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Your First Cichlid Aquarium

So you're thinking about trying cichlids. A good choice. In this article I shall try to give a few examples of good cichlid aquariums that are suitable for beginners. I've tried to suggest set-ups that will be beautiful and easy to maintain, and species that are easily bred so that you might observe this fascinating side of cichlid behavior.

This article targets those who haven't that much experience with aquariums in general and cichlids in particular. If you are a more experienced aquarist who is just new to cichlids these set-ups will still be good, and you have a lot of other options as well since you are probably capable of keeping more sensitive species than those suggested in this article.


It is possible to keep some cichlids, such as Lamprologus ocellatus, in very small aquariums. However, for your first cichlid aquarium I would recommend a larger aquarium of no less than 30 gallons/120 L. There are several reasons for this:

- A larger aquarium is easier to maintain and easier to keep in good condition.

- Cichlids are aggressive. Some cichlids are much more aggressive than others, but almost all cichlids are aggressive and a larger aquarium makes it easier for weaker fish to avoid this hostility.

- Cichlid behavior is usually more interesting if you can keep more than one isolated pair in an aquarium. For example this may allow you to see the parents guarding their young.

Water conditions:

Which water conditions you should have depends on which cichlids you want to keep since their preferences differ greatly. For your first aquarium I recommend keeping species that are less sensitive to water conditions, and if you choose to try the species I recommend in this article you normally won't have to think about water conditions. I don't recommend keeping cichlids from the great African lakes as your first cichlids if you are an inexperienced aquarist, since they have more specialised demands.


The cichlids I recommend accept all kind of food, however I would recommend giving them a diverse diet consisting of pellets/flakes, frozen food and occasional live food.


Now to the fun part: choosing fish species to your new aquarium. I will give three examples of possible aquariums. The first one has its origin in African rivers and is more friendly, while the second one features cichlids from Central America. I will also give a suggestion for a composition that has its origins in the Amazon. However this composition is a little bit harder to get to breed and requires a larger aquarium. I would recommend at least 50 gallon/ 200 L.

1. African cichlid aquarium (30 gallons)
1 pair of kribs (Pelvicachromis pulcher)
1 pair of African butterfly cichlids (Anomalochromis thomasi)
1 pair of Egyptian mouth-brooders (Pseudocrenilabrus multicolor)
4 Ancistrus (plecos)

2. Central American aquarium (30 gallons):
1 pair of Archocentrus sajica (T-Bar cichlid)
1 pair of convicts (Archocentrus nigrofasciatus)
2 Hypostomus (plecos)

3. Amazon aquarium (50 gallons):
4 angelfish ( Pterophyllum scalare)
1 pair of Aequidens curviceps
1 pair of Aequidens maronii (Keyhole cichlid)
6 Ancistrus (plecos)

Tank set-ups:

1. African cichlid aquarium

All of these species are relatively friendly and have different behaviors that will reduce stress between the different pairs. These species prefer a well planted aquarium and leave your plants alone so that you can use all sorts of plants. They also require hiding and spawning places. Kribs spawn in caves which can be created using roots, rocks and flowerpots. A. Thomasi spawns on flat surfaces such as rocks. You will have to leave free areas without plants and rocks to create swimming space and allow you to see your fish more often. Use fine sand as this promotes spawning of Egyptian mouth-brooders. If you just keep the aquarium clean and your fish well fed they will thrive and spawn in this aquarium. If you find your aquarium a little empty you can add some small schooling fish such as tetras to the upper water levels.

2. Central American aquarium

The species in this set-up are more aggressive, which explains why I only recommend keeping two species in this tank. Both species lay their eggs on rocks so caves aren't that necessary, but I would still recommended that you create a few as hiding places as these species can be quite aggressive. This is especially true when they are spawning and caring for their young. A sajica usually leaves your plants alone, but convicts often eat plants, so I recommend using more hardy plants such as sword plants, anubias and Java ferns if you want to use plants. Whether to keep plants or not is completely up to the aquarist. The cichlids will thrive with or without plants as long as you provide a few hiding places. Both species are very easy to breed and it is almost impossible to keep convicts from spawning. It can be very hard to find new homes for the fry, so I recommend letting the parents keep their young and see if any survive. In this aquarium some usually will.

3. Amazon aquarium

As I said earlier, it is preferable for this aquarium to be at least 50 gallons since these fish get a little bigger. Angelfish shouldn't be kept in aquariums that are less than 50 cm/ 20 inches high. These species are still easy to care for but require a little more from their keeper to spawn. The aquarium should be well planted with free areas for the fish to swim in. Use large sword plants or cryptocoryne species to give the angels what they need to spawn. The other species requires roots or rocks to spawn on. Caves are not necessary but preferable, especially for A. curviceps. If you find this aquarium a little empty you might add some free-swimming schooling fish to the aquarium. Never use neon tetras with angelfish, as angelfish like to eat them. The same is true for a number of other small tetras. If you keep the water clean and the fish well fed they will thrive and with a little bit of luck, spawn.

Final words

I have given just a few suggestions for possible cichlid aquariums (there are a lot more) and when you get a little more experience with cichlids the possibilities are countless. Cichlids are very interesting and often beautiful fishes and many of them are quite simple to keep. These are only a few of the reasons behind their popularity. Try them, you won't regret it!

About The Author

Article by William Berg originally published at Aquatic community tropical fish.

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