How To Set Up a Ram Cichlid Tank

Author: Dustin Williams | Co-Author: Shelby Dennis | Reviewed by: Nancy George | February 21, 2023 | Updated May 18, 2023
aquarium fish, aquariums, butterfly cichlids, cichlids, ram cichlids
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butterfly ram cichlid scaled
Photo by butterfly ram cichlid scaled

Ram cichlids are brightly colored, smaller fish, making them beautiful options for your aquarium. But while they’re usually peaceful, ram cichlids are a challenge and require attentive care. They have a relatively short lifespan of two to four years if their tank environment meets their needs.

All of this said, fishkeeping can be a very rewarding hobby. Research shows that spending time watching your aquarium can benefit both your physical and mental wellbeing. If you’re thinking about setting up a ram cichlid tank, here’s everything you need to know.

Are Ram Cichlids a Freshwater Fish?

Yes, ram cichlids are a freshwater fish native to the Orinoco River basin in South America. There are quite a few ram cichlid types available for your tank, including:

  • German blue ram
  • Asian ram
  • Dwarf butterfly
  • Electric blue ram
  • Golden ram
  • Angel ram
  • Bolivian ram

But no matter the type, they’re always freshwater fish. They typically live in lakes and ponds that have quieter waters with a lot of plants.

These smaller cichlids only grow to about two inches long and tend to be more peaceful than their larger counterparts. Just know that males can get aggressive during breeding season.

How Large of a Tank for Ram Cichlids?

According to experts, the perfect ram cichlid tank size is one that provides 20 gallons per fish. So, if you’d like to purchase a pair, you’d want a 40 gallon tank.

Unlike other species of freshwater fish that get bigger—think angelfish and Oscar fish—the dimensions of the tank itself aren’t particularly crucial. A typical ram cichlid won’t get any bigger than 2.5 inches, so the aquarium doesn’t need to be particularly tall or long.

Just remember the 20-gallons-per-fish rule and you’re good to go.

Can You Keep Multiple Ram Cichlids Together?

Bolivian Ram Cichlid

RIck Leche Photography on Flickr

Yes, ram cichlids can and should be kept together in male/female pairs. These fish mate for life with one partner. It’s best if you can buy a pair of ram cichlids to introduce to your tank together.

The thing is, you must make sure you get them from a reputable breeder who’s raised them together. Otherwise, they may not coexist peacefully in your tank.

And remember, you’ll need a larger aquarium to hold more fish. But each pair also needs to have a section of the tank to hide in and claim as their own territory. If you can create caves for each pair to hide in, they’ll do a lot better with other fish.

Other good ram cichlid tank mates are species known for being peaceful, like dwarf gouramis, silver dollars, rummy nose tetras and Bristlenose plecos.

What Temperature Do Ram Cichlids Like?

Your ram cichlid freshwater aquarium should be between 84 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit to keep the fish happy and healthy. This narrow range is one reason ram cichlids are considered difficult fish to care for and own.

But temperature isn’t the only aspect of your tank water that needs managing. Ram cichlids do best with soft water. If your tap water is considered hard, the easiest way to soften it is by adding some aquatic driftwood.

What Do Ram Cichlids Need in Their Tank?

For the perfect ram cichlid tank setup, you’ll need:

  • A filtration system. Filters remove toxic ammonia and nitrates from the water. We love the Sicce Shark AVD 400 Internal Filter because while it works best with 20-gallon tanks, it’s also modular. You can easily add on if your tank is bigger. Best of all, it’s whisper quiet.
  • An aerator. The water in your ram cichlid tank needs to be oxygenated for your fish’s health. This Tetra Whisper Aquarium Air Pump is from one of the most trusted aquarium brands and it works for tanks up to 40 gallons in size.
  • A heater. Ram cichlids need fairly specific water temperatures. The Aqueon Pro 150 Submersible Heater offers a very precise temperature dial and an automatic safety shut-off, making it a smart choice. We also suggest this aquarium thermometer so you can easily monitor temperatures.
  • Substrate. Since ram cichlids love to dig, gravel is a bad choice—the heavy rocks can damage their mouths. CaribSea White Sand Substrate is a safe choice that’ll look great in your tank.
  • Hiding spots. Because ram cichlids can be territorial, they need a space to call their own. Coconut shells and stone caves are both good options.
  • Plants that don’t need substrate. Since rams like to dig, they often dig up rooted plants. Try a java fern, which you can anchor to a rock or other heavy decoration.
  • Proper water conditions. Keeping your tank’s ecosystem balanced will require water treatments. Tetra EasyBalance Plus is an effective and easy way to optimize your water quality.

How Do You Set Up a Ram Cichlid Tank?

Full setup for your ram cichlid tank will take up to a month before you can introduce any fish. First, you’ll want to put the tank wherever you want it in your home. Next you’ll need to rinse all of your substrate and any ornamental decorations with hot water. But make sure not to use any cleaners or soaps—this is just a thorough, hot water rinse.

Now you’re ready to add the substrate and place the decorations. After that, fill your tank with water. You’ll want to add the water slowly to avoid disturbing the substrate, which can make the water murky. If you’re adding live plants, now is the time to place them in the tank.

Next, install and switch on your heater, filter and aerator. You can install the lighting now, but you only need to turn it on for about eight hours a day if you’ve added live plants.

Finally, read through all the instructions for your water treatment products and add them accordingly. The next step is cycling your tank, which means playing the waiting game. Start by adding a healthy pinch of fish food to the water. This will jump-start the natural ecosystem you’re trying to facilitate.

Keep testing your water every few days or so using a freshwater test kit. It can take anywhere from two weeks to one month for the tank to be ready. You may also need to add water treatments to achieve the right balance. But once you’re there, you’re ready to start adding ram cichlids!

Plan to check the tank’s nitrate, nitrite and ammonia levels every few weeks.

The bottom line is that if you’re interested in ram cichlids, you shouldn’t rush into getting a pair without getting your tank ready for them. They’ll be happier and you’ll have less stress when you understand what responsibility you’re taking on.

Now that you know everything you need for the perfect ram cichlid freshwater aquarium, you’re ready to start setting up a tank your fish will enjoy for their entire lives.

About the Author

butterfly ram cichlid scaled

Dustin Williams

Dustin Williams is a seasoned author who brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the world of pet literature. His expertise stems from a lifelong immersion in the fascinating world of animal companionship and care. As a third-generation aquarist, Mr. Williams boasts a deep understanding of aquatic life. His passion began in childhood and [...] Author Details

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