Aquariums and Habitats for Cichlids

Cichlids have teeth in both their mouths and throats.
Cichlids have teeth in both their mouths and throats. (Image: Jupiterimages/ Images)

Cichlids are some of the most brightly colored and interesting freshwater fish, rivaling the beauty of marine fish. Always do your research before bringing home any cichlids, however. Some cichlids can be very aggressive and should not be housed with other fish, while others are suited for a community tank.

Cichlid Habitats

There are three types of cichlids: African cichlids, Central and North American cichlids, and South American cichlids. African cichlids come from several lakes in Africa including Lake Malawi, Lake Tanganyika and Lake Victoria. American cichlids are found in the rivers and lakes in Central, South and southern North America. It’s important to know where your cichlids come from so you can maintain the correct water conditions as well as grouping fish that will get along in a community tank since cichlids can be aggressive.

Tank Size

The required tank size for cichlids will vary greatly depending on what kind of cichlids you want to keep. If you’re planning on keeping a mix of relatively docile African cichlids, you’ll need at least a 30-gallon tank. Some of the larger South American cichlids, like oscars and red devils, should be kept alone in a minimum 50-gallon tank.

Water Requirements

When keeping cichlids, the pH of the water is important. African cichlids aren’t the best for beginners because they are very sensitive to pH. They’ll need a pH around 8 to be healthy. The South American cichlids, including the oscar, need softer water with a pH closer to 7. Make sure you test your aquarium's pH before introducing fish. Additives can be found at your pet store to adjust pH levels. Invest in a heater to keep the water temperature in the mid-70s.

Decor and Feeding

Rocks and plants will help create a comfortable environment for your cichlids. Be aware that some breeds, particularly larger cichlids, like to move or eat plants, so you might have to replace them. Coral can help increase pH and add beauty to the tank. Cichlids should be fed a quality cichlid food, typically in the form of floating pellets that is appropriate for their size. Some of the larger cichlids will appreciate live feeder fish like minnows or goldfish. Frozen meaty foods, like worms, can be found at most pet stores as an addition to their diet, a good option if you’re squeamish about feeding your cichlid live prey.

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