Hardscaping a cichlid tank,natural landscaping illinois,outdoor living ourimbah,garden bed pictures - Good Point

Imagine again that there are four lines — two horizontal and two vertical — running through the front of your tank, splitting it into nine equal sections. Once the diagram makes sense to you, it becomes easier to understand that just as we used the same process across the top of our tank to indicate how we should use the floor space of our tank in our layout, we  can now also translate the idea further.
While some pieces of hardscape can share the same ‘screen’ (or point of depth), the key is to create more points by beginning at the front of the tank, where they should be lowest, in the next layer growing higher and higher, until you reach the back of the tank, where they will finally be the highest. While both images below are of planted tanks, you can clearly see how the hardscaping elements  follow this particular idea.
The image below, although again a planted tank, shows just how powerful strata lines can be. If you are nor willing to do this, I am afraid that you will have to live with the many drips and splashes aquascaping in a filled tank brings with it.
The third thing you need to consider, and certainly the most important,  is the natural habitat of your cichlid species.
I assume, of course, that you know everything about cichlid tank water chemistry and water changes, as well as the nature and feeding habits of the species you want to keep, and that your only worry is how to create the perfect aquascaped habitat for them.
Then, before we consider what we are going to do about your cichlid habitat, I need to plant a little seed, which I hope will grow and flourish by the end of this article.
The second tank was an entry in the AGA International Competition and was titled ‘Malawian Bliss’. The third tank was entered in the AGA international competition in 2008 as a Tanganyika Biotope.While initially impressive from a rockwork technique point of view, I have to agree with the judges, who found this tank oppressive and much too bare. While I grant that tastes differ, I personally would not like to have any of these three tanks in my home.
In contrast, let us compare these three tanks with the natural rock structures at Otter Point, Lake Malawi, shown in the photograph below. If you are not interested in entering international competitions, you can of course choose to treat you tank as a less rigidly constricted habitat, and your approach can then  differ quite significantly from that of the aqua-scaper who wants a biotope. Nevertheless, we are more likely to have a beautiful, and in all ways a successful Cichlid tank if we follow the lessons that nature teaches us. The second reason for choosing a sand and stone environment is that Cichlids use these two elements all the time for their everyday needs. If one follows the correct pathway, one is usually supposed to learn the basics of fish keeping with a small community tank and then move to a bigger tank with more demanding species. For an African cichlid tank you will need some rounded boulders, or if you prefer more angular stones, at least choose stones which have SLIGHTLY softened or rounded corners. If you will have a normally lit tank you should avoid white or light coloured stones and opt for darker ones. Watch out for any rocks with a vein that seems metallic in colour (like rusty iron) They may have a metal content that can leach out in your tank and poison your fish.
As suggested in my hardscaping article, begin by preparing a workspace on a table where you will not be disturbed.
Our first consideration must be the well-being of our Cichlids – which means we need to understand how cichlids behave, especially once they are kept captive in an aquarium!
As an early pre-warning, please bear in mind that whatever you build, your Cichlids will try to change your aquascape to fit their own needs.
We need to understand that by housing Cichlids in our aquaria, we offer them no more than just a miniscule portion the habitat they would have had in their native habitat — and then, as is the case in most Cichlid aquariums, not even a habitat anywhere close to resembling what they are hardwired to from an evolutionary standpoint. I want to make sure that this re-arrangement battle does not frustrate you — by adding a little sentence to my original statement: It is a battle you cannot ever completely win — unless you carefully observe what your cichlids are doing, in order to try to find out the WHY.
The why will almost with certainty point out where you went wrong in your idea of a cichlid habitat. Since we know that Cichlids are territorial, and know that they will aggressively defend their territories, the only logical answer is to cater to their natural needs. The secret is to a happy Cichlid habitat is to ensure that you tank is as complex as possible.
The second consideration is of a more aesthetic nature, namely whether the tank will be viewed only from the front (and the two short sides), or whether it will be visible from both sides plus one short side, as it would be if the tank is a room divider — or from all four sides if it is a walk around tank. In the all-round tank, you have to consider the aesthetics from all sides and create your scape accordingly.
In the tank with the front view, you want to avoid a construction that looks like a wall,  simply slapped on and propped-up by the back wall. Because of the importance of sand in the lifestyle of some cichlids you must in both of these cases leave sufficiently large open areas that will later be utilised for sand. But there is one more secret to creating a proper Cichlid habitat:  The provision of caves that are never, ever moved, or re-arranged by us, and can never be toppled or under-dug by the tank inhabitants. The second way is by placing the rockwork on the bare bottom of the tank, but cushioning it on a cut-to-shape sheet of Styrofoam. The last way is to secure the rockwork to the bottom of the tank with either dabs of silicone, or dots of the two-part epoxy aquarium cement that hardens underwater. In this medium sized cichlid tank below, large rounded boulders have been used to simulate a rift lake habitat.
The idea is there, but there is a lot of wasted space in the upper part of the tank, which could add a considerable amount of ‘personal’ spaces to this habitat!
This is quite a good attempt in a relatively small tank; the scape looks natural and offers lots of caves and hides.
It is not my intention to be nasty or over-critical, so please take my comments on the tanks as illustration as a way to explain in such a way that you can see the stong and weak points in each one. When you have completed your aquascape design, all glue or putty has cured and dried, and you have cut the Styrofoam sheets or egg-crate you will need to place under your rocks, it is time to transfer your aquascape into the tank, element by element and piece by piece. An excellent way to move stones into and out of the aquarium is to use a plywood board that is laid on the corner of the tank, as demonstrated in the sketch below. When you have transported your entire aquascape into your tank, stand back and let your eyes roam over the scene. Do not put plants in your cichlid tank – unless you are specifically doing an estuarine or river cichlid biotope. As I said before, if you wish your rocks to cover with algae, which are what cichlids partially feed on in their natural habitat, you need good strong lighting and a couple of days, but preferably one or two weeks of cycling. Maintaining your aquarium is not difficult if you start your tank with the correct parameters and have allowed cycling to take place. Great tank though Lee.keep em commin!I always enjoy seeing your tanks and i am always envious of your photography skills. Looks much more natural than my attempt at something similar for African cichlids some years back.


Hardscaping is what puts the mood and structure in place upon which we create perfect, nature mimicking habitats for our fish. However, we can achieve the illusion of depth, or perspective by how we position the elements of our hardscape — again using the  Golden Ratio, looking down onto our layout from the top of the tank, as we have demonstrated in the diagram above. Of course, it would be sensible to gain most of that experience before you place even one single stone or piece of wood in your tank! As I have said before, you are going to gain experience before you place even one single stone or piece of wood in your tank! This brings all the attendant problems of weight on glass tank floors, as well as stands, home floors and floor joists. Nevertheless, you can make the process much less stressful for your fish, by preparing your scape in advance, before you actually change your tank. This is why I urge you at least read my article on hardscaping, as it contains a myriad of useful tips and tricks.
All the tanks designed by this group are truly stunning to look at,  and each single one is designed for modern living surrounds. I find the tank somewhat pedantically put together, a case where science and study has somehow gone wrong.
The Malawian rock dwelling cichlids (mbuna),  their Victorian counterparts and the Tropheus genus from lake Tanganyika,  are classic examples. On the other hand, with the help of stones or other materials, sand can be cleverly used to create different levels in the tank, which can be something unusual and attractive. Collecting a beautiful huge stone, flat or round, is pointless if it won’t fit in your tank. The wider the base is, in proportion to its height, the more stable the rock will be once placed in the tank. If you plan to have a well-lit tank, the colours of the rocks do not really matter as much as the shape, because they will soon be covered with algae.
While it is not possible to construct an entire cichlid aquascape outside of the tank as I would normally do for a hardscape, you will construct large parts of it outside the tank until you are very sure that the arrangement you have is good and ready to go inside the tank. If you have a tank that is viewed mainly from the front, add a cardboard cut out that simulates the back wall of your aquarium, and also mark that with the rule of thirds grid.
Therefore,  the worst possible thing you can do is to house them in a tank with inadequate aquascaping materials. With other words, you will create either an island, or an island and a slope for the walk around tank. You need to create mounts and outcrops with terraces, perhaps with a valley or gully in between and also run curved sloping peninsulas from these towards the front of the tank.
You are after all not only creating an aquascape for an admiring human audience, but in fact are trying to create a perfect, nature-mimicking Cichlid habitat! Trivial though this little detail may seem to us, the sense of permanence and security is of paramount importance to a Cichlid seeking to claim a personal territory in which to live and thrive. This distributes the weight evenly, protects your glass and makes it impossible for cichlids to dig under. I’m reluctant to recommend this as it makes future changes difficult if not close to impossible, and it also leaves a residue on the tank floor that is not easy to get rid of. Submissive males will also use caves to escape the harassing of dominant male cichlids, while carrying females, as well as sick, or wounded fish will use them as a shelter.
I use it here to demonstrate that a difference in levels add to the visual interest of a cichlid hardscape.
Discordant rocks, haphazard arrangement, non-functional for a cichlid habitat – and the top three quarters of the tank is not just under-utilised, it is totally empty! If you did, you will find over time that except for water changes or top ups, you will probably be able to keep your tank ship shape with large intervals in between. I hope that this guide results in a really stunning cichlid tank of which you can be truly proud.
So, there is nothing to stop you from placing your main feature slap dash in the centre of your tank, because ultimately, the final form of your aquascape  depends solely on your perceptions and taste, just as it depends on the shape and size of your specific tank. But now also imagine your layout as a whole consisting of several images, or screens, layered one after the other from the front to the back of the tank, each with a small gap in between, so that each image is slightly further away from the first — so that wherever you place hardscape elements, they span a variety of points in the depth of your tank.
If you are scaping for cichlids, do not even begin to consider creating height with substrate, as they will dig it out. Nevertheless, it is always wiser to be patient and top up slowly, while diffusing the water pressure against a tank wall.
And here’s a little tip to help you visualise better: Tape string on your tank to mimic the lines of the rule of thirds grid!
You may think that I am crazy, but you will only think so until you have done it your way — which means dripping water all over the place and cursing with frustration, or even worse, cracking the floor, or a wall of your tank!
The Hardscape is well done, and the rocks are algae covered as they should be, but for me this tank lacks that certain ‘oomph’!
While fish-keeping is both an art and a science, it seems stupid to neglect what nature tells us about Cichlid habitats.
It is also easier to keep a large tank stable, and since cichlids can grow very fast, it is the best way to prevent ending up with a tank which is much to small for the adult species.
Not only must your tank stand and house floor be able to bear the weight of the rock arrangement, substrate and water, but you must also pick up and get the stones to your car and then repeat this process to get them into your home! A rough rule of thumb is never to exceed more than half the weight of rock as litres of water in your tank, provided that your tank has been braced and you have a solid board as well as a Styrofoam layer underneath it. You may even partially build connecting parts and finish these off after they have gone into the tank. For the room divider, you will create either an island, or possibly a peninsula  which is ‘attached’ to the short side against the wall,  and connect it with outcropping and overlapping valleys as you move towards the other glass end of the tank. Create visual breaks between territories by bringing some of your building closer to the front of the tank and then cut back deeper towards the back, almost as if you are building several sports arenas. Also, the silicone or epoxy should be allowed to dry completely before it is ready to go into the tank. The fry released in the tank during the first stage of their lives will use the smallest caves. The rockwork in this example is much too dense to be suited to a cichlid tank, and there is no sand — but it’s the shape of the scape I want you to see. I must instead use images that show you what NOT to do, because we can all learn from the folly of others. So here follows a series of tanks that you should absolutely NOT replicate! If you have used tap water, add the appropriate amount of dechlorinator and let the tank settle.


If you chose wisely and build with some thought, your cichlid habitat can take on a stark and rugged beauty of its own – and above all, it will be exactly what your fish need!
Make sure to count your fish and inspect all parts of your tank when you do water changes, to make sure there are no skeletons hidden and no rocks being under-dug by your fish! Since the tank ware are now clearly visible, it allows you to better plan how to hide these. However, I always feel that when doing a major re-scape, it is better to temporarily re-home your fish in a borrowed tank, using their own water, as you will have to siphon this out anyway, and setting them up with their own filters etc.
In the case of this particular cichlid tank, there is no dispute about it being modern, streamlined, and beautiful in a stark way.
Cichlids evolved in this specific environment for millions of years and everything they do, even the way they look, is adapted to their environment.
And because it is made up of the essentials for the species, it automatically creates the impression that this is a miniature of the natural lake.  Sand and rocks, dear Cichlid lover,  is all African cichlids from the Rift Lakes will ever need! Buying a small tank of 20-30 liters is not suitable for cichlids from Lake Malawi, except for the very smallest species. Otherwise you will have a cloudy tank, all dust will settle on the bottom and will then reappear every time your fish stir the sand.
However large our tanks are, in comparison to what they would have had in the Lake, we can offer them barely more than just a tiny slice of mimicked nature in the small, constrained spaces of our aquariums. You could also use ‘egg-crate’ as cushion, but because of the possible danger of food debris,  I usually do not recommend this for a cichlid tank, unless you have a good deep layer of sand above it . However, it is the idea of the layout I want you to analyse and study: The way elements have been placed, the way the rocks are stretched out and fill the tank from side to side. Always keep their adult size in mind when you buy a tank or build an aquascape for cichlids.
Check that everything is truly steady and every rock rests securely on the base of your tank. This will allow smaller cichlids to play with their ‘own’ sand while still safe from larger predators.
If you are not good at visualising space, cut out a back wall too — keeping to the exact dimensions as your tank.
Whilst you should now cycle your aquarium, at least until the water is clear and in balance, you won’t have a ‘dead’ tank.
In this way you do not lose your beneficial bacteria, as you will just transfer a big part of the water and all your filters and filter mediums back into your re-decorated tank. But it also seems sterile. In fact, it seems as if much more thought had been given to the tank as an interior design element, than to whether this arrangement will make the Cichlids happy. The horizontal line, while texturally different, is relatively even across the entire tank. This tank may well have grown in the meantime, the contestant may have taken the judges comments to heart and the tank today may be a totally different vision. Give them the habitat to which they are hard-wired from an evolutionary point of view, and arrange it in such a way that aggression is reduced, and you will have a tank in which cichlids thrive. This is mainly the reason why we hold that Cichlids are not for the beginner, except perhaps when it comes to the dwarf species or shell dwellers.
The other point is that the concept of ‘a big’ stone’ can markedly differ in size,  depending on the dimensions of your tank. But, depending on the size of your tank you may want to use two or three such groups, or in a very large tank combine quite a few of them.
This avoids dead spots, as staying away from tank walls allow for better water circulation around the rocks, and gives you more space for maintenance, as well room for your fish to get by them.
From a design point of view, the addition of just two more rocks could have made all the difference to this tank! I strongly recommend that you switch on your lights and cycle your tank for some time before you put any fish in the tank, for the simple reason that this will allow an algae growth to begin on your rocks. Many cichlids come from the upper ranges of the lakes and are used to and enjoy a bit of wind-generated turbulence.
Enjoy the spectacle as your cichlids finally claim their territories, find hides when they are threatened, retreat when they are defeated and spawn as often as they like. It is the point that draws the gaze of the viewer first, and from where they can then explore the rest of the tank. You will have a tank brimful of beauty to look at while you plan which inhabitants to introduce! Keeping Cichlids in any environment other than rocks and sand  is by definition already “unnatural”.
In my opinion the smallest tank for Cichlids should be at the very least around the 400-450 litre mark, because you need space in which to configure a habitat that will help you reduce Cichlid aggression.
The only thing I would change, would be to heighten the entire scape a little, because that will help separate upper range swimmers from mid and lower range species, and would make better use of the upper space the tank actually offers. Algae is an important food source for cichlids and should make them very happy when you finally put them in the tank. Any flat rocks with good grain can be gently leaned against the rear of the tank, providing a good backdrop and keeping the overall weight of your hardscape down. But it is unlikely that they will ever breed in a tank like this, and as unlikely they will behave as they characteristically would, were they in an environment closer to what they evolved from and are hardwired to. Rather than using too many chemicals, remedy the algae growth spurt by temporarily adding a bunch of floating plants (hornwort is both cheap and easily removed) to help absorb the nasties in the water and shade the tank without eliminating light entirely. This is what makes the difference between an ordinary tank and an expertly scaped aquarium. Also cut a solid board to go under your tank, so that you know it is stable and cannot warp or bulge. If you choose a really large tank, do not put it on a wooden floor that rests on joists unless you have taken the necessary precautions. Believe me, it is infinitely easier and much less frustrating to make changes outside of the tank, rather than inside a water-filled aquarium!



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  • 22.04.2015, admin

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