English: Pseudotropheus demasoni, Lake Malawi ...Pseudotropheus demasoni, Lake Malawi Cichlid (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Touchy, temperamental, beautiful, brilliant. All of these adjectives can be used to describe the African Cichlid. Some of the most beautiful freshwater fish in the world, they are also some of the most fickle. However, if you follow some basic rules, you won't be left saying "Why did my African Cichlid die?"

There are four basic things you need to watch and plan for when raising African Cichlids: water hardness (mineral content), pH, temperature, and space.

Water hardness
African Cichlids are native to lakes that have extraordinarily high levels of minerals. Because of this, aquariums often have to be supplemented with minerals, especially if you want the bright colors that Cichlids are known for. Most aquarium shops will sell mineral additives specifically meant for Cichlid tanks. Do not skimp on good minerals! Using a good filtering substrate - like crushed limestone or coral - will also add minerals to the water.

Alkaline Water
pH is a measure of how acid (low pH) or alkaline (high pH) something is. Water generally has a neutral pH of about 7.0. However, African Cichlids like a higher pH, Most of the African rift lakes where Cichlids are found have pHs above 8.0 for much of the year. While pH can fluctuate from about 7.2 - 9.0 in the wild, for the home aquarium stabilizing around 8.2 will keep your African Cichlids healthy.

If professional aquarium buffers are too expensive for you, you can use a home-made water-hardener that will also raise the pH. For every five gallons of aquarium water, try adding a table of inexpensive Epsom Salts (calcium, magnesium) as well as a tablespoon of baking soda (highly basic, will raise pH), and a teaspoon of a basic aquarium salt.

Temperature is perhaps the easiest variable to control, but also one that many people let go. (Who hasn't forgotten to plug an aquarium heater in?) Like most freshwater fish, cichlids have an optimal water temperature in the mid-70s. Be forewarned that warmer temperatures can contribute to higher aggression in your African Cichlids. Try to keep it around 74 degrees

African Cichlids are quite territorial and known to be aggressive. Many people will not raise Cichlids because they think they are doomed to kill one another. This is not true. While Cichlid aggression can be a problem for the inexperienced enthusiast, you can keep it to a minimum by providing the fish with hiding spaces. Note that live plants will die in the high pH water, so better to use fake plants. Other than that, provide lots of rocks. With enough space to stay out of each other's gills, African Cichlids usually do not fight to the death.

Cichlids may take a little more work than your average aquarium fish, however, they can be successfully kept by even the newest fish enthusiast. By paying attention to pH and mineral content especially, you can have healthy African Cichlids that show their vibrant colors. With a little research and planning, you won't have to say "Why did my African Cichlids die?" Instead, you'll be able to say, "Come look at my awesome aquarium!"

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