The Cichlid Family is our first love
here at Something Fishy Inc. But, I as the owner of an aquarium
store, I love most fish in general. We specialize in Rift Lake
fishes, some New World fishes, and exotic catfish and "plecos." Plus,
we have a growing inventory of nano-reef setups.One
of my sayings in this hobby is that "fish keeping is
like politics; one person will tell you one thing, another person
will tell you another." The information below is based on
my 30+ years of experience in the hobby/business, though others
are free to disagree.
Q: What are cichlids?
Cichlids (pronounced "sick-lids") are fishes from the
family Cichlidae in the order Perciformes. The family Cichlidae,
a major family of perciform fish, is both large and diverse. Estimates
of the number of cichlid species range from 1,900 to 2,200, making
it one of the three largest vertebrate families. Cichlids span
a wide range of body sizes, from species as small as 2.5 centimeters
(1.0 in.) in length (e.g. neolamprologus multifasciatus ) to much
larger species approaching 1 metre (3 ft) in length (e.g. boulengerochromis
and cichla). For more info, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cichlid
Q: What size tank should I have?
A: Anything from 2 gallons and up can work. A
pair of shell dwellers can be housed in a small tank with a basic
filter and heater. However, bigger is generally better, and larger
tanks provide more options. Longer tanks with increased surface
area are always better than a tall, narrow tank. If space is
limited, choose the most gallons that will fit your budget. The
tank should be placed in an area away from a window/sunlight
or heat and AC vents. Larger tanks (100 gallons+) are better
positioned to cross the floor joists than run parallel to the
length of joists because weight is then spread over better support.
Always use a solid and level base! Water weighs about 8.9lbs
per gallon, so take this into consideration when choosing location.
Q: What filter should I choose?
The more filtration the better! I typically recommend
two filters. At a minimum, use at least a larger filter with
an air pump and airstone or sponge filter for a backup. Power
failures occur and your main filter may not always restart. An
air pump will work and keep your fishes alive, especially if
you are not home! Keep air pumps above the tank. Otherwise, you
will need to add a check valve. Regardless of your choice, it
is best to have "three-stage filtering"
(mechanical, chemical & biological). We are happy to help
you select specific filtration for your intended setup.
Q: How should I heat my tank?
A: Choose the best heater available that you can
"5 watts per gallon" is usually recommended up to
50 gallon tanks. 200 watts is usually good for a 55 gallon,
250 watts for 75-90 gallons, and 300 watts for 100-200 gallon
tanks. Keep the temp around 78 F degrees. For discus fish,
85 F degrees is normal. Once you choose a heater, monitor it
to make sure the temp does not fluctuate.
Q: What substrate should I use?
A: African cichlids are not picky. I personally
like to use CaribSea "ivory coast" substrate or a coral
sand not less than 1 mm. These help "buffer" your water
to maintain a higher pH and hardness, and also look more natural.
The larger sand size is less of a pain to clean and does not
stir up as easily. Natural gravels also work well. For "new
world" cichlids that demand softer water, I would use a
natural gravel or some of the eco substrates designed for plants.
You can have a thin layer or a 2" layer, but this is more
a matter of preference.
Q: What lighting should I use?
A: For a "fish only" tank,
a standard florescent light is all you need. Only live plants
demand greater lighting (but that is a whole topic in itself!).
The newer T5 lights are very nice and provide a wide light spectrum
for displaying a range of colors. The light only needs to be
on 8 hours or less. A light timer works great. I set my home
tanks to turn on 6am-8am and 6pm-11pm when I can enjoy them the
Q: What maintenance do I need to follow?
A: Weekly water changes of 25% tank volume are
best, including gravel vacuuming. Also add water conditioner
as needed. We add marine salt to our Rift Lake cichlid tanks
for a natural conditioner and healing supplement, adding 1 tablespoon
per 5 gallons on average. We also carry liquid supplements for
your cichlids. When you do your water change, you should unplug
your heater and possibly your filter. If you have a single filter
system on your tank, you do not want to clean the filter the
same time you do a water change. Wait a few days and then clean
the filter system. If you have two filters, you can alternate
their cleaning. The reason to avoid a one-time full cleaning
of tank and filtration is that you do not want to destroy the
beneficial bacteria that accumulates and breaks down your ammonia,
nitrites, and nitrates. If you clean too much at once, you can
cause a breakdown of your established tank. This reintroduce
ammonia or nitrites, and your fishes may become stressed, weakening
their immune system and leaving them vulnerable to disease.
Q: How many fish can I keep?
A: Conventional wisdom says "one inch of
fish per gallon."
However, I usually disagree and recommend 1 inch per 2 to 5
gallons. For saltwater fish, the rule is 1 inch per 10 gallons.
The reason for a more conservative approach is that bigger
fish produce far more waste than little fish such as guppies
or tetras. When stocking, also keep in
mind that you do not have the amount of water on the stated size
tank because of the displacement from gravel, rocks, and decorations.
Most fishes (particularly cichlids) grow more than one inch and
often average around 6 inches in size. Your stocking level or "bioload" also
depends on your amount of filtering and frequency of water changes.
The more fishes you add, the more filtering and water changes
you need. With cichlids, we tend to purposely "overcrowd" some
cichlid tanks to keep down aggression. If
you are setting up a display tank, consider an "all
male" fish tank, as males are usually more colorful than
the females. This also tends to keep aggression down. However,
if you want to breed fish, keep more females per male for Malawian
cichlids and some Tanganikans. There are a few Tanganikans that
are pair bonding and will not tolerate others within the tank.
We can help you choose compatible species that will coexist relatively
peacefully. It is often best to start with young fish and grow
them up together. Cichlids usually grow quickly, especially in
a large, well-maintained tank. I usually recommend starting and "cycling"
the tank with some "dither" fishes such as giant danios,
rainbows, tiger barbs, or rosy barbs. These fish can usually
remain with most of the cichlids without trouble. For example,
in a 55 gallon tank, I would start with 6 to 10 dither fishes.
10 days later, I would add 6 to 8 young cichlids. Choose the
smaller and less aggressive species on your list. Then, 10 days
later I would add another 6-8 more cichlids. Add the more aggressive
and larger fish last so that the others establish their territories
in the tank. Move the decor around and add a little food to distract
the existing fishes from the newcomers. The final batch of fishes
should be your scavengers, such as synodontis catfish, bushynose
plecos, botias, or loaches. I'd recommend 5 to 6 total. The result
is a total of approx. 25 fishes in a 55 gallon. After a year,
you may have to "thin the herd" to balance the
tank before trouble arises with more aggressive fish. Or,
you can get a bigger tank!This above
is just an example. There is no "one
right way." Each setup is different and depends on
the types of fishes. Please email us or talk to your independent
LFS (local fish store). Your local small store is often
a hobbyist first and can provide valuable information.
Most Cichlids are easy to care for & maintain
for many years plus provide endless education & entertainment
for the whole family.
Click Here to Ask me a question and I'll post it!
Cleveland, Ohio 44109