Stop what you're doing for just a minute and listen to all the sounds around you. Even if you're reading this from home with no television or music in the background, you probably still hear the hum of a refrigerator, your computer's fan, or air blowing from your air conditioner or heater. You probably hear SOMETHING. Now imagine for a minute that you hear that sound 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Think about the sounds your fish experience all day everyday, such as the vibration of the filter, especially if it's a HOB filter or an external canister filter. If you have an airstone, imagine the constant sound of the bubbles. If you have a powerhead, imagine the constant hum of the pump. In a closed environment, resonance is typically greater than in open space due to sound wave reverberation.
Freshwater biotopes from which many cichlids originate aren't devoid of sound, e.g., waves crashing on shore in Lake Malawi, the current moving through rocks, surface noise from winds. There are lots of natural sounds in freshwater environments. However, most cichlids in the hobby aren't wild caught. They're domestically bred in closed systems, typically tanks or small ponds. Thus, anthropogenic (man made) sounds are ubiquitous. They're also controllable. Aquarium housed fish typically endure enough stressors without needlessly adding more. Yes, fish can be adversely affected by noise, including damage to their ears. Thus, it's not a bad idea to be cognizant of how you might be impacting your fish by the choices you make for their environment.
With this interview, I went outside the box a bit. I wanted to provide some viewpoints that might differ from the casual hobbyist. As such, I was able to corral an academic. The bonus of this interview is that the interviewee was a hobbyist, like the rest of us, long before he began his scholarly journey.
Let me introduce Sam Borstein, a third year PhD candidate in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. His research revolves around using fishes as models to test various hypotheses about what evolutionary and ecological factors generate and maintain biodiversity. Sam is also a 2015-2016 member of the Board of Trustees for the American Cichlid Association (ACA). I was able to spend some time with Sam a few weeks ago and visit the lab where he spends many hours.
Aquarists, by nature, are inquisitive people. Cichlid keepers probably more so. Nearly every cichlid keeper has experienced the "must have more" syndrome or fever. You know what I'm talking about. You get your first tank set up with just a couple of cichlids and very soon you want more....both tanks and cichlids.
As you feed your seemingly insatiable desire to have more fish, you begin to branch out with respect to your aquarist toolkit. You began with a HOB filter and now you want to get a canister filter or even a trickle (sump) filter. You're attached to one brand but now you want to try another. The list goes on because there are now so many options for heaters, filters, filter media, etc. The supplies available to you are now only limited by your budget.
Herein often lies the problem. As you gain more experience and begin to expand your operation, you branch out into trying new things. This results in fish keeping becoming a grand experiment. From a water parameter perspective, it's hard to tell if that switch you made in bio-media is really making a difference, especially if your tank is mature and your ammonia, nitrites, and phosphates are zero (the former two should always be but the latter may not, depending on the type of biotope you're attempting to emulate). Occasionally, you can add media to your filter that you've never used before and be able to tell a visual difference in the water, especially with water clarifying media. If you're really experienced, you can sometimes tell a difference in the behavior/appearance of your fish based on filtration or media changes. However, most often you can't tell.
Experimenting can be fun and I encourage you to do so, but remember even subtle chemical changes that you can't visually see or that are exposed during water tests are certainly noticeable to your fish. Many chemical reactions are always taking place that you are incapable of seeing with the naked eye. Be judicious about how you experiment. Trial and error is a good thing....until you lose fish because of it.
I'm not sure why, but there are many cichlid enthusiasts, especially novices, who question the compatibility of cichlids and live plants. Anecdotal evidence suggests the controversy about this revolves around the decision to emulate a specific biotope. Trying to exactly match the natural habitat from where your cichlid species originate is really unnecessary and practically impossible. By matching the habitat, I'm referring to the water, the flora, the fauna, the light, etc. Most cichlids on the market are captive bred, which means they were born and raised in tanks that probably lack anything resembling the habitat from which their ancestors came.
So what exactly does this have to do with keeping live plants? A lot, actually. Some cichlids are natural diggers/sifters (e.g., the earth eaters of South America). Others might eat or graze on plants. For this reason, having plants that aren't firmly rooted might result in a constant battle between you and your fish. For some species, plants are natural. For others, not so much. For example, most New World cichlids come from an ecosystem teaming with vegetation, so plants are the norm. The Rift lakes of Africa also have vegetation, but for the most part it's not nearly as dense throughout the habitat compared to that in which Central/SA cichlids reside. In fact, many African species inhabit plant free zones all together.
Regardless, if you want to keep plants with your cichlids, go for it. Planted takes have many benefits. Plants provide great shelter and they can also significantly diminish sight lines, which can greatly impact a tank with aggressive cichlid species. As with maintaining any closed system such as an aquarium, it's advisable that you do your homework before you make a decision.
Trying to figure out what the best food is for your cichlids? The choices are extensive. From fresh shelled peas to frozen brine shrimp, from pellets to flakes, you should have no trouble finding the right food for what ever type of cichlids you keep. In fact, you can even make your own if you have the time and the right ingredients.
For those more interested in preprepared foods sold at your lfs, there is still an abundance of options. Ever turned around that flake food container or bag of pellets and looked at the ingredients? Do you even care as long as your fish eat it? Hopefully you answered "yes" to both questions. What ingredients are okay and what aren't? Go to Oscarfish.com and have a look at their information about fish food ingredients. In fact, they even rate the popular fish foods on the market. Stop by and see what they have to say about the food you're feeding your cichlids.
The Cichlid Room Companion
Tropical Fish Hobbyist
American Cichlid Assoc.
African Cichlid Hub