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African cichlids are fascinating and attractive fish to keep, and like most tropical species, they are not too challenging to maintain. You only need to make sure you have the appropriate environment for them to thrive.
Most types are known for their feistiness, brilliant colors, and excellent adaptability to hard alkaline water, which means you’ll have a hard time maintaining them if you only have a soft water source.
As such, the substrate you use is particularly crucial to buffer your water ph and hardness. Depending on how hard your water is (GH), and the overall ph (KH), standard aquarium sand can be used. But if your water has a low pH (note all African cichlids love hard neutral water), it’s preferable to use a crushed coral substrate (like Florida crushed coral), coral sand, crushed oyster, or aragonite sands.
Pearl beach natural aragonite substrate is also ideal for buffering your ph, with not many erratic changes as to stress your fish. Many substrates that are suitable for marine aquariums will also provide adequate flooring for peacocks and other African cichlids.
The best African cichlids sand or gravel should have a fine-silty nature. The fish love to dig, cave, and filter through the floor and risk getting hurt by coarse substrates.
Do African cichlids Prefer Sand or Gravel
A majority of tropical fish kept in aquariums will prefer a water and substrate setting akin to what they are used to in the wild. As such, sand substrates are better when keeping African cichlids.
If you must, you can still use gravel in your fish tank, but you will need to make sure the pebbles are fine enough not to cut your cichlids while they forage the substrate.
The most common African cichlids kept by tropical fish aquarists are from Lake Malawi, which is known for the clarity and is very stable in terms of ph levels and other essential parameters, though the water is quite hard with an overly basic ph.
The area of the lake in which the fish lives are characterized by sandy and rocky areas, so you will not go wrong with a sand substrate and rocks, since they best mimic this wild environment.
Considering the color, you’ll find that white or black (grey) sand best compliments the brilliant colors of African cichlids. Think of it as a neutral backdrop, or somewhat of a blank canvas for you to embellish with your fish and other accessories.
The only challenge you will have with sand is that it’s loose and is easily blown up, plus white sand needs a lot of maintenance.
Best Sand Substrates For African Cichlids
In general, it’s best to let the ph of your water guide you on what substrate to use.
As I mentioned, without much of a soft water issue, any sand will do. You would only need to use a substrate that has a buffering capacity if you have soft water with a low ph (acidic).
That said, please note that African cichlids prefer hard alkaline water (than most tropical species). In fact, they live in conditions almost akin to those of saltwater fish, only that they require freshwater and are a lot easier to keep.
Therefore, get a substrate that’ll enhance the appearance of your aquarium and support optimal KH levels for your freshwater tank. You also don’t want a sand substrate that will cause erratic changes in your fish tank as to stress your fish.
That said, while you might get away with a lot while keeping other African cichlids, with Rift Lake fish, you want to either use substrate marked for African cichlids or those for reef tanks.
You’ll also need to make sure the ph of your tank remains at 8.2 and the KH above 10, which is hard to attain simply by adding products. The ideal substrate helps to buffer and stabilize these parameters.
Using aragonite sands or finely crushed corals is highly recommended for African cichlids.
Below are several products to consider.
#1&mdashPearl Beach Sand
Pearl beach sand is an all-natural aragonite substrate for all types of marine and tropical aquaria, especially ideal for African cichlids.
It’s chemical composition assists in stabilizing mineral composition and alkalinity and prevents large ph declines, which are undesirable for cichlids.
With an adequate amount for your aquarium size, this substrate will help maintain the proper ph of 8.2 and control KH levels in your fish tank.
#2&mdashCarib Crushed Coral Sand
Ideal aquarium substrate for marine, reef, or African cichlids tanks, this is an aragonite based product (same as the one above) that will help maintain the proper ph of 8.2 without much need for chemicals.
Its small, smooth pebbles are cichlids friendly and also ideal for other bottom-dwelling fish like cories and plecos. The product is also priced for its ability to reduce nitrates in a fish tank setup.
One advantage Carib crushed coral sand has over other African cichlids substrates it that it’s well priced and available in large quantities. As such, it’s the best choice for cost-savvy hobbyists.
When looking for a dark to grey substrate for your African cichlids, then Onyx sand is your best bet.
This substrate is also best if you want to add live plants in your cichlid’s tank. However, please note that most cichlids don’t do well with plants because they like to dig and redecorate.
The only live plants that will do well in an African cichlids tank are hardy species that root firmly into the substrate.
Onyx sand is rich in carbonates and support optimal KH for your aquatic friends. The sand is also suitable for any marine or freshwater environment and ideally suited for cichlids tanks and most commonly kept tropical aquatic species.
How Much Substrate Do You Need for An African Cichlids Tank
Usually, African cichlids and most other species in the family requires a thicker substrate layer than other species of tropical fish kept in aquariums because they love to dig and redecorate. Ideally, your tank should have a base that’s 1 to 2 inches thick.
It is recommended that you clean your sand to remove residual dust, though initial cloudiness is expected. To accelerate the cleaning, add mechanical filtration such as filter floss.
When adding water to your aquarium, fill slowly to avoid disturbing the sand bed. Place a bowl in the tank and add water directly to the container allowing it to overflow softly on the substrate.
That all for this post. Happy fish🐠🦐 keeping.