Over the Christmas holidays, I got the new 55g set up. As I've mentioned, it's going to house some dwarf species that have yet to be purchased. I used about 40 pounds of sand. I opted for sand because 1) it's more natural for the fish I'm considering, 2) I think it looks better than gravel, crushed coral, etc., and 3) it's easier for the fish to displace if they won't to do some rearranging. I chose white, simply because it's easier to spot detritus in light colored sand and it also provides better contrast for fish of color.
Before I put the sand in, I added a cut sheet of light diffuser (egg crate most cichlidophiles call it) that spans the entire tank floor. This adds a bit of protection to the glass if too much sand gets displaced under stacked rocks, causing them to topple.
I'm generally not a huge fan of artificial plants, but I wanted some additional cover without stacking rock really high. Also, plants add some nice color highlights and can look quite good if not overdone. I have kept live plants in the past, but I personally find them more hassle than they're worth.
I'm using a 300W Fluval E digital heater to keep the tank temperature steady. It's a bit overkill for the size of the tank, but the tank resides on an outside wall that, while well insulated, can still get a little cooler when outside temperatures reach the 20s. I've used other heater brands (Hydor, Eheim Jager, etc) but find the digital Fluvals to be the most accurate and dependable. I believe the Jager's ruled the day years ago, but the quality has declined.
Filtration is currently handled by a single Sicce Whale 500, loaded with several different types of media - course/dense sponges, Eheim SUBSTRATpro, and plastic, cylinder shaped bio-rings. Some of the sponge and most of the plastic bio-rings were pre-seeded from another tank. Just prior to the arrival of the new cichlids, I'll add some chemical media in the form of poly filter, Chemi-Pure, Purigen, or some combination of the three, which will also add some water polishing capability.
At present, the tank's occupants are five small black skirt tetras and three giant danios. I normally wouldn't put SA/CA tetras in an African tank. However, I've had good luck with black skirts in my water (in fact, I have six in a 75g that I bought as juveniles and are now almost three years old).
I'll post an update once the new cichlids arrive. What am I getting, you ask? I honestly don't know. I'm thinking of a few different directions - a mix of small Victorians, a mix of dwarf Tanganyikans, a mix of small Malawi Mbuna, or a Tanganyikan species only.
The Cichlid Room Companion
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American Cichlid Assoc.
African Cichlid Hub