South & Central American Cichlids
Experience Level: Intermediate
Did you know? Cichlids should be kept with fish of the same size and temperament, and may eat any fish small enough to fit into their mouths. Cichlids are often territorial and may become aggressive when trying to breed in an aquarium. Be sure adequate hiding spaces are available in the aquarium.
Step 1Choosing an Aquarium
(A) Minimum aquarium size should be 29 gallons (110 L). A good rule of thumb for Cichlids is two gallons (8 L) of water for every 1" (2.5 cm) of full-grown fish.
(B) An appropriate aquarium stand will safely support the weight of your filled aquarium. Aquariums weigh as much as 10 lbs. per gallon capacity and require strong stands.
• Locate your aquarium in a low-traffic area, away from direct sunlight and drafts.
Hood and light Fixture
(C) Place an aquarium hood with light fixtures on the aquarium to reduce water evaporation, splashing, and fish jumping out.
• The light should be on for 8-12 hours a day. Turn it on during the morning feeding, and off after the evening feeding, or use an automatic timer.
Step 2Filtration and Heating
Filtration (mechanical and biological)
(D) Undergravel filters or power filters will provide appropriate filtration for the aquarium. Consult filter package for appropriate filter size.
• The filter should move the water in the aquarium through the filter media 3-5 times per hour (e.g., a filter for a 20-gallon aquarium should filter 60-100 gallons of water per hour).
• Add beneficial bacteria supplements to your aquarium water to promote biological waste break down.
Water Heater and thermometer
(E) Use an aquarium heater to maintain the water temperature. The general rule for aquarium heaters is five watts of power for each gallon of aquarium water. For large aquariums, it is better to divide this into two heaters, one at each end of the tank, rather than using one large heater.
• Tropical fish require water temperatures ranging between 74-82o F (23-28° C).
Step 3Substrate and Decor
(F) Use 1.5 lbs. (680 g) of aquarium gravel for every gallon (4 L) of tank capacity to make a 2-3" (5-8 cm) layer on the bottom of the aquarium. Rinse the gravel in a clean container before adding it to the aquarium.
(G) Decorate the aquarium with live or artificial plants. Be sure to place the plants on the sides and back of the aquarium so the fish will have enough space to swim in the center.
Ornaments and rocks
(H) Use rocks that are safe for aquariums to provide hiding areas for the fish. Many species of Cichlids will lay eggs, which can cause the parents to become aggressive as they try to protect their eggs or babies. (Breeding Cichlids should be separated.) A large aquarium with lots of hiding areas will help reduce aggression.
• Whether starting a new aquarium or adding to an existing aquarium, only add 1-3 new fish at a time to avoid problems associated with water quality.
• Float the bag for 10 minutes to equalize temperatures before releasing fish.
• Add fish to the aquarium with a net, avoiding the addition of bag water to the aquarium.
Water Quality Testing
PetSmart offers free aquarium water testing. By bringing in a sample of your aquarium water, we can test the quality within minutes. See the guide on Setting Up an Aquarium for more information about water quality and water testing.
Things to Watch For
• Unusual swimming pattern
• Thinness or decreased appetite
• Abdominal swelling
• Inflamed or discolored skin or fins
• Fins clamped to sides of body
• Scraping body on rocks (flashing)
If you notice any of the signs described above, speak with a PetSmart store associate or a veterinarian about the health of your pet.
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