How many African cichlids in a 55 gallon tank?

When it comes to stocking an African cichlid aquarium, there are a few important factors to consider to ensure a healthy and thriving environment. The number of African cichlids that can be kept in a 55 gallon tank depends on the species, size of the fish, tank setup, filtration capacity and tank maintenance routine.

Quick Answer

As a general guideline, a 55 gallon tank can comfortably house:

  • 12-15 smaller African cichlids under 4 inches
  • 8-10 medium African cichlids 4-6 inches
  • 4-6 larger African cichlids over 6 inches

However, these numbers may need to be adjusted based on the specific needs of the species you choose to keep. Aggressive species may need lower numbers while community fish could handle slightly higher stocking levels.

Stocking Considerations

There are a few key factors that should be evaluated when determining ideal African cichlid stocking levels for a 55 gallon aquarium:

Species Selection

With over 1000 different species, African cichlids vary greatly in size, aggression, and environmental needs. Small, peaceful community species such as kribensis and shell dwellers can be kept in higher numbers than larger, more aggressive cichlids like oscars and jack dempseys. Know the adult size and temperament of the species you want to keep.

Fish Size

In general, the larger the fish, the lower the stocking density. Large cichlids 6 inches or bigger have high bioloads and require more personal space. Target under 4 inches for small cichlids, 4-6 inches for medium, and 6+ inches for large/extra large.

Tank Dimensions

The footprint of the tank matters. African cichlids prefer horizontal swimming space versus tall heights. A standard 55 gallon measures 48 x 13 inches, providing ample floor space for these active swimmers.

Filtration Capacity

Cichlids have a high bioload and need strong filtration to handle waste. Use robust filters and maintain nitrates under 20 ppm. Target 10x turnover rate for 55 gallons = 550 GPH filter(s).

Tank Setup

Provide plenty of rocks, driftwood, and cave decor to break up line of sight and create territories. Open setups maximize aggression. Maximize horizontal swimming lanes.

Water Changes

Frequent water changes help control nitrates and replenish minerals. 25-50% weekly recommended for African cichlid tanks. High stocked tanks may need 2-3 changes per week.

African Cichlid Species for 55 Gallons

Here are some great African cichlid species that work well in a 55 gallon aquarium:

Dwarf Cichlids

  • Kribensis
  • Rainbow krib
  • Saulosi
  • Rusty cichlid
  • Shell dwellers (multies, brevis, occelatus)

Max size around 4 inches. Best kept in groups of 1 male to 2-4 females. Peaceful community fish suitable for planted tanks.

Medium Cichlids

  • Yellow labs
  • Kenyi cichlid
  • Rusty cichlid
  • Auratus
  • Electric blue hap

Max size around 6 inches. Moderate aggression. Keep in harem groups or with other African cichlids. Need rockwork and caves.

Large Cichlids

  • Red empress
  • Venustus
  • Electric blue hap
  • Frontosa
  • Livingstonii

Max size around 8-10 inches. Large bioload. Territorial. Limit to 1 male with multiple females. Provide room to establish domain.

Tank Setup Considerations

To successfully keep African cichlids, the tank setup should cater to their preferences and natural behaviors:


Use coarse sand or smooth gravel substrate. Size 1-3mm optimal. Allows natural sifting behaviors. Easy to clean. Color options: neutral, brown, black, or white.


Pile smooth rocks and stones to create caves and overhangs. These allow fish to claim territories and reduce aggression. Mix in some larger centerpiece boulders.


Add some large pieces of driftwood for visual interest. Provides additional zones and resting spots. Soak well and boil first to remove tannins.


Limit to hardy, low-light species like java fern, anubias, crypts, vallisneria. Provide visual barriers. Secure to decor – cichlids may uproot.


Include caves, overhangs, and tunnels to mimic natural habitat. PVC pipe, coconut shells, and resin ornaments work. Allow each fish a hiding spot.

Open Space

Maximize open horizontal swimming areas. African cichlids are active swimmers that claim territory. Minimum 4ft length recommended.


Moderate lighting around 2-3 watts per gallon. Helps show off fish coloration. Keep photoperiod around 10-12 hours max.


Use strong external canister filters rated for twice the tank volume. Additional powerheads help augment flow. Target 10x turnover rate.

Water Parameters

Maintaining the following water parameters will keep African cichlids healthy in a 55 gallon aquarium:

Parameter Target Range
Temperature 76-82°F
pH 7.8-8.6
GH 10-20 dGH
KH 8-12 dKH
Nitrite 0 ppm
Nitrate <20 ppm

Use crushed coral, buffering substrate, or pH buffers to maintain alkaline conditions. Do regular water changes to control nitrates.


Offer a varied, protein-rich diet to African cichlids:

  • Cichlid pellets or flakes
  • Frozen foods like brine shrimp, bloodworms, mysis
  • Freeze dried krill, tubifex, blackworms
  • Vegetables like spirulina, seaweed, zucchini

Feed 2-3 small meals daily. Vary diet to provide complete nutrition. Use sinking pellets to prevent messy water. Fast 1-2 days weekly for digestion.

Tank Maintenance

Consistent tank maintenance is key for healthy African cichlids in a 55 gallon aquarium. Follow these guidelines:

  • 25-50% weekly water changes to replenish minerals and control nitrates
  • Gravel vacuuming during water changes to remove debris
  • Filter cleaning monthly to maintain flow rate
  • Trim plants as needed to allow swimming room
  • Clean glass to remove algae before it spreads
  • Test water parameters weekly and adjust as needed
  • Remove uneaten food after feeding to control waste buildup

Overstocked or heavily fed tanks may need 2-3 water changes per week. Quarantine and treat any new fish before adding to the main tank.


When selecting tankmates, avoid aggressive species that can harm African cichlids. Some suitable options include:

  • Plecos – help clean algae from rocks
  • Synodontis catfish – bottom dwellers, mix with rock cichlids
  • Silver dollars – fast moving open water fish
  • Giant danios – add schooling activity
  • Rainbowfish – colorful additions to planted tanks

Avoid fin nippers like tiger barbs that may pester cichlids. Introduce any new tankmates slowly and provide ample hiding spots.


Many African cichlids readily breed in captivity. To encourage breeding in a 55 gallon tank:

  • Setup species in paired male-female bonds
  • Increase water changes and feed high protein foods
  • Raise temperature 2-3°F above normal range
  • Provide flat rocks or tiles for spawning sites
  • Perform partial water changes to stimulate spawning
  • Remove holding females to a separate nursery tank

Fry can be raised on powdered spirulina or crushed cichlid flakes. Provide plenty of rock cover for protection from parents and tankmates.


When stocked appropriately, a 55 gallon aquarium provides ample room for a thriving African cichlid community. Target 12-15 small cichlids under 4 inches, 8-10 medium cichlids 4-6 inches, or 4-6 large cichlids over 6 inches. Customize the tank setup to their needs with rockwork, driftwood, open swimming space and strong filtration. Maintain proper water parameters and perform regular maintenance. With good care, African cichlids will exhibit their full color and behaviors in a 55 gallon home.

Here are some final tips for success:

  • Research species compatibility and adult sizes before buying fish
  • Add fish slowly and quarantine all new arrivals
  • Feed a high quality varied diet. Fast periodically.
  • Test water regularly and perform 25-50% weekly water changes
  • Overfilter the tank and keep nitrates low
  • Decoratively aquascape with rocks, wood, plants and open areas
  • Adjust stocking density based on species aggressiveness
  • Provide adequate cave decor and sight breaks

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