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For a 55 gallon African cichlid aquarium, I stock 7-10 five inch length cichlids, provided the aquarium has adequate filtration, dissolved oxygen, and hiding spaces for each cichlid.

The maximum population of an aquarium is limited by the available oxygen in the water, the size of the nitrifying bacteria colony, and the capacity of the aquarium filtration.

A general rule when stocking a freshwater aquarium is 1 inch of fish per gallon of water. It’s important to remember to consider the adult length of a fish, not it’s current size if it’s still growing.

While the 1 inch per gallon method is useful as a general guideline, African cichlids require special consideration. Since they are territorial, each cichlid in a tank needs to have his or her own isolated cavernous area to hide from other cichlids, especially when stocking multiples of the same species. Otherwise, the weakest fish will always be chased around and left hovering at the top. This will generally be the cichlid most prone to disease.

Regarding ornaments, I suggest many small ones as opposed to a few large ones—the dominate cichlid will steal the large ornament.

In my 55 gallon aquarium, I stock the following fish:

SpeciesQtyMax length
Metriaclima estherae (red zebra) cichlid25 inches
Labidochromis caeruleus (electric yellow) cichlids4 (three born in tank)5 inches
Pseudotropheus acei (Yellow-tail acei) cichlid46 inches
Gyrinocheilus aymonieri (Chinese algae eater)26+ inch length

As for filtration, I recommend using a filter rated for a higher capacity than the aquarium. For my 55 gallon aquarium, I use a Fluval 305 external canister filter, rated for up to 70 gallons. If there is a divider in your tank, you’ll need another filter for the other side.

The Fluval 305 also provides healthy circulation for the tank, helping to oxygenate the water and move debris. If your filter doesn’t produce enough current to circulate water, consider a powerhead to increase circulation. I use an Aquaclear 50 powerhead for my aquarium, though I find the current too strong if the tank has a divider in it.

Unless you have a powerhead that shoots out bubbles, I recommend using a bubble curtain to create adequate oxygen levels.

Related Reading:

  1. What to Feed African Cichlids
  2. 55 Gallon African Cichlid Aquarium: Supplies
  3. 55 Gallon African Cichlid Tank: Setup, Maintenance
  4. 55 Gallon African Cichlid Tank: General Observations
  5. Fluval 305 external canister filter review
  6. Aquaclear 50 powerhead review

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