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Cichlid Lighting Guide for Color and Health

Blake B

Posted on June 01 2019

We generally spend a great deal of time thinking about the various aspects of cichlid aquariums for their maximum health, or to encourage breeding, but there is one aspect that is important not to overlook, and that is lighting. After all, a large part of the appeal of cichlids is not just their unique personalities, but the variety of amazing colorations which they exhibit. As any interior decorator will tell you, when it comes to aesthetics, lighting can make or break any space, and lighting for your cichlid aquarium is no exception!


Here are a few tips regarding selecting the right lighting to get the maximum effect from your cichlids’ unique and beautiful coloration.

Categories of Lighting

When it comes to lighting an aquarium, there are a few options, all with their own pros and cons.  Of course, you could rely on natural lighting, but odds are your aquarium is going to be somewhere in the house that requires artificial lighting, and often it can be better for showing off their colors, anyway.

LED Lighting

LED technology has become extremely popular in all forms of lighting, largely due to its energy-efficiency, and this is also true for aquariums. However, beyond just being efficient, they are also generally considered to be the best for showing off fish coloration. It’s also recommended, if you have any type of plant in your aquarium, that you choose a type of LED with a high Photo-synthetic Radiation Value (PAR).

Compact Fluorescents

This is another type of lighting which is preferred by some, although it is not necessarily the brightest. They are designed to save space and be very compact.

Metal Halides

This has the highest light output of any of the lighting types, and also is the most expensive. It is preferred by many, because of its brightness, although it is not necessarily a good budget or energy-efficient option. It’s ideal for coral tanks.

Making the Right Choice for You

There are a variety of factors to take into consideration when choosing the right lighting for your cichlid tank, but one of the biggest is simply the size of your tank. When you do your shopping around, you’ll want to look at how many gallons or how much space they are designed to light, and choose appropriately. With cichlids, you should be lighting 30 gallons or more.


Other factors include how difficult to assemble and install the lights might be, whether they include a timer, how much energy they use, how much heat they produce (LED is generally the lowest heat), the number of lumens (a measure of brightness), and Kelvin ratings, which determine what part of the light spectrum is strongest. High Kelvin lights are more in the blue range, while lower Kelvins are generally yellow to red. This will depend on the coloring of your cichlids, and what sort of light will highlight it the most.


All in all, it’s a tough decision to make, especially when shopping online. Always choose a distributor who provides returns, or go try going to your local fish shop, as you may be able to see the types of lighting for yourself in their tanks.  

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