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Using Rocks to Create an Ideal Cichlid Environment

Blake B

Posted on June 01 2018

One of the main appeals of owning cichlids is their beauty, with their variety of reflective and patterned scales. Since the aesthetic value of these fish is so primary, it’s likely that you’ll also want their aquarium to be beautifully designed as well, and that may very well include some rock decorations.

What you may not yet have realized is that having rocks in your tank will also help to deter much of the aggressive behavior which many cichlid species are known for. Not only will the proper rock placement beautify your tank, but it will help to maintain a tranquil environment within this tiny ecosystem in your home, as well.

Here are some things to consider when you choose how to select and place rocks in your African cichlid tank.

Acquiring Rocks

One of the first things you’ll have to decide is where to get your rocks. You have the option of either buying them at your local aquarium store, online (with a wider variety), or collecting them yourself.

While it can be fine to collect the rocks yourself, there will be some things to consider:

  • Decontamination - Rocks will need to go into the tank with as few pathogens and contaminants as possible. For instance, if they have algae or other plant matter (if they were previously underwater), it’s a good idea to soak them in some bleach with no detergent; if they were not underwater, boiling for 20 minutes should be sufficient.
  • Rock Composition - Most rocks are okay to put in a tank (after decontamination), but there are a few types that you’ll want to avoid.
    • Sandstone, Selenite, or Kyanite softens or dissolves in water.
    • Limestone hardens water, so is problematic for species which require soft water.
    • Metallic components should be avoided, as they can dissolve in the water and become problematic over time.
    • Jagged or rough rocks have a chance of harming the cichlids.
    • Any plant growth on the rocks is to be avoided.

You may wish to simply avoid all of these complications by purchasing rocks and other decorations which are sold for this purpose. Many types of aquarium accoutrement are available to suit anyone’s tastes. This is certainly the simplest route, although you do of course pay for that simplicity, often by the pound. The choice is yours.

Rocks’ Purpose and Arrangement

While the artistic quality of your arrangement is a matter of your personal taste, it’s important to stack the rocks in a way that sets the perfect environment for a relaxed mood among your African cichlids. The primary key to doing that is to stack in such a way that there are as many small “caves” or enclosures in the rocks as possible. Cichlids love these caves, and will likely each claim one as their primary territory.

You’ll also want to place the larger rocks in first, and go from large to small, while wriggling and rocking each rock to find its ideal placement for maximum stability. If rocks are placed in an unstable way, it’s possible they might fall on one of your precious cichlids, and that would be a disaster worth avoiding!

Lastly, be sure to avoid placing the rocks in such a way that they are leaning, or could possible fall against the glass, potentially breaking it. This would be the ultimate aquarium tragedy, so it’s best to lean all rocks towards the middle of the tank, with as much stability as possible.

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