General Article: Tank Setups

Setup Tips & Facts About African Cichlids

by Troy Forhan

1.) African Cichlids include some of the most colorful fish money can buy. They are native to three lakes in Africa; Lake Malawi, Lake Tanganika, and Lake Victoria.

2.) They most closely resemble our own fresh water perch having the same basic bone structure, so watch out for their dorsal (top fine) spines if you must handle one for any reason.

3.) Their native lakes are generally very rocky so it is a good idea for tank setup to mimic this. Provide as many hiding spots (crevices & caves) as possible. Normal rocks, decorative rocks, pieces of coral, and even clay pots can be used. Ensure everything is scrubbed clean and sterilized in hot water. NEVER USE CHEMICALS!

4.) They require a very high ph (around 8.0 to 8.6). Placing or mixing crushed coral as or with substrate (gravel) will achieve and maintain this level. Whole pieces will also work. Try to avoid driftwood, as it tends to achieve the opposite effect.

5.) African cichlids make excellent community fish ONLY WITH THEIR OWN KIND! Mollies, tetras, etc., will never make for good long lasting tank mates. Although a pleco is usually tolerated.

6.) Behavior - These fish make for some of the most industrious, active, and interesting fish there are. They love to excavate and move stuff around to make their environment more suitable for themselves. As a result live plants are not a good idea!

7.) Aggression - Africans can be very aggressive, but it is actually their natural territorial behavior. There are many factors that come in to play in determining the best setup.

  • Tank size. The bigger the better, but you can start out with a smaller tank at first (say 20+ gallons) and populate it with some small Africans. You may need to upgrade your tank a year or so down the road.
  • Fish size and species. Generally the bigger the fish, the more room it will want. The particular species you select is also important. Some are much more aggressive than others and dominate especially when adulthood is reached.
  • Tank setup. Are there enough caves and hiding spots? If there is nowhere to escape notice then sometimes a fish can be picked on.
  • Breeding behavior. Most Africans are maternal mouth brooders meaning that females take their eggs into their mouth once fertilized. Aggression displayed as a result of breeding is usually temporary.

8.) Diet - Feeding Africans is very easy. They will eat almost anything but should have a varied diet. Flake food is ok as a staple but algae wafers and frozen food (blood worms, brine shrimp or beef heart) should also be offered about once every week. Avoid overfeeding, if their stomachs get swollen: you?ve fed too much! Over time it can create a condition known as Malawi bloat. If too much food is given, DO NOT allow it to remain on the bottom, especially flake food. If it does remain it can create ammonia in the water and, as could well be expected, is extremely toxic. A good rule of thumb is to fed only as much as can be consumed in 2-3 minutes.

9.) Basic Maintenance - Caring for Africans is also extremely easy. About a 25% water change each week. Gravel vacuum the bottom, avoid any chemicals, and when cleaning the filter never sterilize your filter sponge.

10.) Sexing - Similar to a lot of animals in nature, males tend to be more colorful and dominant. The presence of many ?Egg Dummies?, oval shaped spots on the anal fin, can also help to identify males but isn?t always accurate. It is quite difficult to sex small Africans.

11.) In General, Africans tend to be some of the easiest fish to keep. They are extremely hardy and are not prone to catching diseases that bread and butter fish get such as Ich. They can outlive most aquarium fish, lasting of 5-8 years on average.

Article Copyright ©2001 by Troy Forhan, all rights reserved.


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