Cichlid Tank – How To Setup The Perfect Tank

Once you have made the initial decision of raising a Cichlid in your tank. It’s important to understand the perimeters that are required in order to maintain a healthy Cichlid.

Cichlid’s are a beloved fish that has gained its popularity due to their beauty and behaviors. Although, they are given a title of “temperament issues,” placing them in the category of fish that are hard to raise.

Even though this can be completely bypassed if the tank is set-up correctly. Providing a suitable tank will vanish the Cichlid’s stress and calm them to be the loving spunky fish they should be known for.


About The Cichlidae

Cichlid’s are one of the most popular breeds of fish in modern freshwater fish tanks. Growing in popularity for three main reasons:

  1. Vibrant coloring
  2. Distinctive behavioral patterns
  3. Spunky attitudes

Being such a vast family of fish having roughly 3000 different breeds within the single species causes for such a broad variety of fish. Cichlids size can go from a couple inches fully mature to a few feet. Although, a majority has an oblong body with a flattened look to them.

As previously mentioned, some breeds of this fish can get as large as 3 feet tall. Although, most breeds that are taken from the wild and ranked are medium sized Cichlids; rather than one extreme or the other.

Members of the Cichlid family differ from other breeds of fish for many reasons; as mentioned before. Although, the biggest difference is not it’s physical appearance, or it’s personality. It’s overall mentality. Cichlids are amongst one of the most intellectually advanced freshwater fish.

Despite their intelligence levels they are commonly referred to as an “aggressive fish.” Simply because they can become territorial fish. Although, this can be avoided in most circumstances simply by providing a tank environment that is suitable for the Cichlid itself; rather than being overlooked due to another fish needs.

Basic Set-Up For The Perfect Tank

The most important factor to keep in mind is that the Cichlid’s are a very large family of over 3000 different fish breeds. Varying from all different shapes and sizes.

Meaning that some of the fish’s key needs and requirements will be very different from the next. So, it’s very important to research not only the basic set-up of a tank for a member of the Cichlid family; it’s also important to research your specific breed as well.

These fish are very hardy and have a lot more give within their aquarium than many other species of fish. Although, most aquarium breeds are commonly varying between 4 and 12 inches long. Which means there is a large difference in fish per gallon from breed to breed.

These fish tend to be the most territorial toward males of its own kind. Competing for space and breeding purposes. So, I would suggest you separate the males by having plenty of space and placing decorations on both sides of the tank. They will naturally separate themselves as long as they are provided the correct amount of space.

No matter the gallons per fish it’s important to get a tank that is large width rather than height. This will provide plenty of space for you Cichlid to swim around and entertain. Providing a tank that is large only due to height will limit the Cichlidae space which will result is territorial aggression.

A wide variety of these fish comes from slow-moving fresh waterways. With that being said, it’s important to purchase a filtration system that does not cause a heavy current output. Due to the fact importance in maintaining “homey” atmosphere.

Due to this breed being heavily skittish and shy fish it’s important to find the ideal tank location. Said location will be a low traffic area quiet area. This will ensure the fish feels safe and secure.

Can You Have Plant-life Inside Your Cichlid Tank?

I have always said it’s important to have a plant within every tank; and that plant-free aquariums are a beginners first mistake.

Although, this breed of fish makes it particularly hard to keep a plant healthy and alive. Due to their appeal in digging and uprooting plants. So, it’s important to use some form of plant that is hardy and can handle the abuse that will be given.

As previously mentioned, these fish are skittish and shy. Which means they need a lot of places for them to hide amongst the tank. Whether it be within plant-life or forms of decorations that are made with intent of shelter/hiding.

Most Common Tank Requirements For Cichlids As A Whole.

First and foremost, you need to know the size of the tank needed in order to raise a healthy fish. Although, the specific breed and the amount of fish you intend on placing inside a single tank play a large role.

Although, I advise you to look up your breeds needs specifically there is a rule of thumb for these fish and their tank size.

A single fully matured Cichlid under 6 inches need roughly a 20-gallon tank. A single fully matured Cichlid 8 inches or smaller need roughly 30 gallons of water. While a single fully matured Cichlid around 12 inches need roughly 40 gallons.

Having Multiples

If you have multiple Cichlids or your fish doesn’t fall within the 6-12-inch category you can use a rule of thumb to determine the water per fish. You may use an equation that is 2 gallons per inch. Give or take.

Keep in mind you may want a few extra gallons if you plan on having a tank of multiple males. This will ensure your males feel as they have plenty of territory and don’t feel obligated to fight one another.

Common Tank Set-Up

Gravel and Thermostat

The fish prefer roughly 3 inches of soft gravel; coarse gravel can harm the fish can cause cuts that bring in Ich. Be sure to use dechlorinated water as chlorine can be fatal.

You may want to purchase bacteria supplements that break down toxic matter that the Cichlids release into the water. Ensure you add some sort of thermometer to the tank to be positive that you keep the temperatures between the water parameters. Water conditions above or below the allowed temperature can cause sickness, mental breakdowns, and even death.

Filtration, Heat, And Light Predicaments

It’s important to have a high-level water filtration rate. It’s recommended that you have a water filter that filters between 2-3x the amount of water within your tank per hour.

Which means if you have an 80-gallon tank you need a filter that roughly cleans between 160-210 gallons per hour. This means that with a large tank you will have to purchase a filtration system that is more expensive.

You may find a cheap filter that cleans the amount you need. Although, keep in mind with such a high demand a cheap filter more than likely will break quickly. Due to the cheap materials that were yours in the making.

Being a tropical fish most breeds within this family need water that is between 75°F-82°F. Although, it’s very important that you look up your specific breed to ensure you are within your fish’s heat needs.

Although, if you happen to place your Cichlid inside a community tank with other fish. You need to ensure all fish have similar heat levels.

A large tank may require multiple heaters. As a large body of water does take more effort to maintain a temperature as high as 78°F.

As for lighting you may use either LED or fluorescent lights. LED lights will add more light to the aquarium therefore highlighting the vibrant colors of your fish. While fluorescent lights will give off heat if your tank is lacking heat. Although, you must keep in mind that if you are relying on the light to provide the extra heat needed you cannot keep it on 24/7. You must turn it off during nighttime hours to mimic night and day; as they do in the wild.

Where The Requirements Differ

Again, it’s nearly impossible to be broad about many of the classifications of the perfect tank; along with the core qualifications. Due to the spectrum of variety. In order to truly know the necessary circumstances, it’s important we focus on the most popular forms of aquarium Cichlids rather than the breed as a whole.

Oscar Habitat And Tank Necessities

Understanding the habitat of your aquarium fish is very important. Without an understanding of the fishes native breeding grounds you do not know what they need in order to feel safe and happy.

It’s nearly impossible for a fish to adapt to a new atmosphere as quickly as they would need to in order to survive in a tank that is not set up specifically mimicking the fish’s natural habitat.

The Oscar is one of the most known and popular choices of the Cichlid family. The Oscar is native to the South American region. They are often found in the slow-moving river basin of the Amazon River.

In the wild they can grow up to roughly 18 inches long. Although, they rarely grow up to this size in a ranked environment. Being a large fish means that they need a large living space; roughly 75 gallons for a single fully matured fish. With an additional 50 gallons for each Oscar after.

Oscars are jumper especially in their transition period. Jumping out of your tank can hurt your fish and can cause major issues. So, it’s important that you have a heavy lid that fits tightly into your tank.

Oscars need a high-quality filtration system as they find fun in throwing substrate around. It’s also important that you anchor down the Oscars decorations as they do find it in themselves to rearrange their tank.

Oscars are not the brightest member of the Cichlid family; rather dull in coloring. So many hobbyists prefer a bright light to be able to enjoy their Oscar.

Oscars prefer a water temperature between 77°F and 80°F. Along with a Ph level between 6 and 7.5 dGH.

Angelfish Habitat And Tank Necessities

These Angelfish are often confused with saltwater Angelfish. Although these angelfish are native to the slow-moving rivers; such as the Amazon.

Angelfish are rather skittish and prefer to spend most of their time hiding within the plant life. So, it’s very important you have some form of plant life inside your tank. You may decide to use plants to divide the tank, so they fish have a sense of separation to keep from fighting.

Fully matured Angelfish grow up to 8 inches. Angelfish are often bought in a pair rather than a single fish. A pair of Angelfish needs roughly 50 gallons of water. Although if you have a pair of males, they may end up fighting as they do get very territorial.

They need water between 75°F and 82°F. With a Ph between 6.8 and 7 dGH. Angelfish do give off a lot of toxic matter so it’s important to do a 30% tank change every week.

If you have a filtration system that gives off an effect of fast-moving water this will over-stress your Angel and may cause major health issues.

Discus Habitat And Tank Necessities

Discus are native to slow moving river system of South America; much like Oscar and Angelfish. Discus are the most popular fish amongst the family; due to their vibrant color and beautiful aesthetics.

They are beautiful fish that should not be kept by beginners due to their needs of care and personality. Growing roughly 8 inches when fully matured. Discus need roughly 40 gallons of water for a single fish. Along with 30 gallons for every fish after.

They need an environment that has a lot of plant-life and slow-moving waters. They need water between 82°F and 84°F; due to being tropical fish. With a Ph between 6 and 7 dGH.

Discus need soft water; the easiest way to ensure this is to purchase a reverse osmosis filtration system.

Discus are extremely sensitive fish; that will die if water conditions are okay. High ammonia and nitrate levels are the common killers of aquarium raised Discus.

Although, I cannot tell you the exact set-up needed for you Discus as wild and farm raised Discus have different needs. Due to the farm raised Discus adapting to other water conditions.

Other Members Of The Cichlidae Family.

As mentioned, there are over 3000 breeds of the Cichlid family. So, it’s not impossible for you to have other members of the family within your aquarium.

Cichlids are a very loved and very popular fish within large fish tanks. Some other breeds of Cichlids you may find within your tank are:

  • Convict Cichlids
  • Ram Cichlids
  • Jack Dempsey
  • Electric Yellow Cichlids
  • Fire mouth Cichlids


No matter what member of the Cichlid family caught your eye it’s important to create an environment that your fish will be healthy and thrive in. Being a large semi-aggressive fish, they need a large tank that provides plenty of space for them to live in.

These fish are commonly known for being fish for an intermediate hobbyist. As they need special care for their tank and personality.

No matter the breed of fish it’s important to purchase a filtration system that is strong enough to cycle out the water 2-3x an hour without putting out a strong current. As Cichlids are commonly known for living in slow-moving waters.

Some breeds are jumping fish so it’s important to have a tight heavy lid that keeps your fish inside your tank. No matter your choice in Cichlids you will enjoy their vibrant appearance and great personalities.

Leave a Comment