Cichlid Aquarium Layout That Works Best


Cichlids refer to a broad and diverse group of fishes native to Africa, South and Central America, and even Asia. They tend to be larger and more aggressive than other fishes. They are one of the most popular fishes kept by hobbyists worldwide due to the variety of vibrant colors, forms, and behaviors they offer.

Cichlids are notoriously tricky to keep in a single tank due to their variety of species, reproductive behaviors, and dietary requirements. African Cichlids, American Cichlids, Dwarf Cichlids, and Discus are only a few examples. In general, it’s best to separate these fish species into separate tanks.

How to Pick and Place Your Tank

Most cichlids get pretty big. Therefore, it’s best to pick a tank with as much space as possible. Keep your fish safely inside the tank by covering the top with glass.

If you want to keep your new aquarium algae-free, position it so it doesn’t get too much direct sunlight.

Making Gravel and Design and Installation Decisions

The more holes, refuges, and intriguing “zones” you can construct for cichlids, the more peaceful your society will be.

The first step is to give your fish an environment as close to their natural habitat as possible within your aquarium. Aquarium + Reptile Rocks Inc’s cichlid palace collection is sure to impress.

The next component is the gravel, and we recommend fine blended stone because larger pebbles discourage water movement and trap waste and uneaten food in the spaces between them. You can pick from various kinds. It’s best to clean your gravel one bucket at a time. You probably only need a few rinses, maybe three or four. Add the washed gravel and some water to your aquarium.

When you’re ready to add more “zones,” clean some rocks and driftwood and set them where you want them. Decorate your aquarium with triangular shapes to increase the depth of field and make a natural amphitheater for the fish to cluster in. Use rocks and logs to create tiers and depth, sloping your gravel slightly to the back and sides. Quartz rocks, north head ridge, barnacle, rock pool, and burned wood are just some of the A+RR Inc. lightweight rocks that make this a breeze. If the water becomes murky from the gravel, siphon it back into your bucket after you’ve set up the giant decorations.

Fill up your gas tank next. Using a plate or newspaper to divert the water flow will help keep the gravel undisturbed. While white Rift Lake Sand also looks fantastic for Africans, it might show detritus badly. Therefore, coral sand is a better choice. These points will be elaborated upon in the following sections.

How to Get Ready for Tap Water

The next step is to filter out the chlorine and ammonia from our municipal water supply. During several solutions on the market claim to do both, Amquel Instant Water Detoxifier is your best bet.

Adding electrolytes like magnesium and potassium to the water supply is also essential.

Fish can’t live without electrolytic aquarium salts. Facilitate the production of fish body slime, which serves as an antimicrobial and osmotic barrier, protecting the fish from dehydration. Before adding it to your aquarium, be sure it has been dissolved.

In addition, we can tailor the water conditions for our African and Discus cichlids with the help of various goods. Ten centimeters by 10 centimeters by 10 centimeters equals 1 liter of water. To get the volume in liters, multiply the length, width, and height in centimeters by 1000.

Addition of a Biological Filter

The best technique to acquire clear water is to use bacteria cultures as a biological filter. In our opinion, the best method to improve your filtration and stay ahead of the competition is to employ WASTE CONTROL and CYCLE together. People who utilize these items rarely have to deal with the issues plaguing those who take a more minimalist approach (i.e., don’t use a filter supplement). These bacterial cultures break all organic wastes, first into ammonia and subsequently nitrite and nitrate. Supplements can substantially reduce the weeks needed to develop your tank’s bacteria populations. In the beginning stages of cycling your aquarium, less is more.


The waste from fish is broken down by denitrifying bacteria, which require enough filter media surface area to colonize and thrive on. A larger filter with a higher flow rate will support a larger population of bacteria, which will maintain a cleaner tank. A biological filter works like this. Sponge mechanical filtering is an essential feature of any high-quality filter. The use of a chemical filter is also crucial. As a preventative measure, we constantly apply ammonia remover. While carbon has its benefits, Purigen far outweighs them. It may be recharged, and if you didn’t use the Charred wood from A+RR Inc., it would eliminate the log stains in your tank. Before putting in your filter, clean it to remove any loose particles thoroughly.

Types of Filters

For extremely densely populated large freshwater aquariums, the best filtration comes from trickle filters.

External canister models from brands like PRIME, EHEIM, FLUVAL, and VIA AQUA are the most effective commercially available filters. They provide the most storage space for material and are easy to hide. The water in the piping can be isolated while the filter is being cleaned, and priming is easy with any of these types.

The AQUACLEAR and AQUAONE Hang On models is also excellent choices. They may be your best option if you cannot afford an external canister. Just add water to the filter box and set it on. Your tank receives water that has been filtered and returned to it via a pump.

Popular choices for smaller tanks or as an additional filter in a big tank are internal motorized filters like the CRYSTAL, RIO, and EIHEM. Internals are not known to cause any issues with top glass or hoods. One of your lighter rocks would work well to conceal these.

Cichlid aquariums often require more than just air-operated filtration. In Cichlid aquariums, we advocate for the use of air bubblers. Install a check valve to prevent water from flowing back into your pump during a power outage.

The plumbing can be hidden from sight, making for a more aesthetically pleasing setup with the help of A+RR Inc’s Cichlid Mansions or Amazon background.

Altering Waters

Nitrate (residual waste) isn’t harmful but can become toxic in large enough concentrations to endanger an aquarium’s inhabitants if partial water changes aren’t performed regularly. Nitrates build up rapidly in environments with massive fish like cichlids because they eat so much. The accumulation of organic waste also causes the pH to drop to potentially harmful levels. Therefore, you still need to water change periodically regardless of how good your filtration is. A water change every two weeks is recommended to maintain a stable pH level and minimal nitrate levels.

Lee’s Gravel Vacuum is the most effective instrument when performing water changes. They let you replace the dirty water around the pebbles with clean, treated water from the tap. Using lighter rocks and decorations will make this job easier and yield better results. If you want to ensure your routine water changes keep the pH and nitrate levels stable, you should test them every week. PH UP can be used to keep the PH stable. However, water changes are the simplest way to get rid of nitrates.

What to remember when making a transition. Because the filter bacteria in the foam and other media are so important, it is best to rinse them in the old aquarium water rather than running them under the faucet. If you stick to these steps, you’ll never have to disassemble your tank to clean it.


Cichlids require heat if you wish to maintain them as pets. About 1 watt of heating per liter of water is a decent ballpark estimate. However, since these heaters may be used on aquariums of greater size, they are typically the best option. To avoid overheating the thermostat, put the heater in the back corner at a 45-degree angle. To ensure the element is heating, provide adequate water flow around the heater. Because big cichlids can get rowdy, you should protect your heater with a guard. We think putting in a thermostat to monitor the heat is essential. We found that the suction cup sorts quickly lost their stickiness and needed to be replaced, so we switched to the stick-on varieties.


At night, you can’t see your fish without some illumination. Lighting your tank from the afternoon until bedtime allows viewers to take full advantage of their aquariums. Algae growth will be significantly exacerbated if lights are left on all day. We advise using high-intensity, full-spectrum white illumination for plants. Aquastars, Arcadias, and Power Glos are our go-tos.

A Tank Full of African Cichlids

Cichlids from Lakes Malawi, Tanganyika, and Victoria in Africa’s Rift Valley are favorites among aquarium keepers because of their vibrant colors, large sizes, and playful nature. African cichlids are aggressive and fast-moving fish that require specially designed tanks for their society.

Biological Community

Cichlid fishes native to Africa’s rift lakes prefer stony shores. The lake water is very harsh and alkaline. The algae on the rocky reefs provide food for large schools of fish. Small crustaceans among the algae are a staple food for African cichlids.

Lakes typically have sandy bottoms. Young fish and brooding females are safe in the countless caves that have formed between the boulders. If you want authenticity and uniqueness, I recommend the Cichlid Mansion or the Amazon collection of backgrounds. Many species in the aquarium hobby are found in Lake Malawi, most of which are mouth brooders. Many Tanganyikan species are monogamous, lifelong protectors of their young, and others brood their young in their mouths.

Treatment of Water from Rift Lake

Shell grit or coral sand can be added to your gravel or used to provide the hard alkaline water necessary for these fish. Similarly trendy is sand sourced from the African Rift Lake, which might be a problem for spotting trash. High-quality African Cichlid water conditioners, such as Seachem Rift Lake Salt and Buffers, are crucial for maintaining optimal water conditions for these fish.

Amquel Instant Water Detoxifier is the most cost-effective solution for eliminating chlorine and ammonia.

Cichlid fish aquariums for the African Rift Lakes

We recommend a setup based on detailed rockwork to create places with various caves for your African cichlids, as these fish are native to the rocky shores of African lakes. The amphitheater-like space in the center should be left open, with the bulk of the rockwork concentrated at the rear and flanks. The pebbles offered by A+RR Inc.’s extensive inventory are visually appealing and functionally functional as cover. Since African Cichlids are omnivores, they will consume any plants in your tank except Anubias. Therefore, they aren’t strictly necessary. With holes drilled into it, Barnacle Rock can create a barrier between the gravel and the plants. Artificial plants are an acceptable substitute.

Cichlid fish from the African Rift Lake

Don’t overstuff your aquarium with African cichlids if you don’t want to overwork your filtration and water-change systems. As a result, people are discouraged from becoming aggressively domineering.

We recommend keeping four different types of tiny to medium-sized fish together when starting.

(16 Red Empress, 16 Blue Electrics, 16 Yellow Electrics, 16 Venustus, 16 Electric Blues)

Zebras, Pindani, Lombardoi, and others are among the most frequent fish species in Lake Malawi. These species are common starter choices since they are inexpensive and exhibit coloration in their juvenile stages. While only the males of the Electric Blue, Red Empress, and Peacock species develop their stunning adult plumage, many enthusiasts go on to the somewhat more expensive and spectacular ‘Haplochromis group. Take Tanganyika fishes, in general, are more costly than other types of fish since they include rare and desirable species like the Frontosa, “Lanprologus,” and Trheus.

Aiding Africa’s Hungry

It’s crucial to provide African Cichlids with the proper diet. Like other omnivores, African Cichlids have very long intestines. Therefore, the digestion of rigid materials (meat, worms, etc.) can be a slow process for these fish. Eating the wrong things can lead to bloating, illness, and even death. Therefore, diets high in spirulina and veggies are recommended. Cichlid Flakes and Pellets by HBH are always top picks. Super Bits are also well-received, albeit we prefer to mix them with Spirulina-based diets rather than feeding them on their own. Most fish enjoy frozen bloodworms and brine shrimp, but flesh and live blackworms are no-nos.

U.S.A. Cichlid Aquarium

American Cichlids are slower and more significant than their African relatives. Compared to Africans, they are much more predatory and content with a higher protein diet. Due to these factors, we cannot advocate for separating American and African Cichlids. There is, of course, the occasional outlier.

Biological Community

Cichlids native to Central and South America and Africa have distinct ecological environments. Even if logs and branches have to stand in for rocky outcrops, having a setting that can serve as a hiding place in case of danger is still helpful. When comparing spawners who will develop a pair bond on different substrates, we find that darker gravel, such as the Red Gravel blend, complements the reflective colors of Americans. There may be hundreds of fry born from a single spawn, and the parents will naturally take care of them. Fish partners often breed in the communal aquarium, but the other fish will likely eat their offspring. Most North American cichlids have been part of the aquarium hobby for much longer than their African counterparts. Oscars and Red Devils, for example, are well-known examples of their respective species.

Purification of Water

Although American cichlids are remarkably adaptable, they do best in water with a pH close to neutral and low nitrates (which can be achieved through frequent water changes). For the safety of your fish, always treat fresh tap water with XXXXXX and XXXXXX.

Prepare Tank for Native American Cichlids

Burn a lot of logs. Put some rocks in the ground and build up from there… The excessive hue from new wood is nothing to worry about because it will fade with consistent water changes. A+RR Inc.’s charred lumber could also be used. Color can be added with plastic plants tacked onto cracks in the rock. You can start with a beautiful blank slate from one of the Amazonian or Cichlid mansion backdrops.

Including North American Cichlids

If possible, arrange for a wide diversity of fish fry to develop in the same environment. You’ll have a much more compatible population of enormous fish when they mature. Our favorites include the Oscar, Red Devil, Texas, Firemouth, Severum, and many other species. Allow them lots of space to develop. People wonder, “What can I put with my large Oscar, who has lived alone for a year?” However, there is a reasonable probability that the new fish will be killed if you put in a single fish. We suggested bartering for larger fish and establishing a base population of less formidable North Americans.

Supplying the U.S.

American cichlids are omnivores, meaning they’ll eat just about anything. For cichlids in the United States, HBH produces a variety of meals. As your fry gets more extensive, they’ll need bigger pellets. In addition, we recommend a wide choice of frozen foods for live feeds like feeder fish. Feeder fish should only be given occasionally, as they might become picky eaters if fed regularly.

Miniature Cichlids

Dwarf cichlids from South America, such as the Apistogrammas and Microgeophagus (Rams), and Africa’s Congo River system, such as the Pelvicachromis (Kribensis), are popular. Dwarf cichlids are famous aquarium inhabitants, and some species can breed in a community tank and care for their young if given adequate hiding space. They favor a balanced diet that includes both fresh and frozen items.


The cichlid family, known as discusses, is one of the most widely kept by aquarists. The Discus fish has been called the “King of Fishes” by many. Even though discus may be kept in a community tank, doing so requires some knowledge and skill. Proper water management and high-quality diets are essential for healthy Discus. It appears that discuses have a fast metabolic rate, necessitating frequent feedings of premium prepared and frozen diets. With their daily supply of frozen food such as Beef Heart and Liver and Discus Dinner, Tetra Bits are tops in the industry. When properly nourished, Discus is a tough competitor.

The ideal environment for discus is quite warm (29-32 degrees Celsius), soft (pH 6.5-7.5), and low in nitrates. To successfully breed Discus, the fish must first be well-fed. Seachem’s Discus Buffers are the top-tier water conditioners for Discus.

Parasites, including gill flakes, intestinal worms, and flagellates, pose a significant threat to Discus. Regular parasite treatments with General Cure or Worm-Rid are recommended, especially after fresh Discus are purchased or relocated. Worm-Rid is the finest medicine for intestinal worms, while Octozin is the best for flagellates. Barron’s Discus Fishes is a cheap but excellent resource.

Have fun getting your aquarium ready, and keep sending us photographs with A+RR Inc (Aquarium + Reptile Rocks Inc) items!

We hope you found this post helpful, and we wish you much fun as you set up your aquarium. If you’re looking for something extraordinary to add to your aquarium, we recommend checking out Aquarium + Reptile Rocks Inc.’s selection of lightweight artificial feature rocks, backdrops, and tank fillers.

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