Commercial buffers and salts can get quite expensive if you have a large
tank. Instead of going with these, there are some homemade remedies that
also work just fine. Common bicarbonate of soda is effective at raising
the pH, not to mention itís very inexpensive. Epsom salts (i.e., magnesium
sulfate) can be used to harden the water in lieu of calcium. And then
you could also add aquarium salt (i.e., non-iodized salt) to provide trace
elements and potassium. For every 5 gallons of water, add 1-tablespoon
Epsom slats, 1-teaspoon baking soda, and 1-teaspoon aquarium salt.
If your tap water has chloramines, you will need to use a conditioner
to remove them. There are many out there that are good. I personally recommend
AmQuel, which I buy by the gallon. But, thatís because I go through a
lot of it as I do water changes on the scale of 100 gallons a week between
my three tanks. A gallon lasts me a little over a year. And then, regardless
of the condition of your water, I strongly recommend the use of NovAqua,
which not only removes chlorine and toxic metals, but also forms a protective
skin coating on and in the fishesí skin as well as adding electrolytes
needed for proper osmotic balance. Plus, it also helps stabilize the pH.
You should also be aware that ammonia can be much more stressful to your
fishes at a high pH, such as African Cichlids require. At a pH of 8.0,
for example, the ammonia in your aquarium is effectively ten times more
toxic than at a pH of 7.0.
The optimal temperature is 74 - 78 F. I keep my tank at a constant 76
F. I never have to worry about my temperature fluctuating, be it winter
or summer. This is in part due to the very large water to air ratio (which
helps to cool it off), and more importantly, three submersible pumps (which
heat the water slightly). I donít use heaters on my fry or grow-out tank,
and so the temp is naturally a little lower (74 F), however, I know of
people who aim for temperatures of 80 F or even 82 F with their fry tanks.
This brings me to my next point.
High temperatures will increase a fishís metabolism, boost their immune
response, as well as stimulate aggression. So, by raising the temperature
to 80 F for a fry tank, one would speed up their metabolism, causing them
to eat more and grow faster, but also require more water changes. Conversely,
you could lower the temperature in your tank as a means of stemming aggression.
This can be helpful if you have some really nasty fish on your hands (e.g.,
Melanochromis auratus, Pseudotropheus lombardoi "Kenyi"). This is due
to the fact that the number one cause of aggression among Cichlids is
food related. If they are not feeling a need to eat as often (because
their metabolism has slowed), then they are less likely to be territorial
No matter how good your filter is, you will eventually need to do water
changes, although filters certainly help in keeping the water quality
good for longer. Because African Cichlid setups usually lack plants, and
are "overstocked" (more on this below), the water quality can quickly
deteriorate. Experts suggest that 10-20% water changes every week are
best. And then, if you go every other week, double that. I will admit,
I am a little on the excessive side, but thatís because I have my tank
jammed with fish, which I feed several times a day. With most setups,
it is also important to vacuum the gravel. With my setup, I rigged it
so that I almost NEVER need to vacuum the gravel.
There are so many different types of filters, not to mention all the
variations on a filtration system one could devise with these. Because
there are so many types, brands, and setups, I wonít discuss specifics
here (for the most part).
If you have a small tank (i.e., 10-35 gallon), then a simple hang on
the back filter will work just fine. You want the gallons per hour (gph)
flow to be 4 - 6 times the volume of your tank. So if you have a 20-gallon
tank, you will want a filter that cycles 80 - 120 gph. If you have a
larger tank, you will need a more sophisticated filtering system, mostly
because many "hang-on-the-back" filters arenít adequate and canít meet
the gph requirements.
I have never used an undergravel filter, but almost everyone I have
talked to has at some point switched from these to some other form of
filtration. I am not saying you shouldnít use one, but here are a couple
of reasons why I would discourage you from using one: First, African
Cichlids are diggers in the full sense of the word. Undergravel filters
require that they be covered with your substrate (e.g., gravel) to be
effective. Well, African Cichlids donít cooperate. I have seen undergravel
filters made 30% bare within a few hours. These tanks also had a good
4" of substrate! Second, they require a lot of attention because they
can get dirty very quickly. They pull the water down through the gravel,
trapping any fecal wastes in the gravel; therefore, frequent water changes
with mandatory vacuuming, are required. You donít want to miss more
than two weeks or youíll find algae and fungus growing on your gravel.
I have found that a system that works the opposite works well, with
currents rising upward, and then water off the top gets filtered.
I recommend submersible pumps with sponges. These are good because they
grab waste, provide an additional niche for beneficial denitrifying
bacteria, and when mature, can become a backyard garden on which algae
can grow and the Cichlids can harvest. Outside power filters with biological
wheels and or sponges with carbon are also a good choice. Whatever you
choose, itís a good idea to clean out the impeller shaft, the impeller,
and the sponge every few weeks. Otherwise, the flow rate will slow,
sponges will get clogged, and your filter will stop doing its job.
There are several options. It seems that a very popular substrate is
black gravel. I have never used it, and never intend to, but the reasons
cited for using it purport to be that fishesí colors show up better
against dark gravel. A really cool look is crushed red granite gravel.
Armkeís sells this stuff
I use crushed coral. I prefer it for several reasons. First and foremost,
I like the way it looks. Itís very white and clean. I also like the
occasional shells my Cichlids dig up. Second, the coral slowly dissolves
and thereby increases the hardness of the water. My water is already
hard (GH 14), but it helps to stabilize my pH and the hardness of the
water. Hard water, if left alone and tested a week or so later, would
show a decrease in its hardness. This is because minerals, which make
the water hard, donít stay suspended for very long. Unless you use buffer,
have rocks in your tank, or use crushed coral, water changes are necessary
not only to reduce nitrates, but also to restore the pH and hardness
of your water. I have read, however, that crushed coral irritates their
Dolomite (crushed limestone) is also used specifically as a buffer,
but it does not dissolve as well as coral, and is not as desirable for
that reason. It may also contain copper and other miscellaneous metals
found in limestone. I use limestone for decoration, but use NovAqua
and AmQuelto remove the copper and other toxic metals.
Many of the Shell-Dwelling Tanganyikans prefer sand. Do not use silica,
but use crushed coral sand. You could also acquire regular sand from
a spa retailer, as they use sand as a filtering substrate.
Decoration, after water conditions, is perhaps the second most important
point to consider when setting up an African Rift Lake aquarium. You
should decorate your tank with lots of rock to provide caves and hiding
places for your Cichlids. Aggressive fish usually claim a territory.
I have noticed that by providing them with lots of caves, dominant fish
claim less territory. Egg layers absolutely need a cave to spawn and
then to guard the eggs. Mouthbrooders tend to have less of a need for
a permanent territory, but they still like to have a place (particularly,
a flat rock) they can claim and on which to spawn.
There are lots of options here. This is where you really need to get
creative. I use holey rock (a.k.a. limestone), which has dozens of tunnels
through it. At night, my fish will sleep in these holes. I have seen
many people use clay flowerpots; either turned on their side or turned
upside down and given a hole. I donít like the unnatural color or look
these give, but do what you will like. Most often people will
just stack limestone or some other rock with slate, creating layers
with caves between.
Rocks I would recommend include limestone, slate, petrified wood, lava,
granite, tufa, "pagoda," and "lace rock." Before you put these rocks
in your tank, be sure to clean them with bleach. And then be sure as
heck to rinse that bleach off before you put it in your tank with the
fish. The sniff test works for me: if I can smell it, I know itís still
got bleach on it. I have purchased limestone that was purportedly "clean."
When I got to cleaning it, I found all kinds of dirt and roots in some
of the holes of my limestone. I was glad that I took the extra precaution.
Because of the immense weight of your rocks, especially if they are
stacked, you should consider how they are placed in your tank. This
is especially important because your African Cichlids will dig
and could undermine a rock formation that could come tumbling down.
To prevent such a disaster, I glue rock formations together with silicone.
Some people use egg crates on the very bottom of their tanks, before
laying gravel. This prevents a rock from applying pressure to a single
point on the glass, which could lead to crack.
I recently read about a clever trick, which would prevent any of the
above catastrophes. This ingenious aquarist used pumice stone, which
is an inert volcanic rock that floats. It is also soft and very porous.
To prepare the pumice, he boils it in a large pot, holding them under
with a heavy piece of granite or basalt. After 10 minutes or so, he
removes the pumice and drops it into a bucket of cold water, and again
weights it down. Once the pumice cools, it will now sink like a feather
through the air. How does this prevent toppling or possible cracking?
Well, with ever so light rocks, you can pile these up high in the tank
without having to worry about their pressure on the glass. And their
rough surface helps hold them together. They have two other advantages.
Their porous interior provides yet another niche for denitrifying bacteria
to live. You could easily drill pumice with a two-inch bit if you wanted
to create tunnels or caves.
African Cichlids and live plants seem to be a "no-win" combination.
Most plants have a tough time growing in very alkaline water because
of the high levels of magnesium. Besides, Cichlids do a good job of
trimming down plants. I use fake plants, tall and skinny ones. They
provide yet another niche or territory for a fish to claim or hide in.
There are a few species of plants that they donít seem to like and that
are well adapted to their alkaline water. These include Java Fern, Vallisneria
sp., and the Anubias family: A. barteri, A. congicus, A. gigante, A.
gracilis, A. heterophylla, and A. nana. If you decide to take a stab
at growing these plants in your tank, be aware that mbuna are terribly
adept at digging up plants. For this reason, you should plant your plants
in pots. Some plants can also take up too much swimming space for Haplochromis
spp. and Mouthbrooders in general. I use fake plants, tall and skinny.
They provide yet another niche or territory for a fish to claim or hide
I discourage the use of driftwood in any African Rift Lake setup. It
can lower the pH of your water and stain the water yellow with tanic
Because most African Cichlids are diggers and can rearrange your tank
quicker than you can reset it, you should put at least 2 - 3" of substrate
in your tank.
I have another article dedicated just to this topic; therefore, I wonít
say much about this here. Briefly put, however, Africans do extremely
well if feed Spirulina flake, with an occasional treat of brine shrimp.
Never feed them more than they can consume in 2, not 5 minutes! Cichlids
are for the most part vegetarians, and have long intestines. Feeding
them too much at once can cause problems, which often leads to the deadly
As I mentioned earlier in this lengthy article (hopefully you can remember
that long ago) that the primary reason for Cichlid aggression is driven
by food. You can control aggression by feeding your fish less, but more
often. They are territorial because they want to stake out their own
backyard garden from which to hunt and harvest. Conspecifics (i.e.,
similar looking fish) are seen as a threat (because if they are similar,
they will compete for the same foods), and are chased off. Therefore,
by having fish from a wide variety of species you can cut down on intra-species
aggression. I have read and heard of several accounts of people keeping
only Pseudotropheus demasoni. The result was that a colony soon turned
into a lone, victorious male. Also, by giving your fish lots of room
to swim, and lots of territories to claim and caves to hide in, you
can reduce inter-species aggression.
Males are the more aggressive, and they tend to rough females not interested
in mating. For this reason, almost everyone recommends keeping at least
2 females per male of a given species, that way his aggression and frustration
are not received by just one female. Instead, it gets distributed.
Also, by "overstocking" your tank, you can distribute inter-species
aggression. Not just one fish is a target of abuse, and aggressors tend
to lose victims more easily when the tank is crowded. Just be sure that
you "over filter" your aquarium if you are going to "overstock it."
Just a brief note on a very rudimentary summary of aggressive and milder
Africans. In my experience, I have found Pseudotropheus lombardoi "Kenyi"
and Melanochromis auratus to be the most aggressive, followed in tow
by the rest of the Pseudotropheus and Labeotropheus genuses. The milder
Africans include the Labidochromis and Auloncara genuses. Victorian
haps are quite mild, their aggression being more show than anything
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