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Setting Up an Aquarium for Victorian Cichlids

Zebra ObliquidensVictorian Cichlids have to be some of the best looking cichlids, right behind those gorgeous fish from Lake Malawi.  The majority of the vics that are found in the local pet shops tend to be very easy to breed, some which may rival the prolific habits of the convict cichlid. Creating a set-up that will facilitate successful spawning is not difficult, and you’ll be rewarded with beautifully colored fish and lots of babies to raise, sell, or swap.

The first thing to consider is the tank size. If you’re creating a community cichlid tank, a 55 gallon is the minimum that I would recommend. This should be enough space to house 6 to 10 four inch fish (though large tanks will give them more space to create territories). Chances are you’ll see both males and females in a group that size as well. If you’re looking specifically to breed your fish, a 29 or 30 gallon tank will work for a group of 1 male and 2 or 3 females.

Next, look at your source water.  I have kept Victorians in conditions ranging from dechlorinated tap water with a ph of 7.5 to 8.4 buffered water. Medium hardness to very hard water is best, and it is preferable for spawning.

Gravel is a matter of choice for the most part.  If your water is naturally alkaline, with a stable kh (carbonate hardness), then any gravel will work. If your water is on the acidic side, or has a very low kh, then I would recommend crushed coral or other buffered gravel. These substrates will help to raise the hardness and keep it at a desireable level, alleviating the need to buffer as often.

Filtration is a big consideration. On my old 55 gallon set-up, I had 2 power filters running, an Emporer 400 and an Aquaclear 110 (formerly Aquaclear 500), pushing around 900 gph turnover. Though each of these filters is rated to run a 55 gallon (or larger) on it’s own, double filtration kept the tank extra clean and the fish strong and healthy. Pristine, stable water conditions and good flow makes the fish happy and ready for the family life! To maintain ideal temperature, I recommend a fully submersible heater supplying 3 to 5 watts per gallon. Set the thermometer for a constant temp of 76 to 78 degrees.  Once the tank is set up and the chemistry established, be sure to perform regular maintenance and water changes. Even if you have ample filtration, extended exposure to high nitrate levels tends to bother these fish.

Decoration can be anything you like, so don’t be afraid to be creative. I tend to take a simplistic view on decor, so I can see the fish.  Consider supplying rock, caves, driftwood, or open ornaments. You’ll need to create several hiding places for subordinate fish in the tank, so they have a place to avoid dominant fish that may chase Crimson Tidethem.

Live plants are looked at as food by some species, so research the type of species you intend to keep before introducing them to the tank. I just stick with plastic plants, since they provide the same basic look and won’t end up shredded.

A word about choosing your lighting:  I find that if these fish are kept under really bright light, their colors tend to look faded – especially if you choose a pale substrate. On my aquariums, I normally use 10,000k bulbs. The cool blue-white light accents the colors of the fish beautifully.

Good luck with your set-up. I hope you have success with keeping and breeding these unique and beautiful fish. Please let me know if you have any specific questions, or if you have experiences with your set-up to share.

Until Next Time,


About Jose Mendes

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That Fish Place’s resident “Cichlid Pro.” In addition to working at TFP for 13 years, Jose’s been breeding Cichlids for over 14 years and has produced over 200 different species. Jose is the man to question for everything cichlid. Check out Jose’s work in the article: Keeping and Breeding African Cichlids in Small Aquariums, and his many other contributions on cichlid husbandry, behavior, and his personal experiences with keeping cichlids from across the globe.