In the wild African cichlids generally swim around in deep, murky waters. These conditions can partly be replicated in the tank by fluorescent light tubes. However, to truly create the lighting your Africas cichlids will thrive in, you will also sand, rocks and plants.
The Origins of African Cichlids
African cichlids originate from the three Rift Valley lakes of East Africa: Lake Tananyika, Lake Malawi and Lake Victoria. Tananyika is the second largest freshwater lake in the world and Lake Victoria is said to be the size of the state of Maine.
Though its deepest parts are pitch black, with its sandy floor, Tananyika has the lightest water conditions of the three. Lake Victoria is the most northern and the murkiest of the three lakes. This is partly due to its shallow waters, which are sensitive to climate change and particularly the growth of algae. In the middle of Rift Valley, Lake Malawi has more varied lighting conditions. It has very few plants and a floor made up of both sand and rock.
The Lighting Conditions of the Rift Valley Lakes
To really understand the type of lighting your African cichlid will need in your aquarium you will need to know not only which of the huge Rift Valley lakes they originate from, but which part of that particular lake.
In the middle of Lake Tanganyika a Brevis cichlid swims in depths of up to 180 ft. and in an aquarium he will need low lighting to thrive. Around the edges of the same lake a white spotted cichlid inhabits depths of only 8 to 10 feet. In contrast, he will prefer lighter conditions. A cichlid from Lake Victoria will almost always prefer darker waters, but you should remember this lake's murkiness comes more from the sediment and algae rather than the depth of the water. These murky conditions can be recreated in an aquaruim by adding extra plant life, including floating plants such as duckweed. The beaches at Lake Malawi mean that in some parts its waters are as light if not lighter than the water of Lake Tanganyika.
Best Lighting for Your African Cichlid Tank
You should install fluorescent tubing into your tank rather than incandescent bulbs. Incandescent bulbs give out heat as well as lighting, potentially changing the water's chemistry. If the conditions in the tank change too much, it could leave your African cichlid vulnerable to disease.
You should leave the fluorescent light on for at least 8 hours a day as its light will help the plant life in the tank. It will stimulate the growth of algae, which can be an important source of food, and help the other plants create the oxygen your cichlids need to breath.
Fluorescent lights must be changed at least once a year. If their light begins to fade, it could affect all life inside the tank. The brightness of these tubes will depend on your cichlids’ natural habitat.
Benefits of Good Lighting in an African Cichlid Tank
The best way to keep your African cichlids healthy is by keeping them happy. The best way to keep them happy is by keeping conditions inside the tank as close to their natural habitat as possible. Along with water temperature and water chemistry, lighting is fundamental to ensure the survival of all life in the tank and the ecological system that rids the atmosphere of dangerous chemicals such as nitrate and creates oxygen. If you maintain the right lighting, your African cichlids will grow to their full potential.
- Cichlid-Forum.com: The Correct Lighting for Your Aquarium
- Understanding Angelfish, Oscars and Others; David Alderton
Simon Thomas has worked as a writer and journalist since 2004. He has contributed articles to several online publications, including Smashing Magazine, an art-and-design e-zine. Thomas holds a B.A. in film and media from Winchester University.