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Cichlid Tank Setup Tips for Beginners

Cichlid Tank Setup Tips for Beginners

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This post is written to the author's best knowledge and is not intended to be used in place of veterinary advice. In addition, this post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Buying cichlids for the first time can be very exciting. These might even be your first fish since many cichlids are considered to be excellent starter fish for beginners.

Before going forward, it’s important to learn everything that you can about the fish. You want to ensure that you can have a good experience caring for them.

Learning how to set up the tank properly is a must when you want things to go smoothly. Below, you’ll get information about cichlid tank setup that will prove to be beneficial.

After you’ve read everything, you should feel confident that you can do a great job caring for these fish. You’ll get lots of advice on how to set up the tank, but you’ll also learn about important care tips that you should keep in mind.

Buying the Right Fish Tank

Buying the right fish tank is the first thing that you need to pay attention to. One thing you should know about cichlids is that they don’t do well when you put them in tanks that are too small.

Cichlids are generally aggressive or semi-aggressive fish. There are peaceful cichlids that you can buy as well, but the majority of the cichlids that you’ll find are at least semi-aggressive.

When these fish don’t have enough space, it’s going to make them more aggressive. Putting cichlids in small tanks will make them more territorial and it’ll be very problematic.

This will also stress the fish and make them more likely to get sick. If you want to keep your fish healthy, it’s imperative to get a fish tank that is large enough.

Take the time to look up information about the cichlids that you want to buy. Some cichlids are larger than others and they will require bigger fish tanks.

For instance, Oscars are large cichlids that will require 75-gallon fish tanks. It’s better to give them more room and buy 100-gallon fish tanks for these fish, but one Oscar fish can do fine in a 75-gallon aquarium.

Some angelfish will do okay in 20-gallon aquariums, but they generally do better in larger fish tanks. Research the type of fish that you want to care for and then get a fish tank that is large enough.

If possible, buy a fish tank that is slightly larger than necessary. It’ll be easier to keep the tank clean and the cichlids will appreciate the extra space.

Getting the Necessary Equipment

You’re also going to need to buy equipment to get the fish tank working properly. There are various things you’ll need to purchase such as a filter, a heater, and an air pump.

The filter is crucial because cichlids generally poop a lot. If you don’t have a good filter, the tank is going to get dirty rather fast.

Purchase a filter that can help you to keep the tank clean. You want a filter that is powerful enough to handle whatever fish tank you have.

A heater must be bought because you want to keep the water temperature steady for the fish. You likely already know this, but cichlids are tropical fish.

As such, they like to be kept in warm water conditions. Many cichlids are hardy enough to tolerate slightly cooler temperatures, but it’s not good for the fish when the water temperature fluctuates.

Fluctuating temperatures can stress the fish and make them sick. Avoid this by using a heater and monitoring the condition of the water.

Ensure that you have a thermometer that will allow you to easily check the temperature of the water. Many heaters will come with a thermometer that shows the temperature of the water digitally.

The air pump is to provide air flow and help with tank oxygenation. This might not be necessary if you have a planted aquarium, but it’s still best to have an air pump.

Do You Need Lighting?

Lighting isn’t a huge deal for cichlids, but you’ll still likely want to use lighting. Generally, cichlids are going to need eight to twelve hours of light each day.

It’s possible to give the cichlids natural light and avoid putting special lighting in the tank. If the room where the fish tank is located gets enough natural light, you could simply go that route.

Most fish owners choose to install lighting in cichlid tanks, though. You can use either fluorescent lighting or LED lighting to get the job done.

It’s recommended to go with LED lighting since it’ll be easier and it won’t heat the fish tank up. Remember to turn the lights off at night because the cichlids won’t be able to sleep otherwise.

Some people do use more intense lighting solutions in cichlid tanks. They do this to try to bring out the coloration of the cichlids.

This isn’t necessary, but you can look for recommended lights that help to accentuate the colors of cichlids. If you want to have an easy time, using standard LED lighting is perfectly acceptable.

What Substrate Material Should You Use?

Cichlids are known for digging into the substrate. They do this a lot, and it means that you need to pick an appropriate substrate material.

The safest substrate material for the fish tank will be sand. You want to use standard aquarium sand because it won’t harm the cichlids.

Some cichlids even need sand to aid with digestion. There are fish that consume little bits of sand for digestive purposes.

It’s also common for cichlids to use sand when building nests. Some might use the sand for reproductive purposes and you want to ensure that the fish have everything they need in order to live naturally.

There are larger cichlids that can put up with other substrate materials. For example, many people keep Oscars in fish tanks that use gravel as the substrate material.

It’s simply easier and better to go with sand for most cichlids. Sand is a tried-and-true substrate material and you can easily buy what you need from the local pet store.

Choosing the Right Aquatic Plants

Putting aquatic plants in the fish tank is a great idea. The problem is that some cichlids will destroy live plants.

Cichlids can be pretty rough on plants and they’ll sometimes uproot them. It’s typical for large cichlids to do this to plants that don’t have a strong root system.

Also, many cichlids like to eat plants. Some of them will eat plants so much that they’ll wind up devouring the plants in the aquarium completely.

This doesn’t mean that you should shy away from putting plants in the fish tank. It simply means that you must make good choices.

There are plants that have strong root systems that won’t be uprooted by cichlids. You can also find plants that cichlids generally don’t like to eat.

Some of the best options are among the most popular aquatic plants. Amazon sword plants and java ferns will work out excellently.

You can also choose to put Jungle Val plants and anubias plants in fish tanks with cichlids. Simply take the time to choose plants that are known to survive well in fish tanks with cichlids.

This keeps you from wasting money on plants that will just get destroyed. Having plants will be very good for the cichlids, too.

They like to use plants for many different reasons. Plants give cichlids hiding spots that they can use and they also sometimes use plants for reproductive purposes.

Adding Rocks and Caves

Adding rocks and caves to the fish tank is a great idea as well. This is going to be good because it will give the cichlids further hiding spots.

Many cichlids love swimming in and out of caves. There are even shy types of cichlids that enjoy spending a lot of time in caves and don’t come out too much.

It helps cichlids to feel more natural because it replicates the natural environments that they come from. Wild cichlids live near rocks and sand.

Having caves and rocks will be great for the cichlids. They can live in the caves and it’ll help many types of cichlids to protect their offspring.

You can use both natural rocks and artificial cave decorations in the tank. The cichlids will appreciate both.

Water Parameters

You must take care of the water parameters to keep the fish healthy. When setting the tank up, you need to get things ready based on the type of cichlids that you’re planning to buy.

Each cichlid will have preferred water parameters. The pH balance that cichlids like will vary a lot based on the species.

For example, angelfish like soft water while many African cichlids prefer hard water conditions. Thus, it’s best to look up the specific pH requirements of each fish.

You want to check the pH balance of the water regularly. This can be done using a pH balance testing kit.

If the parameters get thrown off, you can raise or lower the pH balance using chemicals. Keep the pH balance in the right range so your fish will stay in good health.

The temperature of the water matters as well. As mentioned earlier, the wrong water temperature can stress cichlids and make them susceptible to illnesses.

For the most part, cichlids like warm water temperatures. It’s likely that keeping the temperature between 76 degrees Fahrenheit and 84 degrees Fahrenheit will be appropriate.

However, it’s still safest to look up the specific water parameters of the fish that you’re caring for. This allows you to get things perfect for the fish.

Aside from monitoring the water parameters, you’ll need to keep the fish tank clean. You should regularly clean the tank so the pH balance doesn’t get thrown off.

It’s also wise to do regular water changes. Do water changes of 15% each week so the water in the tank doesn’t get too dirty.

Tank Maintenance

Tank maintenance involves cleaning the tank and doing water changes. As mentioned above, you want to clean the tank on a regular basis.

If you don’t clean the tank, it’ll cause the water to get very dirty. Forgetting to do consistent water changes will exacerbate such issues.

When the water gets dirty, it can cause the fish to get sick. It’ll also raise the ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite levels in the tank.

Elevated levels of ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite will make it difficult for fish to breathe. If things get really bad, it might even cause your fish to die.

You can avoid problems such as this by simply doing tank maintenance weekly. Clean the tank and remember to do water changes each week.

Also, scoop out any organic debris in the tank when you see it. Don’t let excess food remain in the tank since that can make the water dirty.

Feeding the Fish

Feeding the fish is something you want to get right as well. It’s important to feed the fish enough food to keep them healthy and vibrant.

It’s easy to overfeed cichlids if you aren’t careful, though. Cichlids are hungry fish and they won’t necessarily do a good job controlling themselves if you go overboard.

Adult cichlids need to eat three or four times per day. Each time you feed them, you’re supposed to give them as much as they can eat in thirty seconds.

You don’t want to give them more food than this. If you make the mistake of overfeeding the fish, it can cause them to become constipated.

Constipation is a potentially terrible thing since it can lead to swim bladder issues. When the swim bladder isn’t working properly, fish won’t be able to swim around normally.

It can cause fish to swim upside down and sometimes they might swim in circles. The swim bladder is an organ that regulates buoyancy, and fish simply can’t get around properly when it isn’t working.

This issue can be solved by feeding cichlids boiled peas. It’ll make them poop a lot and the fish will no longer be constipated.

Feeding cichlids right will help to keep them in good health. Ideally, you should be varying the diet of the fish.

Different types of cichlids will have different dietary requirements. Some cichlids will be herbivorous, but others will be carnivorous or omnivorous.

Typically, cichlids like to eat tropical fish flakes as well as nutritional pellets. You’ll then supplement the diet of the fish with appropriate foods based on the dietary requirements of the species.

If the fish need protein-rich foods, it might be wise to give them freeze-dried brine shrimp, bloodworms, and other such foods. Remember that herbivorous cichlids can’t digest meat-based proteins properly.

Pick the Right Cichlids

Picking the right cichlids is about finding fish that match up well with your expectations. You want to pick fish that will be easy to care for if you’re a beginner.

There are cichlids out there that aren’t very hardy. For instance, discus cichlids are very susceptible to getting sick and dying due to water parameter issues.

These fish will be harder to care for if you don’t have experience. You need to monitor the fish tank very carefully to have success.

Easier fish to care for include angelfish, dwarf cichlids, and rainbow kribensis fish. You can have a good time caring for these fish even if you’re new to the hobby.

It’s also imperative to consider the size of the fish. Not everyone is going to have ample room to house a large fish tank.

If you’re short on space in your home, you might be better off sticking with smaller cichlids. Dwarf cichlids only grow to be two or three inches long.

Fish such as this will fit in smaller fish tanks. They’re good choices for those who are living in modest homes or apartments.

Large cichlids such as Oscars will require huge fish tanks. If you’re worried about being able to fit a 100-gallon fish tank in your home, you’ll want to avoid the larger types of cichlids.

How Long Will Cichlids Live?

The lifespan of cichlids will differ based on the species that you’re caring for. Some can live for a very long time.

Oscars are known to live at least ten years in captivity. They have the potential to live for twenty years if they receive excellent care.

African cichlids will live between six and ten years on average. Most types of angelfish will live for ten years.

You should research the types of cichlids you’re interested in to see how long they’re likely to live. Remember that cichlids can die much earlier than usual if you don’t care for them well.

Final Thoughts

Setting up a cichlid tank should feel less intimidating now. You’ve learned about what you need and some of the things you need to consider before getting started.

Owning cichlids should be a fantastic experience. You simply need to ensure that you’re ready for the responsibility.

If you’re new to owning fish, it’s best to stick with cichlids that are good for beginners such as angelfish or dwarf cichlids. They’re pretty fish that are hardy and will be a lot of fun to own.

Take good care of the tank so your fish can remain healthy. If you do what you’re supposed to do to maintain the tank, there’s a good chance your fish will thrive in your home for many years.

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