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Best Substrate for Cichlids – Top 4 Review

Every pet owner wants to create the best, most healthy environment possible for their beloved pets. There are lots of components to doing this.

For example, it involves careful research into their diet so you can choose a food type which will provide them with all the nutrients and minerals they will need.

For fish in particular, it is also important to keep their local ecosystem clean and healthy through a regular schedule of maintenance, cleaning and the use of chemical/mechanical filtering.

It is also important to create a stimulating environment, for example through the use of objects or toys, to keep your fish curious and engaged. But there is another element of your fish’s living environment that is often overlooked; what is the best substrate to use?

CaribSea Aquatics Eco-Complete African Cichlid Zack Sand, 20-Pound, Black
Carib Sea ACS00222 African Sahara Sand for Aquarium, 20-Pound
Worldwide Imports AWW88420 Bio-ACountive Live Cichlid Gravel, 20-Pound
CaribSea Aquatics Eco-Complete African Cichlid Zack Sand, 20-Pound, Black
Carib Sea ACS00222 African Sahara Sand for Aquarium, 20-Pound
Worldwide Imports AWW88420 Bio-ACountive Live Cichlid Gravel, 20-Pound
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CaribSea Aquatics Eco-Complete African Cichlid Zack Sand, 20-Pound, Black
CaribSea Aquatics Eco-Complete African Cichlid Zack Sand, 20-Pound, Black
Carib Sea ACS00222 African Sahara Sand for Aquarium, 20-Pound
Carib Sea ACS00222 African Sahara Sand for Aquarium, 20-Pound
Worldwide Imports AWW88420 Bio-ACountive Live Cichlid Gravel, 20-Pound
Worldwide Imports AWW88420 Bio-ACountive Live Cichlid Gravel, 20-Pound
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Last update on 2021-05-13 at 09:01 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Best Substrate for Cichlids – Top 4 Review

The substrate can have an impact on the overall health and wealth being of your fish, as well as adding another layer of personalization to your tank. For that reason, it is important to consider what substrate you are going to use when you first buy or install the tank.

Although you can change it later, there is an annoying and laborious task to perform. It is better to make a good, informed decision the first time. So, if you are an engaged cichlid owner, and you want to help your fish to thrive, then you’ve come to the right place.

In this article we will go through the things to look for and prioritize in substrates, and illustrate examples of the best substrate for cichlids.

We have scoured the market to pull together a list of all the best substrate options currently available for your fish tank. Each one has its own advantages and disadvantages, which are analyzed here:

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1. Pure Water Pebbles African Cichlid Bio-Activ Natural White Aquarium Live Sand

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This is a bulky 20 lbs. package which will be suitable for all but the largest of fish tanks. This product is specifically targeted for African Cichlids. It has been formulated to mirror the Great Lakes environment that the cichlids are native too.

As a result, it is a fine white silt, which seems simple but has a lot of clever features built in.

For example, this silty substrate acts as an ideal anchor for aquatic plants which you may want to use in your fish tank either as a design feature or as a means of natural filtration. Most types, of reeds, rushes or other plants will have no problem in setting themselves in this substrate. It serves a similar purpose for the kind of helpful bacteria mentioned earlier.

Much like bio-balls, the large surface area substrate provides an ideal breeding ground for the nitrifying bacteria, which helps to limit the ammonia and nitrite content of the water. This keeps the ecosystem clean and healthy for the resident cichlids. In fact, even more than acting as a hotspot for bacteria, this 100% natural product contains organic bacteria as bought.

This live heterotrophic and autotropic bacterium can help kickstart the tank cleaning process, while providing an aesthetically pleasing base for your fish tank.

PROS:

  • This is a totally natural product, which mimics the natural habitat of the fish. There is no better way to ensure the fish’s health and general well-being than by imitating its natural environment.
  • The bacteria can help with natural filtration of the water in your fish tank, putting less strain on your artificial filtration system.

CONS:

  • The product only comes in a single, rather large, size, which may not be necessary for smaller fish tanks.

Check Price and Reviews on Amazon



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2. CaribSea Aquatics Eco-Complete African Cichlid Zack Sand

CaribSea Aquatics Eco-Complete African Cichlid Zack Sand, 20-Pound, Black
  • Mineralogical and Biologically complete
  • Eco-Complete maintains the high pH that African Cichlids need while helping to resist pH drops associated with Cichlid...
  • Eco-Completes high internal porosity maximizes biological capacity, which keeps your fish healthier

Last update on 2021-05-13 at 09:01 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

This product is similar to the previous substrate, in that it provides a naturally inspired formulation, for increased fish happiness and health.

However, the major difference between this product and the previous one is the color. This substrate is black. There are some possible advantages to this. For example, for some species of African Cichlid, from the Rift Lakes region, this is closer to their natural habitat.

Also, there is compelling anecdotal evidence to suggest that darker substrates can positively impact fish health. It is theorized that in darker environments, fish display their colors more, which can actually affect their behavior and make them more dominant and improve their general health and well-being.

This substrate also contains a host of different minerals designed to buffer the water to a high pH level, resembling the alkaline waters that cichlids thrive in, in the wild.

This is also, like most other substrates, an ‘mineralogical and biologically complete’ product. What this means is that you don’t have to worry about adding any other products or materials to supplement the substrate.

One other neat feature of this product, is that the fine-grained gravel particles actually have an in-built porous micro structure.

This is perfect for the healthy bacteria that love to breed in these tight, enclosed conditions. The work these bacteria do helps maintain the general cleanliness of the tank’s ecosystem.

PROS:

  • The darker color of this substrate can have a beneficial impact on fish behavior and health, although you should check whether it is best suited to your specific species of cichlid.

CONS:

  • Again, this is a large product (20 lbs.) which may not be necessary for smaller fish tanks.

Check Price and Reviews on Amazon



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3. Carib Sea African Cichlid Mix

Carib Sea ACS00222 African Sahara Sand for Aquarium, 20-Pound
  • create natural African cichlid environments
  • This group of products naturally buffers the water in your aquarium
  • grain size reduces built up detritus
  • made in the USA

Last update on 2021-05-13 at 09:01 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

This product is made by the same company that brought you the offering above. This is a positive thing, as this company is a big brand name in the aquarium world, formulating lots of substrates, fish food and other products for all your pet owning needs. You can trust the reputation of Carib Sea.

This product provides a naturally inspired formulation, for increased fish happiness and health. This substrate is also black. and this brings with all the advantages mentioned before. For instance, for some species of African Cichlid, from the Rift Lakes region, this is closer to their natural habitat.

Also, there is compelling anecdotal evidence to suggest that darker substrates can positively impact fish health. It is often though that in darker environments, fish display their colors more, which can actually affect their behavior and make them more dominant and improve their general health and well-being.

This substrate also contains a host of different chemicals and minerals to buffer the water to a high pH level, resembling the alkaline waters that cichlids thrive in, in the wild.

This product is made in the USA. It is claimed that the fine-grained nature of this product helps to break down detritus. Again, this is due to the biological action of bacteria. This helps maintain clarity in your water, which is equally good for fish and fish owners alike!

PROS:

  • The darker color of this substrate can have a strong positive effect on cichlid behavior and, more importantly, their health.

CONS:

  • Not as natural as some of the other products on the market. Although it recreates the fish’s natural African environment, it does not actually use sands and gravels taken from the area.

Check Price and Reviews on Amazon



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4. Bio-ACountive Live Cichlid Gravel

Worldwide Imports AWW88420 Bio-ACountive Live Cichlid Gravel, 20-Pound
  • Worldwide Imports Bio-Active Live Cichlid Gravel
  • Contains live bacteria to quickly stabilize your tank
  • Restores natural organic balance.
  • Worldwide Imports Bio-Active Live Cichlid Gravel
  • Contains live bacteria to quickly stabilize your tank

Last update on 2021-05-13 at 09:01 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

This offering combines some of the best features of other products. For example, it has a healthy dose of all the minerals necessary to regulate the pH in your fish tank and keep it at a consistently high level, for optimum cichlid health. It is also a physically appealing gravel, which is very easy to install and serves as a base for other plants or items.

It helps to keep or restore the natural organic balance of any artificially created aquatic environment, and also mimics the environment that is native to most cichlid species, the great African Lakes.

PROS:

  • This product contains actual live bacteria which will have a quick acting impact on the fish tank helping to reduce ammonia and nitrite levels making a cleaner and healthier environment for your cichlids. This may be the best substrate for cichlids.

CONS:

  • A little bit expensive compared to the other products, but this is a premium substrate, reserved for the best fish tanks!

Check Price and Reviews on Amazon



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What are Cichlids?

Cichlids are a very popular fish for novice and experienced fish owners alike. They are much sought after because of their attractive tropical appearance, which has the ability to brighten up any fish tank or aquarium.

However, cichlids come in all shapes and sizes, and there are believed to be between 2000 and 3000 different types of cichlid species. These included valued types of food fish and also traditional game fish.

They are primarily freshwater fish, and their original home is in the great lakes region of Africa, which helps account for a lot of their habits and favored conditions now. They are found all over the world now though.

Some of the better-known types of cichlids are the Firemouth the Jack Dempsey and the Oscar fish. All these different types of cichlids have their own distinguishing features, as well as favored climates and food stuffs.

You should try and find out what type of cichlid you own first, then you can look up more specific information on it.

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What is a Substrate?

A substrate, in this context, refer to the material that is used to coat the bottom of your fish tank. Essentially, the carpet for your fish tank. You might not think that the selection of the substrate would be very important, but you would be mistaken.

The type of substrate used can have a large effect on the fish’s overall environment, as it impacts the water chemistry, the tank’s filtration, and the health of the tank’s resident fish. Not to mention it can either add to or detract from the aesthetic appeal of the fish tank.

Consider how a substrate could impact your cichlids. The substrate could react with something in the water, or absorb or release compounds into the water. This could have an immediate effect on the health of your fish. The substrate could also affect the pH of the water.

What’s more, the substrate could act as a breeding ground for bacterial colonies, which could act as an effective biological filtration system, but could also have a negative effect in other contexts.

Clearly, there is a lot to consider when purchasing your substrate, but we’re here to help you discover the best substrate for cichlids!

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What to look for in the Best Substrate for your Cichlid?

Unfortunately, substrates do not come in a handy ‘one size fits all’ class. There are lots of different substrate products on the market, and they will all been suitable for different fish and different environments. For cichlids, there are some quite specific features you should be on the lookout for.

Firstly, it is important to note that cichlids tend to do well in alkaline waters. This means water where the pH is quite high (8-10), compared to normal tap water for instance. The most likely reason for this is due to the evolutionary history of the species.

As was noted earlier, cichlids mostly come from tropical African lakes, where the surrounding soils and waters tend to be quite basic. The upshot of this is that a good cichlid substrate will have a pH buffer included, to keep the pH level in the region most suitable for the fish. This should make pH control of your waters much easier, although you should still test the water regularly, especially if your fish show signs of ill health.

Hard Water

Cichlids also tend to thrive in ‘hard’ waters. This refers to waters with a high General Hardness (GH) level, where limescale deposits easily. As a result, limestone containing substrates can work quite well with these fish.

A lot of the substrates currently available for cichlids combine both these features and are made up mostly of crushed coral or aragonite.

Substrates can also be a part of the stimulating nature of your fish tank. Cichlids are notable as being playful, curious fish with a natural tendency to dig in the bottom of a lake, or indeed, a tank.

As a result, it is advised to use a fine grained, silty substrate, which the inhabitants of the tank can easily move aside without damaging their fins.

Again, the Aragonite gravels or highly crushed corals have this optimum feature, which makes them an ideal substrate candidate.

CaribSea Aquatics Eco-Complete African Cichlid Zack Sand, 20-Pound, Black
Carib Sea ACS00222 African Sahara Sand for Aquarium, 20-Pound
Worldwide Imports AWW88420 Bio-ACountive Live Cichlid Gravel, 20-Pound
CaribSea Aquatics Eco-Complete African Cichlid Zack Sand, 20-Pound, Black
Carib Sea ACS00222 African Sahara Sand for Aquarium, 20-Pound
Worldwide Imports AWW88420 Bio-ACountive Live Cichlid Gravel, 20-Pound
-
CaribSea Aquatics Eco-Complete African Cichlid Zack Sand, 20-Pound, Black
CaribSea Aquatics Eco-Complete African Cichlid Zack Sand, 20-Pound, Black
Carib Sea ACS00222 African Sahara Sand for Aquarium, 20-Pound
Carib Sea ACS00222 African Sahara Sand for Aquarium, 20-Pound
Worldwide Imports AWW88420 Bio-ACountive Live Cichlid Gravel, 20-Pound
Worldwide Imports AWW88420 Bio-ACountive Live Cichlid Gravel, 20-Pound
-

Last update on 2021-05-13 at 09:01 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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Conclusion

As you can see there is plenty of things to think about when deciding on the best substrate for cichlids. You should consider the alkalinity, the presence of bacteria, and the color, among other things.

Hopeful the guidelines and products reviewed here should help you on your way to building the best possible home for your cichlids!

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