African Cichlid Biotope: 5 Easy Steps

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Are you interested in creating an African Cichlid biotope aquarium?

If you are, then you have come to the right place.

In this article, I will guide you through the process of setting up a biotope aquarium that mimics the natural habitat of fish from Africa.

There are many reasons why fish keepers choose to set up a biotope aquarium.

An African Cichlid biotope aquarium can be a great educational tool for children and adults alike, showcasing the diversity of life in African rivers and lakes.

So, let’s get started on building your own African Cichlid biotope aquarium!

What Is a Biotope Aquarium?

A biotope aquarium is an aquarium that is designed to replicate a specific natural habitat.

This means that the aquarium is set up to mimic the natural conditions of a particular ecosystem, including the water parameters, plants, and species of fish that live there.

In a biotope aquarium, we try to create an environment that closely resembles the natural habitat of the fish we want to keep.

This includes replicating the water conditions, such as pH, temperature, and hardness, as well as adding plants and other features that would be found in the fish’s natural environment.

For example, when setting up an African Cichlid biotope aquarium, we would aim to create an environment that is similar to the rocky shorelines and sandy bottoms of Lake Malawi or Lake Tanganyika.

This might include using rocks, sand, and other natural materials to create a suitable habitat for the fish.

When setting up a biotope aquarium, it is important to research the natural habitat of the fish you want to keep, so that you can replicate the environment as closely as possible.

This will help to ensure that your fish are healthy and happy in their new home.

A biotope aquarium is a great way to create a natural and beautiful environment for your fish, while also providing them with the conditions they need to thrive.

How to set up an African Cichlid Biotope

Why Set Up a Biotope Aquarium?

Setting up a biotope aquarium is a unique and exciting way to recreate a natural aquatic environment in your home.

By mimicking the natural habitat of African Cichlids, you can create a beautiful aquarium that is both aesthetically pleasing and functional.

African Cichlids are a popular choice for biotope aquariums due to their vibrant colors and unique behaviors.

By setting up an African Cichlid biotope aquarium, we can recreate the natural environment of these fish and observe their interactions with each other and their surroundings.

Research is an important aspect of setting up a biotope aquarium.

By studying the natural habitat of African Cichlids, we can recreate the specific water parameters, plants, and rocks that are found in their natural environment.

This will not only create a visually appealing aquarium but also ensure the health and well-being of the fish.

Location is also a factor to consider when setting up a biotope aquarium.

Different species of African Cichlids are found in different regions of Africa, each with their own unique habitat.

By choosing a specific location to recreate, we can create a more accurate and authentic African Cichlid biotope aquarium.

Biotype Aquarium

When setting up an African Cichlid biotope aquarium, we need to consider the natural conditions of the region we are trying to replicate.

In this section, we will discuss the various elements that make up a biotope aquarium, including lighting, substrate, plants, décor & backgrounds, water parameters, filtration, feeding, and stocking.

African Cichlid Types

1) Research and Select the Right Species

African cichlids are found in several lakes, including Lake Malawi, Lake Tanganyika, and Lake Victoria, as well as various rivers across the continent.

Each location has distinct water parameters, such as pH, temperature, and hardness, which influence the fish’s health and behavior.

First, identify the specific geographic area you want to replicate in your aquarium.

Choose species that are compatible in terms of size, temperament, and feeding habits to minimize aggression and territorial conflicts.

Research the social dynamics and behavioral traits of each species to ensure they can live together harmoniously.

2) Tank Size

Creating a biotope aquarium for African cichlids requires careful consideration of tank size and the equipment necessary to support their needs.

Adequate space and proper equipment are crucial for the well-being and long-term health of the fish.

African cichlids are active and territorial fish, so providing them with ample space is essential.

The tank size will depend on the specific species you choose to keep, as some cichlids can grow quite large.

A general guideline is to have a minimum tank size of 30 gallons for smaller cichlid species, but larger tanks are preferred, especially for larger and more aggressive species.

Consider the adult size of the cichlids and choose a tank that allows them to swim freely and establish territories without overcrowding.

African cichlids are often best housed in tanks with a longer footprint rather than tall tanks.

A longer tank provides more horizontal swimming space and allows the cichlids to establish territories along the rock formations.

Tank Size for African Cichlids

3) Equipment For African Cichlid Biotope


Filtration is an important element of any aquarium, and a biotope aquarium is no exception.

We recommend using a high-quality filtration system that is appropriate for the size of your tank and the number of fish you plan to keep.

Canister filters or sump systems are often recommended for larger aquariums, as they provide mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration.

African cichlids prefer moderate to strong water movement in their tanks.

Incorporating powerheads or circulation pumps will help to create currents and mimic the natural flow of water in their native environment.

Adequate water circulation helps maintain oxygen levels, removes waste, and prevents stagnant areas in the tank.

Heating and lighting:

African cichlids typically thrive in warmer water temperatures, so a reliable heater is necessary to maintain a stable and appropriate temperature range.

The lighting in a biotope aquarium should mimic the natural lighting conditions of the region.

African cichlids are typically found in areas with bright, direct sunlight, so choose a lighting system that provides similar conditions.

We recommend using LED lights that can be adjusted to simulate the natural day and night cycle.

African Cichlid Biotope Setup


Choose an appropriate substrate that matches the natural habitat of your African cichlids.

Use sand or crushed coral for Lake Malawi setups, or sand and small-grain gravel for Lake Tanganyika setups.

The substrate should be well-suited for the cichlids’ natural behaviors, such as digging and sifting through the substrate for food.

Décor & Backgrounds:

African cichlids are typically found in areas with wood and hardscape, so add driftwood and rocks to your aquarium.

Adding a background that mimics the natural environment can also help to create a more realistic and immersive experience.

I love these pre-made backgrounds especially made for African Cichlid tanks. They create the perfect setting for your fish.

They look so real but are totally fake, even the loose rocks.

African Cichlid backgrounds

They are made by a company called – Aquadecor Backgrounds


While African cichlids are not typically associated with dense vegetation in their natural habitats, incorporating appropriate vegetation can still add visual interest and enhance the overall biotope aquarium setup.

Although these fish may uproot or nibble on live plants, some species can coexist with hardy aquatic plants.

Select plant species that can withstand the cichlids’ activity and potential herbivorous tendencies.

Anubias, Java Fern, Java Moss, and Vallisneria are popular choices as they can tolerate the cichlids’ behavior and provide some coverage in the aquarium.

Anchor the plants to rocks or driftwood to prevent them from being uprooted.

If you prefer a more hassle-free approach, artificial plants can be used to create a similar aesthetic without the maintenance challenges associated with live plants.

Choose realistic-looking artificial plants that mimic the appearance of aquatic vegetation found in African cichlid habitats.

Distribute them strategically throughout the aquarium to provide visual interest and some hiding places for the fish.

4) Water Parameters

The water parameters in a biotope aquarium should be chosen based on the natural conditions of the region.

African cichlids prefer KH levels greater than 10 dKH (180 ppm), which usually coincides with higher pH levels.

  • pH 7.8-8.5.
  • dH 10-15.
  • Temperature 72°-82°F.

Use a high-quality water test kit to monitor and adjust the parameters accordingly.

Regular water changes are also crucial to maintain water quality.

5) Introducing the Fish

Stocking your African cichlid biotope aquarium requires careful consideration of the fish species, their compatibility, and the capacity of your tank.

Maintaining appropriate stocking levels is essential for the well-being of the fish and the overall balance of the ecosystem.

African cichlids are social fish that thrive when kept in groups.

In general, it is recommended to keep cichlids in groups of at least six individuals per species.

This helps establish a hierarchy, reduces aggression, and allows the fish to exhibit natural behaviors.

However, ensure that the tank size and filtration system can support the increased bio-load of a larger fish population.

When introducing new fish to the aquarium, follow a gradual and careful process to minimize stress and aggression:

Before introducing any new fish, consider a quarantine period of at least a few weeks.

Quarantine helps to identify and treat any potential diseases or parasites, protecting the health of your existing fish population.

When bringing new fish home, acclimate them slowly to the water conditions in your tank.

Float the unopened bag containing the fish in the aquarium for about 15-20 minutes to equalize the temperature.

Then, gradually add small amounts of tank water to the bag over the course of 30-45 minutes.

Finally, use a net to transfer the fish gently into the aquarium.

Wrapping Up

Setting up an African Cichlid biotope aquarium offers a captivating and rewarding experience for aquarium enthusiasts.

By carefully researching the natural habitat, selecting suitable species, and recreating their environment, you can witness the beauty and behavior of these remarkable fish in the comfort of your own home.

Remember, a biotope aquarium is not just a display; it is an opportunity to connect with nature, appreciate the wonders of aquatic life, and contribute to the conservation of these remarkable fish and their habitats.

So, dive into the world of African cichlid biotope aquariums and embark on a journey of discovery and wonder.

Immerse yourself in the beauty of their natural environments, observe their fascinating behaviors, and create a mesmerizing aquatic masterpiece that brings the wonders of Africa into your home.


Can I mix different species of African cichlids in a biotope aquarium?

Yes, you can mix different species of African cichlids in a biotope aquarium, but it’s important to ensure their compatibility in terms of size, temperament, and dietary requirements.

Research the specific species you want to keep and choose ones that can coexist peacefully.

Can I keep African cichlids with other fish species in a biotope setup?

It’s generally recommended to keep African cichlids only with other African cichlids in a biotope setup.

Mixing them with other fish species may lead to aggression and territorial conflicts, as African cichlids have specific social behaviors and requirements.

How many African cichlids should I keep in my biotope aquarium?

The number of African cichlids to keep depends on the size of your tank and the species you choose.

It’s recommended to keep a minimum of six individuals per species to establish a natural hierarchy and minimize aggression.

Ensure that the tank size can accommodate the adult size of the fish and their territorial behavior.

Can I keep live plants in an African cichlid biotope aquarium?

While African cichlids can sometimes uproot or nibble on live plants, some species can coexist with hardy plants.

Consider choosing plants like Anubias, Java Fern, or Vallisneria that can withstand the cichlids’ behavior.

Anchor the plants securely to rocks or driftwood to prevent uprooting.

Photo of author


Irma Bense is the founder of She has over 42 years of experience in keeping fish.She has kept both freshwater and saltwater fish through the years.She has extensive knowledge in breeding numerous species of fish from Show Guppies, Cory Catfish, German Blue Rams to Apistogrammas.You can learn more about Irma on the 'About' page.

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