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I think a 55 gallon tank is a good size for me. It is spacious enough that the fish can build up speed. The larger the tank, the less extreme are the swings in ammonia and temperature. I’d go bigger if I could, but I don’t have the space or the budget.

I purchased my supplies by first shopping around at different pet shops. I saved money by looking for deals. I found Walmart to have the best prices but least variety. In fact, I recently noticed they started stocking a 55 gallon tank with light, filter, water heater, and food for a better price than I paid purchasing items separately. As for the fish, I did not worry about price as much as the condition they were in.

Here is what I paid around Christmas 2009…

The Basic Stuff

55 Gallon Tank with light$179
Cast Iron Tank Stand$65On sale at Benson’s, needed paint job
Tetra FS 30-60 filter w/ cartridges$40.82Update: For my African Cichlids, I find the Tetra filter insufficient. I recommend the Fluval 305 External Canister Filter
JW Fusion Air Pump 400 $9.68To oxygenate water
Air Pump tube, 20’ $4.67
18” bubble curtain$4.78Hooks to air pump tube
Tetra 200 watt submersible water heater$24.76I try to keep tank at 76°F-78°F
Adhesive Thermometer$2.58Attaches to exterior of tank
10” Gravel Vac$12.15For sucking out water
Two five gallon buckets$2.50 eachFor cleaning tank
Aquarium Brush$4.38For scrubbing algae off glass
Fish net$4.99
3 Prong Outlet Timer$8.70To put light on timer
6 Grounded Outlet In-Wall Adapter$5.25Like a power strip

Update: I purchased an AquaClear 50 powerhead with filtration attachment and cartridges to polish my water during tank cleaning and whenever debris builds up in the tank. I published a review of the powerhead “here“

The decorative stuff

Cichlids love their hiding places. When friends come over and are too loud about it, you’d never know I have fish. I still don’t have enough hiding places for all my fish, they often fight over good spots. It’s good to have lots of hiding for timid fish to escape the aggressive ones.

Aquarium Background$9.67Use an Aquarium background adhesive or petroleum jelly to put it on
2 Bags Aquarium Gravel$14.99Rinse before use
Large Artificial Driftwood$34.99My favorite centerpiece
2x Driftwood Log$11.99 eachwould like two more
Driftwood Decoration$12.33
2x artificial 12” plants$3.15 eachNice for hiding cichlids, should buy more

Water Treatment

Larger tanks tend to have less problems with disease and ammonia. However, I recommend stocking certain chemicals, such as Ick Away and MelaFix, to deal with problems quickly. Certain additives, such as stress coat, and aquarium salt, are required each water change

pH test kit$5.99African Cichlids like 7.5-8.5 pH, alkaline water
Ammonia Test Strips$12.99Monitor ammonia in new tanks
Stress Coat Water Conditioner$6.14Removes chlorine in water, conditions fish scales
Aquarium Salt$7.99African Cichlids need 1 tbs per 5 gallons water
MelaFix$13.99A general tonic for bacterial, fungal infections
Ick Away$2.12I recommend application in a new tank before stocking fish


African Cichlids are voracious eaters. They love variety. However, when establishing a new tank, it is critical not to overfeed. Ammonia levels can kill fish. One should always feed only as much as fish will eat in a couple of minutes. I also avoid feeding them a whole day from time to time.

Update: After a year and a half of experimentation, I found an ideal diet for my cichlids. I published the review here.

Tropical Flakes$5.94Staple food. Crush up for fry.
Cichlid Pellets, medium$11.99
Algae Tablets$13.99
Frozen Brine Shrimp$4.99Occasional treat
Frozen Bloodworm$4.49Occasional treat


I wanted variety in my tank, so I purchased African Cichlids of three colors. I also purchased two algae eaters, they work wonders on my tank. The combination mingles well, although one fish was timid and ravaged by the others. I put her in another tank I recently acquired.

2 Red Zebra Cichlids$7.99 eachNot my favorite, but still pretty. Actually orange
2 Electric Yellow Cichlids$9.99 eachVery beautiful with black streaks
2 Acei Cichlids$7.99 eachVibrant blue, so far the largest.
2 Chinese Algae Eaters$1.99 eachThey clean the algae very well


For the tank, all required accessories and decorations, the fish, and about a month of food and chemicals, the total is $635.55. Then New York adds on $44.49, giving a grand total of $680.04. It is a constant responsibility and investment of resources, but I find it a family anchor and rewarding experience.

Other Articles In Series

  1. 55 Gallon African Cichlid Tank: Setup, Maintenance
  2. How many African cichlids in a 55 gallon aquarium?
  3. What to Feed African Cichlids
  4. How to Clean Aquarium
  5. 55 Gallon African Cichlid Tank: General Observations
  6. Fluval 305 External Canister Filter Review
  7. AquaClear 50 powerhead review


  1. . "Setting up an African Lake Aquarium."Badman's Tropical Fish.. ''.
  2. . "So, You Want to Set Up a Fish Tank?."The First Tank Guide.. ''.

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