The first step in setting up an rift lake cichlid tank is picking out the aquarium. In order to pick out the proper aquarium, we must first look at where the fish live in the wild. rift lake cichlids live in wide rocky areas near the shore, staying primarily within the safety of the rocks. As a result, they will only swim as high as the tallest decoration in an aquarium. The fish in the tank on the left are willing to go to the top of the tank because of the tall caves on either side of the tank whereas the tank setup below has low caves so all the fish are near the bottom.
As you might imagine, this means you are looking for a tank which is deep and wide, rather than tall. Unfortunately, most display fishtanks are quite the opposite! In order to take up a smaller footprint, tank manufacturers make tanks tall and narrow. However, due to the structural limits of glass, almost any large tank (90 gallons or more) is going to be wide and deep, rather than tall. For smaller tanks, look at 20 long or 40 breeder tanks. Also, the new All-Glass bow-front tanks are an excellent choice because they get very wide in the middle. If you already have an existing tall tank, just create towers of caves so the fish will use the top half of the tank.
When selecting a tank, always pick the largest tank which you can afford and your floor can support. Larger tanks are more stable because evaporation and chemicals from your hands have a smaller impact when they are averaged over more gallons of water. However, past 90 gallons, I haven't noticed a major difference in ease of care because very large tanks are difficult to access and thus are more difficult to maintain.
I recommend a 40 gallon breeder or 50 gallon as an excellent beginner tank. It's small enough to take home in your car, light enough to lift when empty, and the right footprint to use 36"x18" office furniture as a cheap stand. Steelcase cabinets make excellent stands for these tanks and hold all your supplies nicely.
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Last modified at Sunday, April 19, 2015