Tropical Fish Tanks: African Cichlids

August 28, 2007 - Leave a Response

For those of you who are thinking about starting up a tropical fish tank, you’re probably wondering what type of fish is a good “starter” fish. Something low-maintenance, very hearty, and displays well in your new tank.

African Cichlids represent over 1,200 species of fish, and many are very good “starter” fish for the beginner aquarium hobbyist. In this article, I’ll discuss a few of the most popular african cichlids, most of which are found thriving in the Malawai and Tanganyika Lakes of Central Africa. What makes African Cichlids so interesting to keep is that they all have very interesting social behaviors. They seem much more “intelligent” and “aware” of their surroundings compared to a typical goldfish or guppy.

Electric Yellow African Cichlid (Labidochromis caeruleus)

The Electric Yellow African Cichlid is one of the more common cichlids available at your local fish stores. They are colored bright yellow, with a black fins. I have personal experience with this type of african cichlid because I am currently breeding them (Check out my blog on “Breeding African Cichlids“).

Electric Yellow

They are very resilient fish, and display a variety of social behaviors. If you plan on keeping Electric Yellows, be sure to include a sandy tank bottom (substrate), leafy plants (they don’t have to be real plants), and plenty of hiding places using rocks of various sizes.

Blue Peacock Cichlid (Aulonocara nyassae)

Blue Peacock Cichlid

The Blue Peacock Cichlid prefers a 50 gallon tank or bigger, with quite a bit of coverage from rocks and a sandy bottom. Male Blue Peacock cichlids are usually very territorial with other males of their same species, so you’d normally want to house one male for every 3-4 female Blue Peacock cichlids.

Cobalt Blue Zebra Cichlid (Pseudotropheus zebra)

Cobalt Blue Zebra

The Cobalt Blue Zebra has about eight black/blue bars or stripes running from top to bottom. The bottom fin (usually called the “anal fin”) has usually four orange egg-shaped dots. The dots are used for breeding behaviors between the male and female. These cichlids are somewhat territorial, so you should be keeping them in a “cichlid-only” tank. Feed them foods high in vegetable content, such as seaweeds, or flake/pellet food rich in vegetable matter. You can also feed them frozen brine shrimp or blood worms.

There are many other cichlids out there, but most have similar tank needs. Make sure, if you are going to mix african cichlids, to check up on compatibility with these fish. Some cichlids can fight each other to death, and cause injuries to other fish which can’t be cured.

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Tropical Fish Tanks: Good resources

August 22, 2007 - Leave a Response

I know it’s hard to search online for tropical fish tank setups. Usually, the websites you’ll find are mostly online retailers or pet-store websites. Remember to “walk before you run”, and do a lot of planning for your first fish tank. It’ll make it much easier on you and your wallet.

I got a lot of my information online, but it takes FOREVER to search articles. That’s why I started this blog to give beginners a good basic tutorial on the hobby. I’ve personally learned a lot from reading books on tropical aquariums, and was able to increase the overall health of my fish tanks.

Tropical Fish Tanks : Basic Equipment

August 21, 2007 - Leave a Response

Today I’m going to discuss with you some of the basic equipment you’ll need to set up your tropical fish tank. Here’s a brief list of what you’ll be looking at purchasing:

  • Tank (acrylic or glass)
  • Tank stand (wood or other)
  • Tank Canopy or Lid
  • Filter (wet-dry, canister, hang-on power filter)
  • Clear hose (lots of it)
  • Water pump
  • Water heater
  • Thermometer
  • two 5 gallon buckets or water containers/jugs
  • Powerhead
  • Lights (various brands)

Now, this list is the ABSOLUTE MINIMUM for you to start your tank. Keep in mind that before you even begin this list of items, you’ll need to decide if you want to maintain a saltwater tank or a freshwater tank and what type of species you will be keeping. For the sake of simplicity, let’s assume we are starting a freshwater tank, since there are a few less variables to consider.

Your Tank

How big do you want this sucker? Well, I’ll give you my personal opinion: Too big, and you’ll be in for a huge water and electricity bill…or better yet– a huge flood (it’ll LOOK great, though!). Too small, and you’ll have to constantly maintain the water quality. Smaller water volume can result to huge spikes in water quality, just because there’s less water to go around. So how big of a tank? I’d say if you’re doing freshwater, you can probably go with 40 gallons or more. Saltwater will be a minimum of 50-60 gallons or more. There ARE smaller tank options out there, but just be aware that your fish wants room to swim, too. They are accustomed to swimming in large bodies of water where they were originally taken from, so sticking them into a small bowl will be like putting them in a solitary confinement jail cell.

Your tank stand and canopy or lid is basically up to your preference. Some people just want a “plain-jane” look. Others will want something that matches the decor of their other furniture. This is completely up to you, and sky is the limit as far as price goes.


As I mentioned above, we are basing this initial setup for a freshwater tropical fish tank. A canister filter, or even a large hang-on power filter will probably be sufficient for a 40 gallon tank. Anything larger will probably need a wet-dry filter/sump. Find more detailed information about different types of filters here.

Watch my video describing a wet-dry filter system

Water Pump

You’ll need a pump to get the filtered water back into the tank. If you are going with a hang-on power filter or canister filter, it comes with an internal pump already, so no need to buy another one. The size of the pump will affect the amount of “gallons per hour” (or “gph”) your filtration system goes through. Usually, the more “GPH”, the better.

Water heater

Get a water heater. Tropical fish usually thrive in warmer waters…anywhere from 76-82 degrees. If you don’t include a water heater, your tank temperature will probably be VERY cold. You also want to avoid temperature fluctuations, and a water heater will prevent that.


There are a bunch of different thermometers available. Some float in your tank and provide real-time temperature. Others have a small sensor that drops into your tank, and provides a digital reading from a small capsule attached to the side of your tank. Seriously…whatever floats your boat here.

5 gallon buckets

These can be purchased from Home Depot or Lowes for about $3-5 dollars. Make sure you get lids for them. Otherwise, there are fish stores that sell 5 gallon jugs with a screw-cap top and is water-tight. You’ll be using these for water changes and maintenance. I like the buckets because you can put rocks, plants, or bio-balls in them for cleaning purposes. Heck, get a bucket AND a jug!


As you might recall, I mentioned that the more “flow” (or “gallons per hour”), the better. A “powerhead” is basically a pump that circulates water throughout the tank. It keeps water flowing, and provides a steady current so that waste can’t build up on the bottom of the tank. Some fish may not like the extra flow, so read up on the fish you’d like to keep before you purchase one of these.


This is going to be a whole separate blog…but for all intents and purposes, I’ll briefly explain the lighting you’ll need. For freshwater fish tanks, just start with a basic florescent lighting fixture. They are extremely inexpensive, and the bulbs last almost forever. Also, since they are florescent bulbs, it’s easier on your electric bill. Once you get into the more hardcore lighting choices, such as Metal Halides, VHO, compact florescents, etc…the price will increase dramatically.

So there you go… 11 basic items to start your very own tropical fish tank!

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