Basics for keeping healthy Cichlid fish:
Most African Cichlids prefer a temperature of 78 to 80 F. They also like moderately hard to hard water with a PH of 7.8 to 8.0. Some Cichlids from Lake Tanganyika require a higher PH of 8.2 to 8.6 and are not as easy to mix with other African Cichlids. Temperature can be achieved with a quality hard case thermometer. These fish are active and they will damage or destroy hanging and soft case thermometers. PH can be raised using either a buff specifically made for African Cichlids or a salt water buff. Adding African Cichlid Reef Lake salt also tends to help with the hardness and to promote better color. Check out my supplies links for recommended items to help keep the PH perfect.
As with all Aquarium fish, they need quality water filtration. There are a number of filters on the market that can be used to reach this goal. I prefer Aqua Clear hanging filters because they are easy to clean and maintain. These type filters have a sponge and a carbon insert. In addition, a bio pack insert can be added to them for even better results. The amount of filtration you need will depend on the size of the tank you are using and the number of fish you plan to stock. In general, however, the more filtration used, the better. For heavy stocked tanks, I suggest 8x the amount of gallons in the tank filtered every hour.
New Tanks need to Cycle:
When you start a tank, you will go through what is called Cycle. During the first three weeks or so, you need to build up the good bio in your filtration system in order for the tank to cycle out the ammonia and nitrate. High levels of ammonia and especially nitrate can be fatal. During this period it is wise to start with a few smaller fish, three 1.5" sex uncertain yellow labs are a low-cost starter fish that will work with many other African Cichlids and will even work in an otherwise all male tank. Get a test kit for Ammonia and Nitrate. Look for Ammonia and Nitrate to spike upward around the third week. When this happens, do a 50% water change daily until both the Ammonia and Nitrate numbers are at zero. Once your tank returns to zero Ammonia and Nitrate, your tank is cycled. You can now add more fish slowly. Do not add too many fish at once or you will overload the good bio and go through the cycle again. The cycle is hard on fish and it can cause death in some cases. That is why you want to start with smaller less expensive fish until your tank is ready for more fish.
To get the most out of the colors that African Cichlids offer, you will need at least a 75 Gallon Tank. With these fish, think, the bigger the tank, the better. Glass or Acrylic does not matter. Depending on your choice of filtration, you may, or may not want to purchase a pre-drilled tank. Be sure, however, to choose a tank that is best for your individual situation, and that will look good for years to come. A word of caution, if you choose a tall tank style, be sure that you can reach the bottom of the tank to perform proper maintenance
A good place to purchase aquarium tanks is That Fish Place in Centerville, PA.
This may be the most important decision you will need to make. Take your time and make sure to make a choice that will work best for you.
Basically the more filtration you can provide the better. A word of caution; cichlids are diggers and can disturb under gravel filter systems. In addition, under gravel filters tend to trap bad materials, and cause problems over time. It is probably best not to use them with these type fish.
Next, you must choose what type of main filter(s) you will use. There are basically three styles of filters: Hanging, Canister, and Wet Dry. If you choose to go with the hanging style filters, we suggest using Aqua Clear 300 or 500 models. If you choose to use this style filter, it should turn the full volume of water in your tank, at least 8 times per hour. For a 75 to 90 gallon tanks this means using three Aqua Clear 300 (300 x 3 = 900 GPH), or two Agua Clear 500 models (500 x 2 = 1000 GPH).
The sponge portion of these filters will need to be washed out weekly. Carbon packs need to be changed once every three months. Bio Bags materials are now available for these type filters as well. This great addition, helps your aquarium to cycle naturally and are very beneficial. Bio Bags should be rinsed every three months to recharge them. Beware, however, do not rinse more than one filer's bio bag, or more than two of the three elements in any one filter at the same time. Never rinse your filter and do a water change at the same time either. Too much change at one time can be deadly for your fish.
Canister models are more efficient than hanging filters. They require less rinsing, usually about once a month. Carbon lasts about three months. However, these models can be difficult to access. If you choose to use this method, be sure to choose a model that is both easy for you to clean, and is large enough for your tank size.
Wet Dry filters provide excellent biological filtration as water constantly runs over their bacteria covered bio balls. These type filters work best with pre-drilled tanks. In addition to the bio balls, choose a Wet Dry filter that also contains an area for carbon, and either a sponge, or other filter material that can be rinsed, or replaced when needed. Other wise you will need additional mechanical hanging filters to provide this type filtration.
Another option is to use Sponge filters.
There are four types of African Cichlids: Predators (Fish Eaters), Micro-Predators (Small Invertebrates or Plankton Eaters), Omnivores (Vegetation and Small Invertebrate Eaters), and Grazers (Plant Life Eaters). Therefore, I recommend feeding African Cichlids, in Mixed Community Aquariums, a variety of foods. My favorites include Xtreme Cichlid Pee Wee, O.S.I. Spirulina, Cichlid Excel, Omni, Kent Platinum Cichlid Extreme. All of these, along with many other food options, can be found in our supplies link on the CAS web site. Beware, however, of foods with high starch levels, especially Brine Shrimp Pellets. Too much starch in foods can cause bloat, often with fatal consequences for Carnivores, especially Peacock Cichlids. If you choose to feed brine shrimp, feed only live brine shrimp in small portions.
With few exceptions, Male Cichlids develop the most vibrant colors, often rivaling that of some salt water fish. However, because African Cichlids are freshwater fish, they tend to be much easier to keep in the aquarium environment than salt water fish. Beware, however, that multiple males of the same type or with similar colors, do not mix well in the same tank.
Accumulating New Arrivals to Your Aquarium:
When you receive your fish from us we suggest that you take them inside immediately. Open the box(es), remove any heater packs (winter time), and let the fish set in their bags for 30 to 45 minutes, in order for their water temperature to come to room temperature. Next, open the bags. Put your incoming fish, and the water they arrive in, into a clean (used for fish only) Bucket. Choose a method from below which you are most comfortable using.
Method A) Run a small air hose from the water in your tank. Put a knot in the hose to reduce water flow to a slow drip. Allow the drip to continue until the bucket is twice as full, as when you started. Remove one fish at a time from the bucket, with a net, and add this fish, to your tank. Watch for signs of stress. If this fish shows none, continue adding fish to your tank, using a net.
Method B) Add a cup of water from your tank to the bucket of incoming fish every 15 minutes, for 45 minutes. Fifteen minutes after adding the third cup of water, trying using a net to add one fish, to your tank. If the first fish shows no signs of stress after 10 to 15 minutes, continue to add the remaining fish to your tank, using a net.
Method C) Float the fish in a single bag (if double bagged, remove the other bag) that does not leak for 30 minutes. Dump the fish and the water from their bag into a clean fish bucket (used for fish only). Net the fish from the bucket and place them in the tank. Empty the water from the bucket and start the process over again with another fish bag,
I strongly recommend that all new fish should be quarantined prior to introduction to their final tank. Keep a tank or several tanks around just for this purpose. It's best to treat incoming African Cichlids with one teaspoon of plain (no iodine) salt per gallon for two weeks before moving them from the quarantine tank to the regular tank. Be sure to do a weekly water change and reset the salt level during quarantine.
Power Outages: The best way to avoid this is buy a portable generator from a store like Lowes or Home Depo. Make sure you have at 5 Gallon Gasoline container with fresh gasoline available. You will need to use stabilizer and run the generator every month or two until you use any gas up in the generator's tank. You will also need heavy duty outdoor power cords to run from the air pump, heater to your tank, or your furnace for the house. Another option is to have some type of battery back up that can run your filters and air pump. Heaters use up a lot of electric and are tough to keep running using battery back up for any length of time. If you have neither of these options, the next best thing is to have a battery powered air pump that can provide fresh air into the tank. This can prevent a crash if the power is off from four hours up to about two days. You will need to do a water change, however, of 25 to 50% every one to two days if the power stays off. That can be an additional issue if you have no fresh water for this problem. You may need to fill some never used buckets or fish water only buckets in advance for this purpose and use water conditioner. If you have a way, to heat water, you can heat part of this water in a clean pot and mix it to keep the tank water warmer. However, if the tank water does not drop below 70, you should be OK. Do not feed for a short outage and feed very lightly every second day during a long outage. Using these methods can help minimize loss; but, nothing is completely full proof with the exception of a generator that can run all of the tanks needs.
I suggest keeping at least one if not more quarantine tanks for incoming fish. Treat the water with 1 teaspoon per gallon of basic table salt (no iodine) or copper safe (i teaspoon per 4 gallons). Watch the fish for any problems for two weeks. Perform a normal weekly water change making sure to reset the salt content or copper safe content in these tanks to the proper levels. Keep up treatment for 14 days. If all is well after 14 days, you fish are ready to go to their regular tank.
Basic Salt normally will take care of ICH, Bacteria and Fungus infections in most cases.
Cooper Safe will normally take care of ICH.
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