76°F - 82°. Make sure the aquarium water heater you choose is rated (in watts) for the size of your aquarium. If you have a larger tank (150 gallons +) you will likely need two heaters. 

African Cichlid pH

Proper water chemistry is also vital to Cichlid health and survival. The optimal African Cichlid pH is slightly alkaline, between 7.8 and 8.6 (7.0 is neutral on a 1-14 pH scale). This optimal water pH level is quite a bit higher than the average tap water found in the eastern half of the US, which means you'll need a way to buffer the pH levels if you have soft tap water.

One of the most ideal methods for naturally buffering pH levels in an African Cichlid tank is to use an all-natural stone product called Texas Holey Rocks. These white limestone rocks buffer your tank without the hassle or mess of manufactured African Cichlid pH chemical buffering products. Texas Holey Rock also creates a striking visual white backdrop to highlight the gorgeous, vibrant colors of your cichlids.

Once you are able to achieve stable African Cichlid pH parameters you will see a marked difference in the health and beauty of your cichlids. It's well worth the investment to do it right when setting up your new aquarium.

Unlike synthetic holey rocks — which only last about 24-36 months — Texas Holey Rocks retain their value and beauty for a lifetime. They are easy to buy and install, and come with a 100% money back guarantee.

We hope these tips help you create your ideal African Cichlid tank. For more info, read our Guide & Tips on How to Care for Cichlids, or browse our selection of Texas Holey Rock kits for aquascaping your tank. Shipping is free!

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