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Cichlid Aquarium Keeping

Cichlid Aquarium Keeping

There may be a thousand blogs on Cichlids floating in the cyber space however I still wanted to write this coz i didnt find any as a holistic and specific to our requirements. I see the trend among the aquarium keepers in India is changing from Gold, Guppy and Mollies to Cichlids. There are a variety of reasons I hear from most of my customers such as Cichlids are hardy, they survive through the change in temperatures, easy to maintain, very colourful, attractive shape, they identify and respond to the owner, they are active and swim around the whole of the aquarium, etc. 

On my personal experience and from the experts, all of the reasons stated above are entirely true. It was just that the availability of Cichlids in India was a challenge till sometime ago, which is now changing. In the last twelve months, I see that we have built more Cichlid aquariums than any other custom made aquariums. With the increase in customers, the questions about keeping the cichlids are also growing day by day which made me to start writing this blog. As I usually say, this may help you to do things better and just in case, if it fails, you know what not to do, after all.

Lets begin with the basics like choosing the tank, choosing the Cichlids, setting up the aquarium, maintaining the aquarium and finally of course the diseases and remedies. I would appreciate if the readers could leave their comments and their experiences to enhance the knowledge of all of us.,

About Cichlids;

This could be an interesting information that Cichlids are Secondary Freshwater Fishes. It means that they have derived from the saltwater fish and again populated in the freshwater. This has one great advantage over the other species whose ancestors never went back to the sea. Secondary freshwater fish have much higher tolerance for salt than primary freshwater fish, therefore giving them an advantage in colonising waters that are high in dissolved minerals. 

Cichlids are largely river based, from the African and North American rivers, still there in the home living. These are highly territorial and aggressive by nature. Now here comes the funniest part. Some experts say just fill the tanks with as many as Cichlids possible so that they don't get a chance to mark their territories. Perhaps they have a habit of swimming across the tank, leaving no space unexplored. Alternatively some other says, to have limited number of them and allow them to mark their boundaries. Sand bed and lots of rocks can help them to feel like home. More importantly, it is better to go with similar sizes and not of one variety grouped and the other in singles. Trust me, they can attack like a trained army.

Choosing the Aquarium;

What we need to remember about Cichlids is that some of them can grow upto a foot long and more space is better for them to grow. However, not all of us can have the space and affordability to do so. Considering that, though you can start off a Cichlid aquarium with 130 Litre capacity, my recommendation goes with a minimum of 200 Litre. Don't look for a taller tank because Cichlids are bottom dwellers. They don't swim in the top surface to escape themselves from birds, their instinct came from the natural habitat. 

Make sure your glass thickness can handle the weight of the sand bed and along with the weight of the rocks because Cichlids do require a lot of hiding places. Just in case if you have intended to use the natural rocks, thats going to add the over all weight of your aquarium. Considering the imported Chinese aquariums, preferably go for a 16 to 18 inches width. Ground space is more helpful than the height.

Since the lighting and filtration is a combo with a new generation aquariums, i am going to talk about it right here. Most of these aquariums comes with top filtration mechanism however, the cabinets of these aquariums do have the space and holes to fix canister filter. If you ask me which mechanism is more effective, I would vote for Canister anyday. 

Effective filtration is more critical for any aquariums where in case of a Cichlid aquarium, it plays an important role. Here is the explanation; since you gonna overload the fishes, top filtration cannot do its job properly. those motors are meant to handle the thump rule but not our special rule. Canister would help you to keep the aquarium clean for a longer period and also keeps you away from the pain of changing the water too often.

Standard lighting is sufficient for Cichlids. you dont need to go for any LEDs or T5/T8 generation lamps unless you are looking at any customised design. Make sure you keep them on regularly for a certain time period, the best prefered is for 8 hours a day. They are like us, human. Work on a regular time frame to keep the lights on without changing the pattern too often. That may confuse the fishes. Also it is recommended to avoid high powered lights to maintain the natural, home like feeling to the fishes.

Setting up the aquarium;

When it comes to an Cichlid aquarium, you can comfortably ignore the thumb rule of " One Inch of Fish per Gallon Water" because these can utilize every inch of the aquarium. Now its your choice to follow the rule number one, leave no space; or the rule number two, leave more space. 


Lets begin with the interiors of the aquarium and then move on to choosing the fishes by order. As I have mentioned before, Cichlids are rever based fishes and would appreciate giving them a nice sand bed. You must remember they are very good diggers. However you design the sand bed, they are going to make it in their own way. There will be times, for your surprise you will find some of the Cichlids eating the sand. But if you clearly notice, they carry the sand from one side to the other and digging their way out and making their heeps. They have a habit of designing their own landscape.

While choosing the sand, make sure you buy a good quality though it may costs a little high because the poor quality sand will turn colour soon and you may have to wipe off the entire the bed and replace. This is would double your expenses and also disturb the entire set up. You wouldn't want to double up your work. Little hint; while choosing the sand, make sure they are of lighter molecules to make your cleaning easy.

Next thing you need to choose are the rocks. Rocks arrangement plays a major role in the interiors of the Cichlid aquarium. Understanding the nature of these fishes, you may want to create sufficient hiding spaces of different sizes. When the larger ones start their chase, the smaller ones need place to hide. Keep that in mind while you are arranging the rocks. Recently i have come across Artificial rocks that are almost like the natural ones with different sizes of ready made holes in it. They are are light in weight and heavy in cost. Alternatively you can go for natural rocks, which can be mountain rocks or see rocks. The difference between them are, mountain rocks, you will have to take care of the aquascaping arrangement but in see rocks, there are naturally made holes. Both rocks are heavy and do make a calculation closely in terms of the right requirement to spread them all over the tank in the bottom to at least three quarter of the height.

Water Conditions..

Now lets talk a little technical side of this article such as understanding the pH and temperature of the water. 
Water pH is really not a concern, the reason is that most Cichlid species are captive bred and they are used to the pH of the water in your city or town. Wild caught specimens may need a different pH depending on where they originate from. If you purchase captive bred Cichlids, then you don't have to be bothered about pH level. Yet, for your information, the ideal pH level for a Cichlid aquarium is 6.5 - 7.5. Some of the species do well till 8.5.

Water hardness is important. Cichlids thrive best in hard water. If you are in Bangalore, you are naturally blessed and other cities, you may wanna run a quick check on the water. In case of encountering the soft water, you can supplement your aquarium with aragonite, which is old coal pieces ground up. There may be other similar substitutes but check it with your local aquarium shop to find the best solutions for your particular city/town as every place has different water hardness and its difficult to say a particular treatment.

Since all the waters in nature where Cichlids come from are slightly salted. It is best to add aquarium salt to your water. This also helps to prevent against disease and reduces the stress on the fish. Any commercial aquarium salt from a aquarium store will do. Salt never evaporates from the water, so you will only need to add it when doing a water change. Read the salt requirements for tropical fish as listed on the salt container and use the amount that they suggest.

Temperature requirements..

When it comes to temperature, the goal is to produce an aquatic environment that is close to what the Cichlids may find in nature. Many of the commonly found Cichlids are warm water fishes and prefer a consistent temperature of 82 F. The temperature of the tank has a direct bearing on the activity and metabolism of Cichlids, especially the fries. If you have Cichlid fries in a warm tank, you can expect the little fishes to grow twice as fast and be twice as hungry for food. 

Inversely, a low temperature tank produces less active and less aggressive Cichlids. Its always advisable to keep the tank`s temperature ideal, not too hot or not too cold. Do not place the tank in outdoors or in a spot in the house where hot sunlight is streaming in unabated throughout the day. Particularly if you are in a city like Bangalore, i would recommend to keep an aquarium heater at all times fixed, irrespective of whether you are using or not since the weather here is unpredictable. Tip; don't run your Cichlid aquarium through sudden temperature changes which would harm the fishes and stunned their growth.

Cycling the Aquarium..

Just a simple process but important and critical. Since most of us miss this, we complain about the fishes dying. If you don't mind giving up on few fishes to start with, then you can conveniently ignore this but if you care for every one of your fishes, I would recommend you to go through this.

All you need for cycling your tank is a little patience and few other components such as Ammonia & nitrate test kit, pH test kit and aquarium thermometer.
Here we start the process. Once you assembled the aquarium, then start fixing the interiors. Make sure you wash the sand a good number of times in a separate bucket or drum to ensure the water above the sand is crystal clear. While you are laying the sand bed, don't be much bothered about leveling it because your Cichlids are going to make their own design anyways. Once you lay the sand bed, Start arranging the roks you have chosen already. Doesnt matter you are using the natural rocks or artificial rocks, make sure they are well washed before they are place inside the aquarium. Now comes the most important part, arranging the rocks. 

They say arranging of rocks is an ART. Though I may not be able to explain this perfectly but i can give you a little inside about it. Always remember that every Cichlid in your tank need their home within the tank. A home means their protected zone to the Cichlids. It`s their territory. It`s where they escape from the big ones. It`s the place they feel safe. Your arrangement should give this feel to your Cichlids. Keep this in mind while you are arranging the rocks and after few months, you will learn the art by yourself (it isn't a rocket science anyways as long as you spend sometime watching them close everyday).

Installing the filter is your next step. If you are going to use a Canister, the packing box of the canister will have details of assembling the filter or some of them may even have a user manual for the enlightenment. Just follow it to install. If you have purchased the moulded imported aquarium, I am sure your local aquarium guy would help you with the installation of the filter. Depending on the type of your water, decide on additional components required to be attached to the filter.

Now your aquarium is almost ready to accommodate the Cichlids except the last and final process of fine tuning. You could do this before installing your filter too, coz in that way you can decide in case if there anything to be added to the filtration unit. Use Ammonia & nitrate test kit to check the levels on the water. There will be a shade card or meter that would help you to read the levels which comes along with the test kit. Make sure both ammonia and nitrate are nil in your water. Just in case, if you have either of them, there are methods to bring back to zero for which you can consult your nearest aquarium shop or write to me.

Use the pH test kit to check the pH levels of the water if you really want to but i wouldn't say this is critical since most of the Cichlids that are home bred can handle the pH pretty well. 
Finally fix the aquarium heater and set the temperature according to the requirement. On a safer side, its better to have an aquarium thermometer to monitor the water temperature at all times in cities like Bangalore since the weather here is unpredictable.
Specially to the Cichlids, 

Selecting the Cichlids;

This is the most interesting and fun part of setting up an Cichlid Aquarium. There is no better fun than hand picking the fishes for your aquarium. however before you do that, i would recommend to have little knowledge about the ones that you want to keep in your aquarium. Do some background work by reading about various Cichlids. You may also take the reference of one of my blog called "Know Your Fish" and there are lot many websites too to help you.

Most of the Cichlids can co-exists in the community tank except few. In my personal experience what i have found was, every Cichlid of the same size live together. There are times when you introduce a new Cichlid into the community tank, there may be a conflict even though its of the same size of the existing ones and thats because the old pals feel the new comer to be a threat to them. Also, the new fish takes its time to find its home and before that sometimes he or she gets attacked. So as a best practice, try to set up the tank at once.
keep the following points in mind while you are buying the fishes from your aquarium shop...
- choose the fishes that are close to the same size. Smaller ones tend to attacked by the large ones easily.
- Look for active swimming fish. Cichlids are named for utilizing every inch of the swimming space in the tank. Don't choose the fish that is floating at the top or sitting in the bottom.
- Try picking the fish which is responding to you. Unless they are shifted to the tank few hours ago, or any other health reasons, most of the Cichlids will respond to the snap of your finger or your finger movements on the glass.

- Make sure the fins are not frayed or torn. Slightly tattered fins are very normal and occur all the time due to mini spats between fishes. A tear or two is not a concern but if the fish fins are very torn or stuck to the body, then don't choose that fish.
- Look for the other obvious physical signs of sickness such as fuzz or white spots. 

There is an important note that you way want to remember, when you introduce the fishes to your aquarium, do make sure you don't catch them in a net from the plastic cover and putting them into your aquarium, like most of the aquarium keepers do. This would cause stress to the fishes and sometimes casualties too. Introduce the fishes into your aquarium along with the water in the plastic cover. Right way to do this is to open the cover and let it to float inside your aquarium dipping partially into the water. You will notice that the water in your aquarium gets mixed to the water in the plastic cover and slowly allowing the fish to swim into your aquarium. 

Maintenance of Cichlid Aquarium;

Compare to the other types of aquariums, this is relatively simple. I remember the automobile advertisement that says "fill it, shut it, forget it". Its almost the same when it comes to a Cichlid aquarium. 

I wouldn't recommend two things when it comes to water change. One is the frequent water change and the second one is 100% water change. Both will have adverse effects on your fishes. As long as you clean your canister or the top filter in the regular interval, water changing frequency can be extended to a longer period. When i say longer period, a good canister can fix your water changing frequency to once in 45 days to 60 days. To decide whether water needs to be changed or not, use the Ammonia & Nitrate test kit to examine the water. If you see a raise in both, then go for a minimal water change. Minimal can be 15% of the water capacity of your aquarium. Use a Siphon to pick the feces from the bottom of the aquarium and refill the water level. Dont forget to add the aquarium salt to the required quantity.

In case if your water contains chlorine, don't forget to use the water conditioner which will be available with most of the common aquarium shops.
Also, most of the Cichlids are good jumpers. So make sure you keep the aquarium is covered on the top.

Feeding your Cichlids;

Very interesting of your daily routine could be feeding your Cichlids. Most Cichlids are omnivorous, eating a mixture of vegetation and other fish. Certain species eat more plant matter than other species, but if you feed all your Cichlids a mix of pellets and supplement with spirulina or frozen food, you will have all your basics covered and your fish can get big and healthy with full coloration.  

If you purchasing a commercial brand of Cichlid pellets, this has all the required nutrients that your Cichlid require. An expert suggestion, do not use tropical fish food or goldfish food, get an actual Cichlid food. This specially designed flake or pellet has the dietary requirements for Cichlids and it will be easy to keep your fishes healthy if you use the food that is made for them. There are some brands of Cichlid pellet that enhance the colour of the fish specifically.
I recommend a sinking Cichlid pellet instead of a flake because when the fish gulps at the top of the water, they can inhale and swallow air and get bloated which can cause digestion and even death. Sinking pellets are the best because Cichlids like to hunt and and when the pellets are slowly sinking, its very enjoyable as the hobbyist to sit back and watch them in the feeding frenzy devouring the food.

If you want to supplement a treat of seaweed every now and then to let the fish enjoy it. A quality brand of food will cost more but the ingredients but better quality and you really do get what you pay for. Cichlids eat very fast and they can eat a large quantity.

The Optimal feeding is twice per day, feed what they can eat before it sinks to the ground. Do this a few times. If you feed slowly so that all the food is consumed before it sinks to the bottom, there will be less decomposing, which means less Ammonia. If you want to feed your fish only once a day, thats fine but they will grow faster if you feed twice a day. For fully grown Cichlids, its best to allow one day of fasting every week. This helps to regulate the metabolism and its also recommended for many other reptiles and other tropical fish species.

Be Careful not to overfeed the fish. If too much feed is falling to the bottom or getting sucked into the filter, this can contaminate the water. 
Less food is better than too much food. Also if you are away for few days, your fish will be fine not being fed for many days in a row, even upto a week. So dont worry, they won't starve. At any point, i strongly disagree feeding Cichlids with live fishes.

Most Common Cichlid Diseases;

Fish get sick. It’s a fact of fish life. Caring for sick cichlids isn't any fun, but it is your responsibility as a cichlid grower to bring their good health back. Neglecting your cichlids when they are sick may cause symptoms to worsen and lead to death.
There are many reasons why cichlids get sick. These can be caused by infections from bacteria, fungi, or parasites or by environmental factors such as poor water quality.
Here are some common cichlid diseases that you should watch out for:
  • Malawi bloat – This kind of cichlid disease is common among African cichlids and fish that are on a mostly vegetable diet. Symptoms include loss of appetite, swelling of the stomach, white feces, rapid breathing, and sulking at the bottom of the tank. At its advanced stage, Malawi bloat can damage the liver, kidney and swim bladder, and the affected cichlid may diet within 24 to 72 hours. 
There is a lot of disagreement on the true causes of Malawi bloat, but some say it is caused by a protozoan that naturally resides in fish intestines, proliferating when the cichlid is not fed properly or when the water is dirty. Treatment for Malawi bloat entails adding Metronidazole and Clout to the water, changing up to 50 percent of the water, and removing the filters.
  • Swim bladder disease – This cichlid disease affects the swim bladder, an epithelium-lined abdominal sac responsibility for fish buoyancy. Cichlids affected by swim bladder disease float at the top of the water or find it difficult to stay on the bottom of the tank.

Poor diet is one of the major causes of swim bladed disease. When a cichlid is not fed right, it can have intestinal gas or blockage, irritating the bowel and giving bacteria or parasites the chance to wreak havoc on the swim bladder. You can minimize swim bladder disease by not feeding your cichlids too much protein or dried food and introducing lots of fiber-rich food such as zucchini, squash, peas, spinach, carrots, and lettuce.
  • Cotton wool disease – This is characterized by a whitish gray coating on the skin, ulcer, damaged fins, patches on the gills, and erosion of head tissue on fish. It is extremely contagious.  
The fungus that causes cotton wool disease is found in many aquariums feeding on leftover food and fish carcass. Maintaining aquarium hygiene and preventing chilling, injury, and other forms of stress are some things you can do to prevent your cichlids from catching this disease. The best way to treat cotton wool disease is by salt bath immersion, gentian violet application, or fungicidal medication.
  • Fish tuberculosis – An extremely dangerous cichlid disease, fish tuberculosis is highly contagious and can wipe out an entire aquarium population. It can even be contracted by humans through cracks on the skin and cuts when they are fixing or cleaning the tank.  
Among the symptoms of this cichlid disease are loss of appetite, sunken stomach, white exterior blotches, and frayed fins. If you suspect that one of your cichlids may have this disease, remove your entire aquarium population and place them in a hospital tank, making sure to separate the sick cichlid. Treat these new tanks with antibiotics like Melafix or Pimafix and make sure your old tanks are disinfected and the substrate bleached thoroughly or thrown out.

  • Hole-in-the-head disease – Also known as hexamita, this disease is typical among cichlids and other freshwater fish. Its symptoms are appetite and weight loss and small depressions on the head (thus the name “hole in the head”). 
    There are many reasons for this disease, among them poor water quality and poor diet. Some studies have indicated that there could be a link between hole-in-the-head disease and the lack of vitamins C and D as well as phosphorous and calcium.

Most cichlid diseases are caused by poor water quality and diet, so clean your aquarium regularly and feed your cichlids right. It’s always good to be ready for cichlid diseases. Keep yourself well informed by reading books, researching, and networking with others so you know how to raise your cichlids happy and healthy.

Conflict Management;

The best way to prevent conflict between your aquatic pets is to make sure that you have lots of cichlids in the aquarium. When you have many fish in your aquarium and they don't have enough empty space to establish a territory to protect, they will live more peacefully and be less aggressive towards others. 

With that said, it's very important to note that cichlids are very territorial and aggressive by nature you will often see them chase each other around. You may see them peck at each other's fins or coming face to face with their mouths open in a sort of back and forward "dance". They have many different behaviors and their aggressive showmanship can compose of a multitude of actions and behaviors. 

Do not be alarmed at these kinds of behaviors because it's very normal but if you find that one of the fish is being picked on constantly, there are a few things you can do to keep the peace in your aquarium and to prevent the fish from dying or getting sick, which can easily spread sickness and disease throughout your tank. 

Here are 5 great tips that can help you solve or reduce aggression problems between your cichlids in your aquarium: 

1.) Re-arrange the ornaments in your tank. Sometimes if a cichlid is constantly chasing away another from a specific spot, it means that they have established a territory in that area. If you move around the aquarium decorations, then they will have to re-establish their own space and it can reduce some fighting and aggression.

2.) Get more fish. This seems like it could be counter-productive but if you add another fish, it will divert the attention to the new fish. You can't just dump a new cichlid in the tank first however, the other fish will notice and gang up on the new addition. Wait until you do a water change in the aquarium and then introduce the new fish because after the stress of the water change and the moving around of the ornaments, they other fish may not even notice that there is a new addition there. More fish bodies in the water means less space for territories which means peaceful cichlids.

3.) Often the fish that is picked on will be smaller then the aggressor. If you have a separate tank like a hospital tank set up, you can temporarily relocate smaller fish to grow him bigger by increasing feeding. Cichlids grow very fast and is you feed the fish 3 times a day and then feed your normal tank once every 2 days, the smaller fish should be able to catch up in growth very quickly.

4.) Another tip which is the opposite of the previous tip is to remove the aggressor and place him in another tank. If you don't have another aquarium available, you can put him in a large cookie jar or something else of reasonable size. You won't be keeping him in there for very long, only about 1 day so he will be fine. Don't feed him while he's in the separate container because he will defecate in the water which can cause an ammonia spike. 

While he's away from the main tank, the cichlid that was picked on can establish his own mini territory and then when you re-introduce the aggressor cichlid back into the tank, he will be the "new addition" so other fish may come to check him out, he will no longer be the dominant one. Cichlid are smart fish, but they do have short memories. Sometimes this trick works and sometimes it does not, but if you're having aggression problems is it definitely is worth a try, it's better then watching your aquatic friends beat each other up day after day! 

5.) The final resort for a fish that is being picked on is either to give that fish away or to give away the aggressor. Sometimes fish will never come to a peace treaty with each other and you'll have to remove one of them. If you look at this from an optimist point view, that's the joy of cichlids - they really are a hobby that you can meddle with, always experimenting with trial and error until you have a specific formula for you that works. 

No two aquarium hobbyists will have the same opinions in what works for them so you'll have to experiment to see what works best for you. They are not just fish that you dump in the aquarium and forget about, they have little personalities and are very alive and interactive so they make a great hobby! 

Cichlid Species;

There is a better site that gives you the most commonly available Cichlids with the names and pictures..
Here it is...
You can use it for your reference.
I guess here I can end this blog about Cichlids. Looks like I have covered most of the topics related though it is an endless chain. I would be happy if you could be of some use to the readers. As I said in the beginning, if this isn't helping you to do things right, atleast it would help you to not to do things wrong.

Appreciate your feedback and suggestions. Your experience will help to make this blog better !!!

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    • Avatar
      Bharani Kumar S
      Jan 25, 2017

      Nice write-up about CiChlids, indeed very useful - I'm from Chennai and would like to buy some 10 pairs of medium/small size cichlids especially bright in colors like Yellow, Blue, Red, any other color. Please let me know how much will it cost and how the shipping can be done. NOTE: I already have 11 pairs in my tank. Peacock, Red top, Yellow, Dolphin nose, etc Thank you. Regards, Bharani +91 98947 47057

    • Avatar
      Jun 17, 2017

      This is fraud site please don't buy anything. They will not answer the calls. I ordered fishes on 27/5/2017 after 1 week I called many times but no answer finally I sent a message on 16/6/2017. 17 th one nasty fellow called me and said as per international standard customer has to send a mail to payumoney to release the amount (How funny it is)... Finally he is a Fraud.

    • Avatar
      Jun 17, 2017

      This is fraud site please don't buy anything. They will not answer the calls. I ordered fishes on 27/5/2017 after 1 week I called many times but no answer finally I sent a message on 16/6/2017. 17 th one nasty fellow called me and said as per international standard customer has to send a mail to payumoney to release the amount (How funny it is)... Finally he is a Fraud don't buy anything here.

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