The Fish Guru

The Ultimate Guide to African Cichlid Tank Setup and Tank Mates

Introduction to African Cichlids

African cichlids are a group of freshwater fish that come from the African Great Lakes. They are known for their striking colors, unique patterns, and diverse behaviors.

African cichlids make wonderful additions to an aquarium, but their care requirements are specific and should be taken into consideration before setting up a tank. In this article, we will discuss African cichlid tank setup, stocking a tank, and things to consider.

We will also explore the best tank mates for African cichlids, including different species that can be housed with them and their specific care requirements.

African Cichlid Tank Setup

Before setting up an African cichlid tank, there are several elements to consider, such as tank size, filtration, decoration, substrate, and water parameters.

Tank Size

African cichlids are active swimmers, and they require ample space. The bare minimum tank size for African cichlids is 55 gallons, but a tank of at least 75 gallons or more is recommended for a community tank.

If you plan to keep a species-only tank, smaller tanks can be adequate.


Proper filtration is crucial for any aquarium, but it is especially important for African cichlids. A high-quality filtration system will help maintain water quality by removing waste, debris, and toxins.

A canister filter is ideal for an African cichlid tank, as it provides mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration, which helps to reduce the nitrate levels in the tank.


African cichlids originate from rocky habitats and require hiding spots to feel safe in an aquarium. Decorative rocks and caves, as well as driftwood and plants, can provide hiding spots for African cichlids.

It’s important to choose decorations that are appropriate for a cichlid tank. Avoid decorations with sharp edges or small crevices that could injure the fish.


African cichlids come from a natural habitat where the substrate is made of calcium carbonate rocks. Using a substrate that mimics their natural habitat is beneficial.

A popular option is sand, crushed coral, or a mix of both.

Substrate that raises the pH levels can be beneficial for African cichlids.

If your substrate is not pH-boosting, you can add pH-boosting powders or crushed coral to achieve the desired pH levels.

Water Parameters

African cichlids have a unique set of water parameter requirements. They require a higher pH level than most freshwater fish, with a range between 7.8 and 8.5. The water hardness should be higher, with a range between 10 to 20 dH.

Keeping a stable pH level is essential for the health and well-being of African cichlids.

Stocking a Tank

Before selecting the fish to stock your African cichlid tank, it’s important to understand the species and their aggressive tendencies. There are over 2,500 known members of the Cichlidae family, and they come from three main African Great Lakes: Lake Tanganyika, Lake Malawi, and Lake Victoria.

Due to divergent evolution, each group of cichlids requires different conditions in their tank.

Species-Only Tanks

African cichlids can be aggressive, and it’s important to understand their natural aggression levels. In a species-only tank, it’s important to keep an eye on aggression levels between individual cichlids.

If a specific individual is displaying aggressive behaviors, relocation to a different tank may be necessary.

Endemic Species

Each African Great Lake has its unique species of cichlids. It’s important to house these endemic species together to mimic their natural habitat.

Placing cichlids from different lakes together can cause aggression.

Tank Mates

When selecting tank mates for African cichlids, it’s important to choose fish that can tolerate their natural aggression. Peacock cichlids, Hap cichlids, and Mbuna cichlids are species that can be housed in a community tank with cichlids.

When adding other species, it’s essential to research their care requirements and ensure they can tolerate the cichlids’ water parameters and behaviors.

Things to Consider

When raising African cichlids, there are specific considerations. Keep in mind their natural aggression, swimming space, minimal tank size, tank mates outside the cichlids family, and the natural habitat.

Natural Aggression

African cichlids are known for their aggression, and it’s important to observe their behavior to keep them healthy and happy. Small issues can escalate quickly, and monitoring the situation on a regular basis is essential.

Swimming Space

African cichlids require ample swimming space. Limit the number of decorations, ensuring the tank provides open space to swim.


Tank Size

As previously mentioned, a tank of at least 75 gallons or more is recommended for a community tank. Avoid overcrowding the tank and maintain stable water parameters to keep the fish healthy.

Tank Mates outside Cichlids Family

When stocking a cichlid tank with other fish, it’s best to avoid species from other families. Some species outside the cichlid family may not tolerate the water parameters or have a temperament that can create stress for the cichlids.

Natural Habitat

African cichlids are adapted to their natural habitats. It’s essential to research their natural habitat and mimic it in the aquarium.

By understanding their natural habitat, it’s possible to select the appropriate substrate, tank decorations, and water parameters. Best

Tank Mates for African Cichlids

When looking for tank mates for African cichlids, specific care requirements and behaviors should be considered.

The following are some of the best tank mates for African cichlids:

Jewel Cichlid


Jewel Cichlid is a semi-aggressive fish that originates from Western Africa. They require a tank of at least 55 gallons and a pH range of 6.5-7.5. They are an omnivore and require both plant and animal matter in their diet.

Jewel Cichlids can be fin nippers, making it important to avoid housing them with fish with long fins.

Paratilapia Polleni

Paratilapia Polleni is an endangered cichlid from East Africa. They are piscivores and require hiding places along with small shoals, making a 75-gallon tank minimum requirements.

They should be housed with peaceful species.

Synodontis Catfish


Synodontis Catfish is a peaceful fish that comes from Central and West African ecosystems. They can be found in both Lake Tanganyika and Lake Malawi.

They require hiding places and small shoals. A 75-gallon tank is ideal for this species.


Rainbowfish are large, fast, peaceful fish and make great dither fish. Boeseman’s

Rainbowfish is a popular species to pair with African cichlids.

They are tolerant of a wide range of water parameters, making them a great addition to a cichlid tank.

Pleco Fish

Pleco Fish are armored fish that come from South America. They are known for their ability to tolerate water parameters that are not ideal for most freshwater fish, making them a good addition to an African cichlid tank.

The Common Pleco and Bristlenose species are popular for a cichlid tank.

Red Tail Shark


Red Tail Shark is a semi-aggressive to aggressive fish that comes from Thailand. A tank of at least 55 gallons is required, and they require a pH range of 6.5-7.5. They are an omnivore and need both plant and animal matter in their diet.


In conclusion, African cichlids are a beautiful and unique addition to any aquarium. Their care requirements are specific, and it’s essential to understand their natural habitat, aggression, and social tendencies.

Proper tank setup and choosing the right tank mates can help create a healthy, happy, and vibrant cichlid tank.

Fish to Avoid

When it comes to selecting fish to house with African cichlids, there are several species to avoid. These species may not tolerate the aggressive behavior of the cichlids, or they may require different care requirements that are incompatible with the aquarium’s conditions.

The following are some of the fish to avoid when stocking an African cichlid tank.


Goldfish are a coldwater fish that require low temperatures, which makes them incompatible with African cichlids. Additionally,

Goldfish have high waste output, which can compromise water quality in the aquarium.

Goldfish are notoriously poor swimmers and can easily get beat up by African cichlids due to their slow swimming speed.


Koi are another coldwater fish that require low temperatures, making them incompatible with African cichlids. Additionally,

Koi can quickly outgrow an aquarium due to their size.

They have high activity levels and may require a pond setting rather than an aquarium.

Koi produce waste at high levels, making them unsuitable for a community aquarium.

Corydoras Catfish

Corydoras Catfish are bottom feeders that come from blackwater ecosystems in South America. They require soft water with low water temperatures, which makes them incompatible with African cichlids.

Corydoras Catfish are small and easy to eat. African cichlids may see them as prey and feed on them.

American Cichlids

American cichlids are cichlids that come from South America and Central America. They include species such as Mikrogeophagus, Apistogramma, and Symphysodon.

While these species are freshwater community species known for their peaceful demeanor, they may not be compatible with African cichlids due to their incompatible temperament. American cichlids prefer lower pH values than African cichlids, which can make them vulnerable to illness and disease when housed together.


When selecting fish to house with African cichlids, it’s essential to consider their natural aggression and social tendencies. Choosing compatible tank mates and avoiding species that require different care requirements or have incompatible temperaments can help create a healthy and harmonious aquarium.

By taking the time to research each potential species, it’s possible to create the ideal environment for African cichlids and their tank mates. In conclusion, when setting up an aquarium for African cichlids, it’s crucial to understand their specific care requirements, natural aggression, and social tendencies.

Choosing the right tank size, filtration, decoration, substrate, and water parameters can help create a harmonious environment. Additionally, selecting compatible tank mates and avoiding species with different care requirements or incompatible temperaments can also contribute to a healthy and happy aquarium.

By taking the time to research and plan, it’s possible to create the ideal environment for African cichlids and their tank mates, providing a stunning and vibrant addition to any aquarium.

Popular Posts