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Setting-up an Aquarium for Central American Cichlids

Hello, cichlid fans!I’ve been blogging on how to create suitable habitats for various types of cichlids in my previous entries, and this time I want to talk about the set-up that has worked best for me when I keep Central American species. I have kept and bred different species in tanks ranging from 30 gallons to 75 gallons. Most of my recent spawns have taken place in 40 breeders with a base dimension of 36 inches x 18 inches. 40 Breeders are nice, especially since I live in a smaller apartment and I don’t have the space for larger tanks. I have had plenty of success breeding Dovii, Firemouths, and Grammodes in my tank (at different times) and am now working with Cuban Cichlids.

Let me start off by saying that the most important advice I can give about Cuban Cichlids or any other fish you want to breed is to research the species and purchase an aquarium that will house the adult size. I have seen and heard of other people keeping Centrals in smaller tanks and in a community environment, some with no casualties and others with many…I’ve have been caught on both sides of the spectrum through the years. It’s important to provide these fish with plenty of space.

Now back to the set-up. When you choose a substrate, just about any type will do, but be careful using sand and fine gravel. These guys like to move gravel, and on many occasions have found sand in my impeller. You can install a sponge filter on the intake of the filter if you really like the look of sand, and it should help to protect your equipment. As time goes by, the sponge also acts as additional biological filtration and it traps very fine particles keeping the water crystal clear. Micro organisms may also grow on the sponge prefilter, perfect for fish fry to feed on when they appear in the tank.

The filtration (which is the heart of the system) is the one area I never skimp on, especially with these big bruisers. I like to turn the water volume over 8 to 10 times an hour, and I’ve even gone with filters that turn the water over 15 times an hour, with no ill effects on the fish. I’ve even seen better spawns in some instances. The heater is the same as I always recommend for set-ups: 4 to 5 watts per gallon and fully submersible. Set the temperature around 76 degrees. One word of caution about the heater and filter intakes… I have on many occasions seen my Red Devils, Trimacs and Dovii smash heaters and attack filter intake tubes (consider yourself warned, lol).

Juvenile Cuban CichlidDecor in the tank can be whatever you like. Just make sure that ornaments, rock, wood and other furniture is stable, or it may topple as these fish renovate. I always like to give my fish some caves, it seems to put them at ease. Lighting doesn’t matter to the fish themselves, so you can choose a fixture and bulbs that complement your tank and the fish.

Central American Species like moderate water hardness, and pH of between 7.5 and 7.8, ideally.  You can use buffers to obtain and maintain these levels if necessary, and some rocks and substrate types will also help to keep these levels stable.

Centrals are very easy to feed. They’ll take everything from flake and pellet to whole frozen foods. The adults that I use for breeding also get live treats periodically, nightcrawlers or trout worms and occasionally crayfish if I can get them, they really go nuts for those!  Let me know if you have any questions about creating a perfect breeding habitat for these big, bad fish!

Next time I’ll take you through how to set-up a 30 gallon for South American Dwarf Cichlids.




  1. avatar

    Hallo Jose

    Thank you for your articles on keeping and breeding various cichlids! Being a Tanganyika fan four a few years now, you have really inspired me to go a step further and to start breeding various species!
    I have only a 700Ltr self-made aquarium which is hosting 4 Frontosas, countless julidochromis dickfeldi , Lamprlogus daffodil and brichardi….ALL (including the fronts) regularly breeding! Due to my rocky underground setup though, nature takes its course and survivors who reach adulthood is rather scares.
    Thanks to YOUR input, how ever, I will now start breeding in separate small setups!

    Please keep up your excellent work!!!

  2. avatar

    Hallo Jose

    One question always baffled me…
    Why is it that my Lamprologus daffodil cross with brichardi? I know in nature their regions vary but somewhere their boarders should cross each other, yet in nature it seem they stay from each other….
    Was just wondering!

    Many regards

  3. avatar

    I hope you don’t breed dovis in a 40 gallon breeder like you said that would be fish abuse Bro

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.