Starting a 55 gal cichlid tank


I just brought home a few cichlids from a buddy’s of mines & wanted to inquire about stock levels & tankmates. I currently have 2 male 1 female German Z Rock’s, 2 male 1 female yellow labs, 1 super red bristlenose pleco, 2 male 1 female red top hongi. All fish are 1/1.5 inches. This is my 1st cichlid setup & wanted to know what to look out for aggression wise & also what i should add or remove


Hey I am going to attach an editted version of an article I wrote on attempting to curb mbuna aggression. It is long, but worth it IMO. After I am going to add some pointers directly related to the questions of your post.

Not enough fish
One problem I often hear goes something like this … “My 3-5 cichlids are aggressively chasing each other! HELP!”” Having 3-5 cichlids in a suitable tank is another recipe for disaster. The aggression isn’t spread out, and they will quickly create a hierarchy amongst themselves. More fish will disperse aggression BUT I am reluctant to say, “GO BUY MORE FISH!”.” Make sure you have adequate filtration, oxygen, a large enough tank, and routine water changes first. Lastly, make sure your tank is cycled. I find ‘Seachem Stability” to be most useful in preventing your tank from crashing.

Lower the temperature
Lower the temperature into the lower end of cichlid needs. This will slow the fish down, make them metabolize food slower, making them less willing to breed, and chase. Slowly decrease the tank to 75-76 degrees so they can adjust and see how that helps. Remember that since their metabolism is slowed down, you might need to feed less. Yay for saving money on fish food!

Rescape the tank
Another option is to take all your fish out, put them in a hospital tank or a suitable temporary home, and rescape your aquarium. Make sure you have adequate hiding spots with lots of rocks such as Texas Holey Rock or Slate. Polyresin rocks work as well. Break up the direct line of sight. Make it harder for an aggressive fish to not B-line it to a sitting duck on the other side of the tank. Changing the tank will disorient the fish and make them have to work together to reclaim territories.

Less light
Another effective method is keeping the light off more often than not. Fish needs periods of darkness and light like all creatures. It is vital to have consistency here when trying this. Having a nighttime light on more often then a sharp white light will help lower cichlid aggression.

Buy compatible cichlids
Buying compatible cichlids is sometimes the luck of the draw, but staying within a specific species such as all Labidochromis will help. Also, try and pick fish that don’t look like each other. Commonly, cichlids view similar fish to them as a threat. It is less likely that an aggressive yellow lab would see a blue fish as a threat. Of course, this is trial and error. Certain types of cichlids have been known for lower aggression, but it is sometimes the luck of the draw. When you go to the fish store, find the fish you like and watch him. Is he chasing everything around to death? That is the bully and avoid him no matter how pretty because he will do the same thing in your tank.

Add multiple fish at one time
Remember when I said fish are too smart for their own good? Well, cichlids will immediately notice a new friend or foe in the tank. At first, they will be interested and maybe follow them around. They may even try and push their buttons to see where they fall in the line of hierarchy. Adding multiple fish will disperse the older fish’s curiosity and, therefore, aggression at the same time.

Isolating fish
Now these two next options, I personally had no luck with. But I always say consistency is key and try everything at least twice. Isolate aggressive fish, put them in a plastic jail cell inside the tank. They will be furious, but maybe, the aggressive fish will chill out from his time out. You can try and isolate the aggressive fish into an entirely separate tank. (I understand a lot of people might not have this option.) You can also try and isolate the abused fish and heal his fins with proper doses of melafix. Putting them back in the tank will put them at the bottom of the hierarchy, but at least the fish will be up to full health.

Now, remember that none of these methods will work entirely on their own. Do as many of these options as possible, pray to your god, be consistent, and try everything twice! It is sad, but the best things I have ever done for my tanks were to donate my bullies to good homes or healthy local pet stores.


Hey so I am not sure what a German Z rock is. But as for your yellow labs and hongi's. They are labidochromis, which are known for having a very mild temper compared to a lot of other mbunas. The cichlids are not going to bother the pleco either.

With a 55 gallon, you want to overstock them a bit but have a crazy amount of filtration. On my 55 mbuna tank, I have a canister and two 350 Marineland HOB's. My water looks like the fish are floating in air haha. So you have a few options with this size tank. I would say get a good stock of around 15-20 mbuna of the same size of what you have. Try and get them in groups of 3-4 at a time. My mbuna do better when I add them in groups and not just one at a time. As they grow, trim the herd by removing bullies, or absolutely abused fish. They will quickly create hierarchies amongst themselves and it will be very apparent who is where on this totem pole.

As for different types of mbuna. Labidochromis are great. Acei's will work well, rustys, mbaba's, marmalade cats, and zebras are great if you get lucky. I have had some very docile and aggressive zebras, so it really is a hit or miss with that group, but the rest are known for being fairly calm mbuna. STAY AWAY FROM AURATUS! They are pound for pound some of the evilest fish to ever cross into the fishkeeping hobby. Most mbuna will grow around 5 inches, but some are far larger, so know the full size of the fish before impulse buying. Also, try and add some females to lower the male aggression, specifically female yellow labs have amazing colors.

As a side note, mbuna are plant eaters as is your bristlenose, you can feed them zucchini or cucumber, and its fun to watch. Just put it on a skewer or something and they will love it.
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